Photo: Simple fare at Dannao Meuang Xam.

Eat and meet

Sam Neua can be a shock to the newly arrived, especially if coming from Hanoi. If you’re expecting a pub street, a late night noodle soup or a banana pancake, this isn’t the place—and that’s why we like it. The handful of local restaurants should satisfy travellers up to a few days before getting repetitive. Keep in mind that eating in Laos is generally pricier than in Vietnam.


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Sam Neua will also satisfy adventurous eaters. It’s famous for dishes using pia, an ingredient that outsiders may find hard to stomach, pun intended. Pia is raw cow/buffalo bile, the digestive juices and partially digested grass on its way to the tract. The brown-yellow-greenish liquid is a key flavouring for an ethnic Tai Daeng version of the national dish laab (mince meat salad), made with raw meat, pia and sometimes fresh buffalo blood. Gulp.

Getting ready for a feed at Ngan Thuy.

Getting ready for a feed at Ngan Thuy. Photo: Cindy Fan

A safe (and pia-free) option is Dannao Meuang Xam. The restaurant is a Sam Neua mainstay, one of the only restaurants that has gone out of their way to be foreigner friendly while also being frequented by locals. It’s located right in the small cluster of budget accommodation at the bridge and unlike other joints, is more reliably open for dinner. The menu is mainly noodle soups and stir fry like their tasty pad kaprao, rice topped with a fried egg and wok fried meat and vegetables—it’ll be five-alarm spicy unless you ask them to tone it down. Coming with a soup, it’s terrific value at 20,000 kip. There’s also some Western options as well, like fried chicken wings and fries. All dishes are 15,000 to 40,000 kip. The friendly owner Sitt speaks English and is helpful.

Walk along the main street and it doesn’t take long to notice the number of shop signs in Vietnamese, it’s a mere 80 kilometres to the border after all. A good one is Ngan Thuy, possessing classic no frills, fluorescent lighting charm. They do a satisfying lau (hot pot) that will both fill and warm you up. For two people, with vegetables, choice of meat and cans of Bia Ha Noi, it will be around 120,000 kip. The shop also does rice soup in the morning and bun rieu noodle soup all day.

Don’t feel you need to try everything you see at the market.

Don’t feel you need to try everything you see at the market. Photo: Cindy Fan

The main street and area around the market are dotted with morning noodle soup joints. The market itself is a must, not only to see one of the most impressive ones in northern Laos but also to graze on cheap eats. Between 17:00 and 18:00 is a good time as everyone is stopping in for after school/work snacks and quick dinners, just like all other tired working moms and dads in the world. Slurp up noodle soup or cold noodle salad, nibble on deep fried banana fritters or grilled sausage, sip on sweet fresh soy milk before finishing with a dessert of cakes and tofu with hot ginger syrup. The hole in the wall bakery at the market churns out baguettes—have a hot one drizzled with condensed milk. Most items are just a few thousand kip each (less than a dollar).

A tiny local night market pops up at the edge of the sprawling concrete park (northwest corner of the town centre). Aside from a couple of basic kid carnival games and plastic things for sale, we spotted a roti prata cart, the buttery flaky dough served drizzled with thick, sweet condensed milk.

Sam Neua brownies at Yuni Coffee.

Sam Neua brownies at Yuni Coffee. Photo: Cindy Fan

Northern Laos can be hard of coffee drinkers as it’s either green tea or the instant stuff. Yuni Coffee will come as a surprise as the American-owned cafe is modern and refined. The cafe is off of the big roundabout as the road begins to rise towards the bus station. Order a classic Americano (10,000 kip) or latte (14,000 kip) or get fancy with matcha latte, V60 pour over or Aeropress coffee, all made using their own Hua Phan grown beans. No rice on this snack menu. Carb cravings can be satisfied with panini, waffles and house-made brownies, 8,000-12,000 kip. Open Mon-Sat 07:30-17:30. https://www.yunicoffeeco.com

There are a few joints in town that serve dog meat. It’s easily avoided as you’d have to seek these places out. “Dog meat” in Vietnamese is thit cho, an accent going up on the “o”.


Map of eating options for Sam Neua
Map of eating options for Sam Neua
Legend
(1) Dannao Meuang Xam (2) Ngan Thuy (3) Night market (4) Sam Neua market (5) Yuni Coffee

Dannao Meuang Xam Centre of town, Route 6, Sam Neua; .
Ngan Thuy North from the Post Office, Sam Neau; .
Night market By the sprawling concrete park (northwest corner of the centre of Sam Neua); .
Sam Neua market North of the centre of town, Sam Neua.; .
Yuni Coffee Opposite Xayphasouk Hotel, Sam Neua; .

Dannao Meuang Xam
Centre of town, Route 6, Sam Neua; Sam Neua, Northern Laos
$5-$10
Ngan Thuy
North from the Post Office, Sam Neau; Sam Neua, Northern Laos
$5-$10
Night market
By the sprawling concrete park (northwest corner of the centre of Sam Neua); Sam Neua, Northern Laos
$5-$10
Sam Neua market
North of the centre of town, Sam Neua.; Sam Neua, Northern Laos
$5-$10
Yuni Coffee
Opposite Xayphasouk Hotel, Sam Neua; Sam Neua, Northern Laos
$5-$10
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Popular attractions in Sam Neua

A selection of some of our favourite sights and activities around Sam Neua.


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Where to next?

Where are you planning on heading to after Sam Neua? Here are some spots commonly visited from here, or click here to see a full destination list for Laos.


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