Earth : Asia : Southeast Asia : Laos : Northern Laos : Muang Khua
Muang Khua is a small town in the Phongsali Province of northern Laos. Most people use it as a transit town (the halfway point between several other places), but it has its own charm.
Muang Khua can be reached from four directions: the Nam Ou river crosses through it from north to south, while the roads head east and west.
To the west, lies the transit hub of Muang Xay. Buses travel fairly frequently throughout the day, and cost 35,000 Kip. Travel time is between 2-3 hours (depending on the size of the bus). The Muang Khua bust station is 2km from Muang Khua itself in a village called Ban Dan Neua. Tuk tuks can take you from the station to the village for 5,000 Kip.
In the east, the road connects Muang Khua to the northenmost border crossing with Vietnam, near the Vietnamese city of Dien Bien Phu. Buses are supposed to leave daily now from Dien Bien Phu's bus station early in the morning. Travel time should be around 4-5 hours. The road is good quality to the Vietnamese border but it is still a bit of a bumpy journey from there to Dien Bien Phu.
Muang Khua is about halfway between in the north Phongsali and the backpacker-popular village of Muang Ngoi Neua, with connections further south to Luang Prabang. A boat from Muang Ngoi Neua upstream costs 100,000 Kip, and from Nong Khiaw costs 120,000 Kip. These boats typically only run when there are enough tourists to make it worth the drivers' while, so you may have to wait a few days for one travelling in your desired direction.
Muang Khua can be covered by foot.
Trekking and visiting native villages can both be done in the area. The town's tourist information (open Mon-Fri) has information on what is available.
There are two cash machines in town - BCEL and LDB, both situated near the crossroads at the centre of town, although the machines may not always be working (May 2013) It is also possible to change US dollars and baht into Kip in one of the currency exchanges in town. As of June 2012, there were two places in town that exchanged money at reasonable rate.
There are many places to eat in town - most of the dozen or so guesthouses serve food.
The local market serves cheap (10,000 Kip) khao soi, which you can enjoy with surprised locals anytime of the day. Namou Guesthouse on the riverfront serves food all day round and has a nice view of Nam Ou and the boats passing by.
There are around a dozen guesthouses and hotels in town with prices varying from 30,000 Kip to 80,000 Kip for a double bed room. Guesthouses on the main road can be noisy with the traffic passing through town.
Internet is available in town at the far end near the Wat, and in one of the guesthouses just past the tourist information on the left hand side. Fast 3G reception is also available.
By bus to Dien Bien Phu: So, there are two buses to Vietnam; one at 6am (which doesn't leave everyday, and actually it didn't the day we planned to get out), and one at around 11am which comes from Oudomaxai. I recommend waiting for it from 10am in the restaurant across the street in front of the Development Bank.
Our bus arrived at 11:45am, and it took 3 hours to get to the border in Laos, 20 mins to check out Laos and then another 20 to check into Vietnam. We didn't pay anything to check out Laos.
This bus costs 60.000 kip ... Seats are not guaranteed... You might need to sit very uncomfortably. Make sure you have a VISA to Vietnam, you cannot get one on arrival when you cross by land.
When you get to Dien Bien Phu (at around 6pm), you can catch a bus to Sapa or Hanoi directly. To Sapa though it might be full and there is only one bus. We learned as we arrived that the Vietnamees can be very aggressive when bargaining between the different buses... They will assault you relentlessly till you by a ticket from them... But don't be afraid, they are just rude, not dangerous.