I'm a wine professional, living in Bangkok and travelling frequently throughout South East Asia. I'm a huge fan of Laos and Cambodia and off the beaten track travel. Feel free to contact me at: www.facebook.com/mil.elephants
I find it difficult to explain to people who haven't been to Laos why it's made such a significant impression on me. When I do meet people who have been, they get it straight away.
Laos is a small, landlocked, mostly mountainous country that's been pulled from pillar to post by colonial and regional powers since well, forever. It's also the world's most bombed country, and the concentration of bombing in some areas of the country is simply beyond belief. It doesn't sound like the kind of place you could completely fall head over heels in love with.
However, there are two things that make Laos like no other country I know. Firstly, the people, having suffered at the hands of foreign powers for such a long time, are genial, kind, funny, friendly and welcoming.
Secondly, the north of Laos in particular offers the opportunity to REALLY get away from the world and experience stunning scenery; mountains, rivers and countryside that is simply unforgettable. There's little or no traffic in most places, and in many places there are no roads. Many villages have no road access and are only reachable by river.
Laos is a hodge podge of ethnicities and this is reflected in the variety of dress worn by people in the variety of villages you'll find in the north of the country. If you have a keen ear for languages you'll hear, Lao (similar to Thai) Hmong, Tai Dam, Yao, Vietnamese, Khmer and many, many others.
The serene and beautiful ancient capital of Luang Prabang is a popular destination, and for me is normally the jumping off point to head north. Sitting a the confluence of the Mekong and Khan Rivers, Luang Prabang is a dominated by beautiful and peaceful temples and the architectural legacy left by the French.
Food culture is also influenced heavily by the French, but Lao cuisine is something to behold. Fresh and spicy salads, grilled and dried meats and typical of many South East Asian country a touch of the unusual including ants eggs and buffalo skin.
Most people upon first experiencing Lao food this that it's basically Thai food. Actually it's the opposite. A lot of everyday typical Thai food or Issan (north eastern) Thai food is actually Lao, due to the fact that this large chunk of Thailand used to be part of Laos.
Laos is changing. Development in the form of dams, roads and railways is coming rapidly, and this will change the landscape and economy, but I doubt it will change the beautiful, genial people of Laos very much at all.
Lao Airlines fly daily to Singapore and Bangkok, and Air Asia has just commenced daily flights to Luang Prabang from Don Muang airport in Bangkok.
The Lao Tourist Authority has a good website and they're very helpful.