Tackle Bokeo’s tough terrain to unrivalled mountain-top vistas most people only dream about. Phou Nya Kha’s peak presents climbers with spectacular views of the Golden Triangle’s three-country junction, and you’ll see ancient tea trees along the trail. “Eagle Peak” atop Phou Pha Houng shows off the rice-fields in the valley, where you return to Pan Na, a Lahu basket-making village, and a swim at the base of Nam Nyon Waterfalls.
The Gibbon Experience headlines a trip into Bokeo’s nature, with its canopy accommodation and zip-lines, along with treks to seek rare gibbons. If you’re looking for a river perspective of nature, the Mekong offers sightseeing boats and kayaking along the green shores.
Culture and practical crafts often go hand in hand as seen throughout Bokeo. Visit Nam Chang just north of Houay Xay, and watch ethnic Lanten turn bamboo pulp into paper, carve wooden masks for Taoist ceremonies, and create natural dye for clothing. Further along, the Bokeo Arts and Crafts Centre at Don Chai offers Hmong embroideries and Tai Lue woven household items.
While on the Golden Triangle Circuit, stop at the Bokeo Social Enterprise at Ban Nam Keung, where Lahu fashion forest products into natural medicines, cosmetics, candy, and banana liquor. You can also learn traditional forest methods at their Ethno-botanical Garden. Want to see the true meaning of “Bokeo”, which translates to “Gem Mine”? Venture to Ban Houay Sala and watch Hmong process sapphires and other precious gems.
History & Buddhism
History abounds in Bokeo. Souvannakhomkham, the centre of an ancient kingdom stretching to Vietnam, sits on 50,000 hectares at the Golden Triangle, some 50 km from Houay Xay Town. Historians believe the city was established in the fertile valley during the 1st millennium, and is thought to have been rebuilt several times by different civilizations.
Bokeo embraced Buddhism during the Souvannakhomkham era as seen in the massive Buddha sitting headless, the victim of bandits invading the ancient capital. Nearby, at Ban Done That’s Souvannakhomkham Visitor Centre, with pottery and stone relics, a short trail leads to an ancient 7-metre-tall Buddha image, one of Laos’ largest.
Houay Xay Town hosts two significant Buddhist temples. Climb the steep staircase to Vat Jom Khao Manilat, and then rest on its peaceful grounds. Constructed around 1880, the teak temple remains in pristine condition, and is joined by a sizeable golden stupa, gong tower and Mekong view. The ascent to Vat Phakham begins east of the town. Originally built in 1022, the hilltop’s small temple has been restored several times. Also on the complex are a golden stupa and row of eight golden Buddha images in different positions.
Located on a hill overlooking Houay Xay, the Mekong and Chiang Khong, Thailand, Fort Carnot was once colonial France’s western-most Indochinese stronghold. Built in 1900, the garrison stands among the best-preserved colonial military outpost in Laos. The barracks remain intact, as do watchtowers and corner bastions. The western barracks are being developed into a history and ethnographic museum. The fort is also the first stop on the Tea Caravan Trail to Luang Namtha.