- Accommodation: Oudomphone Guesthouse 2 – This place is nothing special, but it was clean, cheap and they had a triple available. (100,000 kip/night for a fan room or 150,000 kip/night for air-con, we opted for the fan and it wasn’t too hot)
- Restaurants: We ate dinner at a restaurant that was part of the Riverside hotel. The view was nice but the food was mediocre. Although I don’t think you’re going to find any great meals in Huay Xai, so it probably doesn’t matter where you eat. However, Brit came up with a great idea that served us well throughout the rest of our trip. We found peanut butter at a store in Bangkok, so we began buying bread and bananas wherever we went, and we ended up making our own peanut butter & banana sandwiches.
For information on how to get to Huay Xai from Chiang Mai, Thailand please see the Chiang Mai section.
After crossing the Mekong by boat from Thailand you will arrive in Huay Xai, Laos. There is nothing special about Huay Xai and I recommend spending the least amount of time there as possible. It’s a typical small border town whose sole livelihood is based on tourists crossing to/from Thailand. When you arrive you must first walk to the customs and immigration office on the right hand side of the street. Once you fill out a custom form and pay $35 USD (for US citizens) you will receive a single entry 30 day visa. I think you can pay the fee in baht and kip as well, but I’m not positive. Assuming it’s not crowded this whole process should take less than 10 minutes. They also charged us an extra 10,000 kip/person for working “overtime” since we showed up at the border right before closing. I’m not sure if that’s a standard practice, but it’s a small amount so I didn’t argue. Once we had our visas we set out to find the Gibbon Experience office to check in. They said that we MUST check in the day before we were scheduled to leave, and thankfully there was somebody still at the office until 7pm. To reach the office from the immigration checkpoint walk up to the main road and make a left. The office is located on the left hand side of the main road, just a short 5-10 minute walk from the immigration checkpoint. After we checked in we walked around to find a guesthouse to stay that night. The woman at the Gibbon Experience office recommended the place across the street called Oudomphone Guesthouse 2. Considering all of the guesthouses looked the same and had similar prices, we decided to stay there. It’s also important to note that none of the guesthouses or hostels had wifi (at least when we were there) but there are a few internet cafes in town so you can still check your email etc.
After the Gibbon Experience we returned to Huay Xai in the early afternoon. There is a fast boat that takes about 6-8 hours, but it wasn’t running when we were there. Plus I heard it’s a lot more expensive and kind of dangerous. So we were debating whether to take the slow river boat or bus to Luang Prabang. We heard from other travelers that the slow boat used to be a great experience, but now they pack the boats with people so its really uncomfortable and rowdy. Also, if we took the slow boat we would have to spend another night in Huay Xai, but the bus to LP left at 5pm, so we could leave that same night. Since there was really nothing to do in Huay Xai and we were anxious to get to LP, ultimately we decided to take the bus (170,000 kip/person). We were supposed to get there at 5am, but we didn’t end up rolling into town until 8-9am. The bus was pretty uncomfortable and there was very little leg room, but I’m still glad we did it over taking the boat. Also it’s important to note that the bus ride was freezing, even in April the hottest time of the year. So make sure you wear pants and bring a sweatshirt or else you’ll be really cold. There’s also heavy blankets on every seat and at first I put mine away thinking, “Are they crazy? It’s so hot out, I’m never going to need this thing.” But sure enough it was so cold going through the mountains that the blanket was definitely necessary!
If you are interested in taking the slow boat it is a 2 day journey and leaves every morning at 11:30am from Huay Xai and gets to Pak Beng between 4-5pm. The following day the boat leaves Pak Beng at 10am and arrives in Luang Prabang around 5pm. The total cost per person is 240,000 kip.