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. One user reports that, "the town is now owned by Chinese and it is noisy as hell when weddings take place," but this happens somewhat seldomly. If you'll be bothered by early morning music and the roosters ubiquitous in small towns throughout Laos, pack a pair of earplugs.
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 40,000 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 10,000 Kip.
In the east, the road connects Muang Khua to the northernmost 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 between 120,000 and 150,000 Kip depending on the number of pessengers, and from Nong Khiaw costs 120,000 Kip. During high season, boats typically run daily. During other times of year, through, boats may 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 ATMs in town - BCEL and LDB, both situated near the crossroads at the centre of town, although the machines may not always be working. The ATMs dispense currency in Lao kip and generally allow a maximum withdrawal of 1,000,000 kip with a charge of 20,000 kip. Multiple withdrawals are allowed to a daily maximum of 5,000,000 kip. (Feb 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.
-Sabaidee Cafe: Close to the boat dock. Charming small restaurant popular with travelers. Small but good menu offering a mix of Lao, Thai, and Western offerings for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Mains ran 15.000 to 40.000 kip. A small bar, with pastis (great price at 15.000 kip) and a variety of cocktails available, half with lao lao. Real coffee, if you tire of the Nescafe everywhere else.
-Saifon Restaurant: Basic menu offering Lao specialties, though the mushroom and ginger combination seems to be a house specialty. Mains at 15.000 to 30.000 kip, large Beer Lao at 10.000. Tuborg available but no Beer Lao dark.
-Food Order In: Located directly on the junction. Offers Lao food and travel-anywhere basics like fried rice and fried noodles, etc. Mains 10.000 to 25.000 kip.
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.
-Chalern Souk: Halfway up the hill from the boat dock, and popular with travelers. Prices are posted very clearly on a whiteboard behind the check-in counter. In the older building, some rooms were 70.000 kip (like a double with an external but not shared bathroom) and others were 100.000 kip. Large common balcony with free water, hot water, and tea on offer all day; 2 free bottles of water and 2 packets of nescafe in the room. Free towels, hot water shower worked well all day. In the newer building, rooms were offered for 100.000 kip, and their balcony overlooks the river. Okay wifi.
-Manchay Guesthouse: At the top of the hill from the boat dock, halfway to the junction.
-Manotham Guesthouse: Cross the Namphak bridge, on the left 100 metres. 50.000 kip per room, friendly and English spoken. Clean, tidy. For 30.000 kip more you can have dinner there (good and lot of food).
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.
The Muang Khua bus station is 2km from Muang Khua itself in a village called Ban Dan Neua. To reach the bus station, the tourist office advises waiting at the junction for a tuk tuk one hour before bus departure times. Tuk tuks to the bus station cost 10,000 kip per person.