The Hua Phan region, bordering Vietnam, is one of the remotest areas of Laos. The roads leading there are long and windy (but paved) as you ascend into the mountains. It is one of the most ethnically diverse provinces in Laos.
Sam Neua is the capital of Hua Phan Province, A small town of some 30,000 people, with oversized administrative buildings and quiet streets. There is not too much to see in the town itself, but it can serve as a base for visiting Vieng Xai, and is often a necessary stop-over if coming or going from Vietnam. The surrounding countryside is also beautiful and host to some interesting sites.
- Phonsavan - daily buses. 8 hours.
- Luang Prabang - two daily buses: one departing around 08:30 and one in the evening. 130,000 kip. 15 hours. The bus stops in Nong Khiaw and passes through Vieng Thong.
- Vietnam - via the Nam Soi-Na Meo border crossing. Bus departs from Thanh Hoa daily at 8:00, and takes 9-10 hours. Lao visa on arrival is available for now, but will not be in 2020.
- The center of town is easily walkable and there is little traffic.
- There are a few tuk-tuks and taxis around. You might need to take one to get to the Nathong bus station or sights further away from the center.
- There are two bus stations just outside of Sam Neua: the intra-provincial Nathong station for Vieng Xai and other nearby destinations about four kilometers east of the center and one inter-provincial (for Luang Prabang, Phonsavan, Vietnam, etc.) about 1 kilometer south of the center on top of a hill.
- Dannao Restaurant is the only place in town renting motorbikes. They only have one or two bikes and charge high prices (225,000 kip for automatic).
- The strange monument at the center of the main roundabout.
- Two active temples.
- The wet market on the east side of the river with "exotic" wildlife for sale.
- Former Pathet Lao Caves in Vieng Xai.
- Namnoua waterfall just off the road between Sam Neua and Vieng Xai.
- Hintang Archaeological Park.
- Local handicrafts: at specialist local shops or the market. Beware of cheap Chinese and Vietnamese goods at the market.
- There are around 10 ATMs around town, representing the BCEL, JDB, and LDB banks. Banks advertise currency exchange.
Cheap pho and various small bites, as well as fresh produce, can be found at the market on the east side of the river. A small night market is set up across the street from the city park each evening, with a variety of grilled and deep-fried options to eat. A couple of Vietnamese restaurants are found east of the bridge.
- Chittavanh Restaurant (Attached to Chittavanh Guesthouse). also has an English menu, and locals sometimes eat there too.
- Dannao Meaung Xam Restaurant (In the guesthouse block, facing the main road). The most popular place. Has an English menu with a number of options for Lao and Western food. Mains 15,000-50,000 kip.
- Many Coffee (100 m north of the tourist office on the main road). Serves good specialty coffees for 12,000-18,000 kip, various desserts, and fried eggs with baguette for breakfast for 15,000 kip.
- Omany BBQ (In the northwest part of town). Serves Lao-style hotpot with fish or meat.
- The streets are generally empty by 21:00, but all restaurants and many guesthouses will sell you Beerlao.
- Many Coffee and Yuni Coffee both serve good specialty coffees on the main road.
Most guest houses are congregated in a couple of blocks between the main road and the southernmost bridge. There are also guest houses and hotels along the main road and on the other side of the river.
- Long Ma Guesthouse (near the bridge). Frequented by locals. 40,000 kip.
- Shuliy Guesthouse (near the bridge). En suite rooms. 60,000 kip.
- Bounhome Guesthouse (near the bridge). Clean, comfortable en suite rooms facing the main road. 80,000 kip.
- Phasouk Guesthouse (near the bridge, on the sidestreet next to Dannao Restaurant). Well-maintained, clean rooms with friendly owners. 70,000 kip.
There is a helpful provincial Tourist Information Centre in the town, open Monday-Friday. firstname.lastname@example.org. Phone: 064-312567.
- Vieng Xai - rare songthaews from Nathong bus station or take Vietnam-bound buses from main bus station at 8:00 or 10:00. Taxis charge 250K for a day trip. You can either do a day trip to the caves or stay here.
- Vietnam - buses to Thanh Hoa (180,000 kip) at 8:00 and 10:00. The bus to Thanh Hoa may continue to Hanoi.
- Luang Prabang - 12-15 hours by local bus - a long but scenic journey. The bus passes through Vieng Thong (Muang Hiam) and Nong Khiaw if you want to stop there.
- Phonsavan - 8 hours.