Just a bump in the road, the hamlet of Phong To, sits midway along the way between new Lai Chau and Muong Lay. It's a very unassuming little berg with little (in fact, just about nothing) to recommend it, but if you're looking for somewhere to break for the night it's as good a choice as Muong Lay.
Accommodation is limited. In much the same style as the original Lan Anh Hotel in Muong Lay, the Lan Anh II is equally charming, featuring a lot of the local multicoloured slate, some stilt-house-style lodging and a wide selection of rooms. Rooms feature comfy beds with frilly mossie nets and are equipped with the necessary facilities but it's let down by a very complacent — and absent when you need them — staff and is falling apart — the room we were in had no door handle, a broken back door, no fan and a dodgy air-con unit. That said, the smaller rooms are better value than the rooms at the Hoang Lan. Bicycles can be rented for 50,000 VND but with the current state of the road there's nowhere worth taking them.
There are precious few options for evening dining in Phong To, with the town virtually shutting down after dark (apart from the post office of course). Bear in mind that there is no street lighting so take a torch.
If you head away from the Lan Anh II towards Lai Chau, there's a goat hot-pot restaurant on the left called Trong Bang Restaurant that's good for a group meal in the evening. It's in an atmospheric, old, wooden shack. Whole fried chickens are also on offer. Turn left out of the Lan Anh II and then shortly left again over the bridge.
A kilometre in the other direction, across from the Hoang Lan Hotel, com and pho can be eaten at Quan Moi with drinks available next door at Hang Thuong.
There are no banking services for foreigners in Phong To, but internet is available at the Lan Anh II for 10,000 VND per hour and at the post office, up the road heading towards Muong Lay, where it costs a mere 3,000 VND per hour. For such a quite place the post office is open surprisingly long hours.
Buses in either direction can be picked up along the main road and there is no real bus station to speak of.
Phong To Post Office: On the road to Muong Lay, on the right, Phong To. T: (0231) 896 226, F: (0231) 896 227. Hours: 07:00 to 21:30.
By Stuart McDonald.