Thanks to the advice and help of TA'ers 'dobsonshow' I got in touch with Bouasy ('See' for short) who is a registered guide and driver here in Luang Prabang. I just spent two great days with him seeing the area sights. He is extremely knowledgeable, incredibly hospitable and helpful and speaks excellent English. After he picked me up at the airport he sorted me out with a Lao sim card, drove me around town for a good orientation and then we talked about what we could do for a couple of days of touring. He has a perfect van with all the amenities (water, Pepsi, refresh towels, even fresh-picked bananas one day).
Besides the usual things (Pak Ou, waterfalls, etc) we spent one half day visiting some villages in the surrounding mountains. One was a Khmu village and the other a Hmong village. These are places that you won't normally get to with the tuk tuk tourist services. And even though I saw one tuk tuk offering Khmu and Hmong villages, if they are the same ones See took me to, it is not a drive you want to make in the back of a tuk tuk. In the Hmong village I had quite a surprising and memorable spontaneous interaction with a lovely deaf-mute young woman who makes traditional Hmong clothing which will become I think one of the highlights of my visit. After this post I will be heading off to the photo store to get some prints made and See will make sure this woman and some kids get the pictures we took. I also got to visit and walk through See's own village and meet his family. With his translation I was able to ask questions to people we met along our walks.
Admittedly you can get to most of these places in a tuk tuk for less money but you won't be able to have the kind of extensive conversations we had about Laos and its history, society, politics, education system, Buddhism, village life, etc. Perhaps I would have seen almost as much but I wouldn't have learned a fraction of what I did with See.
This is an incredible city and beautiful and quite intriguing country. But the only way to get some deeper insight into what it's really all about is to spend time with a knowledgeable local who is eager to share his country with you one-on-one. See is the guy to do that with! And he can not only show you around LP and area but can also take over night and multi-day trips to places further away all over the country.
So if you are heading this way and want to get the most out of your stay, I urge you to see Laos with See. Feel free to pm me if you want to discuss further. See can be reached at email@example.com or +856-20-5872149. He doesn't check his email every day since he lives out of town in a small village but he always replies within a couple of days.