About Oudomxay - Things to See and Do

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Jan 29, 2011
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About Oudomxay - Things to See and Do

Oudomxay is the main traffic junction to the north, east, south and west ?n northern Laos and there for also known as the "Heart of Northern Laos". Travelers normally don't stop here as most consider the town as "not attractive as a tourism destination". However, during the last few years this has changed and nowadays it is often seen as a province where the "original" Laos can be discovered.

Location and main features of Oudomxay Province

The province of Oudomxay was created in 1976, when it was split off from Luang Prabang. Around 1987 the capital of the province was moved from Ban Nahin to Muang Xay. In 1992, the districts of Paktha and Pha Oudom were split off and reassigned to Bokeo province. It has at present 7 districts: Xay, La, Namor, Nga, Beng, Hoon (Houn) and Pakbeng. Oudomxay borders with the following provinces: Phongsaly (on the north), Luang Prabang (on the east), Xayaboury (on the south), Luang Namta and Bokeo (on the west). On its north-western side it shares a 15 kilometer long border with China. Oudomxay covers an area of 15,370 square kilometers and therefore is the ninth largest province in Laos. It has a population of 278,931 (2007).

According to local history, the first people who settled in Oudomxay around the year 700 were "Khom" (also known as Khmu). About 1260, Lao Ly came from the Sipsongpanna region ("twelve thousand rice fields") in Southern China and built a village called Ban Luang Cheng ("big village" or "big district") in the same area of today's provincial capital. The former Lao Ly village is now part of the capital and is called Ban Cheng. Ly culture, which was marked by Buddhism on the one hand and the old Khom traditions on the other hand, grew and became very influential in the region. Khom and Lue lived together and shared the same rice fields. Around 1828, the Hmong tribes travelled southward from China and started to settle in Oudomxay. At present Oudomxay is populated by some 23 ethnic groups mainly Khmu (Khmu Lu, Khmu Khong, Khmu Am and Khmu Bit), Hmong and Akha (Ekor) while the Phoutai (Tai-Dam and Tai-Khao), Phou Noy (Phou Xang, Phou Kongsat and Phou Not) and other tribes make up the remainder of the tribal population.

The province has got a moderate "monsoon climate" and due to it being mountainous with elevations ranging from 300-1800 meter, it has more variations in temperature during the year and a colder dry season in northern Laos when compared with the rest of the country.

Early morning mist in the valleys of Oudomxay Province

Oudomxay's proximity to China has brought the province rapid economic growth and infrastructure developments in particular in and around the provincial capital. However, for the remainder of the province the infra-structure is not yet well developed.

Useful Contacts and Information

The Oudomxay Provincial Tourism Office which is located in the center of town (opposte the Chinese Market) and can be contacted at 081-212483 and 020-77780287, Email ptd@oudomxay.info and Home - Oudomxay Info. In Pakbeng there is a Tourist Information Center close to the Mekong pier where the tourists arrive.

The ATM of the BCEL Bank in Oudomxay town accepts international bank cards. A map of Oudomxay town with the location of hotels, restaurants, etc. can be downloaded from: http://www.oudomxay.info/UserFiles/File/Map_ODY.pdf

Things to See and Do

Although Oudomxay has in the past been neglected by the tourists, this does not mean that there is nothing to see and do. Again, as is valid for most of the Lao provinces, information is sometimes hard to come by. Trekking and eco-tourism seem to be most sought after by the younger tourist generation and as a result, the tourism office has put together several itineraries for this purpose.

Caves: The lack of infra-structure mentioned earlier is particular visible with regard to the development of the recently discovered "Chom-Ong Cave". Chom Ong Cave, located ao?ut 45 km from Oudomxay (Coordinates N20.71841 E101.76378), is the biggest known cave in northern Laos. It has got a length of more than 16 km, ceiling heights up to 50m., the Nam Kang (Kaang) stream flowing inside the cave and is called "exceptional" and "the most significant find and the biggest highlight" in northern Laos by several speleological magazines.

During the dry season it is possible to reach the village of Ban Chom Ong Tai by motorcycle or car in about two and a half hours but during the rainy season the unpaved road becomes almost im-passable. The turnoff to Chom Ong from Rd 13 is at N20.80251 E101.86307 near Ban Botakai about 24 km. north-west of Oudomxay). From there it takes from 45-60 minutes to walk from the villages to the cave entrance.

Early morning in Ban Chom Ong Tai

Ban Chom Ong is a nice Khmu village of about 500 people and it is "locked in" by mountains. There is no electricity nor mobile phone signal in the village, but as a compensation you'll get the chance to observe authentic village life as 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 (10-20.000 kip per person).

Khmu in their traditional dress

There is also another access road which branches north from the unpaved track and trail which runs west from Oudomxay directly to Ban Nalea in Luang Namtha province. Just before Ban Namhang (Nam Haeng) (at N20.60230 E101.80258 which is about 25 km from Oudomxay) head north for about 16 km. to Ban Chom Ong Tai.


Inside the Chom Ong Cave

The Chom Ong cave system stretches along a 4 km. long mountain ridge and has a parallel running and interconnecting fossil and river passage. In two explorations (2009 and 2010) it was explored to a length of 16.4 km. (preliminary) with several wide open side passages remaining to be explored. The typical passage dimension is 20-25 m. width and 20-30 m. height. Two huge overlaying halls mark the connection of river and fossil passage with each about 100 m. long, 30 m wide and ceiling heights of 30-50 m. The cave is a trough cave and can be entered with exploration equipment near the stream inlet in the north and left at the outflow in the south.

The full traverse would take about 5 hours with additional 1 and 3 hours respectively return walking time to Chom Ong village. The upper level of the cave leads to several about 15 meter high "balconies", from where it is possible to look down to a lower level, where the Nam Kaang river flows. Chom Ong Cave features especially impressive stalagmites and stalactites as well as large sparkling sinter formations. The cave was opened for tourism in 2010.

Entrance of the Chom Ong Cave

Besides the Chom Ong Cave, there are several other caves in Oudomxay province such as the Tham Chom Xang Dong (Wild Elephant Cave), the Phou Ngeum Cave and other caves like the Pha Ho-Pha Hong Cave in Beng district, the Luang Cave in La District, Phou Tao cave in Xay District and the Singkham Cave in La District. Unfortunately, for most of these caves very little information is available and some of them may not yet be open for tourism purposes.

The Phou Ngeum cave is located about 3 km from the market in Pak Beng and there is (was?) a sign located on the road from the pier to Pakbeng where most of the tourists arrive. The sign welcomes tourists to Phou Ngeum cave but very few people know how to get to the cave nor have information available and as a result it remains an undiscovered resource.

Sign for the Phou Ngeun Cave but no information on where it is located

The Singkham Cave also known as the Phachao Singkham Buddha Cave which was used during the war to store the Buddha statue as well as historical artefacts. This cave can be visited during treks organized by the Tourism Department which start in La District and is linked to the Buddha statue in the Singkham or Phachao Singkham Temple (see the section on temples).

West of Pakbeng the Khamthan Buddha Cave also known as Phachao Khamtan Cave can be visited (Approximate coordinates N19.85023 E101.02432). The cave got its name during the Indochina war as the cave acted as a shelter from bombings for people living in the area. During the bombings, many people prayed to the Buddha to protect them by putting a shield over the area. It was during these times that the cave got its name of "Phachao Khamtan" as Phachao stands for the Lord Buddha while "Khamtan" stands for "Protective/Valuable Shield". In this combined word "tan" is the word for shield, in this case for blocking the bombs and "kham" the word for something very valuable. Even today in the cave you can ask the Buddha for protection or another wish to be fulfilled and you can be sure it will be granted.

The Phachao Khamtan Cave and the guide

The cave can be visited as part of a guided trek starting either in Pakbeng or in Ban Pak Ngeuy close to the ferry crossing between Oudomxay and Xayaboury province). From the latter you need to take a boat upstream on the Mekong for about 30 minutes and then walk another 15 minutes to the cave.

Wat Ban Pakngeuy which is part of the Guided trek to the Phachao Khamtan Cave


The Nam Kad (Kat) waterfall is located in the forests north-east of Oudomxay. Besides the nice view of the waterfall, you can also swim in the pond (very cold water) under the falls. Head north-east (follow the sign which says "Nam Kad") from Oudomxay to Ban Bo (Bor) and continue along the unpaved road from here to Ban Fen (Faen). Turn right (to the east) and then just follow the road. You'll have to cross a small river 5 or 6 times, which might be a bit difficult in the rainy season. When the road ends, it is another 30 minutes walk to the waterfall in a jungle atmosphere. The whole way from Oudomxay to the waterfall is about 23 km.

On the way to the Nam Kad Waterfall


Nam Kad Waterfall

Close to Oudomxay town the Tad Lak Sip Et Waterfall can be visited. As the name indicates, it is 11 km from town to the east and in case you come from the east along Highway 13 (Luang Prabang, etc.) it will be along the way - coordinates N20.61756 E102.00499. Look for at the sign of "Km.11 waterfall" or the many small restaurants on the south side at the location of the waterfall. The falls are about 50 meters from the main road with the water cascading over a limestone cliff. It is a popular weekend and public holiday destination for people from Oudomxay town so better visit it during a weekdays and you probably have the whole waterfall for your self.

Lak Sip Et (Km. 11) Waterfall

Huay Khai Waterfall near Ban Phavi - N20.85806 E102.04516. This waterfall, just like the Singkham Cave" is part of the popular treks organized in La district to see tribal villages. While the first part till Ban Phavi can be done by bike, the last part (about 500 meter or so) you may have to walk as it becomes single trail.

The Huay Khai Waterfall


Ricefields around Muang La

Temples (Wat / Vat)

Cheng temple also known as Vat Ban Cheng or Vat Santhipab is located on the Phouxay hill in the center of Oudomxay town (coordinates: N20.69185 E101.99005). It was built in 1750 by Prince Laue Say Vongpachit who was the chief of Xay district. It was made of wood by Hothainaue engineers and it had a tiled roof. At that time the temple was known as the Siluangxay temple. From 1800 Kham Vong Vongpachit, Laue Say Vongpachit's son, tried to finish the construction but he could not complete it and he then transferred the task of finishing the construction of the temple to his son, Sengmuang. The temple was then renamed Xaisimaharam".

In 1954 during the war the temple was damaged and the monks temporarily moved to Na Lao Temple on the road to the South. In 1982 three villages met and agreed to share the funds necessary to build a new temple in the same place. Later in 1997, Mr. Bounpanh
Vongpachit called for a meeting to collect ideas to improve the existing wooden structure of the temple and as a result the temple was rebuilt using concrete and it was extended in height. On completion in 2004 the temple was renamed to Xaisiyaram SantiphapTemple.

Wat Ban Cheng

The Legend of the Live or Manycost Tree at Vat Ban Cheng or Vat Santhipab The Manycost Tree grew in the mythical forest of Hinmapan. The tree was very old (4479 year old). It was a special tree because its fruit was very big (about 260cm in diameter). However, no animal could eat the fruit. Finally when the fruit fell down, it was so heavy that it caused an earthquake. The earthquake caused so much damage that the people and all the animals in the area of Hinmapan forest could not stay there any longer. So the Dragon asked the Buddha to control the Manycost's fruit when it falls down. Following the Dragon's and all animals' request, the Buddha agreed to observe the keeping of the precept while sitting under the Manycost tree. In order to be successful the Buddha had to appear particularly fair and to sleep on one of the tree's branches to control it. After that the fruits of the Manycost tree became small and all animals could eat it. Since that time every tree branch of the Manycost tree is different: if an animals eats from the tree branch for humans this animals will become a human. If a human eats from the branch of an animal he or she will become an animal. If an animal eats from the branch that gives strength this animal will be very strong and if it eats from the branch of longevity it will have a long life.

In 1990 Mr Maidoung-Kham designed and made a Manycost Tree out of metal which you can see in the temple grounds and, in order to understand the different types of tree branches mentioned in the legend you should look carefully at this metal Live Tree or Manycost Tree.

Buddhas and the Metal Live or Manycost Tree

Phuthat Stupa (full name Xaymungkhun Ratanamingmuang Stupa) at Vat Phutat located on the top of the hill in the center of the Muang Xay town. The stupa (coordinates N20.68700 E101.98484) was built to allow all people of the region to come together, to celebrate religious festivals and traditions like giving alms to the monks, purify themselves, make merits to ancestors, etc.). It is presumed that the stupa was originally built by Thai Lue during the time when Xaysetha was King in Laos (14th century).

View towards the Phuthat Stupa and the new Buddha Statue

When the French colonized Laos the area, on which the stupa was built, was made into a war camp. This lasted until independence from France. During the first Vietnamese war the stupa was destroyed and only bricks were left. Reconstruction only started in 1994, when the Provincial Government (Department of Culture and Information) and the local people shared the funds to rebuild the stupa and the reconstruction was finalized in 1997. Every full moon day religious celebrations are held at the stupa. The stupa measures 18 m. from the foundation to the top. The foundation itself also measures 18 m. by 18 m. In 2010 next (or better in front of the stupa) a 15 meter high golden standing Buddha statue watching over Oudomxay was built. You can reach the stupa and the Buddha by road but there are stairs going up from the main road (coordinates N20.68781 E101.98671) almost opposite the stairs which lead to the Oudomxay Museum on the other side of the road (Road 13)


The Stupa and the new Buddha Statue

Vat Pa Sing Kham in La District is famous for the local people as the place to go when you want your wishes to come true. People come from all over the place specifically to meditate, respect the Buddha and promise that if their dreams are fulfilled, they will come back next year and make contributions to support the wat. If they don't keep their promise, it is widely known that great troubles will befall them.


Vat Pa Sing Kham

The 200 kg. Buddha statue made out of gold and bronze and inlaid with precious stones was removed during the Indochina war and stored in the Singkham cave to prevent that the Buddha statue would be damaged or even stolen during the war.

Legends claim the statue was cast in Sri Lanks and reached Laos via Ayodhya in india sometime in AD 868. In 1355 it was sent by Fa Ngum (the founder of Lan Xang) to the far reaches of his kingdom but during the trip the boat carrying the statue was sunk in a battle. The statue was somehow found by a fisherman in the river and was then claimed by both the residents of Muang La and Muang Khua (Phongsaly). In order to settle ownership the resident of Muang Khua proposed to let the statue to choose where it wanted to stay by putting it on a raft on the river. Unfortunately for Muang Khua, the raft with the statue floated miraculously upstream against the current to Muang La instead of downstream where Muang Khua was located.

Other Attactions:
The Oudomxay Museum is located on top of Phou Sebey in Ban Cheng of Oudomxay town. The name of the mountain comes from the French army camp, called "C B" by the French, that was situated there. The French pronunciation of this abbreviation was transliterated by the Lao into today's Lao name "Sebey". From the top of Phou Sebey and around the museum you can have a wonderful view on the town center of Oudomxay.

The Oudomxay Museum

Hot Springs: You can visit the hot springs or "baw nam hawn" (coordinates N20.86877 E102.11904) on the road to Pongsali in Muang La to soothe aching muscles as well as the hot spring north-west of Oudomxay on Rd 13. Head west from Ban Homxai for about 1 Km. and the hot springs should be here: N20.73459 E101.94896.

Natural Tea Forest (Thousand-year Tea). This is located about 28km from Pak Beng town. The road is very steep starting from the highway at 350m above sea level, climbing to an altitude of 1500m on 22km of unsealed road. This road is actually a district road connecting to Pha-Oudom District Bokeo and on to Houei Xai. This tea forest site is near Ban Mok -Khe (also known as Ban Chomleng Noi/Gnai) and has some indigenous tea trees (Thea sinensis) within the forest. Nearby, in the Khmu village of Ban Phouxang (Phouluang?) the tea is being pre-processed (drying and rolling) before it is shipped to the tea factory in Oudomxay for further processing.


View over the Tea Forest and some Tea Trees


Map of the Natural Tea Forest near Pakbeng

Ban Yor Handicraft Village This village (Ban Yor also known as Ban Pou - coordinates N20.34428 E101.67984) on the road 2W from Oudomxay to Pakbeng (about 57 km. from Oudomxay) is well known for its pottery as well as its cotton products (handmade and all dyed with natural colours out of bark from special trees).


Pottery making in Ban Yor

Within the village there is a handicraft center where you can see the products made and, if you are into it, can try yourself to make the products.

Traditional Cotton Weaving in Ban Yor

In La District river weed is harvested which is then pounded and dried in the sun and mixed with sesame seeds or sometimes with tomatoes and garlic. It is cut into squares and fried to make "Khai Paen" - a delightful snack to have along with a cold Beer Lao.

River weed harvesting to make "Khai Paen"

Note: Most of the pictures shown here have been borrowed from information material produced by or for the Lao National Tourism Association as well as other sources.
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