Laos was occupied during the fourth and fifth centuries AD by Chinese people from the north. It was subject to strong Indian influence from the eighth century onwards and adopted Buddhism. For 200 years from the early 11th century, Laos was part of the Khmer Angkor Empire. It was during this period that the Lao people, who originated in Thailand, invaded the area and displaced the previously dominant Chinese. However, there is some evidence that the Mongol empire had some influence over events in the region in the late 13th and early 14th centuries, probably in alliance with the Angkor kingdom. Following the collapse of the Khmer empire, the independent kingdom of Lan Xang, which dates back to 1349, was established as a single entity bounded by Siam (Thailand), China to the north, Vietnam and the Mekong river, occupying roughly the same territory as modern-day Laos.
Laos is one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the region, reflecting its geographic location as a crossroads of Asia. The hardy Hmong people live off the land in remote mountain communities of the north, remote Kahu and Alak communities of the south have the last remaining traditional face tattoos, and the Katang villages of central Laos sleep with the spirits of the forest. Whether it is the cities of the lowlands or the remote villages of the highlands, Laos offers some wonderful opportunities for local interaction.
Laos is a place for nature and culture lovers. With its dark and brooding jungle, glowing emerald rice fields, and the glistening tea leaves that blanket the mountains, the landscape in Laos changes shades of green like a chameleon. Adventure seekers can lose themselves in underground river caves, on jungle ziplines or while climbing karsts. Nature enthusiasts can take a walk on the wild side and spot exotic animals such as gibbons or elephants. Culture lovers can explore ancient temples and immerse themselves in Lao spiritual life. Foodies can spice up their lives with a Lao cooking class or go gourmand in the French-accented cities. And if all this sounds a little too strenuous, then unwind with a spa session or yoga class. Laos has something for everyone.
The national language is Lao, but English is commonly used in major tourist centers. Chinese, Vietnamese and Thai are widely understood.