Onward to Udomxai (or Oudom Xai, depending on what map you’re consulting) – a semi-bustling town of wide, paved streets; concrete shops and guesthouses. Not the most attractive place, but much bigger than Muang Sing and with far more going on. Udomxai is, in fact, a Laos-China trading hub, and not really a tourist destination at all. It just happened to be en route to our next destination, Nong Kiauw, further east, and broke up what would have been a very long drive.

So there we were.

Our hotel, the Surinphone, was a snazzy, vaguely Chinese-style place with a fancy teak staircase and a big ol’ fish tank in the lobby. It felt strangely luxurious after the less-than-optimal conditions at our last guesthouse, but I was looking forward to having A/C in our room, nonetheless. It had been relatively cool in Luang Namtha province, but Udomxai was steamy hot.

got teak?

inconveniently located bedside lamp

Our $15 room was pristinely clean and, along with the promised A/C, had a television, down comforters, bathroom slippers (to be used only in the WC, Asian-style) and a panoramic view of the street down below. Okay, so the view wasn’t so interesting, but at least it wasn’t a concrete wall, right?

We decided to take a walk around town before dinner, although by “around town” I actually mean up and down the main thoroughfare. At one point, we came to a steep flight of stairs on either side of the street, and Mel insisted we climb them to see what was at the top. She likes to do things like that: climb to unknown places, explore hidden nooks, traverse crevasses, etc. I’m more of a stroll-to-the-bistro kind of person, but it’s hard to argue with my sister when she sets her mind to something. Plus, she was going with or without me, so I followed her up.

At the top was a large, institutional-looking building which we took to be a religious complex of some sort because of the brightly painted stupa in front of it. Maybe it was a school for monks? Or a monk conference center? We were the only people up there, and the building looked locked up. There was no one around and no reference to it in my guidebook. We never did find out what it was.

The view was pretty nice, though.

Udomxai looks better from up high

We climbed down and proceeded to an outdoor shopping area filled with more designer knock-offs and the most satellite dishes I have ever seen in one place.

lots of dishes

seriously – a lot of dishes

and knock-offs

We also passed a 7-11-type convenience store which sold toiletries, snacks and candy.

Oh, and sheet sets.

one-stop shopping

sad, sweet street dog

Back at the hotel, Mel realized she’d racked up some more mosquito bites, which I tried not to view as payback for making me walk up those stairs earlier. A power outtage had also knocked out the electricity, and we briefly panicked that we wouldn’t get our A/C after all. Disaster! Strangely, though, about three-quarters of the power came back on after an hour or so, and we were able to use everything but the overhead lights. Huh? I ended up showering by head lamp.

And then we watched a little television:

What a strange night.

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