PLACES TO GO: PAKSE - Long passed over save for legions of devoted backpackers, this gateway to southern Laos is being more widely discovered, and relished. Picturesque coffee plantations, colonial architecture, ancient Khmer ruins and idyllic river islands are putting Pakse on the map.
BUNGLE IN THE JUNGLE - In the impoverished far north of Laos, the brainstorm was to clear space for an ambitious special economic zone, bringing prosperity from across the border in China. Giant buildings sprouted, but instead of cross-border trade, gamblers, hookers and gangsters moved in, creating a special corruption zone, so sleazy, the Chinese finally shut it down.
THE PULL OF PAKSE - Gateways to the lush Boloven Plateau and close to the pre-Angkor ruins of Vat Phou, the southern Laos town of Pakse is often treated as a staging grounds, but there is plenty of reason to linger in this cool riverside city.
THE TAO OF LAO - Long closed to the outside world, Laos is suddenly hip, and even the quiet capital of Vientiane is starting to feel the tourism boom. Although, like everything in Laos, the boom is slow and measured, thankfully so.
MEKONG RIVER DOLPHINS - Pushed to the edge of extinction, a rare variety of freshwater dolphin is making a fin-al stand in a scenic stretch of the Mekong, in remote Laos and Cambodia. Locals who used to fish the dolphins are now embracing them as the driving force of an ambitious development program designed to alleviate poverty and use tourism to save the species.Isolated no longer, this precious land has long been stuck in time. But now the pace of change has speeded all the way up to a crawl in this breathtakingly beautiful backwater. Take a visit to one of the world's most charming countries, Laid-back Laos
Luang Prabang - Already, a small trickle of tourists are finding their way into Laos, where every day brings new discoveries. The highlight to any tour is a visit to one of the world's most charming old capitals, Luang Prabang, right along the Mekong River. Drop into the World Wonder of the Jungle
Laos is one of the world's poorest countries, long dependent on outside aid. One plucky foreign advisor has eschewed the humiliation of handouts, taking an independent path to a partnership based on trust, talent and tradition. In the process, Carol Cassidy has revitalized the Lao silk industry and put pride back in textile production in Smooth as Silk.
Other hope in Laos comes from former residents, who are returning with new ideas and investment, including one who is rolling the reels like the war-time boom years of yore.
* all pictures, unless otherwise credited, by Ron Gluckman