The modern borders of Laos were defined by the French over a century ago when as colonial rulers they occupied much of Indochina. The history of the region of course goes back much further and those on Laos travel packages will learn more about that as they travel around the Country. The Mekong River Valley has been important through time and a skull found recently has been dated as around 60,000 years old. There is not a great deal that can be said about today’s Laos from that far back but it is realistic to talk about the time when the Plain of Jars, a regular entry on all Laos tour packages, was created; a few centuries before Christ up to 2nd Century AD. It is thought that the individual clusters of jars, up to 250 at a time throughout the Plain are ancient burial sites. There was a fair amount of damage sustained during American bombing in the Vietnam War though the Plain is still somewhere to visit during a Laos holiday.
There were many kingdoms and empires in South East Asia and perhaps it is worth rejoining Laos history with Lan Xang, a large kingdom between the middle of the 14th Century until the beginning of the 18th. Luang Prabang was its capitalfor the first two centuries before its invasion and the perception that it was difficult to defend. The capital moved to Vientiane where it is today. Around now there was the first contact with European traders but eventually the kingdom was split up into three; Vientiane, Luang Prabang and later the Champasak. All the while the Burmese and Siamese were in conflict, inevitably drawing the region into the arguments. Luang Prabang probably remains the highlight of a Laos holiday today.
In 1779 Siam overran Laos and remained in effective control until 1893 although there were now problems with the east and Vietnam. However, it was the arrival of the French that changed everything. They first appeared exploring the Mekong in the 1860s and gradually their influence spread with troops finally sent in to protect their interests.
They gradually took control much to the frustration of Siam. Their control was certainly not strong and it was regarded as preferable to the Siamese. There were period problems from both the Chinese as well as Lao Theung rebels. Through the 1920s and 1930s they looked to implement health and education reform though by the end of the period there was a growing sense of national identity, just at the time when World War II broke out. As the War finished the ‘’free Lao’’ movement was growing. Although the French were able to restore control the end was near for the French and eventually after the Viet Minh victory at Dien Bien Phu the French were to leave Indochina. They left behind their architecture which tourists travelling on Indochina tour packages will see throughout the whole of Indochina. Even the baguette remains as part of the cuisine.
Elections were held in Laos in 1955 and a coalition formed. That and a subsequent coalition failed and the North Vietnamese invaded in 1958. Laos neutrality was established in theory but Vietnam’s presence remained and resulted in Laos being involved in a further two decades of conflict until the end of the Vietnam War. The east of the country was particularly badly hit during the struggle with the Americans and a great deal of unexploded ordinance remains even today. The nominal government and the Laos army had American support but ultimately of course the Americans were to leave. Finally, in 1975 the Lao People’s Democratic Republic was formed with the monarchy abdicating when it was clear where the real power in the country lay.
The new government was communist but very dependent, and subservient to Hanoi with support from the USSR. The USSR broke up of course and although there has been some economic reforms the communists still hold power in Laos today. Those on Laos travel packages will not see any signs that the people are not happy with the way the country is run. Laos, known commonly as the ‘’Land of a Million Elephants’’ is worth some of your time; get in touch with a good Laos Tour operator.