Lao/Thai Friendship Bridge

Travel Info

Luang Prabang
Plain of Jars



Tham Ting Cave - One of the three Pak Ou Caves near Luang Prabang


There is evidence that the Lao people originally migrated south from China.


What is now Laos is said to have been part of the Khymer Empire until the 12th Century when the Thais gained influence under the Sukhothai dynasty. The demise of Sukhothai gave rise to the first independent Lao kingdom in 1353. It was called Lan Xang ( Land of a Million Elephants) with Luang Prabang as its capital. Its leader, Prince Fa Ngoum, invaded Vietnam expanding his kingdom into parts of Champa and the Annamite Mountains. His successors developed Lan Xang into an important trading center. In 1520 King Phothisarat moved the capital to Vieng Chan, which became Vientiane under the French. His son, King Settharthirat, was revered as one of the Great Lao kings having protected his country from attack from the Burmese. He built Wat Phra Kaeo in which he place the famed Emerald Buddha which now rests in Bangkok. The Burmese were successful, however in capturing Vieng Chan and ruled for seven years.

After that, anarchy prevailed. In 1637 King Sulinya Vongsa took control and ruled for 57 years during what is said to have been the Lao golden age. Lao influence expanded to Yunnan, the Shan State of Burma, Isan in Northeast Thailand, and portions of Cambodia and Vietnam. After Vongsa's death the kingdom broke into three parts (one ruled by his grandson, another by his nephew). This weakened the kingdom allowing the Thais and the Vietnamese to encroach. The Burmese charged through the area in the 1760's also destroying Ayyhutaya in Thailand. On the rebound, the Thais regained control of Vien Chan taking the famed emerald buddha back to Bangkok where it remains today.

When the French battled the British for colonial superiority in the 19th century, Laos became a political pawn between Thailand and France. In 1887, The Thais struck a deal with France and Laos became a French protectorate assuming its present name. France drew its border at the left bank of the Mekong. The French colonial period was a quiet 50 years. A ceremonial king was allowed to stay in Luang Prabang. Japan ousted the French briefly near the end of World War II and after the surrender Laos gradually gained independence becoming a part of the French Union in 1949 and independence four years later.

Within a few months of independence, however, Luang Prabang was pressured by the Viet Minh and the Pathet Lao (meaning the Lao Nation) which signaled the country's entry into 20 years of conflict in Indochina between Communists, anti-communists and western powers. The French withdrew. Laos fell victim to coups, counter-coups, coalitions and nine years of US bombing which left Laos devastated. More 2 million tons of bombs -- more than were dropped during all of World War II -- rained on Laos.
The People's Democratic Republic of Laos was founded at the end of the war, in December of 1975. Laos has enjoyed peace since then. Its gradual recovery from the horrors of war and economic depression is now speeding up dramatically. Its borders have opened up to new trade with the help of projects such as the Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge and more tourists are now able to explore this uncut jewel of the Mekong.

Jewels of the Mekong
Home - Cambodia - Yunnan, China - Myanmar - Thailand -Vietnam