National Geographic : 1960 Jan
Landlocked Laos lies open to invaders on north and east. Communists have held areas in Sam Neua and Phong Saly provinces since 1954. Laos, Cambodia, and Viet Nam entered the 20th cen tury as parts of French Indo china. Laos won independ ence in 1953. Only twice the size of Pennsylvania, the little nation stands as a buffer between its free neighbors and the menace of Red China. strange Americans sensibly goes to sleep. Laos has some catching up to do. Seldom in modern times has a nation faced the fu ture with so little of the world's goods and so few men trained to guide her through the critical years ahead. Vientiane-the name is a French version of the Lao "Vieng Chan"-was once the capital of a rich and powerful kingdom called Muong Lan Xang Hom Khao-Land of the Million Elephants and the White Parasol. From the 14th to the 18th centuries it was a power in Southeast Asia, with borders far beyond its present ones. Many Lao still call their country Lan Xang. Eventually the kingdom split into factions, and part of it was ruled by Thailand. Then came-half a century of French rule, followed by World War II and a series of disasters from which Laos has not yet recovered. The country was first occupied by Japanese, then by Chinese troops. The burdens of oc cupation, followed by Communist invasions in 1953-54, left the nation depleted and poor, her livestock industry and agriculture largely demolished, and with only a handful of men capable of taking over the reins of govern ment. At present the United States Operations Mission, the United Nations, and France, among others, are helping Laos rebuild. But the process is time consuming, as we were to learn. House Hunt Leads to Fish Story First thing after our arrival, we had the job of house hunting. In the early days of American aid the director and his few assist ants lived in tents. Finally, after 18 months of living with friends and in a makeshift apartment, we got our home, a new cement block house about four miles from town.