Located: in the northwestern of Laos (Northern Provinces)
Total area: 6,196 square kilometers
05 Districts: Houai Xay, Ton Pheung, Meung, Pha-Oudom & Paktha
Capital of the province: Houai Xay
How to get Bokeo
Bokeo can be reached by bus from the Northern Bus Terminal in Vientiane. Choose either a direct bus to the province or you can take a plane with Lao Airlines which flies to Bokeo everyday. Be aware that transportation schedules and prices are subject to change, so please check departure times and prices at transport station or through a travel agent prior to your trip. You can also enter Bokeo by boat from Pak Beng in Oudomxay Province or Chiang Khong from Thailand. Visas on arrival are available.
Tuk-tuks, motorized tricycles (lot-sam-lo) and “jumbos” (pickup trucks with benches) are available all over town and offer an easy way to get around. You can hire motorbike, mini-buses, and riverboats through guesthouses, hotels, tour operators, and the provincial Visitor Information Centers in Houai Xay. You can also rent bicycles for about USD1-2 per day. For guided tours, contact the Bokeo Visitor Information Center.
Start by climbing the steep staircase to Wat Jom Khao Manilat across from the pier road and rest on its peaceful grounds. Constructed around 1880, the teak temple remains in pristine condition, and is joined by a sizeable golden stupa, majestic gong tower and wonderful view. Next, explore Fort Carnot, before the ascent to the small, hilltop Wat Pha Thad, originally built in 1022. Also on the compound is a golden stupa and a row of eight golden Buddha images in different positions. Return to home, and browse the shops around the market. You’ll find everything from rattan stools and baskets to Bokeo wines, whiskies and fruit-flavoured liqueurs. Tuk-tuks are available for hire in Houai Xay. Vang View Tours rents motorcycles and Bo-Sapphire Tours rents bicycles.
STRATEGIC FRENCH FORT
Built in 1900 on a hill overlooking Houai Xay and Thailand, Fort Carnot served as colonial France’s western most strategic stronghold for controlling Mekong River traffic. Though undergoing restoration, Fort Carnot today stands among Laos’ best preserved colonial military outposts. The eastern rampart’s barracks and main gate remain intact, as do its corner bastions, with tunnels leading soldiers to outside watchtowers. Riflemen once pointed guns towards the Mekong through slits along the southern barricade. The tall western tower and wall show their age, but you can still see rifle racks on the room’ walls. The north block, being developed into a museum, most likely held the kitchen and jail.
THE GIBBON EXPERIENCE
Laos’ hottest adventure takes you to tree-top sleeping quarters in the Nam Kan National Protected Area, and a network of canopy zip-lines for an aerial opportunity to spot rare black-cheeked crested gibbons. A one-hour walk from Ban Don Chai ends at tree houses, “hides” for watching canopy wildlife, and access to nature trails and the zip-line highway, with local guides ready to lead the way and prepare fire-cooked meals and snacks. The Gibbon Experience offers two and three-day adventures that include canopy accommodation with views overlooking river valleys, mountain tops, and a waterfall swimming hole.
THE GOLDEN TRIANGLE’S SECRET
The remnants of little known, 1000 year old Souvannakhomkham City quietly sprawl through a 10,000-hectare field some 50 kilometers west of Houai Xay in the Golden Triangle. A massive headless Buddha sits alone near the roadside, and Ban Done That’s Visitor Centre displays the ancient civilization’s pottery and stone relics, while kicking off a trail that winds around grass-covered brick stupas to a timeless, seven-meter-tall Buddha, one of Laos’ largest. On the river road ride back to town, stop at Nang Peng’s in Nam Keung Mai for what many call the country’s best khao soi noodle soup. Continue to the Nam Nyon waterfalls for a swim, and visit the gold-plated princess sculpted into a boulder at a rest stop near Pak Ngao.
BOKEO’S HANDICRAFT BOUNTY
Handicraft hunters can hit the mother load at the new Don Chai Visitor Centre, about 70 kilometers north of Houai Xay on Route 3 to Luang Namtha. Here the Bokeo Handicraft Collective sells its goods. Among the collective’s members, Hmong embroiderers offer decorative fabric wall hangings, cloth key chains, and dangling ornaments with intricate designs. The Tai Lue present a variety of woven household items such as coasters, placemats, tablecloths, curtains, bedspreads, and cushion covers. Shoppers can also purchase everyday products used by ethnic locals such as wicker baskets and drinking vessels made from dried gourds.