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Muong Lay


 

 

Formerly known as Lai Chau, this small town is nestled in a pretty valley carved from spectacular mountains by the Da River, and makes a good lunch or overnight stop for people travelling between Dien Bien Phu and Sapa. Beneath Muong Lay's beauty lies a difficult existence for locals. Despite a marked increase in tourist numbers, for most of the people it's a hard living. Far from busy trade routes, normal commerce is limited and the town has only been really successful in harvesting cash crops such opium and timber. Needless to say, opium harvesting does not find favour with the central government, which has been trying to discourage the Montagnards from producing poppies. If the opium business is falling on hard times, the same must be said for the timber industry. In recent years the forest cover has been reduced and flooding has increased dramatically. Around 140 people lost their lives in 1990 in a devastating flood on the Da River that swept through the narrow valley. An even worse flood in 1996 killed 100 people and cut all roads into town for two months; the ruins of the flooded former cultural hall can be seen in the middle of town. It seems that this kind of flooding will become a permanent feature of Muong Lay. There is a massive dam under construction, just above the current Song Da Reservoir, and this will fill the valley with water. When this comes to pass (not before 2010), this will be the largest hydroelectric station in Southeast Asia. It also could mean that in the future the only way to visit Muong Lay will be by submarine. Being underwater, however, would at least keep things cooler. Odd as it might seem, in summer Muong Lay is one of the hottest places in Vietnam. June and July temperatures can soar as high as 40C.


BORDER CROSSING: TAY TRANG BORDER GATE
The Lao border at Tay Trang, gateway to Phongsali province, is only 34km from Dien Bien Phu. Persistent rumours circulate about this crossing opening to foreign tour ists soon, but at the time of writing it was still closed. OK, so we've said it for a few years now, but it really is likely to open during the lifetime of this book. Keep your ear to the ground and do your homework in Hanoi
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