Land-Locked Laos Has History of Isolation, Unrest

Article excerpt

Byline: Randi Bjornstad The Register-Guard

Through a combination of history, geography and politics - and with the exception of Myanmar, formerly known as Burma - Laos may be the least known to the outside world of any country in Southeast Asia.

To begin with, it's landlocked - bounded by China on the north, Vietnam on the east, Cambodia on the south and Myanmar and Thailand on the west - so access to tourists as well as traders historically has been relatively difficult.

Besides that, the Lao People's Democratic Republic is one of the world's few remaining traditionally communist nations; the Pathet Lao took control of the country in 1975 from its royalist government two years after the departure of the United States military from Vietnam, and kept the country pretty well closed to outside influences until about 10 years ago.

In the eighth century, after hundreds of years of Chinese and Indian influence, the country now known as Laos became home to the Lao people, who began to migrate into the area along with other Thai groups and Hmong-Mien hill tribes.

These groups set up separate principalities that lasted for the next 500 years, until they consolidated to withstand the threat of invasion by Kublai Khan's Mongol army.

In the mid-14th century, a strong warlord in the area of the present-day city of Luang Prabang further consolidated his power, but centralized control disintegrated into three separate kingdoms in the early 1700s. …