Laos has one of the lowest population densities in Asia, but the total population has more than doubled in the last 30 years, and continues to grow. A third of Laos’s 5,622,000 inhabitants live in cities in the Mekong River valley, chiefly Vientiane, Luang Prabang, Savannakhet and Pakse. Another third live along other major rivers. This rapid population growth comes despite the fact that almost one in 10 Lao fled the country after the 1975 communist takeover. Vientiane and lost the most inhabitants, with approximately a quarter of the population of Luang Prabang going abroad. During the last 10 to 15 years this emigration trend has been reversed so that the influx of immigrants – mostly repatriated Lao, but also Chinese, Vietnamese and other nationalities – now exceeds the number of emigrants.
Most expatriate Westerners living in Laos are temporary employees of multilateral and bilateral aid organizations. A smaller number are employed by foreign companies involved in mining, petroleum and hydropower.