Photo: Muang Long from the stupa.

Introduction

Nestled in a valley and at the confluence of the Nam Long and Nam Ma rivers, with a striking backdrop of rolling hills and jagged cliffs, is the town and district capital Muang Long and for such a small town, it bustles, especially at its market.


People from surrounding villages descend into town in the early morning to peddle their goods or to buy supplies. Here you will see Akha women in headdresses laden with silver baubles and coins shopping along side Lanten women head-to-toe in black indigo with bright pink trim, their hair slicked down and parted in the middle. For those searching for authentic hill-tribe trekking, this is as real as it gets. Here, the ethnic “minority” are the majority and the district is frontier land – mountainous and remote, sharing 50 kilometres of border with Burma. You can visit villages that may not have seen all that many foreigners pass through in years.

People are going bananas in Muang Long.

People are going bananas in Muang Long. Photo: Cindy Fan

The Akha are the dominant group in the area and they are also perhaps the most interesting and recognisable because of the silver headdresses. Their spoken language is classified as Tibeto-Burman and they are thought to have arrived in Laos in the mid-19th century. They are also found in parts of Thailand, China and Vietnam and are one of the most diverse ethnic groups in Southeast Asia, with so much variation that some dialects would not understand others. As hill people, they have incredible knowledge of and connection with the forest and the land. They practise animism and ancestor worship and have a strict code of rituals, customs and laws that dictate their life. A guided trek is the best way to learn more about this fascinating and complex group.

Muang Long could easily be the next Muang Sing, with great potential for trekking and mountain biking in the area, which boasts lovely scenery, dramatic mountains, pristine jungle and interesting villages that survive off the lan. It is not there yet, but that’s the main appeal. Tourism in Muang Long is not as organised as?in Muang Sing, Luang Nam Tha and Vieng Poukha, as the few people who come here simply pass through. There are several decent guesthouses, but you’ll find no tourist restaurants and very little in the way of offered tours. If you want to explore by bicycle or motorbike, you’ll have to rent them in Muang Sing.

Peak hour.

Peak hour. Photo: Adam Poskitt

So if want to get lost (figuratively) in other people’s worlds, worlds far apart from your own, Muang Long is the perfect destination. Be prepared to be adventurous, and see it soon as changes are afoot.

In the last few years, land has been leased to Chinese companies and the valley taken over by banana plantations on a scale that you have to see to believe. On our recent (early 2015) 70 kilometre drive along Route 17B from Muang Sing to Xieng Kok, there was not an inch of arable land that wasn’t covered with cash crops. It was a sea and the world seemed drowned in banana trees planted less than a metre apart from each other. Why is this bad? Bananas produced this way require heavy use of irrigation and pesticides that will leach into waterways that flow into the Mekong. While it seems that locals are happy with the price they received for the land and that there is work, the toll on the culture and environment remains to be seen and fully realised.


Orientation
Beside the market there’s a BCEL Bank ATM that accepts the major international networks. 1,000,000 kip is the maximum amount per withdrawal.

There’s a tourist office on the main road, about 300 metres in the direction to Xieng Kok beside the Muang Long administration building. It’s not really all that useful unless you wish to book a trek or you are thinking about getting a boat from Xieng Kok down to Ban Mom or Ton Pheung (to get to Huay Xai) — it’s a good idea to head here first for an update on the latest boat situation.




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Onward travel

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