What can I say about the Lao People's Democratic Republic*? Well, I can say: "Go there, if you get the chance." Go there right now, before mass tourism and globalisation ruin it. It is an absolute gem of a country, with some of the most amazing scenery I've ever seen, dense forests, beautiful temples and - as a local brochure put it - a people whose national character is "shy, reserved and gentle."** You just feel like you could just kick off your shoes and stay there forever.
This is the mighty Mekong river, at dawn. (It seems compulsory to call it the "mighty" in all the guide books, at every opportunity. Like there's some other Mekong you might get it confused with. The Unimpressive Mekong in Surrey, perhaps.) We spent two days sailing down it . The sands glitter with gold dust.
This is the sort of house most rural people live in - it's not a rich country at all. What you can't see from this angle is the 6ft satellite dish out the back. They want their MTV!
This is a shot of Luang Prabang, the town we reached by boat. Luang Prabang is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and sits on a penninsula in the river. It's known for its colonial French architecture and is just a gorgeous, laid-back place.
This is a view upriver from Luang Prabang town. It's weirdly reminsicent of Durham in the UK ... which is also, coincidentally, a world heritage site.
These are monks collecting their breakfast. Every morning at dawn the locals go out with pots of cooked rice and bananas and other foods, and kneel at the side of the road. Hundreds of monks process out from their temples and the townspeople put food in their pots. The monks aren't allowed to eat anything except gifted food, and not even that after midday.
This is Mr Ashbless crossing a seriously rickety bamboo bridge over the Khan river. There's no point in building a better one because it'll just get washed away when the rains come! It's a good job you can't see fear in a photo.
This is the temple of Wat Xian Thong, which is the oldest in the country (1560). It's small but elaborately decorated with mirrorwork and paintings.
And a temple doorway I really liked.
And this is some blasted tourist posing next to the elephant-head holy-water dispenser ... Oh hold on: it's me.
More Laos coming up - OMG those mountains!
* rule of thumb: any country with the word "Democratic" in its name, isn't. Laos is technically a communist dictatorship, although as tourists we didn't see any sign of that (no obvious military or police presence) and they've certainly, in recent years, been letting local private enterprise flourish. Oh, hold on ... there's a restaurant/bar curfew set at 11pm. Is that oppression? It helps keep the backpackers quiet, anyway.
** This is despite Laos being the most-bombed country per capita in the history of the world. And the US hadn't even declared war on the place when they did it.