One of the early kingdoms of Laos was Lan Xang, meaning Million Elephants, which began in the 14th century with the takeover of Vientiane by Khmer troops led by Fa Ngum, a prince. The territory was expanded under his rule, until he was exiled in 1373, and replaced by his son Oun Heuan. Though the kingdom later broke up into smaller territories, it began to expand again around 1637, with the rule of Souigna Vongsa. Neighboring Burma and Siam fought for control of the territories of Laos in the 1700s, and the Chinese in the 19th century.
The territory became a French Indonesia protectorate in the late 19th century, though it was without much influence from France. During World War II, Japan occupied the territory until it declared independence in 1945, but the French took control of the country again. Laos became a semi-autonomous state in the French Union in 1950, until it gained independence in 1953.
As an independent nation, Laos suffered internal conflict between its Royal Lao Army and the Pathet Leo communist organization, leading to the Laotian Civil War. Though the US supported the Royal Lao Army, the opposition was backed by the Vietcong. Laos was also involved in the Vietnam War, and occupied and invaded throughout. During this period, Laos was devastated by many bombs. The Soviet Union joined in the fight against the Royal Lao Army in 1975, succeeding in overthrowing the king. The Pathet Lao took control, establishing the Lao People's Democratic Republic, which has since been accused of atrocious human rights violations.
Neighboring Countries :
Laos shares borders with Burma (Myanmar), China, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand.
Major Cities :
- Vientiane (capital)
- Luang Prabang
Laos is located in Southeast Asia, a landlocked nation in the forests and mountains of the Southeast Asian Peninsula. The highest point in Laos is called Phou Bia, which stands 2,818 meters (9,245 feet) above sea level. In the northwest are the Luang Prabang Range, with the Xiangkhoang Plateau. The south is characterized by the Bolaven Plateau, as well as rice paddies. The terrain of Laos is mostly forested and mountainous, with river valleys that cut through. Along the western border of Laos flows the Mekong River, while the eastern border features the Annamite Mountains.
Points of Interest :
Laos has many scenic destinations, from the Mekong River to the mountains and their limestone karsts in the northern part of the country. Luang Namtha is a good starting point for wilderness explorers, while Vang Vieng is another potential base.
The capital, Vientiane, features many important attractions, including Pha That Luang, the national symbol, which is a golden stupa. Luang Prabang, a designated UNESCO site, was the ancient capital, and is home to many temples and architecture from the country's French colonial period, as well as cultural experiences like the night market. The 12th century Wat Phu is a different type of temple, built by the Hindu Khmer, but today it lies in ruins. Another significant historic site is the Plain of Jars, which is an archaeological site featuring thousands of stone jars, probably once part of ancient burial ceremonies.
The main airport in Laos is Wattay International Airport outside of Vientiane, while another international airport is located in Luang Prabang, offering regional international flights. Domestic flights are a quick way of getting across the country, and are especially popular between Vientiane and Luang Prabang for an inexpensive trip. Trains are available between Laos's Tha Naleng outside of the capital and destinations in Thailand, like Nong Khai. To reach the train station, there are limited shuttle services to and from Bangkok. There are also many overland crossings from Thailand into Laos via bridges across the river. Border crossings are also a potential method of travel from Vietnam, China, and Cambodia, but not Burma. Roads in Laos can be in decent shape, but many of them are in disrepair. Boats travel the Mekong, and can offer great experiences to travelers.
Within cities, popular means of transportation are songthaew, a truck with two rows of benches in the back, sometimes similar to a minibus and other times more like a pick-up truck. These are very common and inexpensive ways to travel. Similarly, the tuk-tuk is common transport in Laos, with negotiable rates.
Last Updated : July 13, 2018