Country Listing

Laos Table of Contents




Figure 7. Transportation and Selected Industrial and Agricultural Activity, 1994

Source: Based on information from Germany, Statistiches Bundesamt, Lšnderbericht Laos, 1990. Wiesbaden, October 1990, 11.


A street scene in Vientiane
Courtesy Gina Merris


A motorized cart--typical means of transportation in Louangphrabang
Courtesy Gina Merris

Because of its mountainous topography and lack of development, Laos has few reliable transportation routes, and as of mid-1994, there were no railroads. This inaccessibility has historically limited the ability of the government to maintain a presence in areas distant from the national or provincial capitals and to some extent limits communication among villages and ethnic groups (see Population; Rural Life , ch. 2). The Mekong and Nam Ou are the only natural channels suitable for large draft boat transportation, and from December through April low water limits the size of the craft that may be used on many routes. Between 1985 and 1990, freight and passenger traffic increased at rates of 14 percent and 8 percent, respectively. This occurred largely as a result of the government's abolishment, in 1986, of restrictions on the interprovincial movement of goods, which had artificially isolated markets throughout the country. In 1991 approximately 91 percent of freight traffic--measured in ton-kilometers--was carried by road and 9 percent by river, whereas 95 percent of passenger traffic--measured in passenger-kilometers--was carried by road, 3 percent by river, and the remaining 2 percent by domestic air service.

As of 1991, freight transport services were provided by four state transport enterprises, a number of provincial transport enterprises, and the private sector. The state has a monopoly on freight transport between Laos and ports in Vietnam. Although no longer regulated by provincial government, the private sector's participation in road transport remains severely restricted by government regulations; in 1990 the private sector accounted for just 13 percent of freight transport and 43 percent of passenger transport. According to the Asian Development Bank, it is considered unlikely that the transportation subsector will eventually be a focus of the government's privatization efforts because poor road conditions, lack of spare parts, an aging vehicle fleet, and low transport tariffs--in some cases below operating costs--make such a move doubtful, at least for the short term. The Ministry of Communications, Transport, Posts, and Construction oversees transport and telecommunications.

Data as of July 1994