we entered laos from the thailand border at chiang rai. it's a really common point of entry for people hopping on the mekong. we took the slow boat trip to luang prabang, a two day trip that i really recommend. despite warnings that our stopping point would be run down and without power, our overnight was pleasant and well-lit. the river itself was absolutely gorgeous.
luang prabang as a town is a UNESCO world heritage site, and so enjoys plenty of funding and protection from over-commercialization. it felt at times like a small french village, and was one of my favorite places to stay. i definitely hope to return one day! while there are excursions similar to those we did in thailand (cheaper, too), we stayed in town for our two days. we escaped the sun at the royal museum and by climbing to the shady temple at the top of town. walking around town was a lot of fun, and there are many wonderful cafes to pass the time. also, lots of shopping and art galleries.... plenty to do!
from luang prabang, we took an overnight bus south to the capital, vientiane. we skipped over vang vieng, which is a town very popular among tourists for its tubing in the river. almost everyone and their mom seemed to have a 'tubing in vang vieng' t-shirt, so perhaps we missed out. sadly, three weeks isn't enough time for everything, and so we passed by vang vieng in the still of the night. (well, perhaps not the still of the night. overnight busing isn't really meant for quality sleep.)
vientiane wasn't nearly as quaint as luang prabang - rather, it fit the bill as a capital of a developing country (though still small and navigable.) we took out bikes for the day, and enjoyed exploring the city - especially a beautiful sunset on the mekong.
in all, laos was my favorite country to visit. i will definitely return - it's a beautiful, friendly, fun place. next up? we fly to hanoi and explore northern vietnam.