Huay Xai (also Houei Sai, Houay Xay) is the northern gateway to Laos and the most popular entry point to Laos from northern Thailand. Hence, it is mostly seen as a rest stop on the way for most travelers. Yet, while in fact offering not much, the small town itself is interesting to enjoy and especially, ease yourselves into Laos’ lifestyle.
Huay Xai is the capital of Bokeo Province in northern Laos. It lies on the banks of Mekong River in opposite of Chiang Khong and also a part of the border with Thailand.
Huay Xai Border
Huay Xai is on the end of Road 3, which runs from the Chinese border at Boten (Yunan) to Thailand. Huay Xai has long been a stopping point for traders, and the tiny river town is now a major point of entry from Thailand into Laos.
Huay Xai has a domestic airport with irregular flights to Vientiane and Luang Prabang (depending on the season). Probably the most popular means of getting to/from here is by the boats that run down the Mekong to Pakbeng and Luang Prabang.
The main commerce in Huay Xai revolves around catering to slow-boaters before they take off early the next day on their journey.
The region of Huay Xai offers several interesting villages where traditional lifestyles are still maintained. Within a half-day hike, one can observe H'Mong people. It is suggested that travelers visit the village chief (phuu nyai baan) before interacting with villagers. The most prominent hill-tribe village in Laos is Ban Nam Sang. An hour outside of Huay Xai via tuk-tuk, the village boasts a large and very rare tribal population. These villagers are so traditional that it is recommended that foreigners do not bring gifts like sweets, clothing, or pharmaceuticals because it is feared that these interactions may threaten their tradition. However, it is acceptable for visitors to make donations to the village chief so that the money can be pooled to build a village school. Huay Xai is also a major fishing destination for those seeking 'phla beuk' – the giant catfish which is the world’s largest fish and can grow up to several meters long. Although the numbers of wild 'phla beuk' has dwindled in recent years, the allure of the fish attracts many to the Mekong River during mid-April and May.
River view in Huay Xai
Maybe not just passing by
It is a good base for trips into the Bokeo Province itself, which is a small but mountainous area with spectacular scenery. While remaining relaxed and hassle-free for a border town, Huay Xai has a selection of guesthouses, restaurant mixing Lao, Thai, Chinese, Vietnamese cuisine along with a range of seafood; enough to cater for travelers’ tastes.
But get some Laos’ spirits…
If not exploring the Bokeo Province, nor rushing to a slow boat to Luang Prabang or a northern Laos trip, let’s get ambled with Laos’ atmosphere in this pleasant town.
Boat trip from Huay Xai
The first thing required to slip into the laid-back Lao life upon arriving in Huay Xai is enjoy a spicy meal by the river and wash it down with a cold glass of Beer Lao. After dinner, a short walk to the hill top temple of Wat Jom Khao Manilat presents a typical tropical sun setting over the Mekong River and Thailand beyond, and should see you relaxed and happy for the rest of your tour.