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Muong Lay

Muong Lay in Dien Bien
The name Muong Lay has become a landmark in the map of travelers to northwest Vietnam. Formerly known as Lai Chau, this small town is nestled in a pretty valley carved from spectacular mountains by the Da River, and makes a good lunch or overnight stop for people travelling between Dien Bien Phu and Sapa. Beneath Muong Lay's beauty lies a difficult existence for locals. Despite a marked increase in tourist numbers, for most of the people it's a hard living. Far from busy trade routes, normal commerce is limited and the town has only been really successful in harvesting cash crops such opium and timber. Needless to say, opium harvesting does not find favour with the central government, which has been trying to discourage the Montagnards from producing poppies. If the opium business is falling on hard times, the same must be said for the timber industry. In recent years the forest cover has been reduced and flooding has increased dramatically. Around 140 people lost their lives in 1990 in a devastating flood on the Da River that swept through the narrow valley. An even worse flood in 1996 killed 100 people and cut all roads into town for two months; the ruins of the flooded former cultural hall can be seen in the middle of town. It seems that this kind of flooding will become a permanent feature of Muong Lay. There is a massive dam under construction, just above the current Song Da Reservoir, and this will fill the valley with water. When this comes to pass (not before 2010), this will be the largest hydroelectric station in Southeast Asia. It also could mean that in the future the only way to visit Muong Lay will be by submarine. Being underwater, however, would at least keep things cooler. Odd as it might seem, in summer Muong Lay is one of the hottest places in Vietnam. June and July temperatures can soar as high as 40°C.

BORDER CROSSING: TAY TRANG/SOP HUN
The Lao border at Tay Trang, gateway to Phongsali province, is only 34km from Dien Bien Phu. Persistent rumours circulate about this crossing opening to foreign tour ists soon, but at the time of writing it was still closed. OK, so we've said it for a few years now, but it really is likely to open during the lifetime of this book. Keep your ear to the ground and do your homework in Hanoi. Check out the motorbiking website GT Rider for the latest, as these guys are eagerly waiting for !t to open.

Getting There & Away
Most travellers arrive from Dien Bien Phu (three hours, 103km), although there's also the rocky road option of Hwy 6 from Tuan Giao (four hours, 96km). The road trom Lai Chau to Sapa (six hours, 155km) is one of the most beautiful drives in Vietnam, particularly the final climb up over the Tram Ton Pass. Public buses make the run to/from Hanoi, as well Dien Bien Phu (35,000d, three hours') and Sapa (53.000d).

ALL CHANGE IN THE NORTH
There's been a lot of confusing name changes in the northwest in the past couple of years. A large chunk of old Lai Chau province, including the provincial capital, is due to go under water in a few more years. The government struck first and created the new province of Dien Bien Phu and relocated the province of Lai Chau to the northeast. The old town of Lai Chau is now Moung Lay the old town of Tam Duong is now Lai Chau, the provincial capital of the new province; and the'old town of Binh Lu is now Tarn Duong. Confused? So were we. More than a few travellers have been jumping off the bus in the new town of Lai Chau, hunting for the popular Lan Anh Hotel. No, that's in Muong Lay - the old Lai Chau, Yeahhhh

 
 
 

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Northwest Attractions

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