I don't think I've loved a country more than Laos. It's not just it's beauty, which is breathtaking, but it's people's fascinating attitude to life.
Their life is hard. I've talked to a number of people in Luang Prabang about their lives. They are all young males, educated ( they told me they have studied) who cannot find well paid jobs and so work in tourism, often away from their families and children.
If that's not a true reflection of the situation of the majority of people in Laos, then a ten minute drive out of Luang Prabang shows you how underdeveloped a country it really is. Dirt, pot holed roads, corrugated steel roofs, reed weaved walls on houses. But there's no resentment that this is the way life from the people here. Maybe a fear to express discontent to a foreigner because of their non democratic government? But I don't think so...
I discussed this last night with a brazilian, Bruno, talking about the link between poverty, religion and violence. In his opinion, parts of Brazil are violent and dangerous because of the poverty of many of the population. Laos is poorer in terms of GDP and the human development index than Brazil. But there's absolutely no violence or danger here, at least not in Luang Prabang.
So we wondered is it their Buddhism that drives this cultural approach? No way to know really but I think it must play a part. There's a sense of calm I've never experienced in a place before and I'm interested to see if this is the case in the rest of Laos.
I went on a trek through the jungle to the kuang si waterfalls today. We started at an ethnic village of the khmu tribe. They speak a completely different language and believe in animism. I think that the tourists walking through their village is still quite new for them and it feels invasive and zoo gazing, I didn't like it. Once past the village we trekked for four hours through rainforest ending at the spectacular waterfalls. I jumped straight in, it was freezing, and immediately got in a splashing fight with some shrieking Japanese tourists. I'd like to say i won but i was outnumbered. Gracious and soggy defeat.
Off to see some Lao hip hop tonight. No really :)