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 .
At first glance the town itself has little to offer a tourist, however, the surrounding area has some of the best mountain scenery in Laos, and if you're willing to brave the roads on a motorbike you will not be disappointed. The surrounding mountains have waterfalls, hot springs and many scattered minority villages. Despite their stern exterior and confusion upon seeing foreigners the local villagers are very friendly and a polite 'Sabai dee!', and a wave will elicit a warm response.
Also of note are the communist monuments in Sam Neua and Vieng Xai which were the strongholds of the Pathet Lao during the American bombing campaign.
There are many tuk tuks around. You will need to take one to get to the bus stations.
There are two bus stations just outside of Sam Neua: one intraprovincial for Vieng Xai and other nearby destinations and one inter-provincial (for Luang Prabang, Phonsavan, Vietnam, etc).
There is a Chinese owned and run bike rental office just opposite the Tourism office, although the bikes can have shoddy brakes and mirrors. However, if you want to see Sam Neua this is the only place in the town offering rentals.
Former Pathet Lao Caves near Vieng Xai.
Namnoua waterfall just off the raod between Sam Neua and Vieng Xai.
Hintang Archaeological Park.
Hintang archeological site is about 60 km of sealed road and approximately 6 km of dirt tracks. Pass the blue sign on the right and a few km past that you will come to a logging camp of some sort on your left. One of the Hintang sites is 200 m from the camp. Due to the remoteness of the site and poor roads Hintang receives few (if any) visitors so you will have the entire sight to yourself.
Local handicrafts: at specialist local shops or the market. Beware of cheap Chinese and Vietnamese goods at the market though.
There are ATMs and banks that advertise currency exchange.
There are several restaurants around the main guest house area near the river.
Cheap foe can be found at the market (across the river).
Fresh produce can be purchased at the market.
The streets are generally empty by 21:00 but you might be able to find somewhere that sells a Beer Lao.
Most guest houses are congregated in an couple of blocks between the main road the southern most 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 LAK.
Shuliy Guesthouse, (near the bridge). Ensuite rooms.60,000 LAK.
Bounhome Guesthouse, near the big monument, ☎ 064312223. Free wifi, clean room, TV, Hot shower60,000 Lak.
The provincial Tourist Information Centre in the town is surprisingly well run and stocked with informative brochures. Open Monday-Friday. firstname.lastname@example.org. Phone: +856 64 312567.
Vieng Xai - hourly songthaews. You can either do a day trip to the caves or stay here. Songthaews won't leave unless there are enough people.
Vietnam - daily buses to Thanh Hoa (180,000 LAK, March 2011), or you can make your own way to/fro the Lao side of the border at Nam Soi. The bus to Thanh Hoa may continue to Hanoi. Buses leave from both stations and the timings are haphazard at best and can only be purchased on the bus or 30 minutes beforehand.
Luang Prabang - 12-15 hr by local bus - a long but scenic journey. The bus passes through Vieng Thong and Nong Khiaw if you want to stop there.