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Oudomxay northern province of Laos boosts tourism potential

Oudomxay province has announced the opening of Chom-aung cave as its newest tourist attraction.

The cave is part of the province's new long-term strategy to integrate its tourism industry with that of Luang Prabang province, to encourage visitors to the world heritage site to continue on to Oudomxay.

Officials said Chom-aung is one of the longest caves in northern Laos , and is located 40km from Xay, the largest town in the province, and is accessed by a gravel road.

The Head of the Oudomxay tourism office, Mr Sivan Bounsavath, said yesterday that only some parts of the cave were open to tourists. “The cave is very long, spread along a mountain range, and we are yet to find its limits,” he said.

He added that the cave, which officials had begun surveying in 2003-2004, is between 30 to 40 metres wide and has a permanent flow of water through it. Fish swim in the underground river.

Home stays are now available at Chom-aung Tai and Chom-aung Neua villages where tourists can take a two or three day trek.

A trip to the cave is part of the trekking programme to explore natural forests, waterfalls and farmlands and to see how local people make a living.

Officials said several caves are waiting to be developed for visitors, but the province has limited funding.

Xay, the provincial town of Oudomxay , is being developed with new buildings and roads and is rapidly becoming a gateway to the northern provinces .

Last year, tourist arrivals reached almost 70,000 people, an eight percent increase over the year before. Tourists enter the province from Bokeo or Luang Prabang province.

Mr Sivan said more than 100 tourists visit Pakbeng district on the Mekong River every day and some of them continue onto Xay.

O ne third of the tourists come from Western countries and the rest are from China and Thailand , he said.

Programme tours mostly feature trekking to observe the lifestyles of the 14 local ethnic groups and experience the natural environment.

According to the tourism office, Oudomxay province has eight hotels, 50 guesthouses, four resorts and 92 restaurants.

The main challenge is the undeveloped roads leading to the best tourism sites. In the rainy season, some sites are completely inaccessible, but the provincial authorities will be tackling this issue soon.

“We have seen the potential for growth in our tourism industry, but we also face a challenge to develop enough facilities and maintain the roads,” Mr Sivan said.

“Our strategy stipulates tourism development to generate income for local villagers as part of our poverty reduction plan,” he added.

By Somsack Pongkhao
Content: Vientianetimes
Photo: Ecotourismlao

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