Road trip - Dien Bien Phu Vietnam to Muang Khua Laos - Rusty Compass travel blog

Road trip - Dien Bien Phu Vietnam to Muang Khua Laos

| 05 May 2016
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05 May 2016

In this road trip, we travel from Dien Bien Phu in north western Vietnam, to Muang Khua in northern Laos. This was part of a longer journey between Dien Bien Phu and the former Lao royal capital of Luang Prabang.

Dien Bien Phu and the surrounding countryside are great for exploration. This is where French colonial forces were defeated by Ho Chi Minh's Viet Minh in May 1954 and there are lots of remnants of that historic battle. But even if the war history doesn’t capture your interest, exploring the surrounding mountain country, dotted with ethnic Thai and other minority villages, is a wonderful way to spend a day or two.

For more on Dien Bien Phu, check out this Rusty Compass video travel guide and this link.

Dien Bien Phu can also be an excellent starting point for a less-travelled route into Laos and along the Nam Ou River to Luang Prabang.

We decided to make the first day a short journey from Dien Bien Phu, to a Lao border town called Muang Khua (the Vietnamese call it Muong Khoa). This border, known as Tay Trang has been open to foreigners for less than a decade and only small numbers of travellers make the journey - though that’s likely to change.

The ride from Dien Bien Phu to Muang Khua is just over 100kms. Roads are in good shape now and the border crossing was quiet and reasonably quick. Nonetheless, our ride took close to 6 hours.

We were booked on a bus by our hotel in Dien Bien Phu (Muong Thanh Hotel - not a bad place to stay but we’re not convinced they booked us on the best bus option).

The bus picked us up at 6AM and then proceeded to make multiple stops en-route to the border, collecting goods to be transported to Laos. These stops took hours - and by the time we reached the border, the bus, with just six passengers, was seriously overloaded with all manner of things - bags of fertiliser, construction machinery, motorbikes. You name it, our little yellow bus was carrying it.

While I was whinging about the delays during our journey, in retrospect the stops and the suspect cross border deliveries made it more memorable. The people in small Vietnamese towns are always wonderful to chat with.

Our driver’s name was Mr Quoc Phong - which literally means Mr National Defence. Despite the grubby state of his bus, Mr National Defence did a good job getting us to our destination. He had that Vietnamese ‘can do” way about him - a great character.

We did notice other tourist buses which looked to be more passenger than cargo focused, so you might want to push your hotel to book a passenger service with as few stops as possible. The journey shouldn’t take more than four hours.

Check out our video of the trip from Dien Bien Phu to Muang Khua above.

You can pick up your Lao visa at the border for 30US. You’ll need a photo too. We were hit up for a number of other unexplained charges but they didn’t amount to much.

It's worth noting that there's a big gap between the Vietnamese and Lao border posts - so if you were hoping to get a car to the border and another from the other side, think again. This is a quiet border and there's no way to get between the two border posts without wheels. You're not likely to find any vehicles on the Lao side either.

After lunch in Muang Khua we walked around the town for a few hours. There wasn’t a whole lot to see  - it’s a small quaint little place overlooking the Nam Ou River - perfect for an afternoon of walking.

It was really just an overnight base for us for the next day’s journey along the Nam Ou River to Nong Kiaw - a superb day it was too. More on that coming soon!

Pa Khoang Lake, Dien Bien Phu
Photo: Mark Bowyer Pa Khoang Lake, Dien Bien Phu
Headed to Laos
Photo: Mark Bowyer Headed to Laos
Another cargo stop - Dien Bien Phu
Photo: Mark Bowyer Another cargo stop - Dien Bien Phu
The Lao Vietnam border, Tay Trang
Photo: Mark Bowyer The Lao Vietnam border, Tay Trang
Downtown Muang Khua
Photo: Mark Bowyer Downtown Muang Khua
Muang Khua, Laos
Photo: Mark Bowyer Muang Khua, Laos
Mark Bowyer
Mark Bowyer is the founder and publisher of Rusty Compass.
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