My fiance and I are planning a 2.5 month excursion through SE Asia - starting from Chiang Rai in early October. Any suggestions on our proposed 10 day itinerary from Thailand to Vietnam through Northern Laos? While not quite on a strict backpackers budget, we can't afford luxury (hence the buses and not flights):
-Slow boat to Luang Prabang where we'll stay for 5 nights (Is this a good amount of time?)
-2 days in Phonsavan - Plain of Jars. (Is a DIY motorbike tour the way to go for this?)
-2 days in Sam Neua/Vieng Xai - Pathet Lao Caves.
-Bus into Vietnam and eventually onto Hanoi from Vieng Xai?
I'm planning on taking the bus between these destinations and I've heard some horror stores (especially from LP to Hanoi). However, by splitting this up, I'm hoping to avoid the "Bus Ride From Hell" and only take a 12 hour bus from Laos to Vietnam instead of a 24 hour one. Also, both Phonsavan and Vieng Xai seem like worthwhile stops and I've heard the countryside is gorgeous!
Is this itinerary doable and are there buses every day? What about that bus into Vietnam? I read the bus originates in Sam Neua and passes through Vieng Xai where we are essentially hitchhikers at that point. Would you suggest backtracking to Sam Neua so we can hop on the bus at its origin or flag it down an hour into the journey?
Any advice at all would be greatly appreciated. Also affordable accommodations and restaurant recommendations would be great! I know this part of the trip will be rough. We're up for an adventure.