The Muong Lay that used to be an idyllic village in a peaceful and stunning valley is unfortunately no more -- it is underwater, thanks to a large reservoir. So now Muong Lay lies along Highway 12, a dusty town of wooden shacks with bare bulbs with a sleepy atmosphere — well, except for when the trucks rumble through.
Unfortunately the construction also affects the road from Lai Chau — it's an obstacle course across rough terrain and around steam rollers and digger trucks, mostly along the edge of a cliff. Not for the faint hearted. All but the sturdiest mountain bike and rider would best avoid it and even motorbikes will have a hard time — in our view, the challenges outweigh the current rewards.
Despite glimpses of the beauty the area once offered, for the time being it is spoilt by construction, but let's hope it returns to its splendour — albeit in a different form — when the reservoir is finished.
It used to be possible to arrange some trips out of Muong Lay, but the Lan Anh Hotel has stopped providing any tour services so you'll be on your own. On previous visits we managed a trip to Deo Van Long (Ruins of the Van Long Residence) — it's no longer possible to go by river but you can get there on a bike via a very circuitous 9km trip to the road to Muong Te. Lan Anh might help with directions if you're very persistent.
There's no formal bike hire arrangement in town either, but we were quoted 80,000 VND to borrow a motorbike for the day on our last visit. If you're up for adventure then a drive up to Sinh Ho is feasible: allow 4 hours each way, plan for an overnight stay and expect a bumpy, dusty and muddy ride for the first hour or so. The views are amazing once you get up into the mountains though.
Muong Lay is along Highway 12, and you'll see the road down to the Lan Anh Hotel on the right if approaching from Lai Chau: it dips precipitously down into the river valley and the hotel is about 500 m down on the right, after the market and just before the bridge.
The post office is located north of the road into town, on the highway heading towards Lai Chau (milemarkers count down to Chan Nua, 25 km along the way). Long distance telephone services are available in the main office and a sign suggests internet is also available — although it was closed on our last visit and we were unable to establish any opening hours. The Lan Anh Hotel has a dial-up connection that's not too bad, but overpriced at 10,000 VND per hour.
Muong Lay Post Office: 11 Song Da, Highway 12, Muong Lay. T: (0230) 385 2301, F: (0230) 385 2341. Hours: 07:00 to 17:00
By Stuart McDonald.