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Huay Xai (also Houayxay, 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.


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

Huay Xai is right across the river from Chiang Khong, Thailand. 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 hordes of tourists float past.

Get in


Border crossing from Thailand to Laos

  • 1 New Friendship Bridge 4. This bridge is the border crossing between Thailand and Laos. While the border is open from 06:00 to 22:00, the buses only operate from 08:00 to 18:00 which could leave you stranded.
  • The Thai border control is 9 km south of Chiang Khong. From its bus station/center you get there by three-wheeled pedicab (120 baht in 08/2017) or white passenger truck (60B). A cheaper option is to take the red local bus from Chiang Khong bus station and ask the driver to drop you 5 km before the town where the road to the Thai border hits the main road (10 THB).

From Chiang Rai the bus cost 70 THB to Chiang Khong town from where you can get a tuk tuk (50 THB per person) at 3 km to the Thai border checkpoint or 120 bath to let be bus stop directly at the checkpoint (Dec. 2022).

  • After emigration on the Thai border checkpoint, you must take a shuttle bus across the bridge (08:00-18:00, 20 baht/person or 25 baht on weekends and after 16:00). As it only leaves when reasonably full, you might have to wait for up to an hour. Walking or cycling across the bridge is not allowed. Bikes are transported inside the bus for 100 baht, sometimes including the per-person-fee.
  • At the Laos border checkpoint, an immigration form must be filled out and the passport and a passport-sized photo must be handed to the official (they ask 20 bath fee for stamp). The photo can be obtained in Chiang Khong or in Chiang Rai near the bus station; if you arrive without a passport photo, the official will use a scan of your passport photo (40 baht fee).
  • Most nationals can obtain a 30-day visa-on-arrival. Its price was raised in 05/2022 to USD40 (cheaper for Thai and Vietnamese nationals). The amount in € tends to be the same as in US$, as the Lao authorities ignore differences in exchange rate. THB and KIP are also accepted, but at a poor rate. There is an official extra "overtime fee" of 10,000 kip / 1 USD on weekends and after 16:00. Even if none of this is the case you will still likely be asked for the extra fee, but it is often possible to avoid it by arguing with the official or just walking out fast once the visum is stamped.
  • There is a counter to buy bus tickets to the bus station, city center, and many national and international destinations (like the border with China). Songthaews go to the Huay Xai city center for typically 50.000 kip or 100 THB per person (Nov 2022). Otherwise it is a 10 km walk.
(Feb. 2024) In reverse (Huay Xai to Chiang Khong), a songthaew (which is called tuktuk in Laos) from the city center to the border cost 200 baht (or 130,000 kip) for one person in the vehicle. During the "rush hours", i.e. early mornings, there are many people going to the border and consequently, many tuktuks on the main road downtown, but by 10am, you may have to walk a bit to find one. At the Laos immigration, there is fingerprinting and photographing. The bus over the river was 25 baht (15,000 kip) on a weekday. A desk on the Thai side sells songtaew tickets to Chiang Khong for 60 baht. If you tell them you are going to Chiang Rai, they might signal any oncoming bus to Chiang Rai to stop so that you don't have to go all the way into the bus terminal. The local bus to Chiang Rai (90 baht) is worn out with no AC and hard seats, but all the doors and windows are open which is cooling enough. The regular direct bus Huay Xai - Chiang Rai is not yet running after the covid.

By car


You can drive from Vientiane on the haunted road. If you want to see how "haunted" it is, drive at night. With no buildings, no lights, and tall trees everywhere, it can get a little creepy.

The Friendship IV Bridge at the border is about 20 km south from Huay Xai.

By plane


Huay Xai's tiny airport had service from Vientiane on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. However, as of March 2022, this airport has been closed for runway upgrade works. There are no flights; it is unclear whether the runway upgrade works are in progress or if the lack of flights is due to lack of demand or COVID-19 travel restrictions.

By bus


There are two bus stations around Huay Xai.

  • 2 Keo Champa Bus Station (also known as Bokeo Station). About 5 km south of central Huay Xay is the traditional long distance bus terminal.
  • 3 Phet Aloune Bus Station. Further south of central Huay Xay. International buses (PLS Company) to China & Thailand leave and arrive at this station.

Upon arriving in Huay 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 Huay Xai for at least a day, 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.

The journey is 198 km and now takes 5–6 hours with one stop for lunch on the way. The 09:30 bus arrives at the Bokeo bus station at around 14:30. The fare is 60,000 kip (Sep 2016). Tuk-tuks charge 10–25,000 kip to the border or guesthouse of your choice in town.

There are four daily buses from Chiang Rai directly into Phet Aloune Station, which wait at the border. Price is 220 baht. PLS Company buses depart at 10:00 & 16:30 every day from Bus Station 2 in Chiang Rai. It goes over the Mekong bridge and thru immigration at both sides into Laos at Bokeo. A cheaper option is the cross the border by yourself: red local buses travel every hour between Chiang Rai and Chiang Khong (60 baht - May 2017). If you attempt to cross directly the border to Huay Xai, you can ask the driver to drop you 5 km before the town for 10 baht, at the junction between the main road and the road to the Thai border. From there, you can get a tuk tuk or walk to the border (40-60 baht, 3–4 km approx).

From other destinations


There are daily buses to/from Muang Xay (330 km, 85,000 kip), Vientiane (900 km, 230,000 kip) and Jinghong, China (150,000 kip).

By boat

  • 4 Slow Boat Pier (1 km north of town, where the truck-carrying ferry barges also dock). The slow boat is mainly used to leave Huay Xai as the journey moving upstream is usually just too long for most people. The boat ride from Luang Prabang is divided into two days via Pakbeng and done by different boat drivers. It is advised to stop overnight in Pakbeng. The slow boat from Pakbeng arrives in Huay Xai at around 17:30 which leaves just about enough time to cross the border to Chiang Khong. You can stay overnight in Huay Xai to avoid a stressful border crossing. See Luang Prabang and Pakbeng for the full scoop if traveling downriver.. Huay Xai to Pak Beng 150.000 kip. Huay Xai to Luang Phabang 300.000 kip. (Nov 2022)

There are no scheduled services upriver, but you may be able to charter a boat to Luang Namtha for around 1,500,000 kip or 6,000 baht for the whole charter. The boats can carry between 6-10 people (the boat carries fewer people at the end of the dry season, when the river is low).

You can also reach Luang Prabang by speedboat, a bone-jarring, ear-destroying and potentially lethal 6-hour ride. See Luang Prabang#Get in and also read the warning about speedboats first. The speedboat landing is 5 km south of town.

The old cross-ferry service is apparently still working, but only for Thai and Lao citizens. Cross the bridge instead.

By train


The Laos-China train stops in Na Teuy (Nateuy) station, where official minivans are waiting to take connecting passengers to many destinations. Ask the desk about a van to Bokeo (and confirm with the driver as well). The minivans are cramped and the road is less than pristine so bumps will be common (avoid the cramped and sensitive seats in the last row). An official will collect the fare when everyone is seated (200,000 kip, Feb. 2024). The minivan makes toilet stops (you may have to use the forest) and maybe a longer food stop, and arrives at the Phet Aloune bus station in Huay Xai after about four and a half hours.

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.


  • 1 Fort Carnot. On top of the hill, dominating the Mekong, the French colonial-era Fort Carnot era has undergone some conservation work, but it is still quite dilapidated. One of the towers can be climbed, providing a good view of the Mekong (in June 2018 the tower was not accessible due to much scrub). Though not spectacular at all, it's a good way to start one's travel in Laos and remember that the country has been a favorite playground of Western powers for decades.
  • See the view from the temple tower at the top of the hill on the main street, near the border crossing.


  • 1 The Gibbon Experience, main street, Huay Xai, . A forest conservation project that raises funds by taking guests into the Bokeo Nature Reserve, home to the Laotian black crested gibbon. Once thought extinct, it is now known that up to 400 individuals live in this forest. The Reserve is mostly primary monsoon dry deciduous forest, but also contains some lowland slash-and-burn agriculture. The Gibbon Experience is the only way to visit the Reserve. Every other day there is a truck covering the 3½ hours to the last village, where you start your hike to the project. Accommodation is provided in terrific tree houses in giant trees over 40 m high. To access the houses, you glide on a cable from a surrounding hilltop. There is an extensive cable network set up to explore the canopy, providing breathtaking views of the scenery. You can book at their office in Huay Xai or by emailing them. 2 days/1 night: 1,400,000 kip, 3 days/2 nights: 2,450,000 kip.
  • 2 Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone (Mid-way between Huay Xay and Tachileik, Myanmar). The provincial economy is now dominated by the Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone (GT SEZ). In 2007, the Chinese-owned Kings Romans Group entered into a 99-year lease for 10,000 hectares on the banks of the Mekong. The company was granted 3,000 of these hectares as a duty-free zone, now the SEZ. As gambling is illegal in China, and the SEZ is only a two-hour journey by road from China, casinos and hotels catering to a Chinese clientele were built. As an unintended consequence, a robust industry involving trafficking in endangered animals has grown up around the Chinese tourist trade. Several restaurants in the SEZ serve exotic meats: tiger, pangolin, bear cub and python. Menus openly include such fare as bear paw, monitor lizards, geckos, snakes and turtles. Tiger bone wine is also frequently served. Shops in the SEZ sell animal parts, stuffed animals and ivory, all in contravention of the CITES treaty to which Laos is a party. Has to be seen to be believed — and lamented.
  • Morning Market (in the suburb of Ban Muangkeo; follow the main road S along the Mekong, after passing a hill, there is a turn-off to the left, which you should follow until you reach the place; ask people as you go, to make sure you don't take the wrong turn). Pay a visit to the market. The best time to visit is early morning.
  • Herbal Sauna. Coordinates: 20.2813, 100.4095. Sauna 25.000 kip, massage 80.000 kip. (Nov 2022)



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.

  • Money: There's a small bank office offering change for cash and travellers' cheques next to the immigration office. It has no commission and good rates, better than in the town. Most guest houses and restaurants in town deal in baht, kip, and US dollars at decent rates. There are ATMs on the main road straight up the hill from the immigration office with a maximum withdrawal per transaction of 1,000,000 kip. It is better to get baht from Thailand and exchange them here because of the higher limits in Thailand. The official money exchange counter within the border building complex on the Lao side of the bridge has very good exchange rates (less than 2% added to baht rate and less than 1% added to euro rate compared to the exchange rates published by a bank, as of May 2015). The bus ticket office at the Thailand side of the border changes baht to kip at market rate. They also change some other currencies. (Nov 2022)
  • ATM: BCEL ATMs charge 20.000 kip withdrawal fee (warning: they proceed with transaction even if you press "cancel"!) and exchange currency about 5-6% lower than market rate. Phongsavanh ATM charge 20.000 withdrawal fee and gives maximum of 1.000.000 kip. (Dec 2022)



Most of the guest houses provide simple meals.

Watch the sunset over the Mekong river from a riverside restaurant.

  • 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.
  • Daauw Home (go up the steps to the temple and take the first dirt road on the left, you'll see it on the right side). Small bar and restaurant run by Project Kajsiab (a non-profit organisation that seeks to improve the health of the Lao people in Bokeo Province). Dinner 70,000-100,000 kip for two; beer, teas and Mojilaos available in the drinks department. Nice setting and chilled vibes around the fire or on the verandah.
  • Khongvab Duck BBQ (20 m past Sabaydee Guesthouse on the opposite side). Evenings only. For all those tired of chicken and pork. Popular with locals and delicious. From 14:00 to 17:00 when the duck is on the BBQ you can't miss it.
  • Latsuly Return. Restaurant overlooks the slow boat wharf and truck ferry and is a nice place to watch the world go by.
  • No Name (on the water, on the main road, about 1 km south of old border checkpoint). Outdoor restaurant with a big terrace built on the banks of the Mekong. It offers Lao barbecue, a tasty combination of Japanese shabu-shabu and Korean BBQ, i.e., you grill and stew up your own meats and veggies.



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.




  • BAP Guesthouse. Somewhat of a travellers' hangout. The rates are not the cheapest in town and staff are unfriendly and have a reputation for overcharging. Not only overcharging occurs here, there is a real effort by the management to get as much money out of you as possible. Booking a bus here to Chiang Mai may very well leave you stranded in Chiang Khong overnight. 60,000 kip for a double (2017).
  • Friendship Guesthouse (In the central strip of town). A great family-run guesthouse. Rooms are available as double or single and all have private bath with hot water. The building's tiled roof top balcony provides panoramic views of the city and neighboring Chiang Khong across the Mekong River, making for a great place to read a book during the day or have a cup of tea at night and watch life pass by, albeit slowly. Make sure that you book a room that is close to the street front as the rear rooms lack natural light. No Internet/Wi-Fi. Make sure you're clear about the rate. For example, at least one traveller reported expecting to get a 10,000 kip key deposit back when checking out, but being told suddenly that there is no key deposit. From 70,000 kip.
  • Gateway Villas (on the right, at the top of the hill leading up from immigration). Free Wi-Fi for hotel or restaurant customers. From USD10.
  • Manirath Guesthouse (next to the soi that goes to the ferry). Clean and good value. 160 baht/40,000 kip.
  • Oudomphone Guesthouse 2 (a 3-min walk north of the BAP Guesthouse, on the right side of the road). Has double bedrooms with spotlessly clean floors and hot showers. There is a good, cheap restaurant and a small convenience/souvenir store on the premises. 80,000 kip.
  • 1 Sabaydee Guesthouse (opposite Oudomphone Guesthouse). Good value. 90,000 kip twin with fan, 120,000 kip twin with AC (2018).

Stay safe


At the Huay 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 "Customs" office for a room in Pak Beng, the rooms may have no windows and/or no water. There are many guest houses in Pak Beng. Carry your own gear from the wharf and inspect the rooms before you commit.



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

  • Cross over to Chiang Khong, Thailand, just across the river.
  • Take a boring old bus, the two-day slow boat or the breakneck fast boat down to Luang Prabang.
  • Head up into the Lao highlands of Luang Namtha by bus or chartered boat.

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 city travel guide to Huay Xai is a usable article. It has information on how to get there and on restaurants and hotels. An adventurous person could use this article, but please feel free to improve it by editing the page.