Getting there & away
Sam Neua can be reached by road from both Xieng Khuang and Udomxai Provinces. From Phonsavan the journey travels along the good, flat Rte 7 to Muang Kham. From Muang Kham Rte 6 is decent by Lao standards to Nam Noen, a small truck stop near the junction of Rtes 6 and 1 just north of the Hua Phan Province border. Between Nam Noen and Sam Neua it’s a steep, winding and rough – but highly scenic – dirt road that passes through numerous Lao, Hmong and Khamu villages.
A daily bus heads southwest along Rte 6 and then Rte 1 to Nong Khiaw (US$7, 12 hours, 8am) in Luang Prabang Province, and continues on to Luang Prabang (from Sam Neua US$8, 16 hours). Alternatively you can stop at Nong Khiaw and continue to Udomxai. The Nong Khiaw to Nam Noen leg runs along winding roads and brilliant scenery, passing many Blue Hmong villages along the way and an international narcotics control project in the district of Muang Vieng Thong (also known as Muang Hiam).
You can rent a motorcycle for day trips from a shop between the Provincial Tourist Office and the bus station. The owner doesn’t speak English, but you can ask for linguistic assistance from the Tourist Office. The cost of rental is about US$6, plus a US$500 deposit or your passport. All bikes need to be returned to the shop by 6pm.