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Northeastern Laos

news_292dscn5180Northeastern Laos
The northeast is the most remote area in the country. There are three points of interest: Phonsavan, Xam Nua, and Phongsaly. It is possible to make a loop among the three, or to approach the towns in the way from or to Vietnam. For information regarding the last option, please see my journal Planning Vietnam.

 


Northeastern Laos

The northeast is the most remote area in the country. There are three points of interest: Phonsavan, Xam Nua, and Phongsaly. It is possible to make a loop among the three, or to approach the towns in the way from or to Vietnam. For information regarding the last option, please see my journal Planning Vietnam.

Phonsavan can be reached from Vientiane, Vang Vieng (the buses from Vientiane stop there) and from Luang Prabang. However, if you entered Laos from the north and plan to continue to the northeast, then Udom Xai or Luang Prabang are the best connecting points. The town was devastated in the Second Indochina War; that is evident from the deforested areas and the several guesthouses with bomb-casing collections in their lobbies. The main attraction, beyond the Ho Chi Minh Trail, is the Plain of Jars, where hundreds of stone jars of different sizes are scattered. There are four main sites and the closest of them is almost 10km away from the town. Since it is a tourist site, traveling there from the town can cost as much as reaching Phonsavan. Better options are to rent a bike or to walk there.

The trucks to Xam Nua leave at 7:30am and the bus to Udom Xai at 9:50am, both from the terminal. The long way to Vientiane is better split through Luang Prabang.

Xam Nua From Phonsavan to Xam Nua is a relatively short way; see my Xam Nua journal for details. The town is the only Laotian one east of the Annamite Mountains; therefore, the way there climbs the mountains and then descends a steep road into a beautiful and narrow valley among green mountains. Although there's little to see in town itself, it serves as a comfortable base for the Viang Xai Caves, hill tribe villages, and trips along the Vietnamese frontier.

Traveling from here to Udom Xai is a bit complicated, because there isn't a direct connection. At 7:30am the bus to Luang Prabang and Vientiane leaves from the terminal. After a long torture, the bus arrives at Ban Pakmong after 11pm; this village is the place to catch any bus to Udom Xai. It is possible to wait at the tiny bus stop there, but it would be more sensible to sleep in one of the precarious guesthouses and continue the next morning. Another option is to continue south to Luang Prabang, the bus arrives there at around 4am; if heading north, any bus will return to Ban Pakmong, but Luang Prabang offers much better facilities. For details about attractions along this way, see my Xam Nua journal.

Pathet Lao caves and Viang Xai The limestone karst formations in the valleys east of Xam Nua were the perfect hideouts for the Pathet Lao's parallel government, which occupied more than one hundred of them. Tours from Viang Xai take around two hours and allow an easy return to Xam Nua in the same day. Trucks from Xam Nua (30minutes, 5000K) leave every hour until mid-afternoon and stop in front of Viang Xai's market. The town was the Pathet Lao wartime headquarters, but not much was left behind once they moved to Vientiane. The Spartan facilities hint to explore the town and the caves while staying in a guesthouse in the nearby Xam Nua. To tour the caves, a fee should be paid at the tourist office.

Phongsaly is maybe the smallest and wildest province capital in the country. Its tourism infrastructure is not very well developed and its cross to China is not open to foreigners. To reach Phongsaly from Xam Nua, you must go through Udom Xai, from where you have a rough ride of a few hours in the back of a truck.

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