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Laos

Laos is, or should I say was, an amazing country. I first went there in 2000 and was struck by the huge amounts of pristine forests, the low population density and the traditional way of life for many people. This is now changing at a massive pace. Chinese investment is encouraging the wholesale torching of the country and landscape after landscape is now blackened stumps and smoke so thick that you can't see the sun. The promise of this untold wealth comes from rubber, bananas, sugar cain and palm plantations and other goods to feed Chinese industry and presumably Chinese and International demand for tyres and so on. Still, several places still have aspects of their old charm including the town of Luang Prabang.

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This is the local boat we caught to Luang Prabang. Filled mostly with oranges and then equal numbers of chickens and people it was a great way to get down the Mekong.

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Luang Prabang is the tourist center of Laos for several reasons including the beautiful wats, French colonial architecture and a setting beautifully located between jungle, the Mekong and surrounding hills. We spent several days roaming the city before Songkran took hold. Songkran is lunar new year in Thailand, Laos and Cambodia and is celebrated with water fights and the throwing of dye. Traditionally it is supposed to be a careful sprinkle, a blessing, but now teenagers ride around in pick up trucks with buckets and super soakers for a week wetting anything that moves. After the third day of trying unsuccessfully to avoid being soaked we moved north to Luang Nam Tha where we spent a few days roaming the countryside, admiring villages and villagers and looking at the devastated hills burning.

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View of Luang Prabang from across the Mekong

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Monks receiving alms in the early morning

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Some of the many beautiful wats in Luang Prabang

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Luang Nam Tha countryside