Huay Xai is a very small one road town on the border of northern Thailand and Laos. It is mostly known as the starting point for the famous Gibbon Experience. Even though it is a tiny place, we ended up having a lot of fun in Huay Xai! You’ll bump into a ton of backpackers either preparing for or returning from the Gibbon Experience, so you might learn a thing or two about the trip to come, or begin bonding with people before your trip together! Right at the border we met 5 new friends in very close quarters in the back of a tuk-tuk, and by the end of the night we had a crew of 20 or more people hopping from bar to bar with us. Our final hurrah was jumping into the Mekong a little too intoxicated, and though it’s a cool story we would not recommend it. Stick to the bars and make sure to set your alarm to make it in time for the Gibbon Experience Safety Meeting in the morning!
How to Get There
We took the local route from Chiang Rai to the Laos border. We jumped on a local bus that runs every hour to Chiang Khong, and asked the bus driver to drop us off at the border. We then took a tuk-tuk to the border, the mandatory shuttle bus across the border, and then another tuk-tuk to Huay Xai. This cost 300 baht each. Note that you’ll need to cross the border during the day, and there is a fee to enter Laos that differs depending on your home country. Check out our post on Crossing the Laos Border for more info.
Heading the other direction from Luang Prabang, there is the option of bus, slow boat or fast boat. We chose bus as we lost the least amount of time because we could go overnight. The 13 hour cliff hugging, jack hammer of a bus ride cost us 125,000 kip, but we survived and saved a whole day of travel, as well as a hostel night. Note that one ticket on this bus buys half of a bed, so if you’re travelling alone there is a good chance you’ll be spooning with some random for the entirety of the trip on a smaller than normal bunk. The slow boat is another popular route. It costs 200,000 kip, and takes two days with an overnight stay in a hole of a city called Pak Beng (hostel price not included in ticket). The fast boat costs about 400,000 kip and will get you between Huay Xai and Luang Prabang in 6-7 hours. Our friends took this route, and they said they were crunched up in balls due to the boat being over-packed. Fast boats are also notoriously dangerous, and have been known to flip…so decide carefully!
Where to Stay
- Phonethip – We grabbed an unexciting room close to the Gibbon Experience Office for 60,000 kip a night at Phonethip. It had a working fan and en suite bathroom and was clean enough for us for the night. The front desk lady at the time didn’t speak any english (didn’t even know wifi…) but we got it all figured out soon enough. Don’t worry too much about the hostel… you’ll only be staying there for one night! Huay Xai is a very small town, and many of the hostels don’t have online booking (including Phonethip). However if you do need to book in advance, you can find some cheap options in Huay Xai here.
What to Do
- Gibbon Experience – Not much to do here except meet fellow travellers and talk about the Gibbon Experience. We cannot emphasize enough how awesome this trekking, ziplining, treehouse-sleeping adventure was, and we highly recommend splurging a bit to give it a go.
Where to Eat
- Sandwich Place – We wish we had written the name of the store down, if it even had one, but this sandwich lady saved our lives. In the morning after our drunken escapades at Bar How? (see below) we were late and extremely hungover. This lady saw us leaving our hostel and called us over. She had pre-made take away lunches of amazing sandwiches and a bottle of water for 25,000 kip ($4 CAD). We grabbed them and ran to the Gibbon Office to sit through the safety meeting before going on our way. It’s right across from our hostel, Phonethip. If you see her let us know how thankful we still are!
- Bar How? – There are lots of little hole in the wall bars along the main (only) road in Huay Xai, but none compare to the vibe, hospitality and clever-naming of Bar How?. We sat at a long table right on the roadside with our friends we had met at the border, and by the end of the night we had 20+ people joining us. We tried other bars, but ended up coming back to Bar How? simply because it was just too great. The 10,000 kip ($1.50 CAD) many flavoured Lao Lao whisky shots may have also drawn us in. The owner and his family were also amazing! If you only have one night in Huay Xai (and most of us do) make sure to spend it at Bar How?!