Oudomxay:  Beautiful one day, perfect the next

Welcoming Visit Laos Year 2018, Vientiane Times is publishing a series of feature articles and images inviting you to experience the authentic nature, culture, history and hospitality of Laos, Jewel of the Mekong.

Oudomxay is a beautiful, mountainous province situated in the northwest of Laos.  Although a long way from the luxuries of Vientiane, it offers a host of things to see and do for visitors, and it’s getting better all the time.
Must-sees for anyone passing through the provincial capital Xay are the two temples, Phou That and Santiphab, along with the provincial museum.  They are all in the town centre and within walking distance of each other, so you can spend an hour or an afternoon visiting them comfortably.

Some people think the Manikhot tree at Santiphab is real.

I went there recently as part of a project organised by the Tourism Marketing Department of the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism.  Our objective was to interview local authorities about tourism development in the province and when we went to these three places we all found them quite amazing.
Phou That temple is situated on a hilltop above Navannoy village.  It offers great views over the lush countryside and outside the temple’s walls is a great place to relax, breathe in the clean air and perhaps take a selfie.
Phou That is easily recognisable from below because of its grand stupa which stands high over the township.  It is a much loved and important icon to the people of Oudomxay and is arguably one of the most striking temples in Asia.
The grand stupa is named Pha That Xayamounkhoun Rattana Mingmeuang. It is the biggest in the province and is almost 500 years old. It is sacred to Buddhists and there are always people visiting it for prayer and to receive blessings.
The original stupa was destroyed in the war and has been restored several times in the last several decades. In 1975, after liberation, it was renovated and then again in 1996 provincial authorities led the people on the biggest renovation it had ever undergone. 
This new renovation meant rebuilding it again, with the new one covering and rising taller than the old. While the original was 5 metres tall, the new structure now rises 18 metres above the ground and is 18 square metres at the base.
Every full moon of each third lunar month, a festival celebrating the grand stupa takes place and people travel from far and wide to enjoy the festivities.
Inside the actual temple of Phou That there is a massive Buddha 15 metres tall standing in the position of giving a blessing.  It was built in 2009 and is quite awesome.
There is a small entrance fee and Phou That is open daily.
Santiphab is an old temple that is also situated on a hill but this time above Cheng village. It is also very beautiful and is decorated with traditional local art forms that are detailed and exquisite.
There is a large model of a Manikhot tree there. This tree is rare and is believed by Buddhists to be sacred and its fruit powerful if consumed. 
Santiphab hosts an education centre for monks and novices.  Many are friendly and warmly greet visitors upon their arrival at the temple.
There is no entrance fee to Santiphab and it is open daily.  It has a lot of information available that allows anyone interested to learn about the traditional architecture of Oudomxay as well as about local customs and traditions.
Oudomxay Provincial Museum is a very short walk from Santiphab temple.
It has a historical focus on the area with information relating to the distant past right up to the present. 
There are three parts to the exhibition inside.  Part I is about the history of ethnic groups in the province, their culture and lifestyles. Part II is a collection of antique artefacts and Part III is about the general history of the province and its ongoing development.
The museum is open every weekday from 8 am to 4 pm. The entrance fee for foreigners is 5,000 kip while Lao nationals pay 3,000 kip. Students and officials can get in for free with appropriate identification.
I personally found the museum a really great place to learn about the history of Oudomxay province and its people. The staff told me they are always working on new ways to make the information they have there as interesting and easily accessible as possible.
All three of these attractions are located on hills and offer stunning views over the town and countryside. The day I went there was relaxing but it was good because walking to the temples also gave me a bit of exercise. 
For clean air, friendly people, beautiful architecture and lovely views I recommend Oudomxay as an inspiring place to visit.

By Visith Teppalath
(Latest Update December 21, 2018)

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