Evidence of settlement in what is now Laos dates back 10,000 years. In the 8th century A.D., a group known as the Tai migrated into the area from the north. They created several kingdoms called meuang. In the 13th century, when the Mongols dominated northern Asia, more people migrated into the area. Around this time, several meuang united to form the Sukhothai Kingdom, which covered what is now northern Thailand and northern Laos.

In the 14th century, a leader called Fa Ngum created a kingdom called Lan Xang (Million Elephants) that included parts of present-day Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam. This kingdom lasted until the end of the 17th century. When the last king, Sulinya Vongsa, died without leaving an heir, the kingdom split into three. Invasions by the Burmese, Siamese, Vietnamese and Chinese in the 18th and 19th century defeated these kingdoms. Most of the inhabitants fled or were killed during this period, leaving the area with a very small population.

In 1885, the remaining people in the area agreed to accept Siamese (Thai) protection against other groups. Meanwhile, however, the French had established themselves in Vietnam and were expanding their influence westward. Beginning in 1893, the French took control of the area east of the Mekong River. In 1897 they created the country of Laos from several different territories. The country included several different Lao cultures, but excluded many Lao people who lived in what is now Thailand. The French ruled Laos from Vietnam; their Asian colonies were known collectively as Indochina. Although the French produced small amounts of rubber, coffee and opium, they contributed little to the life of the people they governed.
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The Plain of Jars is a remarkable historic site in central Laos. It is a large plateau dotted with hundreds of ancient stone jars. Some are as high as three metres and weigh as much as one tonne. No one knows who made the jars or why.
During the Second World War, the Japanese invaded Laos. Laos became an independent country in 1945, but the French tried to re-establish their power. After several years of internal dissension over negotiations with the French, Laos achieved full independence in 1953. The first government was a constitutional monarchy. It was opposed by the Pathet Lao, a Communist group. In 1964, Laos was drawn into the Vietnam War. For seven years, the Americans repeatedly and heavily bombed Laos, where large numbers of Vietnamese soldiers were stationed. The Americans also sent in guerrilla fighters to prevent the Communist Pathet Lao from taking power. This conflict was known as the "Secret War." It was concealed from the international community because Laos was internationally recognized as a neutral country. A ceasefire was declared in 1973.
In 1975, the Pathet Lao took control and created the Lao People's Democratic Republic. Kaysone Phomvihane became the prime minister and presided over economic changes to nationalize industries and create collective farms. Those who had held power under the previous regime were sent to re-education camps. Thousands of people left the country; most crossing the Mekong into Thailand.

 Today Laos is still subject to the political influence of Vietnam and the economic influence of Thailand. The economy is gradually improving, and the country is relatively stable at present.