Kick off your experience in Muang Xay,the hub for Oudomxay’s tours, and a must-stop destination for travellers digging into Northern Lao. Explore Chom Ong Cave and hike to Nam Waterfall, the province’s spotlight activities and within easy reach of town. Most treks and cycling tours also start in Muang Xay.
Muang Xay Town Tour
Start the day on a bike or tuk tuk and travel to the top of Phou Sebey Hill. Watch the sun rise over the awakening town from an old French Army camp that now serves as the Oudomxay Museum. Head to Nongmeangda Morning Market while it’s still early, and watch locals mulling over regional produce, herbs, and the most amazing mushroom collection in Laos.
Close by, climb Phouxay Hill to Cheng Temple, the province’s most notable monastery. Construction of the original wooden temple broke ground in 1850, and it took more than 50 years to complete. In 1954, the war damaged the temple, but villagers rebuilt it in 1997, with a “Tree of Life”, and zoo of animal and bird statues depicting a local Buddhist myth. From here, visit the sacred Phou That. Historians believe the 18-metre-tall stupa was built by the Tai Lue in the 14th century.
Handicraft hounds can spend the afternoon at the PMC (Productivity & Marketing Centre), and shop for provincial specialties like sesame and essence oils, posa-bamboo and banana paper products, embroidery, and cotton textile products. Down the road, the Tai Lue Cotton Handicraft Shop displays samples of dyed cotton handicraft products in a private home and garden. Then, hit the Oudomxay Night Market which sells local food and handicrafts.
Cultural Hiking Tour
This 1-day tour by foot starts at the market, where locals sell vegetables and forest products. The hike continues to an old temple at Ban Thin, and continues through a rice field for 40 minutes to a Hmong village. You’ll experience their culture while watching women embroider, blacksmiths make knifes, and kids at school and play. The next stop is a Tai Lue village, famous for their homemade noodles and distilling lao khao, and then a stop at a Khmu village and their brand of whisky.
Chom Ong Cave Tour
Creep Into the latest Lao adventure in one of Asia’s 10th longest caves about 45 km from town. First explored in 2009, the cave system rambles almost 16 km through a 4-km mountain ridge with parallel, interconnecting passages: one dry and one with a river. For spelunkers, there are several side passages to exits in the spacious labyrinth, as large as 20×35-metres in most spots. The average exploration lasts 4-6 hours.
You can tackle the 1-or-multi-day trek on your own or with a tour company. Whether arriving by cycle, motorbike, or car, the adventure begins at Ban Chom Ong, a Khmu handicraft village. A 1-hour walk along the Nam Khon River, occasionally crossing by bamboo bridge, and through rice paddies and bamboo forest leads to the entrance. Inside you can swim and have a picnic lunch. Homestays are available at Ban Faen.
Hidden Nam Kat Waterfall
Head into a conservation forest at Ban Faen, and pick a trail to one of Oudomxay’s top natural attractions, Nam Kat Waterfall. Choose a route; they all lead to massive boulders and a series of 20-metre-high cascades with smaller cataracts emptying into a pool. The Nam Kat Nature Park also features a zip-line, rock climbing, trekking, biking, a tree canopy cable bridge, elephants, swimming, and a tree house.
– The Easy Way
A 1-hour drive from Oudomxay Town to the forested hills and Khmu Village of Ban Faen, starts the easy route to Nam Kat Waterfall. Weather permitting, you can drive a further 13 km into the jungle and past creeks lined with fishermen. The drive ends at a 2-km trail to the falls, where you can swim or enjoy a picnic lunch on a large boulder. After examining the cascade, return to Ban Faen for an optional homestay.
– The Hard Way
Rather than take the 2-km trail from Ban Faen, try a 13.5-km trek to Nam Kat. Start with a 500-metre march up Pha Daeng Mountain for a picnic lunch with a valley view. Then, descend to the waterfall on a narrow mountain trail. Some sections along the stream close to the falls require climbing over boulders. After a swim, you’ll criss-cross a stream on the way down. This trek is rated 7/10.
Ban Yor Village
A 50-km drive from Muang Xay Town on Route 2W reaches Ban Thameun Village in Beng District, and the gateway to timeless Ban Yor. The Tai Lue village guide leads you 4 km to the two-tiered Tad Nam Chae Waterfall in the jungle. Then return to Ban Thameun to learn how the villagers use forest products for food and medicine, and how they weave.
A tuk tuk ride from Ban Thameun ends at the 1,000-year-old Tai Lue village of Ban Yor. The ancestors of today’s 135 families migrated to the warm, fertile valley in 902, and continue their traditional ways. Their pottery work is among the best in Laos, and their range of natural dyes for cotton weaving is tough to beat. An overnight homestay includes a Tai Lue dinner, dancing, and music in the village hall.
The Secrets of Ban Yor Pottery
Ban Yor reveals the secrets of northern Lao pottery. After breakfast, you’ll enter a day full of clay. Villagers teach you how to distinguish types of clay, and collect what you need. After a lesson on the different styles of pottery and bowls, learn how to throw a pot, and decorate it before firing it in a kiln. As the drying process lasts days, you can purchase finished clay products at the handicraft centre.
Dyeing for Ban Yor Cotton
Ban Yor’s Tai Lue have mastered cotton production, and taken natural dyes to a new level. Picking time falls between December and May, when you can learn harvesting techniques. You’ll trace the entire process until creating yarn and twine. When it’s time to dye, the woman can create more than 10 colours made from plants gathered in the forest.
Muang La is located 28 km from Muang Xay Town on Route 2E towards Phongsaly. The Nam Phaak riverside town can be seen in a day, with highlights including a Khmu temple, Phachao Singkham Temple, a Buddha footprint, hot springs, salt mines, waterfalls, and the Singkham Buddha Cave.
2-Day Khmu Trek
Take off on a 2-day ethnic trek, and immerse yourself in Khmu culture while stopping at natural sites. Start at Ban Samak Khixay between Muang Xay and La Towns, and hike through rice paddies to Singkham Buddha Cave. After a picnic lunch, continue to Ban Tanong Po, your Khmu village homestay destination. Meet the villagers, learn how to cook traditional Khmu dishes, and watch locals make handicrafts.
The next day, step onto a forest trail and visit Luang Cave. Along the way, the local guide explains traditional hunting methods and shares the secrets of medicinal plants. Return to Ban Tanong Po to say farewell, and then hike to Ban Samakeexay on Route 2E and the ride back to Muang Xay.
1-Day Muang La Tour
This easy trek leaves Muang Xay towards Muang La at 08:00 and stops at ethnic villages to watch daily activities, basket making, and lao khao alcohol production. Continue to Paradise Mountain and Buddha’s footprint, and on to Muang La and its local handicraft centre.
After lunch, trek to Ban Vangvanh Village to experience the Khmu life. Next, follow the Nam Phaak River, and cross it on a bamboo raft. The path follows the river to Phachao Singkham Temple and a walk to the hot springs before the ride back to town.
A No Akha Visit
Start the tour at the Muang Xay market, before heading off to Phachao Singkham Temple, the salt mine, and hot spring. Now it’s time to follow a dirt road to Ban A No, passing several Akha villages along the way.
After lunch at A No, walk through the village, as the guide explains their culture, traditions, and handicrafts such as weaving. Climb to a former French airfield for a great village view. Continue to Ban Tauser, a Hmong village that opens their doors to their houses and explains their way of life. Then it’s back to Muang Xay.
Most tourists view Pakbeng as the overnight stop on the Mekong River ride between Houay Xay and Luang Prabang. But cruisers who spend an extra day can see a part of Laos that many pass without a glance.
Around Pakbeng Town
Many visitors like to check out the town’s market and mingle with the locals while stocking up on food for the next leg of their journey. You can sign up for an up-close encounter with elephants, and if you’ve just spent the day trekking, take time for a traditional massage.
Spend the day venturing by foot, boat, or tuk tuk to the district highlights. Topping the list is a visit to Kamtan Buddha Cave, which you can reach on a 30-minute boat ride with stops at two temples and a chance to see locals panning for gold. After visiting Pak Ngeuy Village, you’ll take a 15-minute walk to the cave.