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In northern Laos, shaded between rolling hills and luxuriant forests, lies the sleepy farming village of Muang La. Only an hour’s drive out of the town of Oudomxai, the village provides a stark contrast to life in Laos’ more built-up areas. It’s a place for switching off, for exploring secluded villages and gaining an understanding of the multiple ethnic groups in this area and their cultures. Or, while away a few days simply soaking up the tranquil surroundings in the village’s natural springs.

Flowing through the heart of Muang La is the Nam Phak River. You’ll stay on the periphery of the village in Muang La Lodge, a property that’s largely staffed by the villagers as a way of supporting the local economy. You can indulge in the hotel’s five course traditional Laotian menu, served with European touches and presentation or a romantic candlelit dinner on a private island.

The view from a rest stop en route to Muang LaThe small village of Muang La is one of the lesser-visited places across Laos, despite its relatively accessible location. Getting there sees you weave between green hills and rice paddies with whole families working knee-deep in the squelchy mud.

Walk the trails which hug the Nam Pak River and you’ll come across local farmers tending to the rice fields. With your guide interpreting, you might like to stop and chat with them about how they cultivate the land.

Continue through the leafy vegetation along the riverbanks to reach the small village of Tad Muan, made up of bamboo houses. Your guide explains how the villagers’ ethos focuses around their respect for their elders, coupled with a strong communal spirit. While here, some residents might teach you the different techniques they use to hunt.

Alternatively, a short 4x4 journey down twisting mountain tracks leads you to Ikho and Hmong communities, who are rarely in contact with people from outside their villages. You’ll hear how their lives revolve around the spirit world. They believe that the body is made up of separate souls which need to exist in harmony to ensure a happy and long-lasting life. You’ll also learn how they harvest plant extracts from the forest to create dyes for their clothes.

Gardens, Muang La Resort, Muang LaAt Muang La Lodge you can relax to the soundtrack of the river in the lodge’s elevated hot tubs, heated by natural hot springs. Palm trees line the riverbanks, and during your stay you might witness how the river is used by different members of the community. Buddhist monks cross the rope bridge for daily alms-giving ceremonies, while children bathe noisily in the glistening waters.

In the evening sometimes the lodge comes alive with traditional Khamu music, the piping of bamboo flutes drifting through the air. You can feast alfresco on a five-course fusion menu inspired by Laotian and French ingredients. Or, dine in a secluded sala (a raised wooden pavilion) on the lodge’s private island, watching shadows dance before flickering lanterns.

Muang La Lodge was originally established to introduce sustainable travel in this almost-forgotten part of Laos. It was created in collaboration with the villagers to provide a gateway into the area, allowing visitors to explore the remote countryside, while respecting the environment and local hill tribes. Nearly all lodge staff are from the surrounding area and have been specially trained, many having never worked in hospitality before.

Best time to visit

Muang La is best visited between October and March when warm, dry mornings quickly heat up as the sun burns away the mist. Warm days are paired with cooler night-time temperatures from November to February, so bring warm clothes for drinks around the lodge’s firepit in the evenings.

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