Bill Robison, International Expeditions’ Director of Product Development, spent the first part of 2009 in Laos and Vietnam researching locations for our 15-day itinerary. Follow Bill’s series of updates on these fascinating countries, as well as how he’s put together a Laos and Vietnam tour  that covers the spectacular natural beauty and culture of Southeast Asia.
It was time for my first lunch at Kingfisher Lodge, so I headed over to the main building to find two floors, each with tables for meals, with a completely open view of a pond and the wetlands of Xe Pian NPA. The entire lodge had a remarkable sense of taste; well thought out and very tastefully decorated with local flare — not what you might expect from an ecolodge.  I sat down to a view of cattle in the fields, the villagers of Khiet Ngong picking herbs from the ground, and was treated to a view of some elephants from the village as they grazed their way through the fields and filled the air with the sound of their clanging neck bells. Once I had my first look at the menu — which "pad" meal to eat today — I noticed they had Italian food on the menu as well! How could this be true in the middle of a wilderness in one of the wildest countries in the world? Where were the inconveniences I was expecting?
I came to find out that the owner/operator of the lodge Massimo is Italian. He opened the lodge after marrying a Lao woman, and has added his favorites on the menu. Massimo and I had a great chat about the lodge, the challenges he faces with the local government and the proper management of Xe Pian NPA, as well as how his lodge benefits the locals at Khiet Ngong. They have a partnership where everyone shares in the revenue from the lodge, and the locals accompany guests on walks through the forest and on elephant rides to the remains of the temple at Pho Asa. Not only do these excursions benefit the lodge, the workers and the villagers, they also benefit the elephants who would otherwise be put to work logging in the forest. 
For three days I visited the forest, Pho Asa, the village of Khiet Ngong and relaxed on the verandah of my bungalow. All this nature, culture and Italian food, too! There was no doubt in my mind that guests of International Expeditions would thoroughly their Laos tour, and would also love that their stay would benefit so many of the locals...elephants included!
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