Laos > Thailand.
Fewer tourists, the people don't try and scam you at every opportunity, less humidity. All of which makes it easier to appreciate the country.
On the way out of Vientiane the markets had baguettes of all sizes leaning up against the stalls alongside the typical south east Asian food and wares.
My first stop outside Vientiane was Vang Vieng. The little town sits across the muddy Mekong from sharp stegosaurus mountains. At night smoke hangs in the streets like fog from where they are burning (rice paddies? brush?) in the nearby countryside. Bung Bang Fai, a rocket festival, happens in May. Kids had strung up rubber bands as makeshift catapults to launch their burnt out bottle rockets across the road.
When I got into town at dusk I walked around with my backpacks--big one on my back, little one on my stomach like an expectant mother. Through a window I saw some dormitory beds. I walked into the house to inquire, and it turned out they had just opened that afternoon. They had to get up to greet me from where they were still putting together the sign to hang out front. I was the first guest and had the entire dorm room to myself.
Across the street was a Hosteling International hostel that was charging 10,000kip for their wifi password. If you sat on the porch of my hostel you could barely pick up the signal. The owner sent me across the street with 10,000kip. He was very clear that he wanted me to stay for a little while in their lobby so as not to look suspicious, and then come back and give him the password. I didn't feel very guilty because the signal was too weak to suffer much leeching from his hostel no matter how many people tried.
The bars and restaurants in Vang Vieng all had TVs. They would play The Simpsons, Family Guy, or Friends, and you would pick where you wanted to go based on what they were playing. The most popular thing to do in Vang Vieng is tubing. You take a tuk-tuk 10 minutes outside of town and float or swim down the river. Bars on either side throw out ropes, haul you in, and ply you with free shots of whiskey in hopes that after a few you'll pay for beer and cocktails. Giving people free shots is like giving them a loaded gun. The bars also sell magic mushroom milkshakes. It was a weird, weird place, and got very crazy.
I'm now in Luang Prabang. It is one of the most beautiful cities I've been in. Last night the night market showed off intricate silk, switchblades, lamps, whiskey with cobras in the bottle, silver ornaments, and even a Delta stewardess pin. Woodsmoke woke me up this morning. After an espresso grown by the hill tribes in the far north of the country I walked to see temples and the royal palace. At one of the temples a monk had squatted down discreetly behind the main wat with a laptop and quickly put it out of sight when he saw that I spotted him. The royal palace hosts the former king's royal car collection. If you go in expecting to see a Rolls Royce or Mercedes, you'll be surprised. It was a tiny fleet of three Lincoln Continentals, a speedboat, and a Toyota jeep. Not what I expected, although nothing is as stately as a Lincoln.