Early History


In its history Laos was highly influenced by external forces. Due to bad geographic location and ragged landscape, Laos just had solid external borders in the 20th century. Until the 14th century Laos was separated in different territories and was ruled by Siamese, Burmese, Chinese and Khmer (territory of today’s Cambodia) rulers. During the 14th century prince Prinz Chao Fa Ngum shaped the kingdom Lan Xang (land of a million elephants), whose borders reached till present-day Cambodian land. Until today Lan Xang has been seen as the cornerstone of the Laotian state, as Chao Fa Ngum was the first who reunited the Laotian principalities and could fight foreign powers with success. At the beginning of the 18th century the empire disintegrated and three parts emerged. They had to face continual attacks and at the beginning of the 19th century Laos was fully invaded by the Siamese.

Colonisation by the French


After the defeat of the Siamese against the French in 1893 Laos became a protectorate of France. During the time of imperialism the French colony Indochina consisted of today’s Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia. In contrast to Vietnam the French had no big interest in Laos. After discovering that the Mekong river couldn’t function as waterway to China because of the many waterfalls, Laos mainly functioned as buffer state to the British influenced Siam. During World War Two Laos was conquered by Japan. After the Japanese capitulation in 1945 Laos declared on the 12th of October 1945 its independence, but was soon conquered again by the French. It was during this period that the Laotian independence movement Lao Issara formed. In 1949 Laos gained more freedom granted by the French. After the military defeat of the French in 1954 in Dien Bien Phu against the Vietminh France let down all colonial demands in Indochina and Laos gained full independence.

Independence and Civil War



This didn’t mark the end of tensions in Laos. The independence movement Lao Issara split in three parts, also in the communist Pathet Lao which led to civil war. With rising Vietnam war and the presence of the American military in Asia to contain communism, Laos was soon under external influence again. The kingdom of Laos got huge support by the Americans in fighting the communist Pathet Lao. The USA fought Pathet Lao and the North Vietnamese military by aerial bombardments as their supply path went from the North of Vietnam through Laos to South Vietnam (the so called “Ho-Chi-Minh Trail”).
After the end of the Vietnam war in 1973, the reunion of Vietnam in 1975, and the victory of the Red Khmer in 1975 in Cambodia, also in 1975 on the 2nd of December the People’s Democratic Republic Laos was exclaimed by the Pathet Lao. This marked the end of nearly 600 years of monarchy and Laos. This led to many Laotian refugees who settled in the monarchic Thailand or in the USA and Australia. Today still many Laotians live in these countries.

Socialism from 1975



From 1975 on a strict isolation politic started, expropriation of privates and agricultural cooperatives were established. This led to economic stagnation and to food shortage. With Glasnost and Perestroika in the USSR at the beginning of the 1980s Laos became also more political liberal. The end of communism in Europe and the breakdown of the USSR at the beginning of the 1990s marked the start of a new time in Laos as the former financial supplying states didn’t exist anymore. Laos opening to the Western world led to more investments, especially in the growing tourism sector. Similar like in the neighboring states China and Vietnam the still officially existing planned economy is developed to a more market-orientated one.
2020 the People’s Democratic Republic Laos celebrated its 45th anniversary.

Economic growth and regional integration

Over the course of the new millennium, Laos has to date enjoyed one of the highest economic growth rates in the world, averaging 7-8% per year. Investments in hydropower plants on the Mekong and in the mining sector, as well as the growing tourism sector, ensure constant growth and a rising standard of living. With Laos joining the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) in 1997, the country is also strongly involved in regional development and cross-border cooperation.


Sources: Lambert, Tim (2015): A short history of Laos. In:, Zeck, Johannes (2016): Education in Laos (Part I) – The beginning of a formalized school system. In:, Zeck, Johannes (2017): Education in Laos (Part II) – Parallel education systems during the Lao Civil War (1954 -1975)