History of Luang Prabang
Ethnically, the Lao people originated from southern China, settling in present day Laos from the 13th century onwards. The Lao Kingdom of Lan Xang (meaning 'Kingdom of a Million Elephants') became a powerful player in Southeast Asia and its territory covered much of present day Northeastern Thailand.
Luang Prabang remained the capital of the kingdom until 1545, when it lost its capital and administrative status to Wieng Chan, now Vientiane. The royal palace, however, remained in Luang Prabang and the city continued to be the country's monarchic powerhouse until the communist takeover of 1975.
The eventual fall of the kingdom resulted in many principalities coming under Siamese or Vietnamese control. However, the French put a stop to the absorption of Laos by its neighbouring states when it established a French protectorate in the late 19th century. Development under French rule was slow compared with that of neighbouring countries such as Cambodia and Vietnam. Despite a lapse in French control during the WWII Japanese occupation of Laos, the French resumed leadership at the end of the war, sparking an independence movement known as the Lao Issara among the Laos people. The movement was successfully suppressed by the French with the support of the Lao king and crown prince.
Independence was gained in 1953, the same year the First Indochina War ended, and what should have been an optimistic time for the country became a lengthy struggle. Laos quickyy became unofficially embroiled in the Vietnam War, which officially began in 1959. The Viet Cong allied with the Pathet Lao, a Lao Nationalist group, while the Americans and Thais supported right-wing factions. Prince Souvanna Phouma of Laos tried to remain neutral while serving as prime minister from 1951 to 1975.
The Pathet Lao won support upon the American withdrawal from Vietnam in 1975 and a communist state was established that same year under the name of Lao People's Democratic Republic. The monarchy was abolished and replaced with one-state party control. Hard-line socialist reforms were initiated but later reviewed in the 1980s, when economic and social policies were brought closer into line with those of neighbouring Vietnam.
Now a UNESCO protected World Heritage Site, the city has gained attention as a tourist destination primarily for its well-preserved architecture and colonial charm.