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The provincial capital of Houaphanh Province, Sam Neua is rarely visited by western tourists, making it one of the friendliest places in Laos. Everything is small scale and locally owned and wandering just a few metres off the main strip will bring you to lots of smaller villages. A great stop-off on the way to Vietnam, Sam Neua has a frontier-style charm.
Most people visit the town as a stopover point before heading onwards to Vieng Xai and Vietnam, thereby only staying a night or two. However, if you have the time, it's well worth visiting the local tourist office (who are super friendly) where you can arrange trips to various ethnic villages - some of the most remote in Laos.
Same as those celebrated nationwide as well as the Hmong Lai festival in mid-December. During this festival local ethnic groups take part in courtship games.
There are 2 local buses a day from Sam Neua to Phonsavan. The journey is long and winding, but just stunning!
There is no need to travel by car/tuk-tuk here as the town is so small.
Easily navigated by foot as the city is so small. There is one main strip with a few smaller roads branching off. Generally speaking, everything a tourist needs is on the main, central road or along that between the centre of town and the bus station up on the hill.
There are not a great deal of options when it comes to food. There is a decent restaurant near Kheamxam Guest House, otherwise you're looking at trying your luck (and your patience) at one of the local places.
The market is worth a look for cheap samosas, spring rolls and other Laotian and Vietnamese food.
Again there are very few places to drink in this small town. Buy a beer lao and drink it on your hotel verandah, or on the front step with the locals.
Pretty much all accommodation in this town is budget. Though a new mid-range hotel is in the process of being built. Decent options include:
Most provincial capitals have internet access, particularly those that a more popular with tourists. Most hotels and hostels will provide wifi for free in touristic places. In Luang Prabang and Vientiane rates at an internet shop are usually very reasonable at about US$0.50 to US$1.50 per hour. In more remote towns where competition is low, rates are a fair bit higher at around US$3 to US$6 per hour. If you're looking to save a bit of money, it's best to save your emailing until you reach the larger towns and cities.
See also: International Telephone Calls
The country code for Laos is 856. To dial out of the country, the international access code is 00. There are plenty of public phone booths in Laos but these are pretty useless as phonecards are no longer sold and the technology is rather archaic. For long distance calls it's much better to use a post office or internet cafe. The best place however is the local Telecom Office.
Mobile phone users can use their own GSM mobile phone in Laos. Roaming tends to be expensive, so if you're planning on using your phone a fair bit it may well be worth buying a local SIM card and purchasing prepaid minutes. SIMs are normally around US$5 and both Lao Telecom and ETL have good network coverage.
For the best postal services, send your mail from Vientiane as the post in the provinces is less reliable. In general it takes anywhere from 1 to over 2 weeks to send post to/from Laos. Post offices generally are open from 8:00am to 5:00pm, with some having shorter hours on weekend days as well. If you are going to Thailand, post from there as it's more reliable and faster. If you are worried about sending home valuable items there is a Federal Express office inside the main post office in Vientiane. You might also check possibilities with companies like DHL, TNT or UPS.
as well as grunge (2%)
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