The minibus took six hours to Vang Vieng, a small town at the foot of the northern mountains. The bus was packed but I snagged the front seat. We went over two passes at 1000 and 1400 meters with views above the clouds. The mountain scenery is beautiful – craggy karst peaks all around us, forests, lots of banana trees, and small bamboo villages full of children.

Vang Vieng is an unassuming town with few tourist sights that stretches along the Nam Song river. The big thing here is rafting and tubing on the river. Sadly, an alien invasion force has crash-landed in the center and is building big concrete hotels with no consideration or respect for the old town. All around them, nearly identical restaurants with pseudo-western food are springing up. I rented a nice quiet bungalow at the edge of town, but soon the cancer will spread to the whole town and it will be just like Luang Prabang, except ugly. LP, at least, is pretty.

Several swaying bamboo bridges cross the river to Dom Khang island, which is still green and quiet, with just a few bars and huts overlooking the river and the dramatic mountain background. I had real Lao food for the first time: pizza. It’s difficult to ruin a pizza recipe but the restaurant was totally up to the task. At the next table, a group of girls were ordering, quote, a jug of vodka, end quote. At least the menu didn’t list happy pizza or happy drinks, where the “happy” indicates marijuana, meth, or cocaine. I wonder whether the monks at the temple here are sometimes treated to happy alms.