Houay Xai

Houay Xai (also Huay xai, Houei Sai, etc) is the capital of the Laos province of Bokeo. It lies on the banks of the Mekong River, which forms the border to Thailand.

Geographical position: 20° 16' N 100° 24' E

Huay Xai (Laos) as seen from Chiang Khong (Thailand).

Understand

For most tourists it is seen as a transport stop-over, which is a pity. While there is not much to see in this small town, it's a good place to adapt to Lao life: sit on the banks of the Mekong, have a Beerlao and watch the river flow past, or even better, see the hoards of tourists float past.

Get in

Immigration: The immigration office is just a few metres from the ferry on the right and efficiently issues 30-day visas-on-arrival (around USD35 or 1,500 baht, depending on nationality. The cost in Euros tends to be the same as the US dollar cost, as the Lao authorities ignore differences in exchange rate). A passport-sized photo is needed and this can be obtained in Chiang Khong before crossing the river or, earlier, near the bus station in Chiang Rai. If you arrive without a passport photo, the official will use a scan of your passport photo for 40 baht. If you arrive on a weekend or after 16:00 on a weekday there is an extra USD1 fee for the visa on arrival.

By car

You can drive from Vientiane on the haunted road. If you want to see how "haunted" it is, drive at night. There will be no buildings or lights, and sometimes with the tall trees on the side (scary when you drive at night).

The new "Friendship IV Bridge" opened in 2014 and now you can drive by car from Thailand. The bridge is located about 20 km south from Houay Xai.

By plane

Houay Xai's tiny airport has service three times a week to/from Vientiane on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Until November 2010 there was one flight a week to Luang Prabang on Saturdays, but none in the other direction. There is talk that this flight will resume.

By bus

The 09:30 bus from Luang Namtha arrives at the bus station 2 km out of town at around 14:30. Tuk-tuks charge 10,000 kip to the border or guesthouse of your choice in town.

Upon arriving in Houay Xai, you may be approached by touts asking about your next destination. If you answer Luang Prabang, you will be pressured to reserve a ticket on a VIP bus, because the bus is invariably "sold out". You will be charged around 210,000-260,000 kip, which includes transport to the bus station. Upon arriving at the bus station, you will be handed a ticket with the actual price, 110,000 kip, staring back at you as a stinging reminder of your gullibility. At the bus station you can get a ticket all the way to Vientiane for 210,000 kip, which should give some indication of how much of a rip-off the touts in town are trying to pull on you.

If you're going to be in Houay Xai for at least a day, simply take a tuk-tuk to the bus station for 10,000 kip and buy your ticket for the day you plan to leave. The extra money you spend on tuk-tuks is more than offset by the 100,000-150,000 you'll save on your bus ticket.

By ferry

Ferries crossed between Chiang Khong, Thailand and Houay Xai until 2014, when the new "Friendship Bridge IV" between Thailand and Laos was opened and the ferry service was discontinued.

By slow boat

The slow boat is mainly used to leave Houay Xai as the journey moving upstream is usually just too long for most people. See Go Next, below, for details. The pier is 1 km north of town, where the truck-carrying ferry barges also dock.

By speedboat

Read the warning about speedboats first. The speedboat landing is some 5 km south of town.

By bus

Get around

You can walk the main street. For longer distances take a bike taxi. A one-way fare to the Chinese morning market should cost 10,000 kip.

See

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

Buy

The most important thing to buy is something to eat & drink for the slow-boat journey to Luang Prabang, although nowadays food and drinks are available on most boats. Food is not great, but acceptable.

Eat

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

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

Budget

Stay safe

Houay Xai Rip Off to Pak Beng

At the Houay Xai border crossing a tourist agent offers to help fill out visa forms and make arrangements for the slow boat and hotel in Pak Beng. However, he overcharges (asking 1,100 baht for the boat only) and does not really make the reservations he promises. Although you are paying premium prices at this Houay Xai "Customs" office for a room in Pak Beng, the rooms may have no windows and/or no water. There are many many guest houses in Pak Beng. Carry your own gear from the wharf and check out the rooms (and the water) before you commit.

Connect

Internet and phone

There are now numerous "high-speed" Internet cafés in town. The going rate is 5,000 kip for 20 minutes.

If you have a Thai SIM card and have activated some of their Internet packages you can use this service. The signals of all Thai GSM networks reach across the Mekong and the locals often use a Thai number phone number in preference to a Lao one. There are many offerings of the Lao telecoms for data SIMs as well. Lao Telecom (M phone) has one offer for 1GB costing 50,000 kip that has to be used within a month.

Go next

By boat

  • 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)
In Sep 2011, prices seem to be up: at the slow boat pier, Houay Xay-Luang Prabang is 220,000 kip or 900 baht. In Jan 2012 the price from Luang Prabang was at least 250,000 kip (about €25) which is a bargain for one of the most scenic trips in the world.

By road

A VIP bus leaves at 17:00, for 90,000 kip from ticket agents in town, including tuk-tuk ride to the bus station. The ticket price is 75,000 kip at the bus station. It arrives in Luang Namtha around 21:30 (including nearly an hour delayed start, so could be quicker).

On the way to Luang Prabang, make a stop over at Hongsa in Sayaboury Province for an elephant ride. Elephant Adventures have 2-5 day elephant trekking on retrained logging elephants. These treks are supported by ElefantAsia NGO, focussed on elephant veterinary care, educational and environmental awareness, and economic viability for mahouts.

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Saturday, October 10, 2015. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.