May 9-11, 2016
Exploring Huay Xai, Laos
GPS waypoint: 20°16'36.4"N 100°24'41.6"E
Location: Huay Xai, Province of Bokeo, Laos
Across the Mekong River
With my Thai visa expiring, I had to cross another border. From Chiang Khong, on the other side of the Mekong River is Huay Xai, Laos. With my desire to come back to Thailand, crossing into Laos but staying close to the Thai border was important. But who knows what's out there in Huay Xai? I heard that it's just like Chiang Khong. Only one way to find out.
Crossing the border was painless but demanded patience. As soon as my passport was exit-stamped in Thailand, the long wait began. First, the international bus shuttle (B25) crossing the Friendship Bridge waited for some passengers to leave - one hour waiting. Then after being entry-stamped in Laos, the wait for the tuk-tuk (B100) began. They were not leaving without other passengers - another one hour.
Finally, I reached the town center. I checked-in at Phonethip Guesthouse at B180/night. It was the cheapest I could find, but it was clean and located along the main drag. I thought I could arrange a hotel deal somewhere, but that didn't happen. I tried renting a bicycle, but their rental rate of B160/24 hours was outrageous (B35/24 hours in Siem Reap, B50-80/24 hours in Chiang Mai) - I had to walk it in the scorching heat. Even their food was almost double the price of Chiang Khong (chicken rice in Huay Xai B35. In Huay Xai, B60), which is just across the river! Already, Huay Xai was losing its appeal.
I did talk to a few travelers/expats...the American English teacher who lives there, the Dutch ladies who were helping out at the Daauw Home, the Spanish couple who spent the night, the German consultant, the motorcycling Swedish guy, etc.
One endearing acquaintance was with Cristina, a lovely Spanish Portugese whom I met in Chiang Khong and bumped into again in Huay Xai. We had quite an engaging conversation over Beerlao overlooking the Mekong River. We talked about many things and we agreed on many things. But like most travelers crossing paths, she was on her way to somewhere the following day - with 3 bags strapped on her plus a full size guitar! It's those endearing chance meetings, no matter how brief, that make a destination memorable.
stairway to Heaven at the Wat Chomkao Manilat
Huay Xai is usually relegated as a one-night transit point for the slow boat to Luang Prabang. Yes, in Laos, the main deal is Luang Prabang. People who arrive after the boats leave, spend a night to catch it early the following day. Hardly anyone stays in Huay Xai - except those who want to experience the multi-day zip-lining on forest canopies as provided for by the Gibbon Experience (not to be confused with the big chain, Flight Of The Gibbon).
Beerlao and the Mekong River
Because nearly everything is imported into Huay Xai, it is expensive except the beer - which is priced like Chiang Khong - B70 for a big bottle of Beerlao. There is no better place to drink it than overlooking Mekong River when the sun is down. A few restaurants offer such scenic view in an alfresco setting.
Exploring Huay Xai
In 2 days, I practically walked around Huay Xai - the abandoned (French) Fort Carnot, the morning market (Muangkeo Market), the night market, the beer-overlooking-Mekong must-do, the hill climb to Wat Chomkao Manilat, Daauw Home, etc. I would have signed-up for the zip-lining but the cost was just too rich for me. After all that, there didn't seem to be anything else to do in Huay Xai.
I planned on staying more days in Huay Xai, but things didn't really do it for me - the place was expensive and it didn't offer much in the way of tourist infrastructure. Despite the Mekong River, it didn't have the charm of Chiang Khong which was just across the river. I could have gone deeper into Laos, like Luang Namtha, but again the transport cost, the tours, everything in Laos just costs more compared to Thailand. I had to abbreviate my stay and cross back into Thailand.
There is, however, something good to say about Huay Xai - the women are beautiful! And they don't even seem to realize it. I didn't stay long to experiene this, but from those who chose to live there, they say the people of Huay Xai (perhaps the people of Lao as a whole) are genuine - it takes a lot to shed their guard, but when they do, they are real.
Visiting the White Temple of Chiang Rai (Wat Rong Khun)
Huay Xai, Laos
- the tourist area where most of the hotels, restaurants, ticket offices, tour operators are, is located around the slow boat to Luang Prabang pier (red marker on the map above)
- no need to change your Thai Baht into Lao Kip. US dollar and Thai Baht are universally accepted currency in Huay Xai
- from Chiang Khong, take the white songthaew passing through the streets. There is more in the morning. Board it no matter which direction it seems to be taking, B60/pax. Or take a tuk-tuk, B150/trip, 3pax, 10 kms, 10 mins. They will go from city center to Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge
- get your passport stamped out of Thailand...or you'll have a lot of trouble coming back. Thai border opens at 6am and closes 10pm for cars, but for people to cross, border closes at 7pm
- take the shuttle bus to cross the bridge, B25. You are not allowed to cross on foot. Shuttle starts operation at 7:30am. You may have to wait until there are enough passengers
- get your passport stamped-in for Laos
- board a tuk-tuk for Huay Xai, B100 (it's only 10km and obviously a rip-off but you have no choice)
- from Huay Xai, take a tuk-tuk to the international bus station. Tuk-tuks are notorious for overcharging on this trip. One guy was charging me B170! I ended up riding behind a motorcycle guy for a tip.
- at the bus station, pay your ticket B225 and ???? hours. The bus will stop at the Laos Immigration where you get your passport exit-stamped. You board the bus again and it will cross the Friendship Bridge. You disembark with your luggage at the Thai Immigration to sort your entry. Board the bus again and your next stop is already Chiang Rai. The trip depends largely how long the bus stays at the Laos and Thai Immigration.
backpacker places (US$1 = Lao Kip 8109.95 = Thai Baht 35.22 = Php 46.68 as of May 12, 2016)
- Fort Carnot - an abandoned French port on a hilltop
- Muangkeo Market - also known as the morning market. Come early because they close shortly before noon
- night market - don't expect anything like Chatuchak Weekend Market. This is just a small row of street-side eating places with grills and bbq
- Daauw Home - it's a resto and homestay by the Hmong hilltribe people, given assistance by a group of foreigner volunteers. Good for beer and food when the sun is down
- Beerlao on the Mekong - there are a few restaurants with a magnificent river view where you can enjoy Beerlao at reasonable prices
- Wat Chomkao Manilat - enjoy the hillclimb
- Gibbon Experience - not to be confused with the Flight of the Gibbon. This is a commercial tour that takes you zip-lining on treetops
- one big bottle of Beerlao
- one hour massage
- chicken rice meal
- double bed in a fan room, shared toilet at Phonethip Guesthouse
- espresso, Americano coffee
- bicycle rental, 24 hours or B80/day, return by 6pm at New Challenge Adventure
- bus to Luang Prabang, 12 hours, 505 kms (according to municipality posted price signs. Guesthouses may charge Kip 180,000)
- international bus from Huay Xai to Chiang Rai from the bus station
- bus to Vientiane, 900 kms. Bus station price
- bus to Luang Nam Tha, 187 kms. Bus station price
(May 13, 2016) Thank you Gigit, it really helps a lot. Safe travels!
(May 12, 2016) Move south and do a few days in the Pakse area next time you cross into Laos. Wat Phou and Tad Champee are my two recommendations. Street food cheap and delicious. Beer Lao cheaper than water!
(May 12, 2016) Do you have just 2 days there? you should better go to Luang Namtha from Huay Xay, it's much more interesting and cheaper, only 3 hours by bus (Luang Namtha is not too expensive). Now in Moscow where some things are 5-10 times more expensive than in Thailand))) Have fun in Chiang Rai!
Nguyen Do Dang
(May 12, 2016) Lao?!
May 9-11, 2016
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