Of course Laos isn't all gold and candlelight. During the Second Indochina War, Laos became the most heavily bombed country per capita in the history of warfare, a distinction it still holds. In 1975, after years of wars and division, the monarchy was dissolved when the crown prince "abdicated" (to a re-education camp where he died) and the Pathet Lao, the ruling communist party of the Lao People's Democratic Republic, took over. The country is one of the poorest in the world with very low education standards, but growing tourism is helping the economy, and thus the people.

On Christmas Eve, we got out of town and trekked through some of the villages in the hills around Luang Prabang. We visited a Hmong village, an ethnic minority in Laos that fought under US direction against the North Vietnamese. We didn't bring toys, but still made friends as the kids loved hamming it up for our cameras and getting to peek at pictures of themselves.

We continued our trek over the mountain, stopping for a lunch of sticky rice, dried riverweed with sesame, and salted buffalo (and I am 100% serious when I say that this was all very good). We took a tour of a cave that our guide told us served as shelter for the local villagers during bombings and noted the little buddha statues tucked into crevices.

We ended up at a gorgeous set of cascading waterfalls and found a pool and a rope swing at the bottom.

We wrapped up the day with an amazing dinner (have I mentioned that the food was really good in Laos?) cooked by our guesthouse hosts, and then a cozy night reading the Christmas story with tea in our bungalow.

(The weather in Laos was wonderful. Misty and cool in the mornings, hot during the day, then chilly at night to sleep. We loved the variety!)