The Fall of Lan Xang

   by Charles Kimball

The 17th century was a good time for Laos, which had an excellent king named Souligna-Vongsa for most of the period (1637-94). When he died one of his nephews gained the throne with the help of the Vietnamese army, and Lan Xang effectively became a Vietnamese satellite. Other members of the royal family refused to submit to Vietnam, and in 1707 they declared themselves independent, establishing two kingdoms named after their capitals, Luang Prabang and Vientiane. The south seceded in 1713, calling itself the kingdom of Champassak. Lan Xang disappeared, and after years of playing a diplomatic game to keep their freedom, all three Laotian states were conquered by Siam (1778). The kings were allowed to keep their thrones but were reduced to figureheads, with real power given to a Siamese commissioner.

One Laotian king, Chao Anou (Vientiane, 1805-28) attempted to shake off the Siamese yoke. The first thing he did after his coronation was to send gift-bearing ambassadors to Vietnam, Siam's new rival to the east. Next, he persuaded the Siamese to make his son governor of Champassak, giving him indirect control over two-thirds of Laos. But then he made a fatal error; thinking that the British, who had just defeated Burma, were about to invade Siam next, he led three armies against Bangkok in 1826. No British army was at Siam's door; the Siamese quickly defeated Anou, chased him to Vietnam, and pillaged Vientiane. After this Vientiane became a directly-ruled Siamese province.

  ©Copyright 2000 - 2003 Charles Kimball