Muang Xay (ເມືອງໄຊ) (also ອຸດົມໄຊ Oudomxay, Udomxai, etc.) is the capital of the multi-ethnic Oudomxay Province, 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 multicultural atmosphere.
- A free city map can be obtained in the bus station or tourist information centre, with basic information and "things to do".
- You can get an on-line version from the website of the Provincial Tourism Department.
Lao Airlines has three flights a week to/from Vientiane (1 hr, full fare USD98). The local ticket reseller is in Litthavixay Guesthouse in the town centre on the main street.
- Buses from/to Luang Namtha cost 40,000 kip and take up to 4 hours. Departures from Muang Xay are at 08:30, 11:30 and 15:00.
- Buses from/to Nong Khiaw cost 45,000 kip and take up to 4.5 hours. Departure from Nong Khiaw at 11:00.
- Buses from/to Luang Prabang cost 60,000 kip, leave three times a day and take about 5 hours.
- Bus to Kunming costs 350,000 kip (for a sleeper), takes up to 15 hours. Departure at 12:00.
- Other daily buses come from/go to Vientiane, Phongsali, Pak Beng, Muang Khua, and Bokeo. Buses to China also.
- Oudomxay Museum. The museum doesn't have much, but 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 can watch the town centre waking up and enjoy the morning light as it starts caressing the roofs before the day gets too hot.
- Phuuthat Stupa (Opposite the stairs to the museum there are similar stairs to climb, leading to an 18m 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 stupa grounds were made into an army camp until independence from France. During the first Vietnamese war the stupa was destroyed and only bricks were left. Reconstruction started in 1994 and finally concluded in 1997. Every full moon religious celebrations are held at the stupa. Since Apr 2010 there has been a golden, 15 m high Buddha statue watching over Muang Xay from the top of Phou That, seeming to spur locals to new heights of devotion. 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.
- Ban Chom Ong. An outstandingly beautiful village of about 500 people of the ethnic group Khmu. It is starting point to the biggest cave in Northern Laos. Surrounded by rice paddies, locked away by mountains, it is still largely untouched by modern influences. There is no electricity nor mobile phone signal in the village, but as compensation you'll get the chance to observe authentic village life. Handicraft production is engaging—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), and they will be happy to cook some good, 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 1-day, 2-day and 3-day guided tours to village and cave, including transportation. On 1-day tour price for 1 person is 1,400,000 kip, for group of 8 persons 360,000 kip per person. If you decide to go on your own, you can rent a motorbike or a car to go on the (very difficult) 40 km dirt road from Muang Xay to the village (Update 14/5/2015: According to Tourism Office there is no bike or motorbike rental in Oudomxay any longer).
- Chom Ong Cave (45km from Muang Xay. Accessible via a 50 min walk from the village of Ban Chom Ong). 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 of natural tunnels, adorned with pretty sparkling sinter formations, huge stalagmites, and stalactites. Passages have ceiling heights up to 50 m and there is a stream course flowing in the cave.
- Nam Heeng. If you're adventurous, it's also possible to reach Ban Chom Ong by going to a village called Ban Nam Heeng first. The village itself is not particularly interesting, but from there it is possible to walk the last 16 km to Chom Ong. So called "packing" cars leave from a special public transport station very near the normal bus station. It costs about 35,000 kip to Nam Heeng. The challenging hike from Nam Heeng to Chom Ong takes approximately 5 hours. In any case, ask the villagers for the direction to Ban Chom Ong.
- Nam Kad Waterfall and 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 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 ends, it is a 30 min walk to the waterfall in a wonderful jungle atmosphere. The distance from Muang Xay to Nam Kad is 23 km.
- Hiking. The local Provincial Tourist Office in Muang Xay offers some very nice hiking including night stays in Khamu family homes (not guesthouses), which makes the experience very special and intimate. Although not as colourful as other ethnic groups of Laos, the Khamu people are very nice and happy to have foreigners visit their villages.
- Massage (On the road circling the bottom of Phu That Stupa). 14:00-20:00. The Lao Red Cross offer very good massages. 1 hr massage, 40,000 kip; sauna, 15,000 kip.
The Thai Ly Handicraft Shop opposite the airport street has some very nice traditional fabrics, bags and clothes.
- Banking. There are three banks and one post office offering change for cash and travellers' cheques. BCEL, about 1 km north of the bus station, changes traveller's cheques for a 3% commission (minimum of USD3). It might be worth checking Lao Development Bank (which might offer a better value). BCEL provides an ATM, accepting international cards (BCEL charges 20,000 kip. There's a maximum of 700,000 kip per transaction.
- Chinese Market. Around Luxay Market, Chinese clothing, food, and housewares shops can be found. In contrast to the Lao shops, most of the Chinese shops are open until late at night.
- Food Markets. Till 18:00. Muang Xay has three fresh food markets: Tin Market, Nonmengda Market, and Phoukhaiw Market. All are excellent places 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 colourful on Saturday and Sunday afternoon. At all the markets you will find products of different ethnic groups.
- Luxay Market (Opposite the tourism office). Till 17:00. In this market you can find all sorts of products. Upstairs is the clothing and shoes section. Get your daily necessities at the market.
- Muang Neua Restaurant. International dishes and cocktails in a nice garden atmosphere. Prices are a bit higher than the norm and portions a bit smaller.
- Souphailin's Restaurant. A broad range of fresh Lao, European and vegetarian dishes. Portions are big, quality excellent, and low prices. The banana-coconut iced coffee, and the curry rice with pineapple and banana are recommended. Be patient with cooking times or order in advance when she has many customers.
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 centre including TV are around 40,000-70,000 kip. A few minutes from the bus station are places for 50,000 kip including TV and en suite baths. Be sure to bargain if they claim no TV or hot water is 50,000 kip or more.
Then again, as of September 2015 all the cheapest places seem to be asking 70,000 kip even in low season and whether or not they provide Wi-Fi. Haggling the price down by 10,000 is possible in some.
- Lithavixay Guesthouse. Offers, besides good rooms, free Wi-Fi, bicycle rentals, and flight bookings. 60,000-80,000 kip.
- Phanmixay Guesthouse (Inside the bus station compound). Has clean, nice rooms. Double rooms with shower, hot water, and cable TV. USD4.
- Vila Keo Seum Sack. Beautiful, bright double rooms, including TV and air-con. 100,000 kip.
- Vilavong Guesthouse, ☎ +856 21 2503. Small, nice guesthouse. Friendly owners. 70,000-80,000 kip.
- Vivanh Guesthouse (Over the central bridge near the market building). Nice, clean rooms. 60,000 kip.
The Tourist Information Centre two doors from the bridge in the middle of town has free Wi-Fi, but closes at 5pm. Most, but not all hotels and guesthouses now provide Wi-Fi as of September 2015. There are several Internet shops in the city, all charging 400 kip/minute. Wi-Fi is available at Lithavixay Guesthouse quite cheap if you bring your own notebook.
- Charming Lao Hotel (Near the bridge and across from the tourist information centre). Coffee shop has Wi-Fi, but the prices are a bit high for the mediocre coffee and drinks. Still, it's quite comfortable. Little English spoken.
- There is a provincial bus station in the town offering bus service to Luang Prabang, Nong Khiaw, Pak Beng, Meuang La, Phongsaly, Vientiane. Buy your ticket an hour in advance.
- Beside that, just opposite the Sinphet Restaurant, there are international buses from China serving the Kunming to Luang Prabang and Luang Prabang to Kunming route. The international bus will stop around 15 minutes for lunch at the Chinese restaurant just opposite Sinphet Restaurant. A bus all the way to Kunming leaves at about 11:30 and takes 3 hours to the border and, after immigration, another 11 hours. 350,000 kip.