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BOKEO PROVINCE

bokeo
Situated in the heart of the golden triangle, Bokeo is just over the border from Chiang Rai province in Thailand and also borders Myanmar while China is less than 100 kilometres away. Although Bokeo is the smallest province in Laos, it harbours a large number of interesting minority groups (approximate 30 ethnicities). The province split off from Luang Namtha and was created in 1983. The name Bokeo translates as 'gem mine'; the city is known as the land of sapphires. Panning for gold, and digging for precious stones is a major occupation here.
 
Huay Xai, the capital provincial of Bokeo, sits on the bank of the Mekong River. Like most minor cities in Laos, several temples built in earlier centuries and surrounding villages seem to be the only attractions. However, Bokeo's real economic strength is tourism. A holiday among a network of hunts and shelters built on top of trees in primary monsoon dry deciduous forest is a decidedly appealing one. A perfect spot where one can observe the forest's rare habitants from above. Besides fascinating attractions and delightful activities, Houay Xai is also known as the gateway to explore the rest of Laos A famous stopover spot for most arrivals before boarding a boat and heading southeast to Pak Beng and Luang Prabang. A trip up north on Bokeo's winding and bumpy roads will lead to Luang Namtha and beyond.
 
Over the centuries, Bokeo has remained an important stopover for Chinese traders traveling by boats between China and Thailand. Nowadays, the only connection between Bokeo and Chiang Rai is via ferry and speedboat. However, a bridge between Laos and Thailand is scheduled to open in 2012.
HOW TO GET THERE ?
By air
Houay Xay - Luang Prabang - Vientiane Capital is served by Lao Airlines. Lao Airlines operates 3 flights a week from Vientiane to Houay Xay and vice versa (Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday) and from Houay Xay –Luang Prabang-Vientiane on Thursday and Saturday.
 
By bus
Along the road N.13 north, Vang Vieng - Luang Prabang - Oudomxay - Luang Namtha, then along the road N.3 passing through Vieng Phoukha-Houay Xay of the total distance 827 km.
WHAT TO SEE ?
All tourist attractions around Huay Xai can be seen on foot within a day. Observe the view from the top of the Chinese-styled temple, Jom Khao Manilat, the most important local sacred place. It's not to be missed and why not have a look at the stunning French-built Fort Carnot. Both sitesare located near the ferry crossing pier Huay Xai Chiang Kong.
 
Besides temples, markets, and other site attractions around the town, Huay Xai offers several interesting villages, where traditional ways of life can be observed and where you can learn how villagers earn their living. Sightseeing through villages in the city should take approximately half a day. Some of the hill-tribe villages can be found within walking distance and others can be reached with an open taxi or 'songteaow'. Hill-tribe villages in Bokeo are rather traditional and more conservatyive than those found in northern Thailand. Visitors are suggested to see the Village Headman (or phuu nyai baan) before strolling around the villages.
 
Jom Khao Manilat Temple 
When in Huay Xai, Jom Khao Manilat Temple is a must-see. The temple was built in 1880 out of teak and is Shan-style, with spectacular painting in bright colours, like those sacred places in Jakarta. Also, a stele-house, donated by a former Chaing Kong prince in 1458, is located here. Jom Khao Manilat affords a fascinating overlooking view of the town and the Mekong River below, a perfect site especially at sunset. The temple is just a few minutes' walk from the ferry pier.
 
Fort Carnot 
French-built, high-walled and occupied by Lao troops. A top adjacent hill and is clearly visible from the opposite side of the Mekong river, Chiang Kong, Thailand. It is off limits to all visitors.
 
Ban Khao Pun
Many villagers' occupation is to produce 'kanom jeen' or 'rice vermicelli'. Lao people usually eat kanom jeen with their famous fermented fish sauce, phla raa. The kanom jeen that is made in Ban Khao Pun village is exported to Thai border at Chiang Kong. Visitors are highly recommended to try it out, along with with the variety of sauces consumed with it.
 
Ban Yong Hin
Thai Lue Tribe Village features a unique attraction: mobile wooden houses. The Thai Lue people build their houses by placing each stake on top of the stone. The idea is thought to protect their wooden houses from termites rather than for mobility.
 
Ban Tom Lao
The name of the village literally means 'Brew-comes'. 'Lao tom' - a form of hooch - is illegal in many countries but is legal in Laos. Apart from growing rice and working the land, villagers here produce many kind of alcoholic beverages such as, Sa Tor and Kasae. The alcoholic degree of each beverage is very difficult to determine as it depends on how long they have been fermented. However, it is generally thought to be more than 40 degrees.
 
Muang Bokeo Huay Xai Market
Also simply known as Talad Sao, Muang Bokeo Huay Xai market is located on Saykhong Road, in the southern part of the town. This presents a good opportunity to observe local lifestyles and is a good place to shop for local products at cheap prices. The market sells fish and meat, fresh vegetables, and some main household products. This is also the main road-transport depot.
 
Ban Nam Sang Hill-Tribe Village
The best kept secret in Huay Xai is the Ban Nam Sang hill-tribe village. Less than 20 kilometers or only an hour ride on bumpy road from Huay Xai. The village hosts to a large population of the rare Lao Huay ethnicity. It is best not to bring gifts or items such as sweets, T-shirts, pharmaceuticals as it is felt that these may threaten their traditional ways. However, if visitors want to help they can donate some money or discreet gifts to the headman. Such money will be used for the village school. A reminder, visitors are recommended to check-in with the village headman (phuu nyai baan) first.
 
Pha Beuk (The Giant Catfish)
Huay Xai is also a major fishing ground for the phla beuk, (Pangasianodon Gigas) or giant catfish - the biggest freshwater fish in the world (two-three meteres in length and weighing up to 300 kilograms). They are believed to swim all the way from the source of the Mekong, Qinghai Province in China. Although the phla beuk annual catch has dwindled in recent years, they can be seen during mid-April and May.
 
Wandering Around Huay Xai
You can take in all of Huay Xai in one day. This small and unique town offers several tourist attractions. Situated on top of the hill not far from the ferry pier, Jom Khao Manilat temple offers a breathtaking view of the Mekong River and the town below.
 
Bokeo also has plenty of villages inviting guests to visit and experience each village's specialist products and surprising creations as found in Ban Yong Hin (mobile houses sitting on stone), Ban Tom Lao (brewing), and Ban Khao Pun (rice vermicelli or 'kanom jeen'.) Attractive sites located along the Mekong River can easily explored on foot, or by rented bicycle.
 
The Gibbon Experience
This is Bokeo's most delightful thing to do and is strongly recommended to nature lovers. It is approximately a three-hour drive from Huay Xai and a few hours trek through the beautiful bamboo forest to reach to the canopy infrastructure. All the tree houses are built on giant trees over 40 meters high. To access the houses and observe the wild habitants below, one glides on zip lines (cable networks), which is the main means of transportation for the rest of the trip.
 
The black crested gibbon was once thought extinct but 400 individuals were discovered living at Bokeo Nature Reserve. The trip usually lasts for three days and two nights while the number of visitors is limited. Trips can be arranged and booked in advance at The Gibbon Experience Office on the main street in Huay Xai.
 
If visitors are strongly impressed by the community they can donate some money or discreet gifts to the headman. Such gifts will be used for the village school. A reminder: Visitors are recommended to check-in with the village headman (phuu nyai baan) first.
 
Luang Namtha
Head up north from Huay Xai, approximately a five- to six-hour drive on rough roads, passing through several different kinds of scenery - from river plain to high mountains. Luang Namtha is a small and peaceful town surrounded by rice fields and deforested mountains. It is best to jump on a bike or bicycle to visit villages in the surrounding areas while the Chinese boarder is within reach. One day or several night camp trips in the forest are on offer, travellers are recommended to visit the Namtha Tourism Centre on the main street.
 
Luang Phabang by Boat
If you enter Laos through Huay Xai, it is best to take a slow boat along the Mekong to Luang Phabang. This is a good chance for you to spend a couple of nights on a boat. The first stopover is Pakbeng and there is another night at a village along the river. Speedboats are also available, and the trip by speedboat usually takes approximately seven hours. Either way, therre are stunning trees, virgin forest, and even wild elephants bathing to ogle at along both sides of the Mekong River.
SHOPPING
Muang Bokeo Huay Xai Market is a major shopping location for both locals and tourists. Besides fresh meats, fruit, vegetables, and food ingredients, the stalls surrounding market also offer local products and souvenirs, not only from Laos but from neighbouring countries like China, Vietnam, and Thailand. The market is also known as the 'talad sao', and is located in the southern part of Huay Xai, on Saykhong Road.
 

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