Photo: A misty morning.

Things to see and do

Route 6, 56 km from Sam Neua

Hua Phan’s answer to The Plain of Jars, Hintang Archaelogical Park (Suan Hintang) consists of a number of sites with clusters of standing stone pillars up to three metres tall. Their origins are a megalithic mystery.

According to World Monument Fund, “nearly inaccessible to the outside world are 1,546 upright standing stones, 153 large stone disks, and underground chambers dating back to the Bronze Age”. Little is known about the prehistoric inhabitants who placed these totems and why. Like the Plain of Jars, speculation is generally that their function was funerary.

Not quite Plain of Jars material. Photo taken in or around Sam Neua, Laos by Cindy Fan.

Not quite Plain of Jars material. Photo: Cindy Fan

We hoped it would be like the novel/TV series Outlander, and by touching the magic standing stones we would be transported back in time. Alas, no such luck and sadly, the stones no longer have a tourism concession so the site has literally gone to seed. When we visited in 2018, the area was overgrown, the information hut had fallen apart, as had the signs and maps. Local teens now use the area as a hangout/barbecue spot and some of the stones have fallen over, eroded or been damaged by people.

It’s a long journey to see the stones but they may appeal if already travelling by motorbike on Route 6 between Sam Neua and Muang Hiam or Nong Kiaow. The way is off of Route 6 at Ban Phao, 56 kilometres from Sam Neua, close to a small bridge. It’s six kilometres on hilly, eerily quiet dirt road running south. Find the primary cluster of stones right beside the road. This road would be difficult during rainy season.

More popular for a BBQ. Photo taken in or around Sam Neua, Laos by Cindy Fan.

More popular for a BBQ. Photo: Cindy Fan

The map on this website shows a hiking trail that forks off the road leading through more stones to another village west on Route 6 called Ban Tao Hin. We didn’t independently verify if this path still exists or is overgrown. Just keep in mind that Hua Phan province is heavily contaminated with unexploded ordinances. While it may be tempting to channel Indian Jones and find all 1,546 stones, stick to the ones on the literal beaten path.

It’s also possible to charter a taxi for a day trip from Sam Neua. Getting there using public transport is challenging and not recommendable. From Sam Neua, ask the station for a bus that would pass by Ban Phao, like the bus to Muang Hiam. If coming from Muang Hiam (a village that serves as the pick up point for the Nam Nern Night Safari), take an early bus headed to Sam Neua, asking to be dropped off at Ban Phao.

Ideal as a horror movie set. Photo taken in or around Sam Neua, Laos by Cindy Fan.

Ideal as a horror movie set. Photo: Cindy Fan

We didn’t see much activity at Ban Phao so don’t count on hiring someone to shuttle you the six kilometres to the stones; plan on walking. Once back on Route 6, in theory a bus heading to Sam Neua passes around 14:00 and Vientiane-bound bus (via Phonsavan) is due to pass around 14:30-15:00. Do ask around about current bus times before counting on this way.

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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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