This article is by no means a travel report or a guide. Just feelings, thoughts and comparison with the other countries in the region.

Part of the old 'Indochina' comprising Vietnam, Cambodia and Lao, these countries are in in bottom tier of the per capita GNP in the world. Surprisingly (to me) Lao is in between Vietnam (129) and Cambodia (140) sporting the 134 position. Healthcare is nearly non-existent (looking at it by the Western standards) and financially inaccessible for most. You will notice the relative lack of old people in the towns and villages.

The natural beauty is incontestable. We have visited during our two weeks only the northern part and thus we can't comment the large southern part. The North enchanted us. High, steep mountains, rivers, waterfalls, little visited trails.

Lots of charming children with deep brown eyes, sometimes curious, sometimes shy. We met three very small boys and greeted them in Czech. To our amazement they returned the greeting flawlessly and subsequently repeated anything we said, whether in Czech or English. Teenage boys playing enthusiastically soccer when the heat of the day subsides a bit.

Luang Prabang – a time machine. It moves you back in time maybe hundred years. French colonial houses, no more than two storeys high. Some finely renovated, beautiful. Other still waiting for their turn. It deserves a few days visit. Wats, the National Museum, the Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre. Or just sipping a drink on the main street, on a terrace above Mekong or Nam Khan rivers. The Old town can be walked around in a short time, with breaks at some of the pleasant bars on the way. From Luang Prabang, you can also set out to discover the near or farther destinations.

Lao food is simple great. Similar to Khmer (in Cambodia). Contrary to Thai cuisine it is not scorching hot. It has all the fragrances and spices of Asia and if you prefer it hot just ask for 'tianam plaa' and you will get freshly cut chillies in soya sauce to make your dish as spicy as you can eat.

We were surprised that buses were leaving on time (or even some minutes earlier). In Cambodia the departure is easily an hour after the announced time.

The tourist infrastructure is far behind its neighbours. Even the reportedly best companies (we have tried Tiger Trail) can't compare to Cambodian, Vietnamese or Thai counterparts. Their program starts at 9-10 a.m. and finish after 3 to 5 hours of activity. This applies even for multiday trips/treks. Getting to the local village after a four hour trek for overnight homestay at 2 p.m. simply leaves too much idle time. Moreover, with no one in the village speaking other language than Lao. Similarly, waiting for 'private' transport by minivan over two hours in the middle of nowhere after the program ends is regarded as unprofessional in the neighbouring countries.

Vang Vieng – just the bus trip from Luang Prabang itself is worth the visit. Six hours of travelling through the breath taking mountain scenery is an unforgettable experience. Overtaking slower vehicles on the narrow, curvy road is also a thing you will remember for long. The town is set in a valley among steep mountains and the Nam Song river flows by the centre forming there an island. The town is not a place to linger about. It is, on the other hand, a good base for exploring the caves, waterfalls, mountains around. Probably the most popular activity is tubing. Not only on the river but also through the 'Water cave'. Quite an experience.

You should be even more diligent than elsewhere. We have encountered three or four attempts to ,cheat us (this does not include the usual attempts to overcharge you – there you have always the possibility to refuse the goods or service) Though we consider ourselves seasoned travellers we paid the double price for the tickets at the bus station (!), were offered 100.000 kip less when  changing 100 dollar bill on the main street, etc.

For me, the most striking difference was the (nearly total) absence of smiles. Used to pleasant, open, smiling folks of Cambodia or Thailand, here the gloomy faces were hard to pass unnoticed. We have walked through the Vientiane night market without seeing a single smile, without being stopped or offered a single item. Stopping at a stand and even taking the goodies into our hands didn't attract any visible interest from the keeper.

Anyway, having left Lao this morning, we are very much looking forward to returning. This time with no forward bookings with Tiger Trail, but visiting the Plain of Jars and the South. But this will be a new article ;-)