The pineapples that grow on the steep hills above the Mekong River are especially sweet, the red and orange chilies unusually spicy, and the spring onions and watercress retain the freshness of the mountain dew.
For years, getting this prized produce to market meant that someone had to carry a giant basket on a back-breaking, daylong trek down narrow mountain trails cutting through the jungle.
That is changing, thanks in large part to China.
Villagers ride their cheap Chinese motorcycles, which sell for as little as $440, down a dirt road to the markets of Luang Prabang, a charming city of Buddhist temples along the Mekong that draws flocks of foreign tourists. The trip takes one and a half hours.
“No one had a motorcycle before,” said Khamphao Janphasid, 43, a teacher in the local school whose extended family now has three of them. “The only motorcycles that used to be available were Japanese, and poor people couldn’t afford them.”
Inexpensive Chinese products are flooding China’s southern neighbors like Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam. The products are transforming the lives of some of the poorest people in Asia, whose worldly possessions a few years ago typically consisted of not much more than one or two sets of clothes, cooking utensils and a thatch-roofed house built by hand.