Trip and Travel Advice
Money: Please beware that the economy in the countryside of Laos is based on Lao Kip in cash only. Plastic cards, travellers cheques and foreign currency is not likely to help you to your next bowl of noodle soup. There are no banks to assist you. Weekly travellers are forced back to Luang Prabang or occationally out of the country for the simple reason that they ran out of cash. Occationally people have been unable to use their otherwise valid credit- or debit cards in Luang Prabang as well, due to lack of connectivity between issuing bank and the Lao bank or other unidentified reasons, so never rely on just a plastic card for your travels in Laos. If you travel through Thailand before arriving to Laos, then it’s worth considering grabbing a stack of cash from an ATM before crossing the border. This is not advisable for travellers coming from Vietnam or China as the currencies of these countries is not as widely accepted as the US Dollar or Thai Baht.
To and from Sam Neua: Public transportation towards the east is scarce. The only direct bus to Sam Neua passes Nong Kiau in the evening and arrives in Sam Neua the next morning. It is also possible to travel small town by small town. This involves a lot of waiting for whatever vehicle passes, it takes a couple of days and it is only for the adventurous who is prepared to put efforts into seeing the real countryside.
If neither a night bus or an adventure into the remote countryside appeals to you, then you might consider reversing your itinerary. You can go to Sam Neua first via The Plain of Jars and then catch a day bus to here. The day bus is a long journey as well, but you see the scenery, which is breathtakingly beautiful. The bus passes Nong Kiau in the evening.
To and from Vietnam: Nong Kiau is becoming a gateway to Vietnam. You can go either via Muang Khua to Dien Bien Phu, or via Sam Neua to Mai Chau and Hanoi. The former involves a nice boat ride to Muang Khua from here. There are only three buses a week from Muang Khua to Dien Bien Phu leaving every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The scenery from the bus it very interesting as it sneaks through the mountians on an unpavewd road. Beware that the road sometimes becomes impassable in the rainy season.