In Washington, some people have been reminded that Laos - with its internal divisions between warlords and local nobles - could be "a great place to have a war": the result is that over two million tons of opium trafficking and CIA covered bases are unhooked over nine years on Laotian territory, making it the most bombed territory in history.
These were the years in which China on the one hand and Thailand on the other fuelled mysterious local guerrillas to overthrow the Laotian government, but in the meantime, with a series of progressive openings to the market economy, the country began to project itself towards a new era. The single party remains in power but the barriers to foreign investment fall, four "bridges of friendship" open to re-establish relations with the Thais, political exiles are encouraged to return with their capitals, so much so that today one of the hotel-resorts in the background of the sumptuous former capital of the kingdom Luang Prabang is owned by Princess Manilai, a member of the old royal family.
With the return of the exiles' capitals - and massive foreign investment - everywhere hotels are built to measure for Chinese and Korean visitors, but also resorts with a more western taste: the government decided that 2018 will be the year of tourism in Laos and to accredit the nation within increasingly sophisticated circuits is launching initiatives such as the Dansavanh Tournament and next November's national games, dedicated to sportsmen who want to try out specialties such as rock and marathon, but also experiment golf courses increasingly widespread throughout the territory. With its mountainous territory, Laos is developing a kind of national obsession for golf, in an attempt to attract players from the rest of Asia, Europe and the United States, and perhaps also to show off its growing prosperity.
The main driving force behind this development is Chinese interests. Let's take for example villages such as Ban Napia, which so far have been based on the tenacity and despair of the locals, capable of transforming the legacy of the war into a means of livelihood: during the conflict, the B-52 dropped an average bomb every eight minutes, 24 hours a day, for the duration of nine years. It is estimated that some 80 million bombs have remained unexploded, resulting in years later in a trail of victims that continues to this day. The most affected province of Xieng Khouang, together with other areas, has developed an entire parallel economy based on the excavation, neutralisation and recycling of devices. From spoons to lids, from tables built on mortar remains to sheets recovered from military posts, each house houses products made from military objects. Just as the inhabitants of Ban Napia and many other villages have been able to exploit the past despite them, the old Ho Chi Minh Trail and the adjacent routes, along which military supplies were once transported, are now becoming a crucial economic corridor.
While the Trump administration in the United States is calling itself out of the Trans Pacific Partnership - an economic pact that should have linked the two shores of the Pacific in an immense market with reduced tariffs and barriers - China is taking on the role of major sponsor of the movement of goods, aware of the need for new markets to which its products will be increasingly quickly spilled.
Beyond the railway line, the other major engine of development is energy: thanks to its position the Cinderella of the area suddenly found herself playing the role of "battery of Southeast Asia". The numerous dams on the high course of Mekong - at least ten Chinese-designed dams, but there are also Thai projects - are moving resources and capital, while villages separated from the rest of the country suddenly become huge open-air construction sites, which according to the government will be able to generate billions of dollars to reinvest in education and health care.
In Vang Vieng, now connected to Vientiane only by a road scattered with holes, trucks, bulldozers, concrete mixers and Chinese workers have already arrived, and are building three tunnels through the mountains overlooking the Nam Song River.
The works for the dams change the face of places like Xayaburi, until yesterday a town of 16 thousand inhabitants and today a building site with lots of roads and airport.
In Vientiane, the Lao Securities Exchange, the first (and only) Laos stock exchange, opened six years ago.
Certainly, the "Bo pen nhang", the "Take it slow" of tradition, looks more and more like a memory.