Luang Nam Tha and Muang Sing
Whoever travels in north Laos will almost certain end up in Muang Sing and Luang Nam Tha.
Oudomxai - Chinese border - Luang Nam Tha
I wrote a page about the journey from Oudomxai to Boten Laos/Mohan/China , the Chinese border. In short, follow highway 13 north to Nateui which is about 70 km north from Oudomxai.
Nateui is the junction for going north to China and west to Luang Nam Tha. For us cyclist there's good news. The road from here on is new and in excellent condition. And there are even guesthouses (though if you go to China - Mohan - I would stay there as the hotels in China are much better and cheap)
Nowadays the road between Nateui and Luang Nam Tha is completed. I cycled it in October 2006 and was pleasantly surprised. There's little to climb on the way to Luang Nam Tha but on the way back it's quite a bit of climbing. But as I said, it's an excellent road with little traffic.
It's possible to cycle from Oudomxai to Luang Nam Tha in a day without much problems. I don't advice anyone to continue the same day to Muang Sing which is another 45 km.
Luang Nam Tha is in principle a two street town full with cheap guesthouses and local restaurants. There's not much to keep you there longer then a day but it's a pleasant overnight stop.
Luang Nam Tha - Muang Sing
Although it is only 45 km to Muang Sing this road has to be taken seriously. It's easy to find out why once you're leaving Luang Nam Tha. The first part goes slightly up and the road is in reasonable good condition. The condition changes further on when the climbing starts.
The climb is difficult because of the road condition. Interestingly, cycling to Muang Sing is considerable more difficult then going back to Luang Nam Tha. The reason is that east-west is steeper then west-east.
Once in the valley there's many villages of different minorities. In the village you may be able to get a local drawn map of the valley.
A few kilometers north of Muang Sing is the border with China. This border point is only for locals. If you want to go to China, you have to back to Luang Nam Tha and Boten.
Muang Sing is a little town and there's nothing much to do. However, the surrounding villages in the valley are great to visit. Many different minorities live here. In Muang Sing it's hard to avoid some of the minorities who will try to sell you anything from small crafts, cloths to fruits. Some of them are more aggressive in their selling then others but all know very well what they can ask the foreigners.
You may be able to arrange further transport by boat to Huay Xai. Cargo boats do still run between China and the Thai-Lao border. Specific info is best to get in the village. There's not everyday a boat and it depends how full those boats are if you can join.
There are plenty of guesthouses and restaurants available. It's a good place to hang out for a couple of days.
There is basic accommodation in town available but I don't think it's necessary to book in advance although you may want to check out some info about the various guesthouses here.
Houay Xai - Luang Nam Tha
Coming from Houay Xai it's a 3 days journey with stops in small towns on the road. With help from the Chinese and the Thais the Lao government is building a new road from the Chinese border to Thailand.
Part of this road is finished, the rest will be finished in April 2007 (officially though it doesn't mean it will be finished). The part that is finished goes from the border to just after Luang Nam Tha.
After Luang Nam Tha it's still mostly a dirt road. In the dry season it's dusty, in the wet season it's a big mud pool. At the time of writing, November 2006, it is a hard road especially because the road construction which is going on now makes certain areas extremely difficult.
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Map of Laos