Also known as Houay Xai or Houeo Sai, Huay Xai is located on the banks of the Mekong River and is the capital of Bokeo.
It is a part of Laos’ border with Thailand and while it is best known as a stopover to other destinations, Huay Xai gives tourists the opportunity to adapt and experience the Lao lifestyle, such as sitting in the banks of the Mekong with a Beerlao on hand and just watching the river flow past.
Aside from immersing in the Lao lifestyle, Huay Xai also offers a number of attractions and activities to tourists. The Gibbon Experience allows visitors access into the Bokeo Nature Reserve, where one can hike, rent tree houses located over 40m high on giant trees, and glide via cable from the surrounding hill range. Another must try for tourists with a heart for adventure is the New Challenge Discovery wherein you can kayak, trek, and cycle in the Bokeo countryside, while also supporting Huay Xai children with their English studies as all proceeds from the activities support them. Other attractions include the Mekong Smile Cruise, the Buddhist temple Wat Chomkao Manilat, and participation in Project Kajsiab Laos.
Huay Xai has an airport approximately five kilometres from town, but Lao Airlines flights going in and out from Vientiane are limited, so calling their office to check flight schedules is recommended.
You can also reach Huay Xai via bus trips from Luang Nam Tha (takes 3.5 hours and costs LAK 60,000 or USD 7.21), Luang Prabang (takes 12 hours and costs LAK 130,000 or USD 15.63), Udomxai (takes 7 hours and costs LAK 90,000 or USD 10.82), and Vientiane (takes 23 hours and costs LAK 230,000 or USD 27.65).
Another and most popular option is via slow boat down the Mekong River from Pakbeng (for LAK 110,000 or USD 13.22) or Luang Prabang (for LAK 220,000 or USD 26.45). Tickets can be bought from the actual pier or via travel agencies and guesthouses for an extra cost, which may also include tuk-tuk rides and transfers.
Another option is via speedboats or rocket boats from Pak Beng and Luang Prabang, which takes around 2.5 to 3.5 hours. However, the noise from the speedboats can be unbearable and travellers may suffer from temporary hearing loss.
You can also travel by ferry from Thailand and as long as you arrive before 18:00, you can process and get your Visa upon arrival from the office right beside the ferry stand.
Establishments at Huay Xai accept Laotian Kip (LAK), Laos’ official currency that is available in denominations of 500, 1000, 2000, 5000, 10000, 20000, and 50000. As Huay Xai is a small town, ATM machines may not be as widely available as it is in the cities of Vientiane and Luang Prabang and charge fees for withdrawals, and the same goes for credit cards. So it is better to prepare and pay in Kip. Also note that the Kip is inconvertible outside of Laos, so better exchange in the airport before leaving the country.
Average temperatures in Huay Xai are always high, with the rainy season experienced during May to October, and dry periods from January to March and December. The warmest month is April, coolest month is December, dampest month is August, and driest month is February. The best months to visit is during the months of November to January, as these months are the coolest and generally have nice weather.
Majority of the guesthouses in Huay Xai provide simple meals, but a must try in the area is the Lao Barbecue – a scrumptious combination of Japanese Shabu-Shabu and Korean Barbecue. You can also try duck barbecue from Khongvab Duck BBQ, brownies and bread from the Dream Bakery, the Daauw Home bar and restaurant, and the Latsuly Return – a restaurant overlooking the slow boat wharf and truck ferry.
Huay Xai is a great introduction to the Lao lifestyle and thus a wonderful way to start your Laos adventure. If your journey includes a stopover in Huay Xai, make time to explore its number of adventures and enjoy a laidback dinner overlooking the Mekong River.