A slice of China

You can practically smell the fresh asphalt when you arrive at Udomxai, the major transport hub of northern Laos. Sometimes spelled Oudomxay, Oudomxai and also referred to as Muang Xai, the provincial capital’s importance can be attributed to the fact that it’s within a day’s drive of Thailand, Vietnam and most conspicuously, China.

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Being the centre of all things has won Udomxai success as a commercial corridor but not for tourism—the city has about the same amount of charm as a major bus station. The key to Udomxai is getting out of the city and exploring the pockets of rural beauty the province has in bounds. There is also ethnic diversity to learn about. The province has approximately 12 different ethnic groups and the predominant one is not Lao Loum but Khmu, estimated to make up some 60 to 80% of the provincial population.

Bright lights big city. : Cindy Fan.
Bright lights big city. Photo: Cindy Fan

But first, the gritty nitty-gritty. The town is booming, primarily because of Chinese business interests and there are those who are definitely prospering—just wait until you see the unsubtle Greco-Roman mansion on the main street. At times it feels like there are more Chinese signs and blue Chinese license plates than Lao ones, and you wonder if you really are in Laos. Don’t be surprised if your warm “Sabaidee!” is met with a blank stare.

The centre is not very attractive save for Wat Phu That, an oasis of calm on a hill that is a must visit for sunset. From the top, look beyond the concrete and electricity wires to see that beautiful mountains and forest are within ... Travelfish members only (Full text is around 1,000 words.)

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