Laos, having cultivated a distinct sense of serenity with its slow-flowing part of the Mekong River, is a land of water, with sun-bathed paddy fields and stunning mountainous landscapes. As an ancient country with an extensive and, at times, tumultuous history, it has maintained strong cultural links with its neighbouring Thailand. More significantly, its uniqueness lies most predominantly in architecture and cuisine, with influence from the French in both aspects. Notice the masion-style homes and long, wide avenues. In food, a strong importance is placed on fresh coffee, bread and pastries.