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Muong Lay

Formerly known as Lai Chau, the small town of Muong Lay en route from Dien Bien Phu to Sapa has undergone a massive transformation in recent years.

The former town of Lai Chau was perched on the banks of the spectacular Da River valley, but has now been flooded to incorporate the Song Da Reservoir, part of a massive hydro electricity scheme. The township’s been moved up the riverbank, and an expansive new bridge crosses the newly formed lake. A couple of hotels are open high above the lake, and it’s envisaged that the new body of water will have a future as a tourist centre for boat trips and water sports. At the time of writing though, it still resembles a very big construction site.

Sleeping & Eating

Lan Anh Hotel 

(0231-385 2682;; r US$15-45; ) Relocated across the bridge onto a ridge overlooking the lake, the Lan Anh has rooms ranging from rustic stilt houses to VIP suites with flash marble bathrooms. Trekking to nearby minority villages and boat trips on the lake can be organised. Pick-ups can be arranged from Muong Lay’s bus station on the opposite bank.


Getting to the border Buses from Dien Bien Phu (DBP) to Muang Khua (110,000d) leave daily at 5.30am. It’s advisable to book your ticket the day prior to travelling. This bus takes you through the Sop Hun/Tay Trang border crossing and drops you off in Muang Khua in Laos. The journey typically takes between seven and eight hours, but can be longer depending on the roads and border formalities. Other destinations in Laos from DBP include Luang Prabang (495,000d, 6am), Nam Tha (350,000d, 6.30am) and Udomxai (230,000d, 7.30am).

At the border The Lao border at Tay Trang, 34km from Dien Bien Phu, is open daily between 7am and 7pm. Crossing into Laos most travellers can get a 30-day visa on arrival (US$20 to US$42, depending on your nationality). Have photo ID and additional cash (around US$5) on hand for occasional local administrative fees.

Moving on From Muang Khua there are buses to Udomxai.

Getting There & Away

At the time of writing, Muong Lay had a makeshift bus station on Hwy 12. If you can book ahead at Lan Anh Hotel, Muong Lay is worth a slightly surreal overnight stop, but given the town’s current reinvention, a through bus from Dien Bien Phu to Lai Chau is probably the best option. If you’re on a motorbike, note that at the time of writing, the road north of Muong Lay to Lai Chau was very rough, with many roadworks for around 40km. It was scheduled to be completed around August 2014, but could potentially take longer.

Buses from Muong Lay:


Cost (d)

Duration & Frequency

Dien Bien Phu


3hr; 6.15am, 7.15am, 1.45pm

Lai Chau


8hr; 7am



2½; 8am

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