I ascended Pakbeng’s steep dirt road with the other tourists, and I felt again like I was uncovering a new world—Lao, the mythical kingdom no one goes to, deep in the jungle and beyond the mountains and seas, so far from everything you have to transfer at least two or three times before you get there. For a decade during the Vietnam War an American bombing attack struck this nation every eight minutes. Lao took more hits than all of Europe in the Second World War, which is astounding because all I saw were trees, although even those were being destroyed by logging and damming at the rate of about one fifteenth of the total forest every five years, according to a .25 second google search. Sometimes on the river I passed through a thick blue pall of smoke that stretched over the mountains like a mile-long Chinese dragon, the country’s future going up in flames.
Excerpted from Kingdoms in the Sun: Adventures in Korea and Indochina.