With images of Thailand and Vietnam dancing in your head, you ask, "Why Laos?" Well, it separates them, making an unforgettable overland journey across this Southeast Asian gem even more sensible. Laos has it all, on a tiny budget: divine food, bohemian nightlife, generous locals. The kind, calm, and graceful Lao people make it hard to comprehend that Laos remains the most heavily bombed country ever, a legacy the US government is doing its best to repair.
Vientiane, the biggest town, will likely be your gateway, and you should get there before Chinese developers turn it into one big casino. My recommended strategy in a place like this is to immediately find a bar/restaurant owned by a 20-plus-year expat from Australia or Canada -- whatever, someone from a place who speaks your language -- who married a local and never left. They tell you everything you need to know. A refreshing departure from Southeast Asia's earsplitting transport madness, villages like Muang Ngoi remain blissfully devoid of motorized vehicles. Every developing settlement has a go-to guy, who for a fair wage makes many travelers' whimsical daily dreams come true. In a professional setting, they'd be called an expediter or a fixer. They will probably find you before you find them, so once you go, don't be afraid to let Laos come to you.