Without warning the rain tumbled from the sky. From the safety of the verandah I watched as fat drops danced across the garden onto the road. Squeals of laughter filled the air as people dashed for cover. In a matter of minutes the streets of Luang Prabang were deserted. Once the tropical rains begin, few venture outside.
It proved a bustle of activity in an otherwise sleepy town. I learnt this at the airport, which was new and bright and shiny. Resplendent in traditional Lao style, the multi-tiered roofs reach to the ground, while the so faa, or roof finials, stretch to the sky. From the plane the gold decorations sparkled amongst the verdant forest. The heat and humidity engulfed me as I stepped onto the tarmac, yet unlike many a tropical city, the air smelt sweet, and clean.
Flying across Australia is vast, and mostly brown, save for that initial stretch along the coast with endless sandy beaches and a sea stretching to the horizon. The contrast to the tiny mountain kingdom of Laos could not be greater.
This is a land where green mountains rise to the sky, their impossibly steep sides covered with verdant jungle, their valleys hidden by mist. Small patches of cultivation bravely defy the encroaching forest. Rivers and lakes twinkle in the distance. Little wonder then, that in 1353 Fa Ngum returned to Luang Prabang from exile at the Khmer capital of Angkor to establish his kingdom Lan Xang Hom Khao – The Kingdom of a Million Elephants and the White Parasol.