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Lan Na and Lan Xang in Laos History

In what is today Laos and Northern Thailand, several small independent Tai and Mon meuangs existed until the 13th century, when The Tais rebelled against the Khmers, resulting in a coalition of several meuangs which formed the foundation of the Sukhothai Kingdom in Northern Thailand.

In what is today Laos and Northern Thailand, several small independent Tai and Mon meuangs existed until the 13th century, when The Tais rebelled against the Khmers, resulting in a coalition of several meuangs which formed the foundation of the Sukhothai Kingdom in Northern Thailand. Sukhothai was ruled by King Ramkhamheng who supported Chao Mengrai of Chiang Mai and Chao Khun Ngam Muang of Phayao in founding of Lan Na Thai (Million Thai Rice fields). Lanna extended from Northern Thailand as far as Luang Prabang, down to Vientiane. Debate continues today whether this kingdom was essentially Thai or Lao as the people of that kingdom described themselves as both.

As the kingdom of Ayuthaya gained dominance in the 14th century, the power of Lanna waned. Fa Ngum and his father, who had seduced one of his father?s wives, had been expelled from Muang Sawa and took refuge at Angkor. Eventually he married the Khmer ruler?s daughter Nang Kaew Kaeng Nya.

With the support of 10,000 Khmer troops, Prince Fa Ngum captured Xieng Khouang, the Korat Plateau, and Vientiane before finally taking Muang Sawa and vanquishing his grandfather in 1353. He declared himself king of those areas and called his country Lan Xang Horn Khao (a Million Elephants and White Parasol).

While Lan Xang was clearly a client state of Angkor, it is also the real beginning of Lao history. Areawise, Lan Xang was one of the largest kingdoms in mainland Southeast Asia at that time but it was thinly populated.

Theravada was made the state religion and the Phra Bang, a gold Budddha image cast in Si Lanka was given by Angkor to be enshrined In Muang Sawa. It became, and has remained to be regarded as a talismanic symbol of the Kingdom of Laos. Muang Sawa changed its name to Luang Prabang.

Within 20 years after its founding, Lan Xang?s borders extended to Champa and the Annamite mountains in the east. Preoccupied with warfare, his ministers, unable to further tolerate his ruthlessness, drove him into exile to what is today Nan province in Northern Thailand. He died there 5 years later.

His eldest son, Oun Heuan, succeeded him, taking upon himself the name Phaya Samsaenthai ? the Lord of 300,000 Thais. Having married princesses from Chiang Mai and Ayuthaya, he reorganized the administration of his country along Siamese lines and built temples and schools. During his reign of 43 years Lan Xang prospered and became an important trade center. Upon his death in 1421, warring factions kept Lan Xang in turmoil for the next 100 years. Twelve different rulers came and went during this time ? many of them lasting no longer than a year or two.

Samsenthai?s daughter, Nang Kaew Pimpha, better known as the Maha Devi, installed 7 of those kings before finally claiming the throne for herself. These were bloody years in Laos. Disgusted, her ministers had her bound with her young lover to a stone and left her to starve and become food for the carrion birds.

King Phothisarat came to power in 1520 and moved the capital to Vientiane to avoid aggression from Burma in the west. Having conquered Lanna, he set his son Setthirat upon the throne there. 5 years an elephant killed later King Phothisarat as he was trying to show off his elephant roping skills and his son assumed the throne of Lan Xang as well. From Lanna he brought the Phra Kaew - the Emerald Buddha - to Vientiane, and to house it, built Wat Phra Kaew. He also ordered the construction of That Luang, the largest Buddhist stupa in the Kingdom.

Although great in area and powerful, the rulers of Lan Xang were never able to subjugate the numerous highland tribes of Laos. Mountainous states in the northeast maintained their independence or were subject to Chinese or Annamite influence. King Setthirat disappeared on a military campaign to the mountains of the northeast in 1571, never to be heard of again. It is thought that rebellious highlanders destroyed him and his troops.

Lanna declined rapidly from this point. Internal warring factions and intermittent Burmese domination brought Lanna 60 years of chaos until in 1637 King Surya Vongsa ascended the throne. For 57 years (the longest reign of any Lao king) he ruled, bringing peace and prosperity. This was the pinnacle in Lao history in terms of territory, power and prestige.

 
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