The town of Vieng Xai in Laos' Houaphanh Province is sandwiched between rows of limestone peaks and equally impressive caves; some of which were once homes and bases of the Pathet Lao leaders and their followers. The town itself is small and peacefull, and defintely worth a day or two's exploration (for the caves in particular) or just a rest from all that travelling.
Most travellers visit the town to view the Pathet Lao leader's caves. However, it's also a good stopping off point for heading into Vietnam via the seldom-used border at Na Maew in Laos and Nam Xoi in Vietnam.
To visit the caves you'll need to head straight to the Kaysone Phomvihane Memorial Tour Cave Office so you can pay the entrance fee (about US$3). You'll also need a guide - these are mandatory, but sure do know their stuff! You should be taken to about 3 or 4 caves, but make sure you get to see the following, which are by far the most interesting:
Same as those celebrated nationally, so check the Laos Events and Festivals
There is a regular Sawngthaew that runs between Sam Neua and Vieng Xai and should only set you back by about $1. The journey should take about an hour. Some guest houses in Sam Neua can also arrange private car transfers if you fancy a bit more comfort and can afford the high prices.
It may be worth catching a tuk-tuk or Sawngthaew to the caves.
Vieng Xai is pretty small, so most sites can be visited on foot.
There are not many options for food in Vieng Xai though the Thavisey Hotel has a decent, cheap restaurant overlooking a man-made lake.
There aren't any bars or clubs in Vieng Xai but most hotels and restaurants can fulfill your Beer Lao needs.
& Thavisay Hotel - $5-7
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.
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