- a brief overview
in the past
Laos's early history is a confusion of tribal wars and conquests
between vassal states that eventually unified as the powerful,
but sparsely populated, kingdom of Lan Xang. After holding
sway in the region for about three centuries, Lan Xang gradually
fell to invaders, the Siamese from the south and the Burmese
from the west.
By the time the
French arrived in the late 1800s, the region had reverted
to a confused patchwork of Siamese, Burmese, Vietnamese and
Chinese vassal states. During this period, most of Laos's
temples and monuments were destroyed – those of Luang Prabang
being a notable exception.
The French arrived
towards the end of the 19th century, gave the country its
present name, and began rolling back the boundaries of Laos
through a series of treaties with Siam. For the first time,
borders were agreed with neighbouring countries thereby establishing
the integrity of the country. Apart from a brief period of
Japanese occupation towards the end of WWII, French rule continued
until 1953 when mounting problems in Vietnam led to full sovereignty
its smaller neighbour, Cambodia, Laos has been a pawn in the
chess games between regional and international powers. Like
Vietnam, it was heavily bombed by the US in what has become
known as the ‘Secret War’. During the ‘Rolling Thunder’ campaign
between 1965 and 1968, American bombers dropped over seven
million tonnes of high explosive on Laos and Vietnam, more
than twice the amount dropped during WWII.
An intricate web
of political manoeuvring, coups and counter-coups inspired
by the US, China and North Vietnamese fragmented the country
into several warring factions. Eventually, the Vietnamese-supported
Pathet Laos took control in 1975. It is now a communist state
ruled by the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party, based upon
the Vietnamese Communist Party.
As in Vietnam, a
period of hard-line communism was followed by a change of
direction in the mid 1980s. However, the Vietnamese influence
is strong, and limits Laos's freedom of development.
Today, Laos is something of a backwater, a sleepy laid-back
place, well behind its neighbours in development terms. It
is sparsely populated: only about five million people in a
country the size of Britain. Roughly half belong to one of
sixty ethnic minorities, or come from other Asian countries.
The main religion is Theravada Buddhism, but animism and shamanism
is practiced by many ethnic minority groups.
heavily upon fish protein from Ton Le Sap. Similarly, almost
90% of the protein consumed by Lao people in the rural areas
is wild fish from the tributaries of the Mekong River and
from the river itself. Both countries, and Vietnam, are thus
threatened by dams being built further upriver.
Apart from the three
main centres of Vientiane, Phonsavan and Luang Prabang, tourism
infrastructure is almost non-existent. Roads are generally
poor – air travel is the only practical way to visit the northern
area where most of the main attractions are to be found. The
south is heavily forested, and of interest mainly to visitors
who attracted by virgin flora and fauna or ethnic culture,
and are prepared to ‘rough it’.
is an ongoing problem in Laos, particularly in the east near
the border with Vietnam. Strenuous efforts are being made
to remove it, but straying too far from the beaten track is
If you travel to
remote Laos with Haivenu, you will be accompanied by an expert
local guide with the comprehensive knowledge necessary to
avoid straying into risky areas.