Traditionally there are three ethnic groups of Laotians, and they are illustrated beautifully on our banknote by these three ladies. The Lao Soung, or Lao Sung, are the highland dwelling peoples constituting about 10% of the populace. The Lao Theung, or Lao Thoeng, indicates the midland Lao peoples and represents about 25% of the populace. The Lao Lum, or Lao, are the majority ethinc group, representing about 50% of the populace.
Over the left shoulder of our three ladies is the Pha That Luang pagoda. Regarded as dating from the 3rd century, that is almost 2000 years old, this is the most significant pagoda in Laos. It is rumored to contain the breastbone of the Buddha himself. It is said that the architecture contains numerous references to Laotian culture which has furthered its significance as an icon of Laotian nationalism. It is said that the three levels of the pagoda each reflect a dimension of Buddhist doctrine.
The National Emblem adorns the front of our banknote and is illustrated her. The Pha That Luang Pagoda is at center top. Left center is the modern empowering hydroelectric dam while right center is the forest on the traditional paddy field; the road forward is between the two. The name of the state is inscribed below the one-half gear wheel on the bottom,
Fully ripened rice stalks encircle the whole, each wrapped, and inscribed between them, with the five words of the Laotian Motto: “Peace, Independence, Democracy, Unity, Prosperity”.
Kaysone Phomvihane, featured on the front of our banknote, has been prominent in Laotian politics for the latter half of the 20th century, during the demise of French colonialism and the development of institutions of independence. From 1955 until his death in 1992, he led the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party. From 1975 to 1991 he served as the Prime Minister of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic. From 1991 to 1992, the year of his death, he served as President of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic. He is remembered by the 2011 banknote.
Over his shoulder can be seen the illustration of the Wat Xieng Thong, the Temple of the Golden City. This monastery is major monument to Laotian art and religion and royalty. The structure, doors, ceilings, walls depict scenes from the Buddha’s life, symbols of Buddhist law and the circle of reincarnation, legends of Laos, the tree of life and many other important symbols and scenes.
Above and right of the Wat is the national emblem. Details of the emblem can be seen in this website here.
The hydroelectric power plant in Xeset leverages the mountainous terrain and heavy annual rainfall of Laos. This plant was commissioned in the 1991 with an installed capacity of 20 megawatts.
Laos is classified as a Least Developed Country by the UN. The LDC classification is based upon a reevaluation every three years of the following three criteria: Poverty, Economic Vulnerability, and Human Resource Weakness. Most Laotians live in the countryside and approximately 1/3 of the population has no access to electricity. The geography of the country is considered to present significant hydroelectric power potential. It is 80% hills and mountains, dominated by the Mekong River and its tributaries, and swept by monsoon rains from both sides of the Indochina peninsula. The development of hydroelectric power is seen as a pathway for the improvement of the lives of Laotians. It will enhance the lives of the people and also provide income through the export of power to neighboring nations.
Laos is landlocked in the midst of the Indochina peninsula. 80% of its land is mountainous and hilly. Arable land is located primarily along its primary river, the Mekong, and its tributaries. From rainy to dry seasons the elevation of the Mekong can fluctuate 20 meters. The Mekong remained “untamed” along its entire length, that is, not a single spanning bridge, until 1994 when the Friendship bridge was opened, connecting Laos with Vietnam.
In 1893, Laos became a French colony. During WW2 it came under dominion of the Japanese, returning to France following the war. In 1954, Laos secured independence from France. Landlocked, surrounded by Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar, and China, for decades remained largely unknown to the rest of the world. That is changing.