Bill Robison, International Expeditions’ Director of Product Development, spent the first part of 2009 in Laos and Vietnam researching locations for our new 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.

By Bill Robison

Lao children in small villageLaos used to be called "Land of a Million Elephants"...they should call it now "Land of a Million Children!" Lao children are the happiest I’ve ever seen, and the presence of this tall Falang — the Lao people label all Westerners by their word for French — was too out of the ordinary for them to keep their distance. They smiled, chattered and laughed; then laughed, chattered and smiled some more! While the children were convinced I must have candy in my pocket, they didn’t beg and were amazed to hear me speak in a language they have seldom, if ever, heard and definitely do not understand.

Two Loa children help with choresThe kids are picture hams, jockeying for position in front and proud to see their image on the screen once I had snapped the picture.  I only wish I had a digital printer with me so I could give the kids copies of the photos.  That would have been an absolute treasure to them.  My presence was obviously a fun distraction and they were happy to see strangers in the village.

I was visiting an Akha village in the Luang Children relax in their villageNamtha province, when a small, wide-eyed three or four year old boy walked up to me, stared like a deer in headlights, and then started crying.  I thought somehow I had offended or frightened him — these villages are usually animist and have many superstitions and rigid rules for behavior.  The boy's mother came up to our guide and explained, smiling, that the boy had never seen a Westerner before and my height and the color of my skin frightened him.  I could not image a place like this, so insulated from the outside world and yet so friendly and open to visitors.  I knew that was an experience that must be shared with guests who travel with International Expeditions — an experience that anyone in the world would appreciate and treasure for a lifetime.  So, I made village visits an integral part of our adventure to Laos.