I stayed 2 nights in Huaysai (or Houixai), the capital of Bokeo province. There are basically 2 things foreigners do here: take the slow boat down the Mekong to Luang Prabang (2 days), or go on the Gibbon Experience in the Bokeo Nature Reserve (3 days). If I didn't get a spot on the latter I would have done the former, but as it was I got onto the "classic experience" leaving April 14th.
It was a blast. We stayed in a treehouse 40m above ground level - especially exciting when a nearby tree fell down on the last evening. There are 7 treehouses in all and we saw five of them, three on a 3 hour trek in the heat on the second day. The down side to ziplines is you always have to climb to get to the next one. Our guides were great though, pictured having a well deserved Beerlao on the last day (my treehouse had the two guides on the right, Boudlun and Nuan).
Next stop was Luang Prabang, after a pretty painful overnight bus trip. I went with Anna and Jenny, two Swedes who were also on the Gibbon experience (I think that's Jenny on the zipline in the picture). There are lots of tourists there, but it's still really mellow and appealing. I saw a man chasing chickens out of his restaurant one morning. It's that kind of place.
The town sits at the fork of the Mekong and Namkhan rivers, and everywhere you look is another scenic view. There are temples, colonial buildings and cafes, not to mention handicraft shops and a night market that put a serious dent in my wallet. There are also some really nice restaurants, including Tamarind, where they have a sensational honey and ginger cocktail. That's right, I'm branching out from my standard rum & coke.
We also visited the Kuang Si waterfalls, which were a lot better than I expected. There are several levels, all of them stunning and a few open for swimming. There were lots of locals enjoying it too (as in the picture, cooling themselves and their Beerlao), along with the foreigners. The water is kind of cloudy, and the fish do occasionally nibble - definitely wakes you up - but it's really refreshing.
As with most places on this trip, I could have stayed a lot longer. After two nights in Luang Prabang I was off south again. Next stop: Vientiane.