Muang Xay is also referred to as Oudomxay and Udomxai, so don’t be surprised if you see different spellings of this town all over Laos. This is also the capital city of Oudomxay Province and is one of the largest cities in the north of Laos.
Many people come here as it provides a link to both neighboring China and Vietnam, but instead of just passing through, try to spend a few days here as there is much to see and do in this less-visited part of the country.
Muang Xay is also close to pretty spots like the Nam Ko River Basin and is known for being encircled by dramatic mountain ranges made up of craggy limestone cliffs. There are some famous caves located here, as well as stunning waterfalls and unspoilt sections of rainforest, so if you like hiking there is a huge amount to do outside the center of the city. This part of Laos is also home to a number of villages that house ethnic minorities and it is possible to stay overnight in these communities to witness an authentic side of life in Laos.
Here are the 15 best things to do in Muang Xay…
1. Go spelunking the Chom Ong Cave
The Chom Ong Cave is around 45 kilometers outside Muang Xay so it makes a good place to visit as part of a day trip.
This chamber has the claim to fame of being the biggest in all of Northern Laos and there are some 16 kilometers of tunnels that run through the mountainside.
The interior of the cave is covered in gorgeous glittering rock crystals as well as stalagmites and stalactites.
At some points in the cave the roof soars to a height of 50 meters and there is also an idyllic stream that runs through the main chamber.
You will need to hire a guide to come here as the cave is locked but they will also give you a tour of the interior and point out all the geological points of interest along the way.
2. Visit Ban Chom Ong
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Ban Chom Ong is a small village outside the center of Muang Xay and is known for being a traditional settlement of the Khmu people.
Many people come through here en-route to the Chom Ong Cave but it is well worth spending a little time here either side of your trek out to the cave.
The village sits surrounded by pretty jade-hued paddy fields and is also encircled by mountains, so this offers you a great slice of rural life in Laos.
You can also see how the local Khmu community lives and works here and there are even simple rooms for rent here if you want to stay a little longer in the village.
3. Walk to Nam Heeng Village
Nam Heeng Village is the place to come to if you truly want to get off the beaten track in Laos.
One of the best ways to visit the village is to walk over from the adjacent Chom Ong Village which is around 16 kilometers away, and this the perfect opportunity to take in the gorgeous Laotian countryside.
Bear in mind that if you are going to make the trek then you should leave around 5 hours and you will need to be reasonably fit as some of the terrain is rather uneven.
Still, it is more than worth it for the views and the chance spend some time out and about in nature in this part of Laos.
4. Try the steamboat
If you want to try some of the local food then head for one of the steamboat restaurants in Muang Xay.
These are dotted all over town, but they basically all work on the same premise.
Lao steamboat is similar to something like Korean barbecue and you can grill your own meat and then add it to a fragrant broth along with other ingredients like vegetables and tofu.
You usually pay for the ingredients you use and can choose from a range of meats or seafood to cook in the broth.
5. Trek to Nam Kad Waterfall
Nam Kad Waterfall is another trip that you can take outside Muang Xay and starts close to a scenic village called Ban Faen.
To get out to the waterfall you will need to walk for around 30 minutes through dense primary rainforest which is said to be some of the prettiest in the region.
As you walk to the waterfall you will need to cross the river several times which adds to the sense of adventure and the waterfall has deep pools at the base that are the ideal spot to splash around and cool off after your walk.
6. Explore the Chinese Market
On the outskirts of the main Luxay Market is the Chinese Market which sells products from the local Chinese community in Muang Xay.
These make a nice change of pace to the traditional Lao shops in the market and you can get a range of items like food and textiles.
Another good thing about the Chinese Market is that it is open until late in the evening, unlike most of the other markets in town, so it makes a good spot to go for a walk if you are looking to shop late at night.
7. Tour Oudomxay Museum
If you want to know a little more about the history and culture of Muang Xay then you can come to the Oudomxay Museum.
The museum is not particularly large but it does have a small number of interesting galleries with statues and other ancient relics.
Another reason to come to the museum is that it is located at the summit of Phou Sebey Mountain so you can enjoy the pretty views over the center of town at the same time.
8. Try the baked goods
As a result of the French colonial period, pastries and freshly baked breads are widely eaten across Laos and you can try these delicious bites firsthand in Muang Xay.
These include breads, cookies and tasty sandwiches and one of the best places to sample these is at the Siso Bakery opposite the main bus station which is the home of the well known Oudomburger, said by many travelers to be the tastiest burger in the whole of Muang Xay, which is high praise indeed.
9. Visit Phuuthat Stupa
If you are visiting Oudomxay Museum then you can also combine this with a trip to Phuuthat Stupa which you access via a set of steep stairs close the main museum entrance.
Here you will find a stupa that soars to a height of some 18 meters and dates from the 14th century, although it was partially destroyed during the French colonial period and has been reconstructed.
There is also a large Buddha here covered in gold leaf which is some 15 meters high and, as this is on a hill, it is also a good spot to come in the late afternoon to watch the sunset.
10. Hike from the Provincial Tourist Office
The Provincial Tourist Office in Muang Xay may not sound very exciting but has made a name for itself in recent years as the place to come if you want to enjoy a range of hikes in the surrounding area.
You can book a hike at the tourist office that will take you out to the encircling Khmu villages on the outskirts of Muang Xay and you can even arrange to stay in the villages overnight to get a glimpse of how local people live and work.
11. Buy some souvenirs at the Thai Ly Handicraft Shop
The Thai Ly Handicraft Shop is the place to come in Muang Xay if you are looking to pick up some gifts or souvenirs.
The shop sells a range of local handicrafts made in the villages which are the home of a number of ethnic Lao communities such as the Khmu.
The shops sells items such as textiles, clothes, bags and jewelry and all proceeds benefit the local community.
12. Take an off-road cycling tour
In recent years one of the new activities that have sprung up in Muang Xay is the off-road cycling tours.
These include both mountain bikes or motorcycles and you can ride out to famous spots around Muang Xay such as the Namkat Waterfall or you can also take a trip to the famous Buddha footprint which is located at Ban Long Ya.
This is also a minority village of the Tai Leu community and is a great place to take a tour to see some of the unique culture associated with the Tai Leu people.
13. Shop at Luxay Market
Luxay Market is conveniently located across from the main Tourist Office in Muang Xay and is one of the best markets in the city.
Here you will find a number of local products including handicrafts made by the ethnic communities around Muang Xay such as the Khmu.
There is a downstairs section that also sells delicious fresh fruits and vegetables and upstairs there is a ‘dry’ section that sells clothes, textiles and shoes.
If possible try and visit the market as early as possible as you can also grab some local street food snacks like bowls of noodles and everything closes down by 5 pm.
14. Have a traditional massage
Laos is known for its traditional herbal massage and Muang Xay is one of the best places to experience this, especially after a long day of trekking.
Lao massage focuses on stimulating pressure points, using acupuncture techniques as well as light stretching, so with that in mind this is the perfect thing to do if you want to relax and unwind.
There are traditional massage parlors all over town including at the Lao Red Cross office.
15. Explore the food markets
There are a number of food markets dotted around Muang Xay such as Tin Market, Nonmendga Market and Phoukhaiw Market.
The markets are usually at their most active in Saturday and Sunday and the main reason to visit is to peruse a wide variety of local products.
These include food items sourced from the local forests that you won’t find all over the country, as well as rare plant and animals products.