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.
CAUTION! If travelling during Tet you will arrive in Sam Neua and discover that the buses to Thanh Hoa and Vinh are not operating. Neither is the bus to the Laos side of the border. The only option therefore is private transport to the border and then a frightful negotiation follows with locals in Na Meo for a ride to Thanh Hoa or Hanoi. If travelling alone this can be incredibly expensive as they demand amounts up to $300. Hitching, whilst an option is fairly unreliable as many of the commercial vehicles (trucks) are not running. Unless you like riding long distances on the back of scooters with luggage and long walks consider an alternative route!
Don't bother going to Nathong bus station east of town for the Hanoi/Thanh Hoa Vietnam bus as it starts at the main bus station 800m from town (some guesthouses owners will tell you to go there). Nathong station is a couple kilometres away past the airport.
Also when arriving you can avoid a tuktuk by just walking down the hill to the market and guesthouses if arriving at the main station.
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.
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.
Most guesthouses 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.
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.