the bus from Chiang Rai was filled with locals and a few monks. the steering column had lots of tape around it but no one seemed very concerned. when i first got to Asia i remember dodging traffic and being horrified by the drivers. now i don't even think twice about it.
although my crossing of the border from Thailand to Laos was easy i later heard stories from other travelers who had problems. most were minor but one guy had only a single $100 bill [visas had to be paid in us dollars] for a $35 visa. The problem was the guy at the border didn't like his $100 bill because there was a scratch on the eye. fortunately someone else came along and traded him dollars.
when i was leaving the US i went around hitting up banks for crisp new bills in small denominations and it was amazing how uncooperative they were. plus the bank tellers all acted like i was crazy but i've had plenty of people hand back my dollars if they aren't crisp. which is only more hysterical because the Laos Kip is some of the dirtiest money in the world. a bowl of noodle soup cost 14,000Kip which is US$1.75. but it was very yummy. not Thai food good but still pretty yummy.
the slow boat down the Mekong to Luang Prabang was pretty wild the first day with a bunch of young westerners. some of which drank the whole 8 hours. the overnight stop was pretty much what you would expect for a village isolated in the middle of Laos. they had just gotten 24 hour electricity a few months before so we heard about that from everyone. they were so proud and it was still a bit of a novelty for them.
the Mekong was beautiful in the morning but after it warmed up it was roasting on the boat. there is a faster way to travel. they have speedboats on the river which are so dangerous even lonely planet says don't take them. they are like a surfboard with a motor strapped to the back and passengers wear motorcycle helmets.