Muang Sing town can easily be explored on your own. Simply stroll around and take in its history or sample some famous food and ethnic handicrafts.
Muang Sing is a town with a rich history. Once closely associated with the Sipsongpanna Kingdom centered in present day Yunnan China, the town has been influenced by Chinese, Burmese and French occupants. Originally constructed in the late nineteenth century the town was set out like a chessboard with the palace and other princely buildings in its centre. Its urban layout resembled the former Burmese Capital Amarapurea that also had a square plan with 12 gates cut into earthen walls. The design was probably inspired by mythical and religious beliefs. It is the only known settlement in the province that follows this plan and you can see still see relicts of the old city walls and moat.
The Muang Sing Museum (1) situated close to the center of town, is a good place to start exploring Muang Sing’s rich culture and history.The old wood and brick building was once the residence of Phanya Sekong, a local lord called Jao Fa Noi or Little Prince, who ruled over the area in the early 20th century. The building was restored in 2005. Due to its functional structure the façade was refinished, but the clay roofing tiles that covered the residence of Phaya Sekong before were converted to a mix of corrugated iron and asbestos tiles painted red.
There is an excellent collection of traditional tools from the major ethnic groups in the area. Displayed on the building’s upper floor is an interesting variety of valuable 18 – 19th century historic and religious pieces that have been preserved by the people of Muang Sing. Open Monday-Friday from 9 to 11:30 am and 1:30 to 3:30 pm, admission fee 5,000 kip (plus 5,000 kip extra for the Akha film).
Opposite the museum you will find another Heritage building from the colonial period of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century(2), which was formerly the home of a merchant, now the residence of a private citizen.
Next exploreVat Xieng Chai (Vat Luang) (3). The most important vat in the area is located off the main road next to the museum. By 1890 only Vat Luang existed within the town walls.
Further along the main road you will find theMuang Sing Tourism Office (4), formerly the home of an influential merchant, originally constructed in the late 1920’s and renovated in 2005. The authenticity of this heritage building has been compromised by the use of modern construction materials. The original thick mud and rice straw adobe walls have been replaced with brick and mortar.
Opposite is the Old Muang Sing Market (5), once a center of trade in opium and forest products, is now a place where some local women sell handicrafts in the right corner of the building. In the evening it’s a gathering point for locals and tables fill with local dishes such as fish, chicken, duck, boiled chicken feet, bamboo-chute tips, noodles and soups.
Across from the market, around the corner next to the police office you can find the Old French Garrison (6), still standing though in an advanced stage of decay and today used by the Lao army. It is off-limits to visitors. Photographing this army base is prohibited. Across the street from the garrison is the former District hospital built in 1919.
Vat Namkeo (7), which has a large monk residency, is a short walk from the fort. It is also quite beautiful and is located on the road to Xiengkok, just as you turn off from the paved road to Namtha on the right.
Vat Xiang Yeun, and Vat Xieng Lae can be visited along the way to the Muang Sing Market on the northern edge of town. Vat Xieng is in short distance of the bus station.
The Muang Sing Market (8) is still the heart of the town and attracts people from the entire region to buy fresh foods and products for daily use imported from China. Best time to visit the market is between 7 and 8 o’clock in the morning: retailers from all the ethnic groups arrive to sell vegetables, fruits and meat, and Tai Lue women present their famous noodles. It’s also a great place to look for local handicrafts purchased by Tai Dam, Tai Lue and other ethnic groups. Try the local food such as soybean paste, waffles and local sweets (‘Kainom’) often made from sticky rice and coconut.
Not far from the market at the northern edge of town remains of the Ancient city wall and moat (9) are still visible. Pass by Vat Xieng In, then turn right and you will see wall relicts, nowadays overgrown with big trees.
Cultural Attractions in Muang Sing District
Take a guided tour by one of the local operators or hop on a bicycle for a full-day exploring Muang Sings’ town environs. On a tour you will visit 8-10 villages and learn about the rural life of different ethnic groups. The China border is only 10 km from town and makes for a refreshing journey on a bicycle. You can’t cross the border, however the scenery along the way is beautiful and worth the ride.