Steam rises from bamboo baskets cooking delicious sticky rice as locals pass me on their small motorcycles. Mountains covered in the haze of early morning fog rise in the distance. As I shiver against the cool morning air I realize how accustomed I’ve become to tropical weather, when 22 degrees is enough to give me goosebumps. It’s inevitable that I pass a group of saffron robed monks with bowls brimming with sticky rice and fruit, making their way barefoot back to their temples for breakfast. I fight the natural urge to smile and wave as I recognize one of them as our student, and shake my head at the juxtaposition of this solemn novice and the boisterous student I know he can be. But then, Laos is full of examples like that, striving towards development while struggling to maintain and preserve ancient traditions. It is a country full of rituals, smiles and contradictions. In many ways it is South East Asia’s best kept secret, although itself subject to a much darker secret from the recent past. I pull over my battered red bicycle to take a moment to watch the sun pierce through the clouds and strike the mountains. I shake my head for a second time that morning, in disbelief that this place is real, and that I am lucky enough to call it home.
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