Today I arrived in a city called Oudomxay. This city has neither interesting features nor tourist
temptations but attracts me, for some reason. I always stop here on my way to Phongsali.
13 February

Oudomxay is the first big town coming into Laos on the road from China. Of course it is only relatively big compare to the average town in Laos; the population is about 30,000. Forty years ago, Oudomxay was one of the Chinese military bases in the north of Laos. The Chinese not only built the roads and houses here but also protected this land from American intervention during the Vietnam War.

video was recorded while riding the bus from Oudomxay to Phongsali.

When the War was over and the Chinese military left, the people of Laos were glad to inherit the city, which became a gateway to Laos from China. The market here is full of Chinese goods.

This is a typical street in Oudomxay

This is a typical street in Oudomxay.

Actually, there are a couple of interesting places here. The first is a Buddhist monastery on the hill in the central part of town. The hill is quite high, with a panoramic view from all four sides. At the top there is stupa (a mound-like structure containing Buddhist relics) surrounded by benches, which has become a popular place for local youth to hang out. Especially in the evening, they bring guitars to play music, and someone sings. The monastery itself is a bit to one side of the stupa. About 30 monks live and work here. Every morning, the young monks walk around downtown chanting prayers. People on the streets and local merchants offer them food, mostly bread and apples, sometimes milk and cookies, and even Coke.

Young monks

Young monks. Usually boys study at the monastery about 2-3 years then return home but some decide to continue.

The second interesting place, and perhaps the main one, is the mission of the Red Cross. It is a popular place for everybody because of the herbal sauna, which is open every day from 3 to 6 pm. A ticket costs about one dollar, and for three dollars one can get an hour session of Lao massage, done by professional masseurs trained by the Red Cross.


The sauna itself is just two thermal rooms and an open porch. One room is marked for men; another has not sign for some reason. Attached to the back of each room is a big boiler, where herbs are boiled. The steam goes through the pipe directly to the rooms.


Inside the room everything is white from the steam. It smells wonderful, like a coniferous forest or sometimes like wilds flower on a hot summer day. Sweating starts instantly but, after a while, it gets better, easier to breathe. Then you go outside on the porch to have a cup of herbal tea and enjoy the beautiful sunset. Feels like being newborn! In my opinion, this is a real help to people, better than endless drug prescriptions.


Besides the sauna treatment and the monastery visit there is little to do in Oudomxay. Most travelers stop here in transit, just for a night. Nine hours’ drive on a mountain road feels like torture, but in compensation — a beautiful and incredibly distinctive landscape to observe. Lots of fascinating things can be seen on the long road to Phongsali.

This woman, whom I met on my way to Phongsali, belongs to the Akka ethnic group

This woman, whom I met on my way to Phongsali, belongs to the Akka ethnic group.


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