Planning Your Time
Given distances in Laos and its mountainous terrain, if you've only got a week to spend here, you'll have to choose between visiting the north or south. A popular strategy in the north would be to enter Laos in Huay Xai from Chiang Mai/Chiang Rai in Thailand, then take the two-day boat trip on the Mekong to Luang Prabang. If you are a mountain lover, you could skip the boat ride and take a minivan to Luang Nam Tha, and spend a couple of days here kayaking or trekking in the Nam Ha Reserve or visiting ethnic minority hill tribes. From here, it takes long day's journey to get to Luang Prabang, where you can relax in a colonial resort and enjoy the UNESCO World Heritage sites. Luang Prabang is more about the atmosphere than actual sights, so a few days can be enough for a quick visit. Afterward, take a bus south to Vang Vieng, or else a van to the Plain of Jars, and spend a few days in either of these spots, with Vang Vieng the best option for nature and scenery lovers, and the Plain of Jars of interest for history and archaeology buffs. From Vang Vieng, a few hours' drive by car will get you to Vientiane; from the Plain of Jars, you can fly. Spend your last night in Vientiane, which has all services and connections out of the country. If you opt for seeing the 4,000 Islands and southern Laos, it's best to head here from Ubon Ratchathani in Thailand, crossing over to Pakse (or else flying from Vientiane if you have been up north). Pakse isn't worth more than a day, so head down to Champasak for a day exploring Wat Phu and staying in the quiet river town or else across on Don Daeng Island. Then head to Don Khong, Don Khon, or Don Det for a few days, where you can investigate the Irrawaddy dolphins in the Mekong, check out the spectacular waterfalls, and enjoy the sleepy island life. It's worth it from here to make a side trip up to the Tad Fane waterfall and the coffee-growing region on the Bolaven Plateau. With all these side trips, you'll need at least four days here.