Muang Xay (Oudomxay, Udomxai etc) is the capital of the multiethnic province of Oudomxay Province, located in the Nam Ko River Basin and surrounded by scenic mountains. It's the largest city in Northern Laos and, if you're travelling by land, you'll probably end up here at some point.
The town is formed by small villages at an important intersection between China and Vietnam, and the city has a unique multicultural atmosphere.
A free city map can be obtained in the bus station, with basic information and "things to do".
An online version you can get on the website of the Provincial Tourism Department.
Lao Airlines has three flights a week to/from Vientiane (1 hr, full fare US$98). The local ticket reseller is located in Litthavixay Guesthouse in the town center on the main street.
Buses from/to Luang Namtha cost 28,000 kip takes up to 3.5 hours. Departures from Muang Xay are at 08:30, 11:30 and 15:00.
Buses from/to Luang Prabang leave once a day and take about 5 hours.
Further daily buses come from/go to Vientiane, Phongsali, Pak Beng, Muang Khua, and Bokeo. Buses to China can also be reached.
Chom Ong Cave, 45 km from Muang Xay, gives the visitor a dazzling feeling of entering Tolkien's Mines of Moria. The biggest cave in Northern Laos is a recently discovered system of more than 16 km natural tunnels, adorned with pretty sparkling sinter formations, huge stalagmites and stalagtites. Passages have ceiling heights up to 50 meters and there is a stream course flowing in the cave.
The exceptional natural attraction is accessible in a 50 minutes walk from the village "Ban Chom Ong". Chom Ong village is an outstandingly beautiful, very traditional settlement of the ethnic group Khmu. Surrounded by paddy rice fields, locked by mountains, it is still largely untouched by modern influences. There is no electricity nor mobile phone signal in the village, but as a compensation you'll get the unique chance to observe authentic village life as for example handicraft production - most of the people still wear their traditional Khmu clothes.
For their scarce visitors, the villagers have a basic bamboo guesthouse with an outside Lao style bathroom (15.000 kip per night), and they will be happy to cook some good and solid meals for you (10.000-20.000 kip per person).
There is very little English spoken in the village, so prepare for communication problems or take a translator with you. The Tourism Office offers very nice 2-day and 3-day tours to village and cave, including transportation (). If you decide to go on your own, you can rent a motorbike or a car to go on the (very difficult) 40km dirt road from Oudomxay to the village.
For very adventurous people, it is also possible to go with a so called "Packing" car (public transport to remote villages) to another village called Nam Heeng. Packings starting from a special station very near the normal bus station. Once you arrive in Nam Heeng, you'll have to walk to Ban Chom Ong, which will take approximately 5 hours. In any case, ask the villagers for the direction to Ban Chom Ong.
Nam Kad Waterfall and Pristine Forest
While visiting Nam Kad Waterfall you can not only swim in the ice cold basin under the waterfall but also see one of the most untouched and beautiful pristine forests in Laos. Rent a motorbike and follow the sign which says "Nam Kad". At a village called "Ban Faen", turn right, and then just follow the road. You'll have to cross the winding river 5 or 6 times, which might be slightly difficult in the rainy season. When the road stops, it is a 30 minutes walk to the waterfall in a wonderful jungle atmosphere. The whole way from Muang Xay to Nam Kad is 23 km.
Unless in the Museum there are just few items to look at, the view you have from the top of "Phou Sebey" mountain is very nice. Go there early in the morning, when the sun is still low - you may watch the town center waking up and enjoy the morning light as it starts caressing the roofs before the day gets too hot.
Just opposite of the stairs to the museum there are similar stairs to climb, leading to an 18 meters high Stupa. The stupa was built in 14th century to allow all people of the region to come together, to celebrate religious festivals. When the French came to control the land, the area of the stupa was made into a war camp, until independence from France. During the first Vietnamese war the stupa was destroyed and only bricks werde left. Reconstruction started om 1994, finally concluded in 1997.
Every full moon day, religious celebrations are held at the stupa. Since April of 2010 there is also a golden, 15 meter high Buddha statue watching over Oudomxay from the top of Phou That, seeming to spur Oudomxay people to new religiousness.
Enjoy the view over the town and see the stupa and Buddha shining in the sunset. The monks at the nearby temple are always happy to practice their English with foreigners.
The local Provincial Tourist Office (in Oudomxay City, or Muang Xay) has been offering since November 2006 some very nice hiking including nightstays in khamu family houses (not guest houses, as in other more touristy hike places, which makes the experience very special and intimate). Although not as colorful as other ethnic groups of Laos, the khamu people are very nice and happy to have foreigners visiting their villages.
The Thai Ly Handicraft Shop opposite the airport street has some very nice traditional fabrics, bags and clothes.
There are three banks and one post office offering change for cash and travellers' cheques, BCEL , about 1 km north of the bus station change travellers for 3% commission (minimum of US$3). It might be worth checking Lao Development Bank (which might offer a better value).
BCEL provides an ATM, accepting international cards (BCEL charges 20,000Kip, be aware of charges of your own bank). There's a maximum of 700,000Kip per transaction.
Luxay market is the market building located opposite the Tourism Office. In this market you can find all sorts of products. Upstairs is the clothing and shoes section. Get your daily necessity stuff at the market and please do some bargain when you buy from them. Luxay market closes at 5 pm.
Around Luxay Market chinese clothing- food- and houseware shops can be found. In contrast to the Lao shops, most of the chinese market shops are open until late at night.
Go for a stroll there and be stunned by the great range of perceptions you will get: Rare animals are offered to eat, unknown smells fill the air and you will get to know the real everyday life of people of the province.
Oudomxay has three fresh food markets: Tin market, Nonmengda Market and Phoukhaiw Market. All these markets are an excellent place to discover the variety of unique foods that Oudomxay has to offer. Oudomxay has many food items and forest products that are either not available or in scarce supply in other parts of the country. The markets are open every day, however they are particularly colorful on Saturday and Sunday afternoon. At all the markets you will find products of different ethnic groups. The markets close at 6pm.
There are a number of decent guesthouses in town. Basic rooms with showers and hot water should cost around 40,000 kip. General room prices in the town center including TV are around 60,000-70,000 Kip.
The town has two laundromats (one just a few meters south of the bus station) which charge per item which makes the service very expensive.
There are several Internet shops in the city, all charging 400 kip/minute, as also one wireless internet acces at Lithavixay Guesthous, which is quite cheap if you bring your own notebook.