The (usual) border crossing is Chiang Khong / Huay Xai. By bus, it takes about 5 hours from Huay Xia to Luang Nam Tha . From Luang Nam Tha to Muang Sing one either finds one's own transport or takes a tuk-tuk (or similar). On a 100cc motorbike, I rode from Luang Nam Tha to Muang Sing in about two hours.
The ride between Luang Nam Tha and Muang Sing traverses the Luang Nam Tha NPA and is very enjoyable.
I found Muang Sing to be one of the better places I experienced in nthn Laos. It is a real 'frontier' town. It wasn't destroyed in the 1970's war, and retains many French colonial buildings.
There are 2 markets. One is 'official' and not used. The other is where everyone attends. Its probably no different to the Luang Nam Tha market.
Muang Sing is only a 10 minute bike ride from the China border. There are many ethnic communities in the region.
The eradication of opium from nthn Laos means there is no longer any 'open' market for drugs. That said, it's not hard to find. Nevertheless, drug use by westerners is fraught with problems.
Hope this helps.
If you take an early bus from Huay Xai you can jump on a local to Muang Sing the same day, so one day from Huay Xai. Be aware there are two bus stations in Luang Namtha, the local one (Muang Sing)is about 300meters south of town.
A few years ago they moved the historic old market a kilometer or two out of Muang Sing. The downtown street now seems very quiet. Being one of the larger "Muang" around, Sing still sees a lot of activity, people coming and going from outlying areas.
There was no eradication of opium in Northern Laos. Last season's crop sold at 4 times the price of raw product in 06. Many fiels are blooming once again with the highest price, most durable, cash crop available. Muang Sing is no longer on the narco tourist circuit, they arrest people. I think the closer and more convieniet Vang Vien has detoured all those folks. Now people go to Muang Sing for a "trek".
Old Market Muang Sing
as somsai said, two bus stations in Luang Namtha.
Luang Namtha > Muang Sing : 2h by songthaew/bus (not tuktuk!), departs from the older bus station across from Luang Namtha market (bottom left of this map).
newer bus station is a couple of KMs south of town, closer to airport & Boat Landing GH. are you coming from/heading towards Huay Xai?
Is it an interesting place?
depends on what interests you? some like it for trekking, some like it for the Boun That Xieng Tung festival, some go there simply cos it's 'in the guidebook', i like it for being my intro to Tai Lue culture in Laos, & also liked the little museum.
What about the markets?
again as somsai said, has moved to northwest part of town:
(Luang Namtha market for comparison)
for an idea of what Muang Sing town is like:
(info almost 3 years old, Wat Sing Jai has been renovated, prob many other changes too)
I didn't answer the "interesting?" part of the question.
The valley that Muang Sing sits in is wide and long. The most fertile piece of ground in Laos above Luang Namtha. The center of an old walled mini kingdom. Largest concentration of Thai Lu I know of.
Not just Sing itself but many of the surrounding villages if you take a good look the houses are old. It's also the largest market town for that entire north western part of Laos. Much larger than Xiengkok and Muang Long. For all the people and villages on the northern side of the mountains Muang Sing is the big city. The alternatives are boating down the Mekong to Huay Xai (way expensive) Burma, (nothing there) or passing through Muang Sing en route to Luang Namtha and the big big city of Udomxai .
I'm showing you the view from the local perspective, because there are usually a few who have seen Udomxai but very few have ever gone to say Luang Prabang or the very distant and important Vientiane.
So yes very interesting for some.
On the opium cultivation note, when I was in Muang La, (admitedly a few years back now -- maybe '96-97, not sure) we did a trek out to some caves, a river source and other stuff -- basically wandered off with a totally incompetent guide, got lost and got attacked by vicious plants and stuff... anyway I digress...
From one hilltop vantage point we looked north and an entire side of a far more elevated peak glistened with poppy. It was a massive crop. MASSIVE.
The guide said that crop diversification people had been through and in his words "they want them to grow cabbage - no wayyyyy man"... So there was some attempts at eradication/diversification, but were none too successful at the time.
Agree it is a pretty area -- especially the section of road BruceMoon mentions above -- very pretty.
Sidenote I deleted the funny stuff at the top.
You are right "songthaew/bus (not tuktuk!). It's just my lack of recognition to details for scheduled people carrier versus purchased people carrier. To my western anglo eyes, not much different.
Given the expressions about Muang Sing to this point, perhaps one aspect hasn't been dwelt upon...
While there are western/anglo tourists in/around Muang Sing, when i was there few adorned the streets. And, I got the distinct feeling that the steady trickle hadn't increased in volumes over the years such that a tourism industry catering to western/anglo tourists has dominated the townscape (as it has in nearby Luang Nam Tha, or worse still, Luang Prabang). Given this, Muang Sing, while a sizeable town, is still very much a Laos town.
If 'other' nationals have affected the way Muang Sing 'is', I got the feeling it's more the Chinese than the western/anglo's.
biggest fattest fields of opium poppies i've seen was in Tasmania. any crop eradication plans for that area? ;)
"songthaew/bus (not tuktuk!). It's just my lack of recognition to details for scheduled people carrier versus purchased people carrier.
song (two) thaew (row) = 2 long benches, 4 wheels (modified pick-up truck), can take cargo on roof, people can hang off the back, larger capacity, longer distances.
tuktuk aka. sam (three) lor (wheel) = 3 wheels, too unstable for cargo on roof, people can hang off the back in Thai action movies :P
though q often in Laos i hear locals referring to songthaews as tuktuks when talking to foreigners, my Lao friends say that's cos they don't know of an alternative term that foreigners will understand. & tuktuk drivers in Vientiane will call out 'tuktuk?' to foreigners walking by, but 'samlor?' to locals.
purchased people carrier
brings to mind that anti-human trafficking 'billboard' in the centre of Oudomxay!
Ran across these old photos of Muang Sing and the old market circa 1997 on another forum, not sure what ethnicity the ones in the photo titled "children" are. Other old photos on other parts, look at Vang Vien. All market photos are from outside, under the roof were dry goods.
Matthew Herschmann Photos:
photos titled 'children' & 'young girls' are the same Akha subgroup as the couple in the second last photo in this post. Thai Akha friend met people from this subgroup during his trip to Laos, they told him they are Akha Puli.