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Laos Origin and History

In the Lao language, the country's name is "Muang Lao" or "Pathet Lao", both of which literally mean "Lao Country". The French, who united the three separate Lao kingdoms in French Indochina in 1893, named the country as the plural of the dominant and most common ethnic group (in French, the final "s" at the end of a word is usually silent, thus it would be also be pronounced "Lao").

Laos pronounced (Sathalanalat Paxathipatai Paxaxon Lao), officially the Lao People's Democratic Republic, is a landlocked country in Southeast Asia, bordered by Burma and China to the northwest, Vietnam to the east, Cambodia to the south and Thailand to the west. Its population was estimated to be 6.5 million in 2012.

Laos traces its history to the kingdom of Lan Xang, which existed from the 14th to the 18th century when it split into three separate kingdoms. In 1893, it became a French protectorate, with the three kingdoms, Luang Phrabang, Vientiane and Champasak, uniting to form what is now known as Laos. It briefly gained independence in 1945 after Japanese occupation, but returned to French rule until it was granted autonomy in 1949. Laos became independent in 1953, with a constitutional monarchy under Sisavang Vong. Shortly after independence, a long civil war ended the monarchy, when the Communist Pathet Lao movement came to power in 1975.

Laos is a single-party socialist republic. The capital city is Vientiane. Other large cities include Luang Prabang, Savannakhet and Pakse. The official language is Lao. Laos is a multi-ethnic country with the politically and culturally dominant Lao people making up approximately sixty percent of the population, mostly in the lowlands. Various Mon-Khmer groups, the Hmong, and other indigenous hill tribes, accounting for forty percent of the population, live in the foothills and mountains. It is a rising power in providing electricity to neighboring countries such as Thailand, China and Vietnam and the economy is accelerating rapidly with the demands for its metals. It is a member of the Asia-Pacific Trade Agreement (APTA), Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), East Asia Summit and La Francophonie. Laos applied for membership of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1997.

Early history

Stone tools discovered in northern Laos attest to the presence of hunter-gatherers from at least 40,000 years ago. Archeological evidence suggests agriculturist society developed during the 4th millennia B.C.. Burial jars and other kinds of sepulchers suggest a complex society in which bronze objects appeared around 1500 B.C., and iron tools were known from 700 B.C. The proto-historic period is characterized by contact with Chinese and Indian civilizations. From the fourth to the eighth century, communities along the Mekong River began to form into townships, or Muang as they were called.

Lan Xang 1353–1893

Laos traces its history to the kingdom of Lan Xang (Million Elephants), founded in the 14th century, by a Lao warlord, Fa Ngum, who took over Vientiane with 10,000 Khmer troops. Ngum was descended from a long line of Lao kings, tracing back to Khoun Boulom. He made Theravada Buddhism the state religion and Lan Xang prospered. Within 20 years of its formation, the kingdom expanded eastward to Champa and along the Annamite mountains in Vietnam. His ministers, unable to tolerate his ruthlessness, forced him into exile to the present-day Thai province of Nan in 1373, where he later died. Fa Ngum's eldest son, Oun Heuan, came to the throne under the name Samsenthai and reigned for 43 years. During his reign, Lan Xang became an important trade center. After his death in 1421, Lan Xang collapsed into warring factions for the next 100 years.

In 1520, Photisarath came to the throne and moved the capital from Luang Phrabang to Vientiane to avoid Burmese invasion. Setthathirat became king in 1548, after his father was killed, and ordered the construction of what would become the symbol of Laos, That Luang. Setthathirat disappeared in the mountains on his way back from a military expedition into Cambodia and Lan Xang began to rapidly decline. It was not until 1637, when Sourigna Vongsa ascended the throne, that Lan Xang would further expand its frontiers. His reign is often regarded as Laos's golden age. When he died, leaving Lan Xang without an heir, the kingdom divided into three principalities. Between 1763 and 1769, Burmese armies overran northern Laos and annexed Luang Phrabang, while Champasak eventually came under Siamese suzerainty.

Chao Anouvong was installed as a vassal king of Vientiane by the Siamese. He encouraged a renaissance of Lao fine arts and literature and improved relations with Luang Phrabang. Although he was pressured to pay tribute to the Vietnamese, he rebelled against the Siamese. The rebellion failed and Vientiane was ransacked. Anouvong was taken to Bangkok as a prisoner, where he later died.

French rule 1893–1953

In the late 19th century, Luang Prabang was ransacked by the Chinese Black Flag Army. France rescued King Oun Kham and added Luang Phrabang to the 'Protectorate' of French Indochina. Shortly after, the Kingdom of Champasak and the territory of Vientiane were also added to the protectorate. King Sisavang Vong of Luang Phrabang became ruler of a unified Laos and Vientiane once again became the capital. Laos never had any importance for France other than as a buffer state between British-influenced Thailand and the more economically important Annam and Tonkin. During their rule, the French introduced the corvee, a system that forced every male Lao to contribute 10 days of manual labor per year to the colonial government. Laos produced tin, rubber and coffee, but never accounted for more than 1% of French Indochina's exports. By 1940, only 600 French citizens lived in Laos.

Following a brief Japanese occupation during World War II, the country declared its independence on 12 October 1945, but the French under Charles de Gaulle re-asserted control. In 1950 Laos was granted semi-autonomy as an "associated state" within the French Union. France remained in de facto control until 22 October 1953, when Laos gained full independence as a constitutional monarchy.

Kingdom of Laos and war 1954–75

Under a special exemption to the Geneva Convention, a French military training mission continued to support the Royal Lao Armed Forces. In 1955, the U.S. Department of Defense created a special Programs Evaluation Office to replace French support of the Royal Lao Army against the communist Pathet Lao as part of the U.S. containment policy.

Laos was dragged into the Vietnam War. The eastern parts of the country followed North Vietnam and adopted North Vietnam as a fraternal country. Laos allowed North Vietnam to use its land as a supply route for its war against the South. In response, the United States initiated a bombing campaign against the North Vietnamese, supported regular and irregular anticommunist forces in Laos and supported a South Vietnamese invasion of Laos. The result of these actions were a series of coups d'état and, ultimately, the Laotian Civil War between the Royal Laotian government and the Pathet Lao.

In 1975, the Pathet Lao, along with Vietnam People's Army and backed by the Soviet Union, overthrew the royalist Lao government, forcing King Savang Vatthana to abdicate on 2 December 1975. He later died in captivity.

Lao People's Democratic Republic (1975–present)

On 2 December 1975, after taking control of the country, the Pathet Lao government under Kaysone Phomvihane renamed the country as the Lao People's Democratic Republic.

 

 

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