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.
By Stuart McDonald.