Laos, officially the Lao People's Democratic Republic, commonly referred to by its colloquial name of Muang Lao, is a landlocked country in the heart of the Indochinese peninsula of Mainland Southeast Asia, bordered by Myanmar and China to the northwest, Vietnam to the east, Cambodia to the southwest, and Thailand to the west and southwest.
Present-day Laos traces its historic and cultural identity to the kingdom of Lan Xang Hom Khao, which existed for four centuries as one of the largest kingdoms in Southeast Asia. Due to Lan Xang's central geographical location in Southeast Asia, the kingdom was able to become a popular hub for overland trade, becoming wealthy economically as well as culturally. After a period of internal conflict, Lan Xang broke off into three separate kingdoms—Luang Phrabang, Vientiane and Champasak. In 1893, it became a French protectorate, with the three territories uniting to form what is now known as the country of Laos. It briefly gained freedom in 1945 after Japanese occupation, but was recolonised by France until it won autonomy in 1949. Laos became independent in 1953, with a constitutional monarchy under Sisavang Vong.