Posted Date: 7/9/20139:11 AM
UDOMXAI TO PHONGSALI
Sixty-two kilometers northeast of Udomxai, Rte 2E reaches a three-way junction at the village of Pak Nam Noi. From Pak Nam Noi, Rte 3 continues east-northeast to Muang Khua and to the Vietnamese border, while route 1B proceeds north-northeast to Phongsali.
From Udomxai to Pak Nam Noi about two-thirds of the road is now sealed, and before long this entire stretch will no doubt be I sealed. On the way to Pak Nam Noi you’ll I pass through scenic Muang La (25km from Udomxai), a tidy Thai Lu village with a classic Thai Lu temple and a couple of restaurants built alongside a river.
In Pak Nam Noi the Pak Nam Noy Guest House (Room: US$2), near the three-way junction, can provide a room if you miss a bus connection and become stranded here.
Roughly halfway between Udomxai and Phongsali, BounTai (60km from Udomxai) is a prospering Thai Lu town popular as a base for NGOs and as a rest-stop for people travelling to and from Phongsali. The Khem Nam Lan (Room: US$2-4), BounTai (Room: US$2-4) and Hong Thong (Room: US$2-4) guesthouses all offer decent accommodation. The Hong Thong prepares good Chinese food, while the slightly more elaborate River View Restaurant does Lao as well as Chinese.
Two- to three-day treks into the Nam Lan Conservation area and surrounding Thai Yang, Akha and Thai Lu villages can be organized through the District Tourism Office, which you can find at the top of the hill next to the district administration office. Trek highlights, aside from pristine jungle and home- stays in the villages, include Thai Lu temples and hot springs.
Next comes Ban Yo (30km from Bou Tai), where a turn to the left leads directly to Ban Pakha (19km) on the Chinese border and a turn right goes to Bonn Neua (21km) and Phongsali. Although Bonn Neua is essentially a Thai Lu village, the abundance of Chinese signs and the presence of a Chinese-style guesthouse and restaurant demonstrates the close connection with China, only40km away. The bus from Udomxai stops in Bou Neua for a wee break, but long enough for everyone to trundle off. Make sure you don’t confuse this with Phongsali, as it’s a hefty 36km hike to Phongsali if you let the bus leave without you. Alternatively there’s a decent guest- house right next to the bus station if you do get stuck.
At Boun Neua the road forks into one road leading northeast to Phongsali (41km) or another heading north to Ou Tai (93km). Ou Tai is known to be a centre for several Phongsali Province hill tribes.
Muang Khua is a small but thriving trading town that climbs from the banks of the Nam Ou in a jumble of shacks and concrete. It sits at the junction of the Nam Ou and Rte 1A, which connects Udomxai and Phongsali Provinces with Dien Bien Phu in Vietnam. Many Vietnamese and Chinese people have migrated here to do business and it’s growing steadily as a result.
Although Muang Khua is not much of destination in itself, a quick walk around tow is a will reveal a few older French colonial buildings amid the growing number of cement shophouses. A stroll across the old wood plank and steel-cable suspension bridge over the Nam Phak, a Nam Ou tributary, affords some good river and mountain views and leads to the Khamu village of Ban Na Turn
The Lao Development Bank here can change US dollars, Thai baht and Chinese yuan (cash only) for kip. Electric power comes on nightly from 6.30pm to 10pm
There have been rumours that the Laos – Vietnamese border, around 55km east of Muang Khua, will someday be open to international travelers. When it does, this route will surely become popular among those traveling to or from Dien Bien Phu inVietnam. The border town on the Laos side is called Tai Xang; on the Vietnamese side it’s Tay Trang. At present the only way to reach the Vietnamese border is by tug across the Nam Ou, although the influx of trade may result in a bridge spanning the relatively short divide.
Sleeping & Eating
Singsavanh Guest House
In a convenient spot right outside the bus station, this simple property has rudimentary rooms with shared bathrooms.
Nam Ou Guest House and Restaurant
Room:US$5, with out bathroomUS$3-5
This rambling and homely guesthouse overlooks the boat landing and has pleasant, clean rooms upstairs, some with attached hot shower and squat toilets. There are also a few rooms downstairs although they’re squalid in comparison.
The restaurant (meals US$0.50 to US$1.50) has good river views and a basic menu. The friendly owner speaks French and English. You can reach the guesthouse from the town’s main road or from the main boat landing.
Keophila Guest House
Tel: 210907 – Room: US$4
This central guesthouse on the main drag has fresh rooms with private bathrooms. Unfortunately the rigid beds are murder on the back, and it’s often full. The bar next door serves a seemingly permanent crowd with a seemingly endless supply of Beerlao.
Tel: 212445 – Room: US$10
This central, Chinese-built hotel is a huge leap from all other accommodation in town. Immaculate rooms have attached Western bathrooms, hospital-dean sheets on the beds and plenty of space. The downstairs restaurant (meals US$1 to US$3) serves Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai and Lao food, but you need to give advance notice.
Other than the restaurants at the Nam Ou Guest House and Sernnaly Hotel, you’ll find the usual crop of noodle stands at the market near the bus terminal.
Getting There & Away
When the river level is high enough, you can reach Muang Khua via boat on the Nam Ou.
The bus terminal next to the town market fields morning buses to/from Udomxai (US$4, 4 hours, 2 daily) and Luang Prabang(US$6, 8 hours, 2 daily)
To get to Phongsali you need to catch a sawngthaew to Park Nam Noi (US$2, 1 hours, 8am) then wait for the bus that passes through from Udomxai at around 10am. The bus jouney from Pak Nam Noi to Phongsali costs US$4.80 and takes seven to 10 hours including frequent stops.