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Xamneua, the hidden city

Welcoming Visit Laos Year 2018, Vientiane Times is publishing a series of feature articles and images inviting you to experience the authentic nature, culture, history and hospitality of Laos, Jewel of the Mekong.

A mountainous province in northeastern Laos, Huaphan is enclosed by Vietnam to the north and south-east, Xieng Khuang to the south-west and Luang Prabang to the west. 
While in the past it was difficult to navigate the province’s dramatic terrain, road upgrades now make travel easier and more enjoyable. The scenery along the roads into Huaphan is stunning.
Huaphan province is the birthplace of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic. It is one of the least visited provinces in the country and offers an authentic and varied experience for visitors.

Central Xamneua, the provincial capital of Huaphan. (File photos)

The province consists of the 10 districts of Xamneua, Xiengkhor, Hiem, Viengxay, Huameuang, Xamtay, Sobbao, Kuan, Xon and Add.
Huaphan offers a pristine natural environment of mountains, rivers, waterfalls and forests. It also has many caves in Viengxay district where visitors can get a unique insight into the history of Laos. There are also the mysterious standing stones of the Hin Tang Archaeological Park which date back more than 2000 years.
Huaphan has many unique and beautiful natural attractions. The provincial capital, Xamneua district, is a quiet and rustic city on the Xam River. Here you will enjoy markets trading produce from China and Vietnam and a variety of handicrafts produced by the Hmong, Tai Dam, Tai Daeng and Tai Leu ethnic groups.
Also of interest in Xamneua is Vat Phoxaynalam, home to an impressive bronze Buddha statue possibly dating back to 1565 and an interesting series of murals depicting the life of Buddha and scenes from Lao history.
Viengxay, located northeast of the capital, boasts over 100 limestone caves, 10 of which have immense national and historical significance as the hidden headquarters of the Neo Lao Hak Xat from August 13, 1950-1975.
In the southeast of Huaphan is the Namxam National Protected Area (NPA), which is thought to provide habitats for wild elephants, various gibbons, gaur, banteng, tiger, clouded leopard, Asiatic black bear and Malayan sun bear.
South of Xamneua is Tat Saleui, a beautiful waterfall best viewed after the rainy season. Nam Add Phouleui is the largest NPA in Laos situated in the northwest of Huaphan. It is best known for harbouring one of the most important tiger populations remaining in Indochina. Its outstanding biodiversity includes over 30 species of large mammals and 300 species of birds.
Not as well known, but just as mysterious as the Plain of Jars are the ancient pillars known as Hin Tang, a collection of upright, rough stones about two metres high, some of which have tunnel-like caverns beneath them.
Archaeological investigations suggest that the site is associated with funerary practices but visitors are welcome to guess why this ancient site was built.
The best Tai Daeng woven textiles are produced in Huaphan. At local markets you will find an interesting variety of cutlery, jewellery and other items fashioned from cluster bombs and other war scrap that remains scattered throughout the countryside.
Huaphan province boasts the usual variety of Lao noodles, fragrant sticky rice and local dishes. The most notable are a vegetable salad flavoured with sesame called ‘soup phak’ and chilli paste known as ‘cheo pa bum’.
Huaphan province has 15 officially designated sites of natural beauty, 25 cultural attractions and 13 sites of historical interest.
According to the Information, Culture and Tourism Department, there were about 52,000 tourist arrivals in the province in 2016. Most came from Vietnam, China, European countries, the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada.
Most people visit Huaphan to see the caves in Viengxay district, such as the ones that housed and protected President Kaysone Phomvihane, President Souphanouvong, former President Mr Nouhak Phoumsavanh and former President Mr Khamtay Siphandone and other Politburo members.
Deputy Director of the provincial Information, Culture and Tourism Department, Mr Phouvanh Phetmixay, said that this year about 60,000 tourists are expected to visit the province.
Huaphan has more than 50 hotels and guesthouses, with more than 1,200 beds.
Mr Phouvong said the department has encouraged the owners of hotels, guesthouses and restaurants to provide good service and ensure food safety before, during and after the country celebrates Visit Laos Year 2018.
“They should ensure that visitors enjoy themselves when they come here. This will make them want to return at some point in the future,” he said.
Mr Phouvong added that if people visit Huaphan during Visit Laos Year 2018, they can also enjoy the 50th anniversary of Viengxay district’s liberation and Phathee liberation day.
Last year, the Asean Community marked its tourism year, 2018 is Visit Laos Year, and next year Laos and China will co-host a joint tourism year.
How to get to Xamneua
Using public transport, there are two options.
By road: Take the bus from the Northern Bus Station in Dongnathong village, Sikhottabong district, Vientiane.
By plane: Flights to Huaphan leave from the domestic terminal at Wattay International Airport in Vientiane. Travel time is about one hour and 15 minutes and flights go every day from Monday to Saturday, but there are none scheduled on Sundays.


By Times Reporters
(Latest UpdateJanuary 03, 2017)

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