Religions The predominant religion is Theravada Buddhism which, along with the common Animism practiced among the mountain tribes, coexists peacefully with spirit worship. There is also a small number of Christians and Muslims. However, religion is strictly controlled, and the government will generally side with Buddhism over a minority religion. Economy Laos, one of the few remaining official communist states, began decentralizing control and encouraging private enterprise in 1986. The results, starting from an extremely low base, were striking - growth averaged 6% in 1988-2004 except during the short-lived drop caused by the Asian financial crisis beginning in 1997. Despite this high growth rate, Laos remains a country with a primitive infrastructure; it has no railroads, a rudimentary road system, and limited external and internal telecommunications. The government has sponsored major improvements in the road system. Electricity is available in only a few urban areas. Subsistence agriculture accounts for half of GDP and provides 80% of total employment. The economy will continue to benefit from aid from the IMF and other international sources and from new foreign investment in food processing and mining. In late 2004, Laos gained Normal Trade Relations status with the US, allowing Laos-based producers to face lower tariffs on their exports; this may help spur growth. Currency C Kip Kip (currency code LAK) is the currency of Laos. The LAK"s appearance is much closer to the U.SD rather than other currencies of Southeast Asia. The exchange rate as of April 2005 was 1 EUR = 13,636 LAK and 1 USD = 10,500 LAK. Main Sporting Events Soccer and mountain biking are the popular sport activities in the country. Culture Theravadan Buddhism has contributed greatly to the Lao culture. It is reflected throughout the country both in its language to the temple as well as art, literature, performing arts, etc. Laotian music is dominated by its national instrument, the khaen (a type of bamboo pipe). Bands typically include a singer/rapper (mor lam) and a khaen player (mor khaen) alongside fiddlers and other musicians. Lam saravane is the most popular genre of Laotian music, but ethnic Lao in Thailand have developed an internationally-best selling form called mor lam sing. One significant archive of ancient Laotian culture is the Plain of Jars. The Plain of Jars is a large group of historic cultural sites in Laos containing thousands of stone jars, which lie scattered throughout the Xieng Khouang plain in the Laotian Highlands at the northern end of the Annamese Cordillera, the principal mountain range of Indochina. There is little modern in Vientiane. Old French colonial houses are being restored as offices and as restaurants and hotels. There are only a handful of modern buildings which sometimes look remarkably out of place in this quiet capital.