Preferably something that is more interesting and isn't going to leave me on a busload full of other travelers with no locals in sight.
By land the best way to get to Laos is via the border town of Nong Khai, which is situated in the north on the Mekong river just across from Laos. There are overnight trains from Bangkok which arrive around 8am in Nong Khai, and there are many guest houses in the area you can stay (I've stayed at 'Mut Mee' guest house, which is excellent.)
The 'Friendship Bridge' connects Nong Khai with Laos, and it's about a 30 minute drive from the border to the capital of Laos, Vientiane.
The procedure is:
1.Take a tuk to the friendship bridge.
2. Border immigration will stamp you out.
3. Take a shuttle bus over the bridge (20 baht).
4. Fill out the application for your Laos Visa on arrival (this will cost $30 to $40 USD depending on your nationality - you can pay in Baht also but it will cost you more, so bring USD!).
5. Bring a passport photo or it's $1 USD extra.
6. Receive your Laos visa at the second window
7. Pay (another) visitor's fee (10 baht) and you're in Laos!
8. Get a tuk-tuk or taxi to Vientiane (around 200 baht.)
There is a great guide to Vientiane on wiki travel: http://wikitravel.org/en/Vientiane about 8 years ago
If you want to start further north you could enter from Chiang Rai. An AirAsia flight from Bangkok ( http://airasia.com au$65 ish ) could get you there by lunchtime. You then go to the Thai border town of Chiang Khong and cross the Mekong by small boat to Houei Xai. From there you take the 2 day, slow boat trip down the Mekong to Luang Prabang.
I am planning to go in May. I have been doing a Mekong Country theme.
Yes, did all that and it went very well. Its a fairly remote area but the river trip was a bit uncomfortable but all well worth the bother. Its a beautiful place to be.
GC about 8 years ago
Further to what Ian wrote, I would also go over at Nong Khai but that is the entry point so-to-speak. I would use Udon Thani as the actual place you do thinks, so fly from BKK to Udon Thani by Air Asia (varies from AUD29 to $45), then catch the International Bus from there right through to Vientiane for 80 baht! This takes all the hassle out of tuk-tuk'ing and stuff / think of your bags / same comments re Visa on arrival.
Very local, just a few foreigners per trip. over 7 years ago