Things to Do in Bokeo
Your Bokeo adventure starts in hillside Houay Xay Town, the provincial capital and Mekong riverboat transport hub linking Thailand to Luang Prabang. Begin a half-day town tour climbing a steep staircase to pristine Vat Jom Khao Manilat, constructed of teak in 1880. Move on to explore Fort Carnot, a French garrison established in 1900, before heading to Vat Phakham, originally built in 1022 with a complex featuring eight golden Buddha statues. On the Mekong, you can board a sightseeing boat or kayak.
You can cover The Golden Triangle Circuit in a day or extend your journey with a trek up Phou Pha Houng Mountain. Start by entering the site of the 1,000-year-old Souvannakhomkham civilization’s capital, view its massive headless Buddha image. Next, stop at the visitor centre to see relics before inspecting an 7-metre-tall Buddha image from the era, and one of Laos’ largest.
On the road back to Houay Xay, shop at Nam Keung’s Bokeo Social Enterprise specialising in Lahu forest products such as ginger candy, herbal medicine, and banana liquor. Then dine at nearby Nang Peng’s for what many call the country’s best khao soi soup.
The Golden Triangle Circuit leaves the best until last Pa Na Village. The Nam Nyon Waterfalls beckon, with the Phou Pha Houng Mountain Trek teasing you to stay longer. A local Lahu guide leads you through rice fields to the mountain base and a view of its jagged “Eagle Peak”. The steep climb rewards you with a spectacular valley view and an ethnic Lahu lunch before returning to the falls and refreshing swim.
Houay Xay also kicks off the Tea Caravan Trail along Route 3 to Luang Namtha, with stops at ethnic villages such as Nam Chang, where the Lanten produce bamboo paper. In Don Chai, gateway to the Gibbon Experience, you can purchase Hmong embroideries and Tai Lue woven household items at the Bokeo Arts and Crafts Centre.
For those continuing to the Mekong ports of Pak Beng and Luang Prabang, all vessels depart from Houay Xay. Budget travellers can board local riverboats and find their own accommodation in Pak Beng, the traditional stopover point on the way to Luang Prabang. More comfortable and reasonably priced cruises or five-star brands include meals and a hotel room.