I went over to Muang Long a week or so ago based on what Somchai had said about it. I cannot reccomend the place enough both as a place for a good wonder by yourself and as a place for a trek. Tui in the tourism office, mentioned on Lao Bumpkin, is a great guide and person. We had some difficulty at first as Tui was in Nam Tha at the boat races and his boss's english was lacking. When Tui returned we signed up for a two day trek; it was slightly cheaper than those from Muang Sing and also less of a well-beaten trail.
Part of the reason we decided to go there was because...no one goes there [generally]. This turned out to be true as we were the only two falang in town for the 4/5 days we were there. The trail we went on hadn't been used for about a year and required much clearing by Tui and the local guide. The food on the way was excellent, the village we stayed in was great too. They were very welcoming and, as it was teachers day, we all knocked back a couple of lao-lao shots [one for each leg].
The village children were scared of us at first which was a strange sight/feeling but after half an hour we were messing around with them just fine. The village we stayed in was actually two that had been put together by the government [i can't recall the ethnicity but if i saw the name i could tell you].
The trek had a few problems, at one point both plan A and B failed and there was no plan C! but i wont go into that. Overall, looking back it was a fantastic experience. As for Muang Long, it seems even more refreshing now, having been in Luang Prabang [where everything is in England] to have struggled to order in restaurants in Muang Long because they had no english menu! In the end we asked for the two things we knew; kai & khiao niao - and got a really nice dish as a result. In another place [chinese, near the bus station] we just pointed at two things on the menu for 15,000 and 10,000 at random. We thought we may have been 'had' as all we got was cabbage boiled in water [left in its water, like a soup but no flavouring] and stir fried greens with garlic. Either way we didn't mind too much; all in the name of fun after all.
Sorry for the essay on Muang Long but so far it has EASILY been the highly of Laos for me. There are a few more guest houses than mentioned on here too. We stayed in Home Phan [or something] which is at the top of the hill from the bus station just up from Jony Guesthouse. The owner is friendly but has no english. We paid 35 000 a night for a double room [only dou bles]. Free water was provided [bottled] and hot showers were available in some of the rooms but not all. They have do have one twin room available downstairs for 30 000 as the bathroom is next door and it is effectively just two beds in the garage.
We had a look at Jony but it was unclean; we could see what looked like rat/mouse dropping on the floor, very dirty, sheets looked unclean. It has apparently been taken over by a Chinese family but was originally owned by a Lao family.
Opposite Homephan there are a couple of good noodle shops that charge 8 000 or you can head to the market for a 5 000 bowl with less meat. Additionally, there is ONE restaurant with an english menu in town [courtesy of Tui] which is on the same side of the street the bus station is on and next to a mobile phone shop. Another good restaurant [where we had chicken/rice] can be found about 500m-1km outside of town. It is owned by 'Jony' but as yet has no name. It over looks the rice terraces and was reccomended to us by 3 separate people. To get to it just walk in the direction of Muang Sing on the main road.
The market in Muang Long didnt seem that small [ i think on TF it suggested it was ] and many venders were around untill 3/4pm. There was some great akha dress on show and most were selling fruit etc
The walk by the river was quite nice [as suggested by lonely planet] and we also went for a walk by ourselves and discovered 2 or 3 very nice villages. Two of them had english name signs carved in wood but despite this they seemed suprised to see us; we were greeted by children and adults alike.
Definately worth the trip.
I think the village of two ethnicities is Nambo, the people Hmong and Lahu. The unused trail that had to be cleared a lot has me wondering where? Would like to hear more of the failure of plan B and C, can't be any worse than my get lost for days or foodless trek type stories, and might be funny in retrospect. Any of those little kids look like Tui?
Don't you have a travelblog somewhere?
I get up at ten. If a place doesn't have nightlife then for me to be happy, it had better have something else going on at night that keeps me occupied (violence did it for me in remotest Africa). I hate sleepy villages like my wife's. Bored to tears.
A few photos from my Muang Long trek. I did take some of the town itself and market but...for some reason i didn't upload them?!