Human beings began living in the present territory of Laos more than 10,000 years ago. Stone tools implements and skulls discovered in Huaphan and Luang Prabang provinces certify the existence of such settlements. The giant jars in Xieng Khouang province and stone columns in Huaphan province date from the Neolithic period. As clearly as the last century B.C. humans in Laos used iron to forge their tools.
The rural community grouping of people slowly formed into muang (townships) between fourth and eight century on both sides of the Mekong River and along its tributaries.
In 1349-1357, a movement emerged under the command of King Fa Ngoum, a national hero, to group the muang into a unified Lan Xang Kingdom, the capital of which stood at Xiengdong Xiengthong, now known as Luang Prabang.
From then on, the Kingdom of Lan Xang entered into an era of national defense and construction under King Fa Ngoum who first introduced Hinayana Buddhism from the Khmer Kingdom into Laos, which is still the religion professed by the majority of Lao people.
From 1479 to 1570, the Lao people were forced to defend the country against foreign aggressors.
Under the rule of King Setthathirath, the capital was moved from Xiengdong Xiengthong to Vientiane in 1560. A moat and rampart was built to protect the new capital whose name means 'the rampart of sandalwood'. King Setthathirath built a shrine to house the Phra Kaeo, the Emerald Buddha. He also erected the That Luang Stupa, a venerated religious shrine which is now the symbol of the Lao nation.
In the seventeenth century, under the reign of King Souliyavongsa, the Kingdom entered its most brilliant era. It was respected by neighbouring countries and was reputed in many countries of the world. In 1694, a Dutch merchant of the East Indian Company, Geritt Van Wuysthoff, and later, two Italian missionaries, Leria and Marini, visited the Kingdom of Lan Xang. They wrote awed reports on the rich and beautiful palaces and temples, and the splendid religious ceremonies, saying Vientiane was the most magnificent city in South East Asia.
At the end of the reign of King Souliyavongsa, the feudal lords of Lan Xang became contenders for the throne which led to the division of the country into three Kingdoms in 1713: Luang Prabang, Vientiane, and Champassak. The division created opportunities for new foreign aggressors. The Lao people fought relentlessly to recover their national independence, and the fiercest but unsuccessful struggle (1827-1828) in the Kingdom of Vientiane was led by King Anouvong, now a National Hero. Vientiane was ransacked completely destroyed by the Siamese, with the exception of That Luang and Vat Sisaket. The Emerald Buddha was taken to Bangkok.
In 1893, Laos became a French colony. The Lao people of different ethnic groups under the leadership of the Communist Party of Indochina, founded in 1930, continued to struggle for the self-determination and independence of Laos as well as that of Vietnam and Cambodia. Lao independence was recognized by the Geneva Agreement on Indochina in 1954.
Despite the agreement, neo-colonialist stepped into Laos to replace the old. During this time, the ethnic Lao people suffered enormously. The pain of the people and the destruction of land and property was beyond physical measure.
Because of the perseverance and struggle of the Lao people, victory after victory was scored until the people was able to seize power throughout the country.
A coalition government was formed, but when Saigon fell in 1975, most of the royalists left for France. The Pathet Lao peacefully took control of the country and the Lao People's Democratic Republic came into being in December 1975. Laos remained closely allied with the Vietnamese communists throughout the 1980s. Although many private businesses were closed down after 1975, there has been a relaxation of rules since 1989, and the move towards a market economy has led to a small-scale economic revival. Laos cemented ties with its neighbours when it was welcomed into ASEAN in July 1997. In 1998 former prime minister Khamtai became president.
By the late 1990s, the economy was in such poor shape - having experienced inflation of over 100 percent and a depreciation of the kip by more than 500 percent - that the resolutely socialist country did something that they'd never done before. They devised a 'Visit Laos' campaign in order to attract the tourist dollar. Although not an overwhelming success, the kip has been dragged back from its deathbed and inflation reined in a little. Perhaps more significantly, there have been unofficial reports of disaffected Laotians rattling the chains of the Politburo and hard liners of the draconian Lao People's Revolutionary Party.