A small town it was. A tourist town it became. Huay Xai Laos. The only place on the mighty Mekong river to take the slow boat to Luang Prabang.
Huay Xai is a small town. But it got much more to offer then just a waiting station for the slow boat to Luang Prabang. The town center is quite small, offering plenty guesthouses and restaurant for the tons of tourists who want to go to Luang Prabang. But why not spend a couple more days in this little town ? So I did.
I was staying in Chiang Rai Thailand. From there it is very easy to go to Huay Xai Laos. Go to the main bus terminal, about 20km south of Chiang Rai and take the Border Bus for 200 THB. Make sure you have a pass photo with you and 30 USD for the visa on arrival. In the bus you get all the visa on arrival paperwork. After 3 hours you arrive at the Immigration. Stamp out and wait till the bus comes to pick you up and drive over the new Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge. At the Lao side, walk directly to the first counter saying ‘Visa on Arrival’. Hand in your passport and paperwork and wait at the next counter to pay and pick up your passport. Once you’ve done that walk through the immigration, get stamped in and wait for the bus and other people. The bus drives you to the main bus terminal in Huay Xai Laos. It is located about 5km out of town. Taxi drivers will be waiting there to bring you to town.
Here does the fun part starts. Many foreigners who arrive at the Huay Xai Bus Terminal have wrong info about taxi prices, boat prices, etc. Many of the info on internet and in town is old and outdated. Development of tourism in the Laos goes lightning fast. I’ve been visiting Laos since 2005 and man…. did it change. Also the prices !!! So back to the bus terminal. The taxi drivers there ask about 20,000 Kip a person to bring you to town. Town yes. Now town is a big word for such a small place. Town is actually the main street where all the restaurants and guesthouses are. So just stay in the taxi until it stops and the driver tells you that this is town. 🙂 Don’t worry about accommodation there is enough. Many foreigners are misinformed about the taxi prices. A lot of travel info says the taxi prices ar 10,000 Kip to town but that info is from years ago…. Same for the slow boat prices, etc.
From Chiang Rai there are 2 border busses a day. Make sure you take the first one around 9.30am. Why ? I tell you…. The second bus arrives in the evening round 21.00 if you are lucky. By then all the other busses from Chiang Mai and other parts of Laos are already in Huay Xai. Then, accommodation becomes a problem… So come early and get yourself a good room. Room rates vary from 200 to 1000 THB up.
From town it is about 3 km to the pier where the slow boat leaves and it is busy there. 1 Boat takes about 250 people !! Canned sardines came into my mind when i saw it. Bus after bus arriving at the pier. The first boat goes at 11.00. At 10.00am Huay Xai town is nearly empty. So a good time to start walking around and discover the place.
At day time it is quite hot. Even in January. It suppose to be cool but it was hot like hell. You can walk to the OLD pier where you can still see the remains of the old Immigration office and a sign with all the prices to various locations. The problem is that many foreigners read those old signs and take that as a guideline for making price inquiries. The prices have nearly doubled in the meantime….
The Gibbon Experience is worth mentioning. (Click on the link to read their website). This is a project in the Nam Kan National Park and is about protecting, preserving and re-forest the Bokeo National Park. They have the highest treehouses in the world. You can book 2 and 3 day trips and do a ‘Gibbon Experience’ with them. With booking these tours you help protect and preserve the Bokeo NP also, you stimulate the local economy and help the area. More info on their website.
Another point of interest is the Temple in Huay Xai. On top of the hill (in town) there is a temple. Very friendly monks and the temple keeper speaks very good english. Very open person and likes to talk with foreigners to practice english and increase knowledge. I was at the temple for sunset photoshoot and had a very very good time with the monks. We did some photoshooting together, discussed politics, travel, various countries, education, etc. All in all: a very entertaining experience up there and I will go back again.
Not to far from the temple there is Fort Carnot. Though Fort Carnot is the best-preserved colonial military building in Laos – many of the others in Laos have been destroyed – the structure is crumbling, with large trees taking over the walls. In itself, there isn’t much to see but the climb up is a good way to get some exercise and a view.
If you are up early like me it is nice to go to the Talad Chao or Morning Fresh Market. Here you can get a nice fried breakfast in the form of some fried meat, chicken, etc. and all kinds of veggies and fruits. Also the Talad Chao is the ONLY place in Huay Xai where you can get the original Khao Jee. Khao Jee is a left over of the French Colonial Era and is a fresh french bread with pate, salad, carrot, cucumber and something more. Before you could get it everywhere, but now only at the fresh market. It is a really tasty baguette and the pate is something special. In Cambodia and Vietnam they have their own variations of it.
So after a couple of days in Huay Xai Laos i left to Thailand but with a pleasant feeling and a feeling that i should come back and explore some more. The only thing that was really annoying where the loud, unpolite and obnoxious Americans…. If those people are an actual representation of their country then it is a very poor country. I feel sorry for the people of Laos that they have to deal with those idiots.
Below some more photos of Huay Xai and surroundings.