The exceptional cultural and ethnic diversity of the Lao PDR is largely a result of a long history of people moving into and through the country’s present territory. Ancient civilisations within the region have not only alternately influenced people and culture but also created differentials of economic and societal power that have stimulated communication, exchanges, trade, and migration.

In Southeast Asia, particularly in the Lao PDR, migration during the last 50 years has primarily been caused by civil strife, and partly by regional economic disparities, lack of employment and lack of access to natural resources, education and infrastructure facilities. Since the economic reforms at the end of the 80’s and the growing promotion of foreign investment, cities and main transportation networks have been expanding thereby offering new opportunities for livelihoods and economic activities.

People are seizing these new opportunities and migration is becoming more and more important. Nowadays we do not see migration only from rural to urban centres, mainly driven by new job opportunities and better educational and health services, but also that of rural to rural labour migration related to road construction, hydropower development, agribusiness, mining, etc.  Finally, external migration to neighbouring countries has also become of increasing importance and remittances are an issue to be taken into consideration.

 The 2005 National Population and Household Census has for the first time collected data on the migration of the population. The questions asked were about different time intervals, i.e. life-time, the time since the last census and migration in the 12 months prior to the census, as well as at different spatial scales, i.e. external migration, district- , and village migration.
The following maps present and analyse migration within the Lao PDR, the origins and destinations of people leaving their birthplaces to find land for agricultural production, opportunities for education, employment or access to social services elsewhere. New national economic policies, access to regional markets and infrastructure investments have created very attractive areas while the socio-economic standstill in remote areas exerts a push to leave. Around 5% of the Lao people are on the move. The following maps analyse the trends, origins, directions and number of people are still migrating within the country.

Any reader interested in aspects of migration should remember that other sections may also provide important indications on migration patterns. The detailed map of ethno-linguistic categories for example (Map F.3) reveals remarkable patterns of ethnic Lao and Tai moving along the main axes of transportation to become majorities in remote district towns. Conversely, the same map shows that the majority of migrants moving to Vientiane Capital still belong to ethnic majority groups rather than minorities. This sheds additional light on the current rural-urban dynamics of the country. Finally, a comparison of sex ratios at the time children are born (Map B.7) and of the entire population (Map B.6) reveal gender-segregated migration patterns across the country.