Country Listing

Laos Table of Contents



Laos had a minimal road network in the early 1990s. By 1991 the country's total road length was about 13,970 kilometers, an increase of just 22 percent over 1976. Of the total length, 24 percent, or 3,353 kilometers, is paved and 30 percent gravel; the remaining roads are trails unusable during the rainy season.

Route 13, a main north-south road, was built under French colonial rule. The highway parallels the Mekong and extends from the Cambodian border to Louangphrabang; the quality of the road varies over its length. Together with a few transmountain roads, Route 13 connects Laos with Vietnam and provides a rudimentary national road system. In addition, there are three east-west roads, Routes 7, 8, and 9, which are linked to Routes 7, 8, and 9 in Vietnam to facilitate access to Vietnamese seaports (see fig. 7).

In the late 1960s, China constructed a network of paved roads in northern Laos, linking most of the northern provincial capitals and for the first time facilitating motorized transportation across this region. These roads enabled government officials to reach some hitherto remote areas of the country, which helped begin the process of national integration that continues in the 1990s. These roads were maintained in reasonably good repair into the 1990s, providing an important new means of increased intervillage communication and movement of market goods, as well as a locale for additional settlements. However, as of 1993, the link between this network and Louangphrabang was, a 100-kilometer stretch of dirt track passable only during the dry season.

During the 1990s, all major routes in the center and south are being improved and/or surfaced, and a larger network of feeder roads is gradually being constructed by provincial governments. Development of these roads will facilitate a greater government presence at the village level and easier travel by villagers to district and provincial centers. Such improved transportation will also assist villagers seeking medical care and those sending children to school at district centers. Improved transportation may also be an additional stimulus to villagers looking for wage labor outside the village; tribal groups in northern Laos have engaged in seasonal labor in northern Thailand since at least the 1930s.

As roads improve and marketing networks expand, the government has encouraged commercial production for trade and export. As a result, the independence and relative isolation of lowland villages has been reduced. Travel, whether for visiting or marketing-- particularly the extensive market network developed as a result of the long-standing opium trade--or because of military conscription, broadens the outlook of villagers and makes then aware of the relationships between Laos and its neighbors, of national policy issues, and of the possibility of a different material standard of living. Lao in lowland villages travel by oxcart over level terrain, or on foot. The steep mountains and lack of roads have caused upland ethnic groups to rely entirely on pack baskets and pack horses for transportation. Wheeled vehicles traditionally have not been used. Travel in most areas is still difficult and expensive, and most villagers travel only limited distances if at all.

Despite the fact that the road network is the backbone of the transportation network, it had received very little maintenance work prior to 1985. The protracted war and period of government reorganization, limited financial resources, and lack of maintenance equipment have contributed to its deterioration, with serious consequences throughout the economy, including hindering domestic and foreign trade, discouraging foreign investors, and slowing domestic revenue collection.

In early 1990, an agreement was signed with Thailand and Australia for the construction of the 750-meter Friendship Bridge-- which opened in April 1994--across the Mekong River, linking Thailand and Laos by road for the first time. As a result, tourism is expected to increase dramatically and freight transport costs to decrease, facilitating regional trade.

Data as of July 1994

Country Listing

Laos Table of Contents