Laos Travel & Tours

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Huay Xai (also Houayxay, Houei Sai, etc) is the capital of the Laos province of Bokčo. It lies on the banks of the Mekong river, which forms the border to Thailand. More or less a transport stop-over, there is not much to see in the small town.

Geographical position: 20° 16' N 100° 24' E
View over the Mekong to Houay Xay
View over the Mekong to Houay Xay
View from temple complex in Huay Xai, about 2 miles south of river crossing. Looking downstream.
View from temple complex in Huay Xai, about 2 miles south of river crossing. Looking downstream.

Understand

* Immigration: The immigration office is just a few meters from the ferry on the right and issues 30-day Visa-on-Arrival (USD30 or Baht 1500) and a passport-sized photo needed)

* Money: There's a small bank office offering change for cash and travellers' checks just right of the immigration. Most guest houses and restaurants in town deal in baht, kip and US dollars at decent rates. There is no way to get a cash advance in this town. There is an ATM straight up the hill and to the left from immigration (clearly signposted).

Get in
By plane

Huay Xai's tiny airport has service three times a week to/from Vientiane, plus one flight to Luang Prabang on Saturdays, but none in the other direction.
[edit] By bus

The 9:30am bus from Luang Namtha arrives at the bus station 2km out of town at around 2:30pm. The tuk-tuk mafia charge 10,000 kip to the border or guest house of your choice in town.

By ferry

Ferries cross between Huay Xai and Chiang Khong, Thailand for 30 Baht + 10 Baht for luggage. (The Laotian side of the border closes at 6PM) and arrive at the town centre. In Chiang Khong, the ferry pier is at the northern end of town, a 30 baht tuk-tuk ride from the bus station.

By slow boat

The slow boat pier is a little north of town. Slow boats to Luang Prabang (with an overnight stop in Pakbeng) leave each morning when full, normally between 9 and 10am. If booked ahead in Thailand, your transport will be normally organized. Touts for the boat will approach as soon as you`ve left the immigration

Fares depend on where you book:

* in Chiang Khong: 850 baht incl. transport to the ferry pier, ferry to Houay Xay and transport to the slow boat pier

* near the ferry pier in Houay Xay: 800 baht

* at the slow boat pier: 760 baht (depending on your bargaining skills)

By speedboat

Read the warning about speedboats first.

The speed boat landing is some 5 km south of town, so you might want to use one of the taxis waiting at the landing to get there.

There seems to be a real reluctance to take foreigners on the speedboat. You sit there watching as speedboat after speedboat leaves without you on them. The phrases "come back tomorrow" and "just wait, wait", is repeated a lot. This is definitely not a means of transport to be relied on.

Get around

You can walk the main street. For longer distances take a bike taxi. A one-way fare to the Chinese market should cost 10000 kip.

Places to See in Huay Xai.

See sunset over the Mekong river from a riverside restaurant. See the view from the temple tower at the top of the hill on the main street, near the border crossing.

Do

* Pay a visit to the market. The best time is early morning. To get there, follow the main road south along the Mekong. After passing a hill, there is a turn-off to the left, which you should follow until you reach the place.

* On main street, there is the office of The Gibbon Experience[1]. It's a forest conservation project that raises its funds through taking guests into the Bokeo Nature Reserve. Every other day there is a truck covering the 3.5 hours to the last village, where you start your hike to the project. Accommodation is provided in terrific treehouses which are constructed on giant trees over 40 m high. To access the houses, you glide on a cable from the surrounding hill range. There is an extensive cable network being set up to explore the canopy, providing breathtaking views of the scenery.

Buy

The most important thing to buy is something to eat & drink for the slow-boat journey to Luang Prabang.

Eat

Most of the guest houses also provide simple meals. There restaurant next door to the Gibbon Experience office is home of the ex-pat crowd in town. It has a nice garden restaurant and terrace overlooking the Mekong river.

Along the water, on the main road, south of border check there is an outdoor restaurant with a big patio overlooking the Mekong. They offer Lao Barbecue, a tasty combination of Japanese Shabu-Shabu and Korean BBQ, i.e., you grill and stew up your own meats and veggies.

* Café MOOooo, (close to the ferry), [2]. Run by an NGO. this café focuses on healthy choices with the use of organic and healthy ingredients. It is located in a private garden. In addition to Lao coffee, drinks include freshly prepared fruit juices, and herbal drinks prepared from ginger, lemon grass, and Asian pennyworth. The menu includes Lao snacks made by suppliers from the local community. edit

Drink

There is not much nightlife in town. To have a beer, simply visit a restaurant or get your own stocks of Beerlao at one of the shops.

Sleep

* BAP Guesthouse has wound up to be somewhat of a travellers' hangout. Unfortunately, the rates are not the cheapest in town and staff are unfriendly and have a reputation for overcharging. Not only overcharging occurs here, there is a real effort by the management to get as much money out of you as possible. Seriously, avoid this place.

* Oudomphone Guesthouse 2 has double-bed rooms with spotlessly clean floors and hot-water showers from USD5/night. It's a 3-minute walk north of the BAP guesthouse, on the right-hand side of the road. There is a good, cheap restaurant and a small convenience/souvenir store on the premises.

* Manirath Guesthouse right next to the soi that goes to the ferryboat to Thailand. Doubles with attached Bathroom from 160 Baht/40000 Kip. Clean and good value.

* Friendship Guesthouse is a great family run guesthouse located in the central strip of town. Rooms are available as double or single and all have private bath with hot water. The building's tiled rooftop balcony provides panoramic views of the city and neighboring Chiang Khong across the Mekong River, making for a great place to read a book during the day or have a cup of tea at night and watch life pass by, albeit slowly. Room rates range from USD4-7/night. Make sure that you book a room that is close to the street front as the rear rooms lack natural light.


Internet

There are now numerous (slow) "high-speed" Internet cafés in town. The going rate is 300 kip/minute.

Get out

* Long boat ferry across the river to Chiang Khong in Thailand is 8000k/30B (and sometimes a corruption fee of 10,000 Kip for the Lao Immigration Officers). The boat guys are among the most pleasant transport providers in Laos (especially compared to the tuk-tuk mafia that brought you there). Be nice to them so it continues.

* A two day (slow) boat ride to Luang Prabang, or a more exciting and dangerous speed boat. Arrive early to avoid being stuck in the engine room for the 8 hour ride.
* There's a local bus to Luang Prabang, US$14, 12-15 hours. The bus station is 7km from the town. However, if you buy the ticket at the bus station rather than through your guesthouse or agent then the price is 100000 kip. We were told the journey would be 10 hours but it turned out to be 15.5 hrs, so be prepared.

* A special boat ride for Luang Namtha is also available for around 1,500,000 kip / 6000 baht for the whole charter and can carry between 6 - 10 people (the boat can carry less people in the end of the dry season , when the river is low).

* Buses to Luang Namtha leave in the morning around 9:30AM and there might be a more crowded bus at around 11AM. The bus costs around 95,000 kip / 350 baht from BAP guest house includes a 10 min tuk tuk ride from the guest house. The journey is 198km and now takes 5-6 hours with one stop for lunch on the way. The road is now completely sealed (except for big sections in the middle which have been churned up by the trucks - this adds time to any journey), so the journey will take far less time than in the past. However, unexpected obstacles may still occur.

* The 9:30AM bus from Luang Namtha arRives at the bus station about 2 km out of town at around 2:30PM. The tuk-tuk mafia charge 10,000 kip to the border or guesthouse of your choice in town.

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