Wedged in by the much richer (thirty times) neighboring country Thailand and the much more densely populated (ten times) neighboring country Vietnam, Laos maintains its own character. The lightness of the Thai and the industriousness of the Vietnamese are lacking in this country that seems to have been somewhat behind in history for centuries.
Laos was a client state or part of Thai and Cambodian empires. In the 16th century, the country became truly independent and the capital Luang Prabang flourished. But the Westerners were already lurking.
It was a Dutchman, the merchant of Wuysthof who already in 1641 traveled from Phnom Pen up the Mekong towards Laos. As in many places in Asia where Europeans made their entrance in the 18th and 19th centuries, here too it was the missionaries who formed the vanguard and had been there centuries earlier. Father de Cruz explored the area as early as 1555 and he was followed by traders, explorers and botanists. Governments were not involved until much later.
After the First Chinese Opium War, the promise of trade with China increased and the French military under Louis Napoleon yearned for a chance to match the successes of the British in colonizing parts of Asia. The time was right for the conquest of Vietnam and the consolidation and expansion of French control into Cambodia and later Laos.
French Indochina was born and after negotiations with the Thai and the British, the entire Mekong up to the Chinese border came into French hands. And the dream of a flourishing trade with China using the Mekong came to life. A dream that never came true. And Laos remained somewhat of a stepchild in the French Indochina, where the emphasis was nevertheless strongly on Vietnam.
The arrival of communism
After World War II and the Japanese occupation, the Laotians wanted to become independent. The French initially did not allow this, but after many negotiations, Laos became independent in 1954, according to the spirit of the times. A long period of struggles between Communists and the established powers followed, alternated by an American-backed general regime during the Vietnam War (1964 - 1973). In 1974, aided by the Vietnamese, the Communists took over power and a country emerged that came to somewahat of a standstill until now.