Lao, also known as Laotian, is spoken by 3 million people in Laos and in the northeastern part of Thailand. Lao is very closely related to Thai and speakers of Lao can usually understand Thai, which means you get two languages for the effort of learning one!
With the arrival of the French in the 1870s, Laos became part of French Indo-China, along with Cambodia and Vietnam, until they achieved independence in 1953. Coffee is still the biggest export of Laos, a legacy of the French colonial plantations.
Laos is a Buddhist country and the majority of the Lao people are Buddhists. This is reflected in their language and culture, where physical greetings, public displays of affection, aggressive hand gestures and shouting are all considered impolite.