In a nutshell
Oudomxai is a province in Northern Laos with a bustling little capital city that also goes by the name of Oudomxai (although you may see variations on this spelling; the city is also sometimes called Muang Xai).
Why go to Oudomxai
With its location close to both Vietnam and China, you will find that the town has a diverse population with people from all three countries residing here. A lot of the town’s businesses are Chinese, and at times this city doesn't even feel as if you're in Laos.
The actual city of Oudomxai holds little appeal for most backpackers. There's an industrial feel to the town that isn't exactly welcoming, and there are not a lot of tourist attractions within the city. Those backpackers who do decide to stay in the town for a few days are usually more interested in activities in the surrounding areas.
Oudomxai is a bit of a transport hub for northern Laos, and from here, it’s easy to get to other places. Muang La is a small, charming town, about an hour away from Oudomxai, or you can take a bus to Pakbeng where you can get on the slow boat ride down the Mekong to Luang Prabang. There are also trekking companies in Oudomxai offering multiple tours to the surrounding villages, or renting a motorbike can give you a chance to explore some of the surrounding scenery a bit more independently.
When to go to Oudomxai
November-March is generally the best time of year to visit Laos, as the temperatures are a bit cooler during this time. April and May are the hottest months, with temperatures rising up as high as 40 degrees Celsius.
Where to stay in Oudomxai
Accommodation in Oudomxai is mostly made up of basic, budget-style guesthouses; you can expect to pay about LAK50,000-LAK100,000 for a room in an average guesthouse off the main road. Almost all of the guesthouses are located directly off the main road of the city, which makes it easy to see your options pretty quickly, but can mean a lot of road noise when you're trying to sleep.
There are not a lot of high-end luxury options for accommodation in Oudomxai, so you’ll mostly have to stick to the basic accommodation options; don't worry, the rooms are clean, and most of them have TVs, air conditioning, and private bathrooms at affordable prices.
Where to eat in Oudomxai
Because of the large Chinese population in the town, a lot of the restaurants in Oudomxai cater to Chinese tastes; however, there are certainly some delicious Lao places around as well. You can also find Western dishes in town, as well as a small bakery with delicious Vietnamese-style bahn mi sandwiches and other pastries and baked items. Throughout town, you can expect to spend anywhere from LAK20,000-LAK40,000 for a standard Lao dish, such as a noodle soup or a stir fry, although you can certainly find some cheaper or more pricy options.
There are also three food markets in town where you can pick up snacks or fresh fruits, and looking through the markets is a great way to get a feel for the unique foods available from the different cultures represented in Oudomxai.
How to get around Oudomxai
Getting around the town isn't difficult; a lot of places can be reached on foot, and the old bus station and airport are both in walking distance from the city centre.
The Provincial Tourism Office in the centre of town can give you information on how to get to the town’s main highlights.
If you’re a bit of a lazy traveller or if you'd just like to be able to cover some more ground, the Tourism Office also has bicycles or motorbikes available for rent (LAK50,000 or LAK 100,00 respectively). You should also see other places throughout the town for renting bikes or motorbikes.
Songthaews go out of town to neighbouring villages, or you can also rent tuk-tuks for the day. If you're taking a tuk-tuck out of the city limited, you can expect to spend at least LAK150,000, or more depending on how far you're traveling that day.
How to get to and from Oudomxai
As Oudomxai is an important transport hub, most people who travel in Northern Laos will come through Oudomxai at one point or another.
There is an airport here with daily flights on Lao Airlines between Vientiane and Oudomxai; the flight itself is less than an hour, if you fancy something a bit faster than a bus ride.
There are two bus stations in town, an old bus station in the city centre and a newer bus station about 4 kilometres outside of town, requiring a tuk-tuk ride to get into the city centre (LAK10,000 to get dropped off at the old bus station, a bit more to get dropped off at any other destination).
This new bus station offers routes between Luang Prabang, Nong Kiaow, Pakbeng, and Vientiane. The old bus station is not as busy as it once was, but still offers transport to other town's in northern Laos, such as Phongsali, Luang Nam Tha, Bokeo, Muang Khua, and Muang La.
Buses serving larger cities, such as those traveling to Vientiane, can also stop at other places along the way. Travel schedules of the various buses are clearly advertised at the bus stations, so it's very easy to book a ticket. Just make sure you check in advance to know which bus station you need to depart from!
The old, central bus station generally services buses running to the north, while the newer bus station is where buses running to the south will operate from. You can usually plan to show up at the bus station about an hour or so before a scheduled departure to book a bus ticket to any particular city, but your hotel or guesthouse may also be able to help you book a ticket in advance.
Is Oudomxai a safe place to visit?
Lao is a very safe country to travel in, so safety concerns shouldn't really be an issue in Oudomxai or elsewhere in the country; just stay alert and sensible (especially if you're going to be traveling by motorbike anywhere), and there should be nothing to worry about while you're here.