Photo: River scenes.

Introduction

Our rating:

Only 28 kilometres north of bustling Udomxai, Muang La is a picturesque town nestled beside the Nam Pak River, a settlement of tranquil farmland and Khmu villages wrapped by rolling mountains. Once an off-the-grid spot, it has gracefully made a name for itself, no doubt helped by the opening of a luxury lodge.



Muang La’s main attraction is the natural hot springs. Picture yourself soaking sore muscles in piping hot water while taking in the river scenery. The experience is tonic for both the body and soul—and it’s free. It doesn’t get much better than this.

Quite lovely. Photo taken in or around Muang La, Laos by Cindy Fan.

Quite lovely. Photo: Cindy Fan

Aside from the hot springs, there’s not much to do—and that’s the charm. Head up the road, cross the bridge to the other side of the Nam Pak and stroll through the Khmu village for gentle pastoral scenes and glimpses of daily life. Return via the endearing 10,000 kip-a-ride bamboo “ferry” built by an enterprising local.

Visit Wat Pha Singkham, a pilgrimage site home to a sacred 400-year-old Buddha, one of the most important in Laos. Ask a local restaurant to catch and prepare fresh fish from the river. Otherwise, content yourself with rest, relaxation and taking it all in.

Simple pleasures. Photo taken in or around Muang La, Laos by Cindy Fan.

Simple pleasures. Photo: Cindy Fan

The challenge with lingering in Muang La is the lack of desirable cheap accommodation and food. Hotel Lhakham, the once recommendable riverside budget hotel, was closed in 2017 due to flood damage. If pricey Muang La Lodge is out of reach (they wouldn’t even let us in the front door to pick up a brochure!), there’s only a couple of basic guesthouses. The restaurant at Muang La Lodge is not open to outside guests, so food is limited to some mediocre shops doing noodle soup or stir-fry.

While we think an overnight stay is ideal for soaking up the atmosphere, it’s possible to do Muang La as a day trip from Udomxai, and it can be combined with Nam Kat waterfall and a Buddha footprint, a sacred relic in Ban Longya, into a scenic motorbike loop. In Ban Houayala 10 km south of Muang La, take the dirt road leading east. It’s 4.5 km to a junction where heading straight for 2 km brings you to Ban Longya, or turn right for the back road to Nam Kat Yorla Pa.

By the river in Muang La Photo taken in or around Muang La, Laos by Cindy Fan.

By the river in Muang La Photo: Cindy Fan

When we first visited Muang La a local guide (who is hopefully doing something other than guiding now) led us on a half-day long wild goose chase to see a cave and the river source. He led us through thicket, thorns and plants with incredibly itching leaves that made our legs feel like they were on fire (really). We did find the river source but we never saw the cave. For those interested in hikes and who want to avoid an ordeal like ours, book a guided trip through the Provincial Tourism Office in Udomxai (see below). There are numerous ethnic groups in the district, notably the Khmu, Akha, Hmong and Ikhos.

We love Muang La. Few people take the time to visit this pastoral paradise on the main road. Sometimes getting off the beaten track is as simple as getting off the bus.




Orientation
Muang La is directly on highway 2E, running north from Udomxai in the direction of Phongsali. The road runs through the town centre, which has one BCEL ATM, then past Wat Pha Singkham before it curves and this is where to find the riverside tourist centre/hot spring. The road then rises steeply to a bridge which gives a terrific view of the village and river below.

There was a tourism information centre at the market but it has been shuttered up and inactive for many years.

Provincial Tourism Office in Udomxai Across from the market, Udomxai. Mo–Fr: 08:00–11:30 & 13:30-16:30 http://oudomxaytourism.blogspot.com

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