We had begun our journey at 7am when the tuk-tuk picked us up from ‘KongKeo Guesthouse’ in Phonsavan and took us to the bus station. The journey which included the bus and tuk-tuk was 100,000 Kip per person. Kong wanted us to get there early to make sure we got our seats. We didn’t really think much of it as we’ve done loads of crammed journeys, so we just brushed off how concerned he was. When we boarded the bus at 8am we realised why. Everyone jumped in the bus and there was no more seat numbers! All the good seats were taken and they even put a wooden seat in the isle, it was like being in a tin of sardines. Along the way the driver also stopped to pick more people up even though there was no more seats or places to stand, Harry even had someone basically sitting on his lap for a couple of hours! After speaking to someone from Sam Neua he said it’s not normally this busy but because of the Hmong New year celebrations it was over crowded.
After 8 hours we arrived in Sam Neua! Although we was tired and fed up, the views were amazing! We got a tuk-tuk into town from the bus station and had a walk around for places to stay. We choose ‘Bounhome Guest House’. This had the best rooms and cost 70,000 Kip per night as there isn’t any hostels, so you’re not going to get much cheaper than this. Unfortunately as it was a bit chilly there was no heating but most places we looked at didn’t have heating. Apart from one hotel that was way over priced so we just decided to wrap up under a few extra blankets. We had a walk about and ended up eating next door to our guesthouse at ‘Dan Nao Meuang Xam Restaurant’. Here they have food you would recognise; eggs, rice, chips and baguette’s. We were greeted by the owners two young boys who emptied all of their dinosaurs out the box and kept us entertained until our food arrived. After food we headed back next door to the guesthouse to sleep.
The next morning we had a walk around town and to the market. They have a massive clothes market and a food market just behind but if you’re not into seeing raw meat we recommend not going as they have everything you can imagine being chopped up! We also headed to the Chinese market to get some cheap warm clothes. On the walk back we came across ‘Many Coffee’, here they have great tea, coffee and the best chocolate brownies! We went back to relax for a bit and decided to walk to the park, here we came across a football stadium that had a match playing so we decided to go and watch as it was also free, the atmosphere was great. We thought it was Sam Neua playing but later found out it was a tournament between two large office companies in the town. By the stadium as we were both pretty hungry we found a small place that served pizza, not asking the price we later found out that it was 60,000 kip per pizza, almost the same price as a night in our guesthouse. begrudged, we paid it and headed back to the guesthouse.
The next morning we were debating on hiring a bike to go to the caves as the restaurant next to our hotel rented bikes but at 150,000 Kip per day! Due to the price and the weather being freezing we decided to give it a miss. We took a walk up to the temple instead, here you have amazing views of Sam Neua and we were lucky enough that a young monk came out while was walking around and took us into the temple. He showed us how to pray to buddha and then blessed us with good luck before giving us a bracelet. Although he couldn’t speak English he was so welcoming and tried his best to communicate with us. After a lovely visit we walked down the steps back into town and just wondered about until it was time for dinner. Before going to bed we arranged for a taxi to pick us up at 7.30 as we needed to get the bus back to Phonsavan to catch the over night bus to Hanoi. From Sam Neua you are close to ‘Nam Soi-Na Meo’ border crossing to Vietnam, but unfortunately we had an E-Visa and it would only let us cross at the ‘Nam Can Border’.
We got on the bus the next morning and luckily it was less crowded. The driver was a bit crazier but we survived and it only took six and half hours instead of eight! We decided to stay at KongKeo Guesthouse again as we enjoyed it so much, went to ‘Bamboozle’ for food and then Kong organised our bus for us to Hanoi which was at 1am the next morning. Kong told us to get some sleep and that he would wake us up when the bus was close as it could arrive any time between 12am and 2am and it costs 350,000 kip per person for the whole journey.
Tip: Make sure you have a phrase book or translator handy (or good at talking with your hands!) as there is only a handful of people in Sam Neua that can talk English!