We were the first western tourists to cross the recently opened border. The immigration officer invited us into his office to practice his English and gave us some homemade rice wine. A skiff took us the short distance across the river, and a friendly monk showed us the way to the immigration office and then to the main road. We flagged down a packed bus heading south. Men, women, grandmothers and babies silently started at us as we boarded and made our way between and over the passengers to the back. People here were poorer than the Thais. We told them our destination and everybody watched as the man in charge wrote a price on a piece of paper. It looked too high, so, shaking our heads, we asked them to give us another price, repeating the name of our destination and asking how far away it was. After some hesitation, they wrote down a lower price that looked right, and we paid them in Thai baht, not having had time to change money. Apparently this is how bargaining is done in Laos: slowly and politely, without getting excited. A monk dressed in a leopard suit and a red woolen hat spoke to us in French. At a junction in the middle of nowhere we got off the bus and took a pickup east into the hills that form the central spine of Laos. The sun was setting over rock spires as we wound our way through the mountains to Ban Na Hin, a small town at the mouth of a broad, flat valley surrounded by steep granite hills. We slept well in the cool mountain air, using covers for the first time in weeks.