Bombs and Butterflies - the pictures.
Well, what do you when your camera is stolen and you've promised to post pictures on a website?
Let's not get into the general grief at the loss of photographs (much more precious than the camera itself). Nor the times I've kicked myself for not downloading them onto my computer - I had plenty of opportunity.
Instead - let's raise a glass of whatever suits you to some wonderful people who have sent me copies of their photos and agree that I can share them with you here. I never doubted the generosity of most people, and this incident has simply proved it. So thank you: CHRIS and LIZ TRY, HAYDN MARSH, BILLY DAVISON and THERESE KELLY. Without you, this would be a blank page.
I crossed the Mekong from Chiang Khong, in Northern Thailand, to Huay Xai, in Loas, in a longboat. Scrambling out, of course, is impossible without wet feet; followed by a walk up this concrete slipway. And my first introduction to Laotian queuing.
As a fairly small woman, I'm at a disadvantage when queuing resembles a scrum. Each time I despaired of making it as far as the little window, to give the man my passport and money for a visa, I turned to look at this view. I was in Laos. One look at those blue longboats was enough to tell me life wasn't going to be straightforward here.
My first night in Laos was spent in a Homestay near Luang Namtha.
What a privilege. For it was humbling to stay with a family who had so little, yet were willing to share it. These women are carrying firewood and vegetables: I simply turn my central heating on if I am cold. They grow vegetables because they must: I have tried to grow vegetables and given up because I am rubbish at it. They weave their own fabric or they would go naked. While I can wander along the High Street and savour the feel of wool and silk and linen.
Supper was a communal event. This little 'table', made of metal, stands about eight inches from the floor. We sat around it, doing our best to avoid causing offence by pointing our toes at anyone - one of the great insults to a devout Buddhist.
The little bamboo baskets are full of sticky rice; we pressed that into a ball with our fingers, and then dunked it in one of the bowls on the table. And it was truly delicious: pumpkin with ginger, morning glory, riverweed, catfish. Not what you'd planned for your Sunday lunch? But for this family, and for us, it was a feast.
Next, I spent a few days in Nong Khiaw. I could have gone trekking, and caving, and cycling. I could have taken a boat trip down the river. I could have explored every nook and cranny of the small town.
Instead, I spent most of my time looking at this view. I looked at it from a concrete bridge (this photo is taken from the bridge.) I looked at it from a hammock behind my little bungalow - high above the river to the right of this picture. I looked at it from the sandy riverbank. Just when I thought I understood the green of the river, or the swish of water across a sandbank, the sky would change and there'd be a sweep of grey. Or a tiny swarm of white butterflies would be disturbed and swirl like snowflakes.
Luang Prebang comes as something of a shock after the calm of Nong Khiaw. And this is a picture of the night market: women (it is mostly women) spread goods across the street and tourists (for it is mostly tourists who buy trinkets here) wander between them, crouch to investigate pashminas, slippers, bags, pictures, and tiny wooden elephants.
I know much of it comes from China. I know local people slip into the back streets to buy their rice and vegetables. But those colours - who could resist those colours?
And tourists mix with local people at the little food stalls at the far end of the market, laden with noodles and rice and heaps of pineapple and papaya.
During the day, I took a trip to Tat Kuang Si waterfall - and it really is this colour. I know it's something to do with the minerals in the mountains, but it still looks magical to me.
There are pools for swimming in - with swings hung from trees for lads who play at dive-bombing. And there are quiet corners, like this, for the more reflective to sit, take in the sound of tumbling water, and imagine fairies.
My last stop - Vientiane. For a capital city it's extraordinarily peaceful. Most places a tourist might want to visit are within walking distance, but if you are footsore, or simply fancy the experience, then a tuk tuk will take you anywhere. It smells of diesel, and doesn't have much in the way of suspension. And with eight of you in it (or hanging on the back) it can be a little cosy. But oh - it's such fun!
Finally, here is a picture of a little Buddha. Because I didn't take this I can't tell you where it is. But I love it - that little smile on his face, as if he's keeping secrets hidden in that greenery. Which, in many ways, is true of Laos.
It's a beautiful country: now I need to go back, and get to know it better! And maybe come back with my own photos.