The North of Laos


Global Mark : na

Description :
A border town, opposite Thailand's Chiang Khong over the Mekong River.

Comments : Most people come here to start their trip to Laos or leave into Thailand. Even so it would be possible to cross the border the same day of the boat departure, arriving the previous afternoon would let you acclimate to Laos better.

What to do ? Have your visa stamped / Change money / Gather info on how to leave the place / Start learning a few words of Lao / Get up the temple for a nice view toward Thailand / Meet your fellow travelers / If time, trek the surrounding villages and see minorities people make bamboo paper, noodle or whisky (Phoudoi Travel, opposite the immigration office organizes 1 day tour for B200) / 

What you may not like ? The high cost of the place / The difficulty to gather reliable info from Lao people / Not having a slow boat leaving on Sunday / Not being allowed up the small temple tower if you are a girl / The "Hello give me money" kids

How long ? One night

Where to stay ? 

- Town Center : convenient but expensive & noisy

bulletManiratin Hotel, on the right corner from the Thailand's pier & immigration desk / Room 150 w. HW shower / Go there for the convenience and the big OK rooms with balcony & an old charm / What you may not like : the old smell & slight decay of the rooms
bulletTurning right on the main road (toward south), you will find on the right side Keochampa Hotel (good big room w. cold shower 150, HW 200) and Hueixay Guesthouse (clean room w. HW 150)
bulletThaveesinh Guesthouse, further on the left / Sgl 100, Dbl 150, HW outside / Small, ugly & smelly so not really recommended.
bulletThaveesinh Hotel, from pier, turning left on main road (toward north), on the right side / Sgl or Dbl w. HW shower 150 or 200 / Much better atmosphere than the Guesthouse but more expensive
bulletContinuing north, you will find Chanthone Guesthouse and newer Savanh Bokeo Guesthouse / Rooms (1 or 2) with outside HW 100 / Basic yet clean.

- Outside town toward Slow boat pier : 10mn walk but better quality-price ratio

bulletPhet Da Kham Guesthouse, between the town center & the slow boat pier, 10mn walk either way / Room (1 or 2) 100 / HW outside / Basic yet clean & a quieter surrounding.
bulletGuesthouse, the house next door the above, no name so far / Room 100 / HW outside / Go there for the nicest rooms at this price level.
bulletArimid (or Amirad) Guesthouse, 3mn later, also 3mn from the pier / Bungalows w. HW shower Dbl (big bed) 200, Twin (2 beds) 250, Trpl 300 / Go there for the nicest setting & the most charm

Backpacker's Tips : Chayut Pihakaendr, Thailand (Jan 04)
« After I spent a month in Laos Huay Xai is my last stop before left Laos and I saw the change money boot near the Laos immigration office . exchange you money there .It give very good rate( 10460 / 1 USD , 265 / 1 Baht ) Dec 2003 than every bank in Laos.
The Thai and Laos immigration boot open daily from 8.00 to 18.00 but the last ferry (20 B ) is always leave about 17.00 otherwise you have to pay for your own which is a lot expensive. One more thing in Laos immigration if you arrive or leave on weekend or holiday please prepare 15 B or 1500 Kip for overtime expense to pay for officials
Be careful don’t overstay it costs 10 USD per day for tourist visa and 5 USD per day for using borderpass used ( only Thai and Laotian )
I recommened Houay Xai GH / good room / Clean / On the river view/ Friendly owner / 120B or 30000 K /double room /from the pier take your left 5 mn walk / (084) 211064
The slow boat costs 600 B from here to Luang Prabang 2days 1 night at Pakbeng you can buy the ticket near the pier .The bus to Luang Nam Tha costs only 62000 Kip but if you go to Vieng Phuka it costs less about 40000- 44000 Kip depend on you bargaining.
Here still has no internet so check your mail in Chiang Khong .

Backpacker's Tips : Mark (Nov 02)
« I stayed at Thaveesinh guesthouse in Huay Xai for two nights. The guesthouse was not like what you said. It was pretty clean. they must have some improvements or something. The price was $2.50 for single which I think is cheap. A burrito is $2.50 think about that. Huay Xai still didn't have the internet at the time I was visiting. »

Backpacker's Tips : Cherry John, USA (August 02)
« I stayed at Thaveesinh guesthouse for a night, it was different from what was said in your web site, it was pretty clean. Even thought it's small. but the price is only B 100 or $2.50 for single. I think the price is reasonable. It's $2.50 for parking at my campus... »

Where to eat ? This place is expensive so ask for the menu before you order. The place just after Manilat Hotel was reasonably priced. 

Internet ? No place so far and not really needed as cheaper Thailand is opposite...

Change money ? You can use Bahts or Dollars in Laos but it is a good idea to have some Kips in reserve. You could get some in any shop by paying in Baht and getting the change in local money. There is also a bank's desk (8 to 15 daily) next to the immigration office which can change US$ Travelers Cheques into Kips.

Border crossing ? The border is open daily from 8 to 17:30. The 2mn ferry ride cost B20.

 << Discover the border

Leaving Huay Xai ?

Most people will take the slow boat to Pakbeng (B200, 1 day) or Luang Prabang (B400, 2 days, overnight stay in Pakbeng). The boat or the boats (when too many people) leave at around 10:30 except Sunday from the pier about 1km north (20mn walk). Whether or not the trip will be pleasant will depend on the number of boats departing (the more, the less crowded) and whether or not sitting on the roof will be tolerated (near police posts, everyone will definitively have to go down as it is strictly forbidden to do so. Indeed, it may be dangerous so you should definitively obey the captain). At Pakbeng, the next day, some passengers have been asked to buy another ticket matching their new boat, even so they had already paid up to Luang Prabang : stand firm and this rip off tentative should collapse (you could also buy a ticket up to Pakbeng only, see how the trip is going and then eventually buy the remaining section. Pakbeng was reported to be a nice place, once the travelers away). The second day is usually less crowded.

It is also possible to take a speed boat to Pakbeng (440, 3 hours) or Luang Prabang (B880, 6 hours). Boats leave about 3 km south of the town Center from 8am as soon as there are 6 people. But considering that speed boat for more than 3 hours is really hard (see comments) and that onward bus from Pakbeng usually depart in the morning only, this option is not recommended. 

Going to Muang Xin, it is also possible to take a speed boat up to Xieng Kok (B800, 3 hours) and then board a bus to Muang Xin (B65, 2 hours, relatively good road). The journey could also be hard (see comments about our trip) but there is no other convenient alternative... Boats leave from 8am when 4 people from 500m north of the Slow boat pier (30mn walk : continue inside village until a small stream passing below the road, path on the left just after the road goes up a bit)

For adventurers, the road trip to Luang Nam Tha is apparently not to be missed. It takes 8 to 11 hours on a road whose comments vary from "very bad" to "quite good". Actually, the road is not recommended during heavy rain or just after it (would longer the trip by a few hours, if you find a vehicle to go, and you my have to push your way on) but otherwise, if you can stand 8 hours on a songthaew, it should be fine and the scenery is beautiful. This adventure start at around 7 or 8 (too early to come the same day from Thailand even so there is sometimes delay) from south of the market on the east of the main road. Cost is around B250. It is also possible to book a shared taxi. Check out at the travel agency opposite the immigration desk. You could break the journey in Vieng Phuka (small village with cheap GH) but finding an onward transport the next day could be problematic if you are not alone.

Considering the above, plane could also be an option (airport 9km south) : Luang Nam Tha : Mond, Wed & Frid 8:30 $41 / Luang Prabang : daily 8:30, $46 / Vientiane : daily 8:30, $88

Backpacker's Tips : Andrew Curtis, New Zealand (Oct 08)
« There is a new road north now out of Huay xia, wide, smooth and funded by the EU so probably best road in Laos!!!! 3-4 hours to get to Luang Namtha by minivan 400BHT. Much better to see some of northern sights and work your way down to Luang Prabang than to spend 2 days on the boat… in my opinion.  » 

Backpacker's Tips : Spunky, Dutch (April 03)
« We bought our tickets for the slow boat to Luang Prabang in Chiang Kong (Thailand) and paid 600 Bath. It is cheaper to buy the tickets in Huay Xai: 400 Bath. They told us it was better to buy the tickets on forehand, as the boat might be full and full = full. This is nonsense. The boat is never full, they just overload the boat. There is one boat each day and that leaves around 11.00 hrs in the morning It takes 2 days from Huay Xai to Luang Prabang. First day around 6,5 hours on the boat. Overnight in Pak Beng. All guesthouses there are very basic and pretty dirty. Bedcovers have not been washed since ages. Second day: around 7 hours by boat. »

How to enjoy the speed boat ? A speed boat trip could be a pleasant as well as a thrilling experience but the followings should be observed : it does not rain, the river is not too dry (in such case it does not go), your wear plenty of clothes incl. a wind proof jacket, you have earplugs & glasses (helmets could also be provided if required), you aren't scared of speed, you have no back problem. Boats usually take 6 people : this mean you will seat with no space to extend your legs as the small seat pad is on the floor. As the back support is made of wood, this is a relatively uncomfortable position and I would not recommend doing a trip longer than 3 hours. As for the speed, it certainly add thrill to the day but do not really let you admire the view (and certainly not make photos) and has been fatal to some people in the past. See the following trip for more comments. 

The trip to Muang Sing : SSSSS / everywhere / B800 + B65 / 3 + 2 hrs / speed boat + truck
After hearing from everyone that the road to Luang Nam Tha was very bad, especially after heavy rain (and it had just rained for two days), I decided to try my luck with the speed boat. Actually the bus would have been OK as it did not rain during the previous night and the road had been improved...
Anyway, I showed up with 4 other people at the speed boat pier (30mn walk or B20, speed boats are not allowed to go closer to the city) at 7:45. Our bargaining tentative were cut short and we paid the official B800 for foreigners (locals pay B125). But we were split into 2 different boat : this made a big difference for me as I was given two places and therefore could extend my legs on the side. The two sitting behind me were in a more crushy position but they enjoyed the trip nevertheless, thanks to the two breaks along the journey (in particular at mid-way Ban Mom where we changed boat and captain) which let us stretch a bit.
Indeed, even so expensive, this was indeed a very beautiful & thrilling experience. OK, it is rather tricky to take photos or dream at the view but, if you wear protective glasses, your eyes will be wide open on both sides ! As for the thrill, the river has got some rocks, small rapids and big boats coming the other way down and creating waves. Considering that the driver know the river & his job, there is more fun here than danger. Still, some short parts bring a bit of adrenalin...
We arrived 3.5 hours after departure and were immediately offered a truck to Muang Sing. The narrow road has been improved recently so it is relatively comfortable (still a bit bumpy) and should be OK even after rain. The view however remains the same and is one of the best & most interesting I have ever seen : dotted with plenty of minorities villages and surrounded by mountains, we spent the next two hours waving at the kids and thinking that, with a light bag, this would really be a great road to walk...

See also the trip from Chiang Khong (Thailand)


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