- Encounters with locals
- Sustainable Tourism
- Off the beaten track
During my trip to Laos, I came into the country at Houesai, arriving from Thailand which is just opposite it.
At that point there are two options for travellers. Either travel down the Mekong for two days to get to Luang Prabang, or do as I did and take a bus to the northern mountains. Much more interesting because sailing on the river can also be organised from the villages in that part of the country.
Apart from being a frontier town with a pretty craft market, Houesai isn't very interesting. There are lots of cheap hotels to use while you are waiting for your delayed bus or boat. Apart from that, there are too many marvellous things to see in Laos to stay for long in Houesai.
It was a short visit but, nonetheless, a learning curve when it comes to tourism in the region! I'd spent 2 days on a boat heading up the Mekong from the amazing Luang Prabang, my aim being to cross the Thai border by nightfall. On arriving, however, I found myself caught up with locals negotiating room prices and hearing tales of border officials demanding bribes at certain times of day.
Whatever you do, you need to negotiate hard and check things out as much as possible before crossing the border! Houay Xai is a town where you can live 'Lao-style': karaoke, beerlao and barbecues abound!
The morning market is interesting as local ethnic villagers come here to sell their wares, which include a lot of crafts.
The upside? The view of the Mekong at sunrise and the morning market.
The downside? Neverending negotiations with locals when planning to cross the border.