The nicest evening I spent on the trip with the sweetest people was certainly in the village of Ban Soupoune, a mixed H'Mong/Khmu community.
Notes from my diary:
... the joy of being in a village without electricity: the night descends like a thick purple velvet soup, stars timidly come out, twinkling until dawn.
... on the streets are strewn camp fires and neighbours huddle, every twenty meters, taking comfort from the cold, the biting mountain cold that hits as soon as the sun is shut off; well before the dusk and long before the crepuscule when she shines her last.
... villagers walk earnestly to water stations, pumps or pipes or rivers to wash before the air becomes punishing, brittle and cutting like death's own sickle.
In the morning the entire village is assembled in solemn expectation, bunches of them crouched before the home of the nay ban. Speeches are made, opinions are given and a feast of rat is prepared.
The beasts are impaled on sticks and turned over the fire, another stick is used to scrape off the newly singed fur, exposing the white flesh beneath. I have been told that bamboo rat is a delicacy, but I left soon after breakfast, which was – thankfully – an omelet.
Just before I left, elephants came walking through town, their mahouts riding high. There was a time when Laos was called the Land Of A Thousand Elephants, but now it would be more correct to call it the Land Of A Thousand Toyota Pickup Trucks, so the vision of these large lumbering animals with their intelligent kind faces is surprising; almost surrealistic.