I'll be in Phonsavan and am hoping to make a fast trip to Sam Neua to see the Pathet Lao caves in Vieng Xai before returning to Luang Prabang . My plan is one day on the bus from Phonsavan to Sam Neua, one day for a day trip to Vieng Xai, and one day on the bus back to Luang Prabang.
Travel guides say bus from Phonsavan to Sam Neua is 8 hours, and Sam Neua to Luang Prabang is 14 hours. Is this realistic?
When I asked a travel agent about booking a car to do the same route, she said road conditions might make it a five or six day trip versus the three I have planned.
When I did the trip from Sam Neua to Nong Kiaow in 2008 the entire day, left in the morning on a public bus and we didn't get into Nong Kiaow until 1am the next morning. If you are on that northern route you'll want to get off at Nong Kiaow and rest for a bit . . . check out the town the next day, I really liked the place.
For the whole trip: 1 day to Phonosvan, 1 day in Phonsovan, 1 day to Sam Neua, 1 day in Sam Neua, 1 day to Nong Kiaow - a day in Nong Kiaow and then onto Luang Prabang the next day . . . about six days if you stop in Nong Kiaow and a lot of time on the bus. As I said, this is a northern route through some beautiful country on a crowded bus, I don't know if they run a bus back through Phonsovan and that takes less time. Also - my six day estimate includes your trip to Phosovan.