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Prior to the 20th century Lao principalities and the Kingdom of Lan Xang extended to the Sipsong Panna (China), Sipsong Chau Tai (Vietnam), and Khorat Plateau (today the northeast of Thailand) where the river was used as a transportation artery to connect Lao peoples on both the right and left banks.However, the political history of Laos has been complicated by frequent warfare and colonial conquests by European and regional rivals.

The Lao Theung peoples are distinguished by dry rice cultivation, and animist beliefs.Lao society is traditionally categorized into three broad groups based on ethnicity and location.Approximately 50% of the total population is ethnic Lao (Lao Loum or Lao Tai); 10% are categorized as Lao Theung or “upland Lao” who are predominantly people of Mon or Khmer ancestry; another 34% are Lao Sung or “mountain Lao,” and are also commonly referred to as “hill tribes.” Hill tribe peoples in Laos include the Hmong, Yao (Mien), Akha, and Lahu.The Tai family includes the Lao and Thai, as well as smaller groups which have generally been distinguished by their traditional dress and include the Tai Dam (Black Tai), Tai Daeng (Red Tai), and Tai Khao (White Tai).The Laos to define both the ethnicity and nationality.

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