Probably just about anywhere, the two towns you mention are 640km of mostly mountains apart with many interesting villages.
The only towns I have any experience with are Phou Khoun wich I'm sure you can search for on this site, both WSC and Capt Bob have overnighted and spent time walking around roads the area. I think it even gets a mention in the guidbook. I've motorcycled around one afternoon. It's at a pretty high elevation and it's a market town for minorities, two factors in it's favor.
And the other town is Ban Nam Nuan about 4 hours out of Sam Nua. Nam Nua was the lunch stop on the bus, it had a nice square and again was the market town for a larg portion of the surrounding countryside.
The trick with a lot of these towns is you have to be able to make your own adventure. It's the Laos without tourism. Many like it a lot, others can't do without the planned outings and English language cafes. Find a place to sleep, eat, and then after walking up and down the road a little find someone to take you around, there's usually someone wanting to act as an informal guide.
I'd argue the best places to visit between Sam Nua and Vientiane aren't Vang Vien or Phonsavan.
Oh Ban Ha Sip Song fifty kilometers out of Vientiane too.
many possibilities. offhand can think of 4 possible routes, not necessarily direct though. depends on individual interests, time you have, time of the year (road conditions), style of travel (comfort level?), mode of transport (own vehicle? public transport?). do you need your time to be filled with things to see/do, or will you be happy observing 'beautiful ordinary' that others think of as 'mundane'?
give us some ideas on how to help you :)
Hi Somsai and Cat,
Thanks for replying.
I will definitely read up more on Somsai's suggestions.
I am most likely to be starting my travel in October, may reach the Sam Neua area in mid to Late October.
I have plenty of time, so I am cool with the slow travel in wet weather.
My style of travel? Not too shabby. I have stayed with my grandma in her little Malaysia village before so I'm not a pampered city girl. But I'm not a dirt cheap backpacker either. Private rooms with bathrooms, fan will be good.
I will be using public transport.
I am happy to just walk around, observing 'beautiful ordinary' that others think of as 'mundane'. Somewhere with a daily morning market would be good.
#4 wombatfuz has been a member since 30/12/2009. Posts: 38
I met two French motorcyclists in Nong Khiaow a couple of days ago and they had ridden from Sam Neua to there via Vieng Thong and Vieng Kham. They said the towns were nothing to get excited about, but the scenery was fabulous. They were on dirtbikes and didn't have many complaints about the road, but ventured that the public bus would have been slow. From Nong Khiaow you could head south through Luang Prabang etc -- that will be the most straightforward connection by public transport.
#5 somtam2000 has been a member since 21/1/2004. Location: Indonesia. Posts: 7,789
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I went up from the plain of jars towards Sam Neua back in 2007. Can really recommend the long bus ride from Sam Neua to Nong Kiaow . It'll take a whole day and the bus is crazy full, but the winding roads and countryside are beautiful. Take a day in Nong Kiaow with it's beautiful bridge and then head upstream (no roads there) on the boats to Muang Ngoi where you can stay in the town which is a little tourist-ed out now but easy to get away form with some tranquil day hikes. There is a nice little sand beach by the temple at the 'north?' end of town.
After a day or two relaxing there you can head back down to Nong Kiaow and form there take a bus to Luang Prabang which is one of my favorite cities in Southeast Asia. A great place to wander around and soak up the atmosphere and a great basecamp for day-trips. From there, you head on to Vientiane - passing through Vang Vieng (but you don't have to stop).
I highly recommend a few days in both Muang Ngoi and Luang Prabang.
where else will you be going in Laos before & after this Sam Neua - Vientiane section? (not sure if you're entering Laos at Sam Neua from Vietnam, or going to Sam Neua from Luang Prabang , or...) & if you've been to Laos before, where in Laos have you been to?
anyway public transport + tail end of wet season narrows it down to:
1. Sam Neua > Phonsavan > Phou Khoun > Bor Nam Oun > Kasi > Vang Vieng > Vientiane
2. Sam Neua > Vieng Thong > Vieng Kham > Nong Khiaw > Luang Prabang (as #5 said) > then to Vientiane via Phou Khoun (like in #1), or via Sayabouly province
guesthouses (private rooms) rather than hostels (shared dorm rooms) are the norm in Laos. but in quite a few rural places it's still shared bathrooms, with cold water bucket+scoop (mandi) 'shower'.
btw are you really out to avoid Phonsavan & Vang Vieng, or just interested in finding out about the other places in between?
Thanks everyone who reply. Great advices.
I'm so sorry for not being clear about my directions
Basically I will be crossing into Laos at Huay Xai and moving in the following directions:
Huay Xai -> Luang Nam Tha
Luang Nam Tha -> Muang Sing
Luang Nam Tha -> Udomxai
Udomxai-> Luang Prabang
Luang Prabang -> Nong Khiaow
Nong Khiaow ->Sam Neua
Sam Neua -> Vieng Xai
Vieng Xai -> Phonsavan
Phonsavan -> Vientiane (after Vientiane I'm moving down south and then crossing into Cambodia)
So my initial plan includes Phonsavan but as the day draws nearer, I'm getting less and less keen on visiting Phonsavan.
I'm definitely all out to avoid Vang Vieng.
I've never been to Laos.
Btw, Muang Ngoi was in my plan at the very early stage but after reading on posts on thefts there, I changed my mind.
#8 wombatfuz has been a member since 30/12/2009. Posts: 38
I'd just get off the bus wherever you want. Coming from Malasia you might find Laos very easy to travel in, in that it will have some things you are familiar with. (any Mandarin or Thai language abilities are an even bigger plus)
My bus to Sam Nua had one other passenger that jumped out at Viengxai. There are a lot of towns that are just old style Asian towns. I love it. Markets are often the biggest event of the day.
Of the places you listed Houaphan is lots more remote, but by no means empty. I saw a statement from the tourism authority projecting an average of 2 people a day for the next few years. Luang Prabang/Vang Vien see as many people in one day, let alone a few years.
Hope you have a good time.
I'm not much into going places just to have been there. Phonsavan I liked because of the landscape, nice plains.
Sounds like a great trip, I stopped at Vieng Xai and walked along a river to a much smaller village the next day, hung out there with kids and family and it made the town stop really worth while. Late that evening returning to town played badminton with the local kids. A very nice laid back area.
Phonsavan is very interesting historically. I found the most dramatic part of the trip (as an American perhaps) seeing the jars sitting amongst fields of bomb craters. In some ways this dichotomy between ancient historical artifacts meant to make humanity endure and the craters of destruction really made the trip there worth while for me.
That said, the town isn't that nice and the landscape not as pretty as the rest of the north (in my humblest of opinions).
good trip! safe travels!
not been to Sam Neua & Phonsavan , so info on places along Sam Neua-Phonsavan-Phou Khoun road are all secondhand. places that have at least one guesthouse:
Sam Neua > PSV
- Nam Neun mentioned in #2, near junction of roads to Nong Khiaw, Sam Neua & PSV
- Muang Kham (covered in Travelfish)
Phonsavan > Phou Khoun
- Nongtang (see Travelfish info on Muang Sui)
Phou Khoun > VTE
- Phou Khoun (~3 GHs)
- Ban Bangkalo (1 GH)
- Bor Nam Oun (1 GH)
- Kasi (at least 3 GHs)
- Vang Vieng
- Tha Heua (1 GH)
- KM52 (the Ban Ha Sip Song in #2) & other towns between Ang Nam Ngum & VTE capital
most info on 'in between' places tends to come from cyclists' travel blogs, esp those on crazyguyonabike.com :)
stayed at Phou Khoun on one trip & at Bor Nam Oun on another, when travelling between VTE & LPB. chose these two cos i like mountain/karst scenery + cool/low humidity climate at higher altitudes. at that time the GH at Ban Bangkalo wasn't ready yet, now it is & should have good views of the scenery. a few KMs south of Ban Bangkalo is Phieng Fa restaurant that should have even better views on clear days. terrain becomes flatter from Kasi southwards (esp south of Vang Vieng).
Phou Khoun = small junction town, spent an afternoon & a morning walking slowly southwards along HWY 13 to take in the views + following a trail that leads to farmers' fields. passed through a few Hmong villages, met soldiers, cyclists, buffalos, schoolkids & teachers. at the junction itself Hmong women sell mostly vegetables, though i found one stall selling traditional Hmong clothing, & also met a Hmong lady sewing some at her doorstep. also went up to the hilltop war memorial at the south end of Phou Khoun - plain, with list of names (all starting with 'Comrade'), hometowns, 'date of sacrifice' (between 1969-71) & place where killed in action (incl Phou Khoun, Ban Bangkalo & other villages between Phonsavan, Phou Khoun & Kasi). all in Lao language, but got this eerie feeling of how significant it must be to the few Lao people paying their respects there. at the base of the road to the war memorial they were building what looked like a sheltered market so there's probably one there now.
Bor Nam Oun isn't even a village, just a set of tiny bungalows + little restaurant + police post beside a hotspring ~20KM north of Kasi. see above link for more on this place ;)
actually i think you can find 'beautiful ordinary' in Phonsavan & Vang Vieng too, in fact anywhere in Laos. just follow the 'local timetable' (rise early) & walk around. a lot of market activity is over before many tourists wake up...most are there to see jars/drink/tube so you won't meet them in the market anyway :P turn left where others turn right, cross to the opposite (saner) side of the river (both in LPB & Vang Vieng)...you'll see a 'different version' of the same town.
btw if possible, try to be in LPB around this coming 23-24 Oct (the full moon day & the following night; lantern decorations start appearing a few days before) for Boun Ok Phansa & Boun Lai Heua Fai celebrations. my favourite time of the year to be in LPB :)
I suggest to visit Vangvieng. Traveling 150 kms. to the north of Vientiane is a small town called Vangvieng. It is surrounded by mountains scenery and Nam Song River that lead to stalactite and stalagmite caves and it is also best for canoeing and rafting. This fascinating place is perfect for those who are searching for relaxation and be away from speedy life-style of the modernization.
#12 RabinPiter has been a member since 21/6/2010. Posts: 1