Bokeo Province

BOKEO OVERVIEW Located: in the northwest of Laos  Total area: 6,196 square kilometers Population: 200,243 (2024) 5 Districts: Houai Xay, Ton Pheung, Meung, Pha-Oudom & Paktha Capital of the province: Houai Xay

  • Ethnically diverse

  • In the heart of the Golden Triangle

  • Starting point for river trips & trekking

  • Mekong Catfish

Bokeo, meaning ‘gem mine’ is the smallest province in Laos, but one of the most ethnically diverse with over 30 recognized ethnic groups. The Lahu, a Tibeto-Burman speaking people common in northern Myanmar and Thailand are present in Bokeo in significant proportions.

The province is located in the heart of the infamous “Golden Triangle” sharing borders with Luang Namtha as well as Myanmar and Thailand.  Houai Xay, just across the border from the Thai city of Chiang Khong is a popular starting point for boat trips down the Mekong to Luang Prabang, a two-day journey south.

Since ancient times Houai Xay, the provincial capital, has been the disembarkation point for travellers and traders from Yunnan Province in southern China on their way to Thailand.  It is still a popular town for trading in Chinese goods. Vat Jom Khao Manilath, a teak Shan-style pagoda built in 1880 houses a stele that dates back to 1458.  Fort Carnot, a remnant of the French colonial period is still standing but is closed to visitors, as today the fort is occupied by the Lao army. Just south of the main town it is possible to visit one of the main sapphire-mining areas in Indochina.

For the energetic visitor or for those heading up to Luang Namtha, stop in Vieng Phoukha to organize a one, two or three day trek to local Khamu, Lahu and Tai Lu villages. In the Nam Kan Provincial Protected Area one of the few remaining populations of Black-cheeked Crested Gibbons can be found, singing their eerie and beautiful early morning songs during the cold season from November-February.  If you are interested in archaeology visit the ancient city of Souvannakhomkham near Ton Pheung District just north of Houai Xay.

River trips to the far north can be arranged from Houai Xay, either on the Mekong or the smaller Namtha River. Travel north on the Mekong, terminating at Xieng Kok in Luang Namtha Province, where you can then easily proceed overland to the historic town of Muang Sing. The two-day journey up the Namtha requires an overnight stay in your boatman’s village, a memorable experience for those seeking an off-the-beaten path adventure. 

Swimming in the Mekong near Houai Xay is the largest freshwater fish in the world, the famous Mekong catfish known locally as “paa beuk”.  This giant grows up to 3 meters in length and can weigh up to 300 kilograms. The meat of this enormous but endangered fish is considered a delicacy and brings a high price in markets as far away as Bangkok.

TOURIST DESTINATION

NAM KAN NATIONAL PROTECTED AREA THE (GIBBON EXPERIENCE)
The Gibbon Experience is an innovative forest and wildlife conservation project channeling income from an ecotourism enterprise into a comprehensive program of locally-run natural resources management. The site, Nam Kan National Park, spans over 136,000 hectares of land bordering the Nam Kan NPA. The project uses a business model which values traditional knowledge, empowers local communities to sustainably manage their own environmental assets and ensures the ongoing survival of flora and fauna populations in Bokeo. Visitors to the Gibbon Experience stay overnight in treetop houses with spectacular views of the surrounding forest, and traverse the canopy using a network of zip lines, in search of the forest wildlife. There is also an option for extended deep forest trekking. Ecotourism is environmentally responsible tourism which provides local people with income, reducing poverty and pressure on natural resources. For example, it gives incentives to local hunters to become tour guides instead of hunting. Ecotourism activities earn money for the National Protected Area office so that it can pay for patrols and other important protection activities.

Address: Ban Houayxay, Phone: +856 84 21 20 21, +856 30 57 45 866, info@gibbonexperience.org

HOUAYXAY
Houayxay is the proud capital of the Bokeo province in Laos, sat fimly on the banks of the Mekong River and the Thailand border. Houayxay has become a popular border crossing, running regular ferries and with the 4th Friendship Bridge to to Chiang Khong, Thailand. The town also has a small domestic airport with regular flghts to Vientiane and Luang Prabang, and is popular river port for slow boats and cruisers running down the Mekong River to Pakbeng, luang Prabang and beyond.

SOUVANNAKHOMKHAM ANCIENT CITY
Located about one hour upriver of Houai Xay is the remarkable Souvannahkhomkham archeological site. A network of temples, stupas and Buddha statues, it was first established during the 5th century and has been re-built many times. The current ruins date back to the Lane Xang Kindgom from the 14th – 16thcentury. The area is actually comprised of 40 sites spanning 10,000 hectares. Highlights include a 7 meters-high Buddha statue, one of the biggest in Laos, which was long ago raided for treasures concealed inside.