Tucked away in a narrow valley formed by the Nam Sam at about 1200m above sea level, Sam Neua remains one of the country’s least visited provincial capitals. Swimming in the milieu of history, eye-widening produce markets (and less appealing Chinese goods) and ethnic diversity, it possesses the tang ardently sought by inquisitive travellers. The town and its surrounds shift through great contrasts of climate and colour. From April to October the landscape is lush and warm from the rains. As the cooler dry sets in, flowers speckle the streets until the wet begin again in December. Sam Neua makes an excellent base to explore the rest of the province, which is slowly but surely opening up. Residents are mostly Lao, Vietnamese and Hmong, along with some Thai Dam, Thai Daeng and Thai Lü.