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SAYABOURY, a dusty, independent-minded town, sits on the Nam Houng River, with the massive grey and white Pha Xang limestone cliffs – so named because they bear a passing resemblance to a herd of elephants in motion – providing a distant backdrop. At the centre of the town, there’s a massive thirty-room hotel, an aborted government building begun by a former governor whose political largesse mocks the decidedly rustic atmosphere of Laos’s most remote provincial capital.

People from the local hill tribes often come down to buy and sell at the town’s bustling market, spreading out their weird and wonderful range of produce (roots and forest creatures among other things) on swaths of cloth in neat rows around the fringe of the market proper, while members of the Mien tribe run the more established stalls. The textiles available in this section of the market are mostly from Vientiane, so you won’t find many treasures here.

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