We heard good things about Laos from other travels so we decided to check it out as part of our SE Asian adventure. We left Northern Thailand and grabbed a boat across the Mekong to the Laotian town of Huay Xai. From Huay Xai we caught the slow boat to the UNESCO Heritage city, Luang Prabang.
I need to say a little about the slow boat trip. It's 2 days, about 6-8 hrs/day. The tickets cost around $22 each, which is a lot for our $33/day total (not each) budget. It really is the most beautiful way to get to Luang Prabang on a budget and the bus wasn't really cheaper.
We made it to Luang Prabang and stayed a couple nights. The food there was amazing and we fell in love with sticky rice (made Lao style) and laab. Our favorite moments involved food - sitting by the Mekong eating, drinking fruit shakes, and checking out Tamarind, a restaurant that is geared toward tourists and explains the food on the menu (what/how it's made, the tradition behind it, etc.). In the evenings we strolled the night market, buying nothing, but tucking away ideas for gifts and future home decorations.
We skipped the Pak Ou Caves and waterfalls trips that seem to be standard tourist activities and went to Phou Si hill right in the middle of the town. There are a couple of Wats up there, as well as the Buddha's foot print. Wats are Buddhist temples. From the top of the hill you can see the town and both the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers.
We slipped out of Luang Prabang early one morning and grabbed a tuk tuk to the bus station. We saw some monks collecting alms on the way, thereby witnessing the other major tourist attraction here. At the bus station we attempted to buy local bus tickets and failed. I am a fan of local buses. Mostly because I like the fresh air and being closer to all the action - it makes the ride pass by quicker. I am not sure if local buses exist or if they just won't sell tickets to falangs (foreigners.. you heard the word a lot here... it's good to know when you're being talked about). We boarded the "King of Bus"" - a big Greyhound like bus with AC complete with loud Lao music The environment outside our tinted windows was stunning, perhaps the most beautiful we've seen in our travels and a reminder to us of how beautiful the Northwest USA is (another big reason to miss Seattle).