The North of Laos


Global Mark : 14.13 (up)    Top Five : No5

Ratings by criteria : 

Charm Scenery Parks Culture Minor. Market Relax Fiesta 


 5 5 3 5 2 3 3 4 2 14.22

Ratings by backpackers :

Surveyed Liked  Comeback  Recommend  Range AVER.
26 96% (25)  88% (23) 92% (24) 8 to 18 14.04

Description :
A relaxed town full of temples & culture by two rivers 

Comments : As you will see it written at every corner, this place is on the UNESCO World Heritage sites. 

What to do ? Search for an available & acceptably priced guesthouse / Take your two legs and walk along the two rivers, palm trees, temples & old French Mansions / See where the Nam Khan River meet the Mekong : Sabaidy ! / Show your travel book to curious monks / Visit Wat Xieng Thong, the nicest temple in town (K5000) and wander around the numerous other (most free, some K1000 admission) / Go downriver on inner tubes / See locals getting plastic bags full of bank notes at the bank / Sip a fruit juice while watching the sunset over the Mekong / Wake up early and watch the monks "rice-parade" / See a golden Buddha, a great mosaic or moon's fragments at the Royal Palace Museum / Make friends and charter a bus to one of the nicest waterfall in Asia / Keep your friends for the visit of Pak Ou Cave and nearby villages / Rock climb near the village of Ban Pak Ou. / In late afternoon, climb the slopes of Phu Si for a great view of the city (K8.000, free if you wake up before the staff selling the tickets and/or use the east path) / Shop for your dinner at the night market

What you may not like ? Seeing a lot of "sorry, we are full" signs by lunch time / The shortage of cheap guesthouses / The traffic noise & dust on the "Mekong" street / The cost of food in restaurants / Spending too much time getting on & off your shoes at the temples / The inflated entry fees / Not having any friend for the side trips (sniff !) / Having turned the monks into an attraction with the consequence that donors are now quite few. Annoyed by the flash of the photographers ?

How long ? Two days are a minimum

Where to stay ? Except when specified, all the followings offer outside HW :

Hotels  << Get precise info, book online and save money !

- Near the Mekong in Ban Wat That area : this area is popular so it fill up fast...

  • Saylom Khemkong GH (212304), on the Mekong Street (Lim Khong Street) / Basic rooms downstairs or upstairs B100 or B125
  • Soomphol Phaky GH (252166), near the above / Rooms B125 / To there to check the rooms.
  • Vanvisa Villa, 1st lane (southern) off Mekong / Rooms $5, with bathroom $8 / Go there for the charming big rooms & the atmosphere of this nice house.
  • ® Viradesa GH (856 71 252026), 2nd lane (Ban Wat That) / Dorm $1, Sgl $2, Dbl $3 or $4, Dbl w. shower $5 or $6 / Go there for the big dorm with beds, the cheap Sgl and the friendly atmosphere 
  • Viradesa GH No2 (252268), 2nd lane / Dorm $1, small basic Sgl B100, Dbl B125 / Small garden / Go there to sleep with plenty of people on the floor / Obviously noisy...
  • ® Wat That GH (212913), 2nd lane / Sgl B75, Dbl B150 / Go there for the charming clean rooms (including a huge dbl with a small shrine) & the small garden 
  • Chanty Branchit GH, 2nd lane / Big but basic room B175 / Expensive
  • Vilay GH, 3rd lane / Rooms B200 / Go there to check the rooms.
  • Tanoy GH, 3rd lane / OK Sgl, Dbl or Trpl B125, 175 or 350 / Expensive
  • ® Suankeo GH No2, 3rd lane / Sgl B90, Dbl 110 or 125 (upstairs) / Go there to check the cheap Sgl & to get info about the room availability at Suankeo GH No1 (Sgl B75)
  • Rattana GH (252255), 3rd lane / Spotless & very nice Dbl B250 / Outside shower unfortunately for this price...
  • Souksavat GH, 4th lane / OK rooms B100 or 125 (upstairs) but noisy as bad isolation & active rooster (to be fair, not only here...)

- More in the north, near the Mekong : 

  • Phousy GH (212973), lane north of Museum / Basic clean rooms B175 / Expensive
  • ® Phounsab GH (212975), on Photisalat Street, turn left after the above / OK furnished rooms B150, w. HW shower B260 
  • Chaliny GH (252377), Ban Choumkhong / Clean room $7 (B260), w. HW shower $11 / Expensive 
  • ® Sikhounmuang GH, near Wat Nong Sikhunmeang / OK Dbl or Trpl B150 / Go there for the cheap bed if 3 people & the view from some of the room 
  • Pa Phai GH, near Wat Paa Phai, Sgl $4, Dbl $8 / Shower outside / Nice historical French-Lao house / Go there to check the rooms
  • Heritage GH, opposite the above / Nice clean Dbl w. HW shower $10 (B375) / Expensive

- South of Phu Si Hill, near Kitsalat Rd :

  • ® Phonethavy GH, turn right just after Phousi Hotel & the school, walk 100m / Good clean nice rooms B150 or B200 w. HW shower / Go there for the good price for rooms with attached shower 
  • Kounsavan GH (212297), just after the above / Small clean rooms B100 Sgl, B190 Dbl / Go there if you are not too tall as the ceiling is low...
  • ® Chaleunsouk GH (212747) , on the right after the above / All nice & clean rooms have HW shower / Sgl B150, Dbl 175 or 200 / French spoken / Go there for the cheapest attached shower / What you may not like : the size of the house, all in length.
  • ® Vieng Xay GH, a bit off Kitsalat street, turn right just after the hospital / Dbl B40(1) or B50(2), Trpl w. cold shower B75 / No HW shower / Go there for the cheapest rates (by far) in town for acceptable big rooms / What you may not like : that the friendly owner decides to catch up with the tariff, the not so clean beds, the cold shower
  • Viengkeo GH (212271), continue on noisy Setthathirat Rd / Nice charming house / Rooms B75 or B100, B150 w. cold shower / Go there to see the rooms if the staff decides to work. 

Backpacker's Tips : Stefan Westerheide, Germany (Jan 05)
« Chittana GH (5 $,br,hw,fan,clean,friendly) very good value. Fantastic fruitshakes all over town, especially at the restaurant of Bounthieng GH, perfect place to watch the sunset over the Mekong. Sunset on Phou Si also nice, but very busy.  Kuang Si waterfall is a nice day trip but by no means a must see. Lots of very good and still reasonably cheap restaurants on the main road, especially Nisha´s, Café Ban Vat Sene
It´s possible to apply for a Cambodian visa here and pick it up in Vientiane (no visa in advance at Veun Kham/Stung Treng border crossing) , used Mala Travel Agency, very friendly and reliable. VIP bus to vang vieng (6h, 6$) good road »

Backpacker's Tips : Alex (Dec 03)
« Heritage guest house is 10 US, fan, 15 w/AC, very comfortable and quiet. Slow boat alone to Pak Ou caves is 10US. Whiskey village usually a free add-on. »

Backpacker's Tips : Spunky, Dutch (April 03)
« It was very difficult to find a cheap guesthouse, most of the guesthouses ask minimum 8 dollars for one double room. After some searching we found Chitladta Guesthouse, Sisouphanh road. Tel: 071 - 212 227. Very clean and nice rooms but very noisy though. One double with private bathroom (cold water) 4 USD per night. Entrance fee to all the Wats: 500 kip / Tat Kuang Si waterfalls: entrance 1500 kip / There are lots of (young) monks in Luang Prabang and it is very easy to get in contact with them. They all want to practice their English. We met 2 monks who showed us one whole day around Luang Prabang! / Hive bar: Thanon Chao Sisuphon. Modern, nice decorated bar, popular music. Open till 23.30 hrs. »

Backpacker's Tips : Amtrak Amtrakker, Australia (April 03)  
« Luang Prabang (LP) creeps up on you when taking the slow boat from Huay Xai (130k KIP). Found it a fantastic place albeit lots of motorcycles around. Stayed at Chamsoukhan? GH (5USD a night) next to Hong Cafe (street south of Phousy Hotel). Lot of roads being upgraded so quite dusty/muddy. L'Etranger coffee shop was a great place to relax and read old National Geographics - has movies at 7p.m. every night. 
Trip to Pak Ou cave was great with a cheeky guide called Pim? - visited the whiskey village, cave (8k KIP entry fee) and paper making village, but it felt more like a family outing than an organised excursion - 45k KIP. You can find him at corner of Mekong Promenade and Royal Palace north of the navigation office. His father organises trips to Kuang Si waterfalls (entry 15k KIP) and 35k KIP for the half day.
Royal Palace museum was interesting to visit (10k KIP entry), but better experience was the concert at the adjoining theatre (various prices from $4 to $10 depending on how far back you sat) which started at 5 and ended at 7 watching various minority dances). The show is on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays only. 
There is another cultural show at Xingcai restaurant starting at 7.30 p.m. every night except Wednesdays, where the French owner explains the dress and history of various minority groups. It's good value for 50k KIP for buffet of Laos food and the show - there are pamphlets at various internet cafes showing how to get there.
Plenty of adverts in LP for minibuses to Vang Vieng/Vientiane for 12/18USD. However, there are 6.30a.m. and 8.30a.m. VIP express govt? buses from LP (50k KIP Vang Vieng, 60k KIP Vientiane). Great scenery and plenty of armed guards along the roadside. Read in Vientiane Times that tour operators are now using Hwy 13 again. 8.30 bus took 6 hours to Van Vieng, and another 3 hours to Vientiane.

Backpacker's Tips : Hans & Greet, Belgium (Nov 02)
« Mayxay GH : Just in opposite of Lao Aviation office. Rooms 20.000 Kip to 8 dollar (with aircond), around pool with Lotus flowers. Friendly owners!
Also a lot of more expensive hotels, starting at 30 dollar and more. Our tip - UNESCO people come to sleep here ! - is the Sayo GH, in a colonial house just in front of Wat Xieng Muang. 15 dollar for a room, try the ones upstairs ! 
Many food stalls with fruit-juices and baguettes / Nazim Restaurant, in front of Wat Visunnarat. Indian, recommended. / Sulivanh Lao Food restaurant, Ban Phonphengm Phou Vao Road, beside Malee Lao Food Restaurant. / Het Indochine Spirit -restaurant (not the Indochine Restaurant in the main street !), near the fountain in Thanon Phothisalat. Looks class – it is ! – and because it isn’t in any guidebook (yet), prices are OK. Try the Travellers Pan Henri Mouhot, 20.000 Kip. »

Backpacker's Tips : Cherry John, USA (August 02)
I I took slow boat to Luang Prabang and I just love it. I stayed at Pusi guest house in Luang Prabang, it's small 
but clean, $ 3.00 for double room. The place that I recommend to eat is by Dara market, didn't have the name at 
the time, only 3000 kip for a bowl of noodle.»

Backpacker's Tips : Peter Christiaen, Belgium (March 02)
Full of tourists (backpackers and tour groups), but the place has a distinctive charm. Nice temples, good food, shopping possibilities. Easy to hang around for a few days. / Hotel : Heritage Guesthouse (10 USD; old colonial house with nice, clean room with private bathroom; western toilet and hot shower; good location).
Visits : Temples / Kuang Si Falls (80.000 Kip for pick-up; return); Entrance : 8000 Kip. Place is OK / Pak Ou Caves (10 USD for the boat; return). Entrance : 8000 K. Not much to see; give it a miss »

Backpacker's Tips : Tom Masschaele, Belgium (Sept 01)
I would recommend hotel Rhama in Luang Prabang. It is a big hotel (not so nice looking from outside) in the center of town, with a very nice view on the mountains, a big fan, a spacious room and a private bathroom with HW shower, only for 1 to 2 US$ each room. / What you may not like: lots of backpackers & Indians, not extremely clean (but acceptable) and rather unfriendly staff (but who cares?). There is the only dancing in town (including daily with life bands, lao rock music) on the main floor, but the noise always stops at around 11 pm.
On the other side of the street are some cheap and good food stalls where you can get everything very cheap (especially good soup with herbs) and the only pub in town. I would also like to recommend restaurant Malé (or something like that) with splendid view over the Mekong, moderate price and excellent fish dishes.»

Where to eat ? The night market is near the Mekong, just north of the guesthouses area. Just south of the Bank, you can get good salad bites for K100 a piece & noodle for K2000. The cold watery tea is free but arrive early. During the day, tasty sandwiches can be found at the corner of the Mekong & north post office street (K1000). Plenty of other tasty bites to be tested...

Internet ? Two places along Phothisalat Rd (opposite bank & near Wat Pha Phutthabaat) have computers for K450 per minute. 

Some attractions ?

The monks daily parade : what is a religious ritual has nearly became an attraction in touristy Luang Prabang. Starting at 6am, the monks walk the main street to collect rice from devoted locals. There are plenty of temples so there are plenty of monks (but actually not plenty of donors nor rice). Also plenty of watchers & photos opportunities. The monks go south the main street, turn right on the lane north of the Museum and right again on the "Mekong" Street. This walk takes them about 30mn. 

The Royal Palace Museum : open daily 8:30 to 11 & 13:30 to 16:30, K10.000 / T-shirts & shorts are OK if not too short / Bags & camera must be left at reception / Built in 1904, this was the residence of King Sisavangvong and a good part of the museum actually show where the Royal family lived (rather empty rooms). More interesting are the 54kg gold standing Buddha "Pha Bang" from which the town got its name "town of the great Buddha image" (shown outside the entrance on the right so maybe visible without a ticket if discreet), the superb Japanese glass mosaic in the throne room, the painting from French artist Alix de Fautereau or, even, the fragment of the moon given by the USA. Altogether, it is a nice museum probably worth the fee. 

Kuang Si Falls, 29km south of town, 1 hour by tuk-tuk, K8.000 + trip / The first game is to find enough people to share the cost of the tuk-tuk, usually around $10 (we paid K10.000 each for 6 people and 2 hours at the falls). The trip is pleasant but there aren't much to write about. Once at the gate, you can either pay the entrance fee or, if adventurous (there is no real path so you have to fight your way a bit among small spiders nets), go all the way to the falls following the stream up in the jungle (go down the main street, pass the shops and turn left just before the end of the parking to find the small water stream, walk about 15mn upstream to reach a series of turquoise pools that most visitors do not see). Whatever your way, those falls are really impressive, beautiful & worth spending at least a couple of hours (plenty of opportunities to swim & lots of food around). Actually, those are the best falls I have seen in Asia so far... The Hmong village where you may stop on your way back is really nothing special.

Pak Ou Caves, 25 km by boat along the Mekong, 2 hours up, 1 hour downriver, K8.000 + trip / Here also, the idea is first to get enough people to share the cost of the boat (about US$15) / I haven't been there but people I asked where in general not too enthusiastic about the two caves. In fact, it is more a religious experience (plenty Buddha images) than a speleologist adventure. Caves in Veng Vieng were rated better. This being said, the boat trip & the villages stops (one specializes in the production of Lao-Lao spirit) should be entertaining enough if you got enough time.

Backpacker's Tips : Chayut Pihakaendr, Thailand (Jan 04)
« Luang Prabang is one of the popular destination in Laos and a UNESCO heritage site . I arrived LP from Vang Vieng the drive took 6 hrs with a coach ( ( 55000 K )but actually I think I should take the local bus( 40000 K) which is a lot cheaper because the coach won’t trun on the air – conditioning anyway why should I pay more. The bus will make one stop to have a lunch I arrived at LP on the late afternoon . It is hard to find some cheap Gh the cheapest I could find is about 120 – 200 B but with bad and dirty room so my friend and I decided to stay at Rama Hotel it costed 10Usd for fan room 16 Usd for air-conditioned room .Inside the room is everything you needed – hot shower , cable tv , fridge etc . The rice parade start at 5.30 a.m. it is nice to take a photo .I paid 3 Usd per person for a boat to Tham Ting and 3 Usd for a van to Kwan Si waterfall for 6 persons. The internet is very cheap compare to other places in Laos ( 200 K/ min ) on Phu Si ,rd .
There are 2 bus station n LP ----
1. The northern bus station is for who want to go to any city on LP province like Nong Khiaw , Muang Ngoi etc.
2. The southern bus station is for who want to go to any province outside LP province like Luang Nam Tha , oudomxai , Phonsali etc.
I think LP itself is historical site to do once in your life it is UNESCO heritage sites and it would be your last stop for entertainment before go to any place up north in Laos . I think you should exchange money here it gives you with a good rate .»

Backpacker's Tips : Hans & Greet, Belgium (Nov 02)
« Wat Xieng Muang. An UNESCO -project learns the monks to make wood-sculptures and paintings. Just behind the Wat is one of the oldest wooden houses of the city, they’re busy with the restoration. UNESCO will have their new headquarters in the house.
Caves of Pak-Ou : With some stops like visiting a weavers village or a Lao Lao –distillery., 15 dollar for a boat of 4 persons. The waterfalls of Khoung-Sy are better. We combined a visit to both in a daytrip with a motorbike, you can rent it everywhere for 8 dollar ! 
“Herbal Sauna” for 10.000 Kip / half hour, everywhere. 
Massage can at the Red Cross, in the “Lao Disabled Peoples Association Traditional Massage center” in front of Wat Manorom, 25.000 Kip / hour. 
For the most beautiful panorama to the city, go to Wat Chop Pet en Wat Xieng Maen, on the other side of the Mekong. A little ferry-boat (not the one for tourists !) takes for 2.000 Kip, then you have to walk 2 x 15 minutes. For a unique picture of Luang Prabang, go in the afternoon, with the sun in the back / behind you ! 
And for the best sunset, don’t climb the Phusi –hill (up there, you don’t see anything because of the trees, and they ask 8.000 Kip, to see –really- nothing !), but go to the What Pha Baat Tai. 
For souvenirs, go to the stores around the Indochina Spirit -restaurant. For silk and textiles, (In Vientiane people they sell “Made In China”-textiles) go to Octopodoc, besides the chique Elephant -café’. »

Backpacker's Tips : Anne-Mieke Binnendijk, The Netherlands (Oct 02)
« When you visit the Kuang Si waterfall, don't forget to walk through the small village (Ban Kuang Si). Small water pools, streams and lots of (fruit) trees make this sleepy but friendly village a place with lots of idyllic spots. One of the most idyllic spots is near the Vanvisa Guesthouse. Follow the sign on the main street, cross the footbridge and go left. You can sit in front of the guesthouse, which is hidden in the green, and enjoy the surroundings. Vanvisa Guesthouse is the ONLY guesthouse in this village, so every Lao knows where it is. It is definitively worthwhile spending a night there, away from the busy town and the tourists. This Vanvisa GH is the "sister GH" from VanVisa GH in Luang Prabang. Contact the friendly owner in Luang Prabang to make an arrangement. They also have their own tuk-tuk which cost 8 USD for the trip and back. »

Backpacker's Tips : Tom Masschaele, Belgium (Sept 01)
Don't forget to go to one of the best waterfalls in Asia, but go there in rainy season, so the waterfall intensity is enormous. You can climb in the jungle to the top of the waterfall and for a swim, but be careful not to get lost, maybe you should better go with a local. You can go there with a tuk-tuk. It is possible to arrange with the driver a day trip both visiting the holy caves in the neighborhood of Luang Prabang and the waterfall in the same trip for around 15 us$, taking a whole day (12 hours) in rainy season. The scenery along the road is magnificent and you will pass several tribal villages. If the road is too bad during the rainy season, the driver may suggest to sleep in one of the villages if he knows some friends there, for free. You will also get lots of lao lao and strange food, like buffalo 
skin, but be prepared to sleep early as there is no electricity available.
You can as well take a boat trip along the river side of Luang Prabang to the other side where there are caves with lots of Buddha statues (not as nice as the famous one, but almost as good),a very nicely decorated temple in the jungle and weaving villages where they have home-made lao-lao as well. It will cost you around 2 us$ and take 4 hours in total.»

Backpacker's Tips : Paco Panconcelli, Germany (Feb 01)
Luang Prabang & Around :
« The Royal Palace is now open from 8-11am and 2-4pm. Admission is 3000 Kip.
Around Luang Prabang : Mouhot's Tomb is now well signposted from Ban Phanom.
Kuang Si Falls : Many travelers think they can do the 32 km from Luang Prabang to Kuang Si in 30 minutes by motorbike or 1,5 hours by push-bike. You should mention that the road is in such a bad condition that the trip takes at least 1,5 hours by motorbike and a lot longer by push-bike. We met some frustrated travelers who had to pay lots of dollars for tuk-tuks to bring them and their push-bikes back to Luang Prabang. »

Sainyabuli Province : 
« We went via Sainyabuli Province from Luang Prabang to Vientiane. Although there is nothing spectacular to see we consider this part of our trip to Laos the most memorable one. The area sees close to no tourists at all and the people there were friendlier than anywhere else in Laos. It's always nice to travel to places that see few tourists which these days even in Laos is difficult.
Places to Stay and Eat in Sainyabuli : Pha Xang Hotel (15.000 Kip for a double) is pretty noisy. / Phounvilay Restaurant is popular with expats working in the area and has therefore raised its prices. / Opposite the Pha Xang Hotel is the New Sainyabuli Hotel which will open soon. It will probably be in the USD 20-30 range. 
Places to Stay and Eat in Pak Lai : Khemekong GH near the ferry pier has doubles for 9000 Kip. Nearby Nobphalat Restaurant has an English menu and good food. They also sell food for the trip to Vientiane which you have to bring along.
Slow boats leave very infrequent at this time of the year (January) and you have to change boats somewhere in between. If they leave, they cost 25000 Kip (30 hours). A speedboat is 40000 Kip (only 4 hours). We were lucky to find a cargo boat that went through to Vientiane in 25 hours for 30000 Kip. It was a wonderful experience and the crew sure enjoyed my bottle of Mekong-Whisky.»

Backpacker's Tips : Tam Chiwai, Hong Kong (Sept 00)
There is a river crossing near Wat Pakkhan : you pay 100kip and the old woman will pull you over with her small boat. Then you walk up the dirt track to the village of Ban Sam Khon where all the villagers are working on different handicraft products : Silk, cotton, silver, sa paper,... Cheaper than in town ! On the 1st of every month, all the monks of Lao will shave their head. If you go and ask, they will be willing to shave yours as well. Herb sauna & massage at the red cross center is recommend.»

 << Discover the sights of Luang Prabang

Leaving Luang Prabang ?

By boat : 

- To Nong Khiaw : K43.000 per people, upriver, 6 beautiful hours, leave with a few people only as it has to go back there. From Nong Khiaw, it cost K65.000 per person with a minimum of 8. There is however a downside : the boat does not have passenger from Nong Khiaw everyday so nobody can tell you for sure when there will be a departure from Luang Prabang. Check it out day by day... 
- To Pakbeng : Slow boats / Daily at 8am / 2 days 1 night as upriver / K45.000 / Also "fast" slow boat (1 day only) on Monday & Friday (same price) / Speed boat K90.000 (3-4 hours)
- To Huay Xai : same boat as above / 3 days 2 nights or 2 days 1 night ("fast" slow boat) / K85.000 / Speed boat K180.000 (7 hours)
- It is also possible in theory to go to Vientiane by boat but departures are now infrequent as it is much faster & cheaper by road. Investigate...

Backpacker's Tips : Ariel Matzner, Israel (Dec 04)
« The boat to Nong Khiaw: U$D 7 p/person, leaves when full from the Jetty, not every day, book in advance) »

Backpacker's Tips : Hans & Greet, Belgium (Nov 02)
« The northern and southern bus stations are +/- 3 kilometer out of the center of town. A tuk-tuk costs 3.000 Kip per person (they will ask 5.000 Kip). From the airport to the city (10 min driving), a tuk tuk costs 4.000 Kip per person, the drivers first asked …15 dollar ! »

Backpacker's Tips : Tam Chiwai, Hong Kong (Sept 00)
Pakbeng is small village by the Mekong river between Luang Prabang & Huay Xai. A very slow trip since it is up river. First, we stopped at the village of Ban Had Tat at 17:00 and spent the night there. Couple of wooden hut by the river, 6000kip/bed. Leaving the next day at 07:00, we reached Pakbeng at 15:00. The boat is bigger and more comfortable if you travel down stream. If you are heading to Huay Xai, you can switch for a fast boat in Pakbeng, they go quite often in the morning. Stay at the New GH (right on the left turn if coming from the harbor), K13000/rm. The village only has electricity supply from 18:00 to 22:00.»


By plane :

- Bangkok : Angel Air / $100 / 4 flights per week non stop (Wed & Sund) or via Chiang Rai ($70, Mond & Frid) / Also Chiang Mai ($80, twice weekly)
- Kumming : $100, once weekly
- Vientiane : $55, daily
- Phonsavan (Plain of Jars, best way to go as road 7 closed) : $35, daily / From there, flight to Vientiane for $44
- Huay Xai : around $40, daily
- Luang Nam Tha : around $40, twice weekly

Bus Schedules:

The two bus stations are a bit out of town. A Tuk tuk should cost K2000 to the North Station and K3000 to the South Station. All buses below from the North Station except (*) from the South.

To Price Road Duration Time Nb Freq.
Pak Mong K8500 good 2.5 from 8 4 when people
Nong Khiaw K11000 good 3.5 from 7 1 when 20 people
Udomxai K17000 good 5 from 7 3 when people
Luang Nam Tha* K29000 ok 9 8 1 na
Sam Neua* K40000 ? 24 8 1 na
Vang Vieng K40000 good 6 7,10,11,13:30 4 na
Vientiane K50000 good 9 7,9,11,13:30 4 na

Notes : To Sam Neua, stop overnight /To Vang Vieng also go to Vientiane except 10am 

Updates August 03:
Transport from the Northern bus station:
    to Pak Mong kip 12000 9 o'clock
    to Nong Khiaw kip 16000 9 and 10
From the Southern bus station:
    to Udomxai kip 25000 8, 9, 13 o'clock
    to Luang Nam Tha kip 45000 14 takes 10 hours
    to Sam Neua kip 70000 8 
    to Vieng Kham kip 23000 9 takes 6,7 hours
    to Viang Veng kip 45000 7, 9, 12, 15, 18 
    to Vientiane kip 50000 7, 9, 12, 15, 18 
Express VIP buses at 6.30 7, 8, 9, for kip 50000 to VangVieng. for kip 60000 to Vientiane
Tuktuk cost now kip 5000 anywhere in town

The trip to Vang Vieng :
SSSS / L&R / K30.000 / 6 hrs / Bus
My first encounter with a bus so far and also the first mode of transport leaving quite on time. I did not complain as I showed up at 7am only. It was nearly full but I managed to get a seat. The people who showed up 3mn later got a plastic chair in the alley. So to guarantee a window seat, arrive half an hour before the scheduled departure time !
The road is fighting its way around mountains so it is alternatively beautiful on the left and on the right. Your stomach (& plastic chair in the alley) also follows the moves... Anyway, there is no need to eat too much before departure as an half an hour lunch stop (slightly overpriced as usual) is scheduled after the difficult part and just before arriving at Vang Vieng...

See also the trip from Nong Khiaw