Huay Xai is yet another place in Laos that has a number of different ways to spell its name, including Huay Xay and Hoauy Xai. This town sits on the border between Thailand and Laos, and in this sense it often operates as a simple entry and exit point.
Another big reason why people pass through Huay Xai is to cruise along the Mekong River, as this is one of the main activities on offer in this town. From Huay Xai you can take a boat to idyllic Luang Prabang which takes several days but is said to be one of the best activities available in the region. Another reason to come here is to use Huay Xai as a base to visit the neighboring Bokeo Nature Reserve, home of the famous Laotian gibbons.
Here are the 15 best things to do in Huay Xai…
1. Shop at the Morning Market
The main market in Huay Xai is also known as the Morning Market.
As the name suggests, you need to get here as early as possible in the morning in order to experience the market at its liveliest and you will find a huge range of produce on offer here.
If you come early enough, then you can even find sellers who come down from neighboring villages to sell ethnic handicrafts, as well as fruits, vegetables and textiles.
2. Explore Wat Keophone Savanthanaram
Wat Keophone Savanthanaram is a temple that is best known for its murals which depict rather violence scenes of acts of torture.
If you are not squeamish, then you can observe these along the walls of the ordination hall, or you can go for a walk around the grounds instead.
If you walk up the hill behind the temple itself then you will find a large statue of a Reclining Buddha.
3. Tour Fort Carnot
Fort Carnot is a large fort that was originally built during the French colonial period in Huay Xai.
It is located on a scenic hillside close to main office of the Governor of Bokeo and you will find two large towers on show here which are the main part of the fort that remain.
In recent years the fort fell into disrepair and closed although it has now reopened and been cleaned up a little which makes it a worthwhile stop off on a tour of Huay Xai.
4. Have dinner at Daauw Home
Perhaps the most famous restaurant in Huay Xai is called Daauw Home and this is located on a stepped rice terrace which looks out directly over the stunning Mekong River.
This restaurant was built to support the local ethnic communities in Laos, and you can come here and have dinner or shop at the onsite Women Empowerment Shop.
They also have cooking classes on offer so you can come here to try your hand at making some of the local dishes.
5. Travel to the Gibbon Experience
People usually come to Huay Xai with the intention of heading to the Gibbon Experience in Bokeo National Park.
You can book tickets for the experience in Huay Xai and you will then you need to travel almost four hours to one of the villages on the outskirts of the park.
From there, you will need to trek into Bokeo National park and there you can stay in gorgeous treehouses, instead of a guesthouse, that sit high in the trees at a height of some 40 meters.
6. Have a drink on the river bank
Huay Xai is not really big enough to have much of a nightlife scene but if you want to get a drink in the evening then you need to head to the waterfront.
Here you will find a number of restaurants and cafes that serve up delicious Beer Lao which is the local Laotian brew.
As you would expect, one of the favorite activities in town is to have a sundowner while watching the sunset over the Mekong River so try to plan your trip accordingly.
7. Admire Wat Chomkao Manilat
Wat Wat Chomkao Manilat is located close to the speedboat jetty in Huay Xai and is also one of the newest temples in town.
The main signature feature of the temple is the neat row of Buddha carvings which are covered in gold leaf and are carved in meditation poses.
There are eight Buddha statues to admire here, and you can also look out over the Mekong River from the temple.
8. Visit Daauw Village
If you want to get out of the center of Huay Xai then you can visit Daauw Village.
Here you will find ethnic communities who have lived and worked here for centuries and this is the best place to come if you want to check out a more traditional way of life in Laos.
When you visit the village you can learn about the local Laotian food and even have a go at cooking some of this yourself over an open fire.
If you prefer there are also a number of workshops so that you can try your hands at making some of the traditional handicrafts for which the villages around Huay Xai are famous.
9. Relax at a local sauna
Laos is famous for its saunas which usually use local herbs to leave guests feeling relaxed and rejuvenated.
One of the most famous in Huay Xai is an off-shoot of the Red Cross and offers soothing massages as well as the chance to soak in an herbal sauna.
To end the experience you can also try a variety of delicious local herbal teas.
10. Take a boat trip
The man reason to come to Huay Xai in the first place is for the chance to take a scenic boat ride along the mighty Mekong River.
With that in mind, there are a number of different boats you can take, such as the slow cruise which takes around two days to get to Luang Prabang through Pak Beng.
If you want an even more relaxing option, and you have a larger budget, then you can opt for a cruise.
These have full board and lodging on the boats and also stop on the way to Luang Prabang to let you take in sights including the famous ethnic communities in the Khmu and Hmong villages as well as the Pak Ou Caves.
If you are in a hurry, then you can also take a speedboat to Luang Prabang.
11. Try the Duck BBQ
Laos is known for its grilled meats but many of these take the form of pork or chicken.
For something a little different, you may want to search out Khongvab Duck BBQ where you can try some succulent duck which has been barbecued over hot coals.
This is usually served up with handfuls of toothsome Laotian herbs and steamed rice.
12. Visit Wat Khonekeo Xaiyaram
Wat Khonekeo Xaiyaram is a temple known for its amazing decor more than anything, and you will recognize it immediately as you approach.
The front of the temple is covered in gorgeous carved pillars which are colored red, green and gold, and there are also some intricately decorated doors to the main chamber.
13. Try some exotic cuisine
If you don’t want to play it safe in Huay Xai then you may want to visit one of the restaurants in town that cook using unusual ingredients.
One of the most famous of these is called Tavendeng Restaurant and this is located in a spacious wooden building which also has a stage with nightly musical performances.
The restaurant is best known for its exotic cuisine however which features ingredients such as fried crocodile and barbecued frog.
You can get a number of other dishes here such as chicken and beef, but take note that if you are squeamish then this may not be the place for you.
14. Enjoy a beer, or the local tipple
But when you are tired of drinking Beer Lao, then you may want to try the local tipple in a different form.
The traditional spirit in Laos is a rice wine which is known as low-low and this can be found in a number of bars all over Huay Xai.
A good place to try low-low is at Bar How on the riverfront which has a number of different kinds of the spirit on offer including rice wine which has been mixed with local fruits like lychees or blueberries.
If you want something to pair with the wine then they also serve food including local and international fare.