I have visited almost all countries in southeast Asia, but not Lao, until now. Luang Prabang is Lao’s cultural center. As much as I liked Australia, it’s good to be back in Asia, away from the perfectly organized affluence and “slippery when wet” signs. Luang Prabang is rather touristy, I saw almost as many Western tourists as locals on the streets and there are guesthouses everywhere. But it’s also peaceful and quiet, with old low houses, narrow streets, very little traffic, no modern buildings, and only a handful of souvenir shops. Small temples are scattered throughout the old town, and Buddhist monks in their orange robes are out on the streets.

Luang Prabang is built along the shores of the mighty Mekong river, which slowly flows down the length of Laos until it emerges in a huge delta in southern Vietnam, where I had gone out in a boat for a few days last year. Long narrow wooden boats are loaded by boatmen carrying huge bags on their shoulders, walking up narrow planks to their boats while tourists watch from restaurant terraces that overlook the Mekong.