The northern town of Muang Khua sits on the bank of the river Nam Ou, near the mouth of the Nam Phak. It is a beautiful, peaceful spot halfway up the river between Nong Kiaow and Hat Sa (for Phongsali) in northern Laos.
This half-way house status is the main reason foreigners visit: to experience the beauty and serenity of the spectacular journey from Nong Kiaow to Hat Sa. Muang Khua itself is rarely a destination in its own right but nevertheless quite a few things can be seen and done locally.
While few travellers linger longer than a night or two, the town is becoming a true travellers' destination and over the years we have witnessed an ever growing number of tourists stopping in town, especially since the border to Vietnam opened not all that far from here. If you're headed to Dien Bien Phu in northern Vietnam, plan for at least an overnight stay in Muang Khua.
For those interested in trekking, the region is a great place to explore for a few days. The untouched and rarely visited mountains were heavily bombed during the US war as the US believed there to be significant Pathet Lao activity in the area -- today all that remain are scattered villages. Expect terrific scenery coupled with a bit of a "rough and ready" trekking experience.
Some find the town to be a little cold and unfriendly, particularly compared with the rest of Laos, and the mounds of rubbish that have been dumped by the river's edge are off-putting. That said, if you stick around and wander the small side alleys, or trek through the mountains, you may discover a side to Muang Khua not easily visible at first glance. This is a great place to go if you want to step off the road well-travelled, without going too far off the track.
There is only one ATM in town and it doesn't as yet accept Visa or Mastercard, so those requiring Lao money need to visit the Agricultural Development Bank on the main road and ask the staff inside if they will allow you to withdraw money from it using your credit card. This usually works, but if it doesn't, you will need some foreign currency to convert to kip in order to pay for your onward travel and your hotel bill.
By Adam Poskitt