Laos Brief History

By | November 2, 2021

Long ago, Laos was called Lan Xang which means “The Land of Millions of Elephants” and referred to all the animals that lived here. Unfortunately, this expression is no longer correct. During my trip to Laos, I did not see a single elephant. There are still elephants in Laos, but they can no longer be counted in the millions.

According to Commit4fitness, Laos is one of the poorest countries in the world, hard hit by several wars, not least the Vietnam War when the country was withdrawn due to the supply chain of the Vietnamese guerrilla movement, the Ho Chi Mihn Trail, passing through part of Laos. The traces of the American bombings can still be seen today.

Laos is a small, fascinating country that has a lot of interest for visitors; beautiful nature, ancient culture and friendly people which more and more travelers are discovering.

Laos history in brief

Little is known about Lao’s history before the 14th century. However, researchers have found that Thai-speaking peoples began migrating into the area from southern China in the 6th century AD and settled along the Mekong River. The Lao people came somewhat later, between the ninth and twelfth centuries. In Luang Prabang, Xiangkhoang and That Phonom, cultural and political centers, dominated by the Lao people, emerged during the same period. These small kingdoms were part of the sphere of influence of the Cambodian Angkor kingdom. It was from Angkor that Buddhism came to Laos. When Angkor collapsed in the 14th century, a number of small Laotian kingdoms united to form the larger kingdom of Lan Xang, centered in Luang Prabang. Lan Xang’s heyday was 1637-1694 under King Soulignavongsa. After his death, a power struggle broke out which resulted in the emergence of three smaller kingdoms.

When the French began to show interest in the region in the late 19th century, the three kingdoms had become Thai vassal states. Thailand, then Siam, was forced in 1893 to sign an agreement to cede areas east of the Mekong River to the French. Laos was thus incorporated into the French Indochina colony. The French abolished slavery and took control of the tax system, but otherwise the local Laotian elite was allowed to continue to run the country. The king remained on the throne.

Laos history, modern

In 1941, Japan occupied French Indochina, but France was allowed to continue to rule the area


Japan took control of Indochina. King Sisavang Vong then took the opportunity to declare Laos independent, but after the Japanese capitulation in August, France regained control of Indochina.

During World War II, two main directions of political power had emerged. One was the liberation movement Lao Issara, which had strong ties to the left-wing guerrillas in Vietnam and wanted to get rid of the French. The other direction consisted of groups who, on the contrary, feared Vietnamese influence and therefore wanted to retain French rule. After the war, France concentrated its interest on Vietnam and Laos gained increasing self-determination


Became Laos independent. After independence, the country ended up in a civil war that lasted for 20 years. In the war, the Western-oriented government under Prince Souvanna Phouma stood against the successor of the socialist liberation movement Lao Issara, the Communist Party of Pathet Lao, led by Prince Souphanouvong


Laos was drawn into the Vietnam War when the United States began bombing northern Laos to destroy the Viet Minhs, the North Vietnamese guerrilla, supply route that passed through the Pathet Lao-controlled area. About two million tons of bombs and mines were dropped on Laos during the war, making the country one of the most bombed in world history. In connection with the bombings, the United States trained and equipped an anti-communist guerrilla group among the Hmong population in the northern part of the country.


When the United States and North Vietnam concluded a peace agreement, the way was paved for an end to the fighting in Laos as well. Later in the year, a ceasefire agreement was signed in the Laotian capital Vientiane. Pathet Lao then controlled two thirds of the country. At the same time, the United States suspended support for the Mongol guerrillas, who continued their fight against the Communists.
A coalition government was set up under Prince Souvanna Phouma with several ministers from Pathet Lao.

But in connection with the communist takeovers in Vietnam and Cambodia in 1975, new fighting broke out and in the same year, Pathet Lao took power throughout the country.
In December 1975, the monarchy was abolished and the Lao Democratic People’s Republic was proclaimed. The convened National People’s Congress elected Pathet Laos leader Prince Souphanouvong as president. Prince Souvanna Phouma received an honorary post as government adviser.
The Communist Party, or the revolutionary party of the Laotian people, now became the only party allowed.


In connection with the communist takeovers in Vietnam and Cambodia, new fighting broke out and Pathet Lao took power throughout the country.
In December, the monarchy was abolished and the Democratic People’s Republic of Laos was proclaimed. The convened National People’s Congress elected Pathet Laos leader Prince Souphanouvong as president. Prince Souvanna Phouma received an honorary post as government adviser. The Communist Party, or the revolutionary party of the Laotian people, now became the only party allowed

About 40,000 soldiers and officials from the former regime, as well as other opposition figures, were put in so-called retraining camps. King Savang Vatthana and his queen also ended up in concentration camps, where they were treated badly and later died of starvation.


After years of low productivity and declining living standards, Laos took some cautious steps toward economic and political change. The Communist Party opened up the economy to private ownership and entrepreneurship, and non-partisan experts were appointed to various positions in the administration to make the system more efficient.


The country was opened to foreign investors


The economic problems were exacerbated by the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe in the late 1980s, when Laos had been dependent on aid from and trade with the former communist countries. With the help of the lending institutions International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, an economic program was implemented from this year, which included new taxes and more efficient tax collection. As a result, the Treasury deficit decreased, inflation fell and growth increased


Laos got a new constitution that stated that the country should be a market economy. Several laws were passed to protect private property rights. However, the political order hardly changed

1997 – 98

Skepticism about the reform policy grew after the economic crisis that hit East and Southeast Asia, which hit Laos’ economy very hard, and the country’s finance minister, central bank governor and prime minister were forced to resign as a result.

Laos Brief History