Published/Last edited or updated: 2nd June, 2018
The village of Muang La is 28 kilometres from Udomxai and if travellers are short on time, then the scenic town can be visited as a simple day trip.
Quiet, picturesque and enchanting, Muang La is nestled in a valley beside the Nam Pak river, directly on the highway 28 km north of Udomxai. The highlight is the natural public hot springs. Soak aching muscles for as long as you can stand the hot water, possibly only 30 seconds at a time.
Other than that, there’s nothing much to do—and that’s why we love it. Walk through the rural Khmu villages and rice paddies, enjoy the mountain vistas, visit Wat Pha Singkham, a temple that’s an important pilgrimage site and swim in the cold river (women should be wrapped in a sarong or fully clothed).
Muang La can also be done in a scenic motorbike loop with Nam Kat waterfall as a long day trip. It doesn’t give much time for Muang La but if driving through countryside brings you joy, then this is an excellent journey.
It’s best to set out early in the morning in order to return to Udomxai before dark. From the city centre, pass the airport and head out on this road following signs for Namkat Yorlapa Resort, there’s should be one every kilometre or so. As of 2018, the road was being paved, a pleasant journey through rice fields past rolling hills. You’ll go through Ban Donkeo village, Ban Nabo-Noy then Ban Faen, turning right and following the new road until it dead ends at the resort and waterfall entrance (Udomxai to here approximately 17 km).
The waterfall is open daily 8:30-17:00 and except for when there’s been heavy rain, the cheapest and quickest option (shuttle to trailhead and one kilometre walk to falls) takes around two hours roundtrip. You may want to bring a snack or have one at the waterfall’s cafe or the resort restaurant.
Now back track to Ban Faen and at the T-junction turn right. As of February 2018, this dirt road had been freshly graded and drainage ditches added, looking primed for paving. This road eventually connects to Ban Houyala on the main highway 10 km south of Muang La. It will serve as a direct way for cars and trucks coming down from the Chinese border, rather than having to go through Udomxai. As you’ll notice on this drive, there are several Chinese agricultural projects in this area.
It’s about 30 km from Nam Kat Yorla Pa to Ban Houyala and for now the road hardly has any traffic. It follows along the river and the pastoral scenery is stunning. About 4.5 km shy of Ban Houyala there is a T-junction. If you go left, there is a bridge across the river and this is the way to the highway. For a side diversion, go right for 2 km to Ban Longya, one of the oldest Tai Dam villages in the province and home to what locals believe are footprints of Buddha.
After reaching the main highway, head north 10 km to Muang La. The road runs right through the town centre, then past Wat Pha Singkham (worth a gander) before the road curves and this is where to find the tourist centre with the hot spring and high-end Muang La Lodge.
The public hot spring is right at the river at the base of Muang La Lodge, an awkward arrangement since there is only a narrow path running past the resort’s wall to reach it—a set of stairs beside the hotel leads down to it. The only concern is that when you leave motorbikes unattended in Laos, there is always a risk that it could be stolen. If taking the risk, try to secure and lock it as best you can. Note that when the river is high during rainy season, the water level submerges the pathway and then there’s no land access.
Continuing up the main road as it rises steeply, the bridge gives an excellent view of the whole town and there’s a restaurant too, to enjoy the view with a cold drink. Take the dirt road down to the other side of the river and the lanes through the farmlands are pleasant to walk along.
To return to Udomxai, it’s a 28 km straight shot down the highway. We had previously recommend staying overnight in Muang La to really soak up the village atmosphere but with the best budget place Lha Kham Hotel closed in 2017, there’s only two ultrabasic options.
For a Muang La daytrip, hire a motorbike or get a songthaew from the small station beside the central market. A songthaew to Muang La for the day will cost 200,000 kip and up. You can also arrange a private minivan and driver from Sunti Travel, Litthavixay Guesthouse or the tourism office.
Cindy Fan is a Canadian writer/photographer and author of So Many Miles, a website that chronicles the love of adventure, food and culture. After falling in love with sticky rice and Mekong sunsets, in 2011 she uprooted her life in Toronto to live la vida Laos. She’s travelled to over 40 countries and harbours a deep affection for Africa and Southeast Asia. In between jaunts around the world, she calls Laos and Vietnam home where you’ll find her traipsing through rice paddies, standing beside broken-down buses and in villages laughing with the locals.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.