Houayxay / Laos

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As a formerly remote borderpost in Laos' north at the left banks of the mighty Mekong River, the little town of Houayxay (also: Huay Xay, Houey Sai, Houaixai, Huaixai) is pretty much booming in the last years. Particularly the construction and opening of the new Mekong bridge (4th Thai/Laotian Friendship Bridge, opened in December 2013), gives strong impulses for economic growth and another building boom in the green, hilly province of Bokeo.

Houayxay by Asienreisender

Houayxay, seen over the Mekong River from Chiang Khong. The road which leads down to the water marks the old pier; right of it the old customs office and behind, the tower on the top of the hill, is Wat Jom Kao Manilat, built in Shan style. Image by Asienreisender, 2010

Together with the new bridge, the ancient road nr. 3 (Asian Highway 3 - AH3) between Houayxay and Boten has been much improved. It's a long-distance connection between Kunming in south China and Thailand, where the improved road now links Chiang Khong via Toeng with Chiang Rai - Chiang Mai and eventually Bangkok. Chiang Khong is a Thai town opposite Houayxay at the western banks of the Mekong River. Until 2013 the border crossing between the both towns happend via a frequent longtail boat service for people. One arrived at the pier and within a few minutes the next boat would go. For vehicles there was a big ferry which could carry also big trucks.

Houayxay is also the northernmost border crossing for international tourists between Laos and Thailand. There is no possibility to cross the border at Chiang Saen, except for Thai/Laotian nationals only.

Houayxay Main Road by Asienreisender

A glance on Houayxay's main road (the parallel road to the river). Here are a couple of guesthouses and restaurants. Honestly, food and accommodation are better in Chiang Khong, and the Thai People there are also more welcoming than the people here in Laos. Image by Asienreisender, 2010

Houayxai has a small domestic airport five kilometers out of town. It connects the place with Luang Prabang and Vientiane. Traditionally the Mekong River and it's picturesque wooden boats are the common vehicles for travelling. A popular river boat trip is between Houayxay and Luang Prabang with a stopover in Ban Pak Beng for a night. For a lively impression of that trip you can watch the video 'On the Mekong'.

Driving the river upwards to Xieng Kok is possible but much more difficult. There is no regular ferry service, one has to travel on a transporter, maybe together with cows and water buffaloes. The departure pier would also not be in Houayxay directly, but some fourty or so kilometers riverupwards opposite Chiang Saen or at the Golden Triangle.

Wat Jom Kao Manilat in Houayxay by Asienreisender

19th century Wat Jom Kao Manilat. Image by Asienreisender, 2011

Houayxay's topography is mountainous. On one of the hills close to the Mekong River is the old French fortress Carnot placed. The greatest parts of what is nowadays Laos was in former times part of the empire of Siam. Due to a very aggressive 'canon boat' politics of the French colonial empire in Indochina these remote and poor landscapes were given over to France in 1893. In 2011 Fort Carnet, a completely run-down ruin, was under restoration.

Another historical building is Wat Jom Kao Manilat, which was built in 1880 in teak wood and in Shan architectural style. The temple is prominently placed on top of a hill, overseeing the Mekong River. Until 2013, when one arrived at Houayxay's pier, it was a few meters walk the road up to the main road parallel to the river. On the other side a long stairway began (and still does), which leads up to the Wat.

Houayxay's Governeurs Palace by Asienreisender

A palazzo prozzo for the ruling communist functionaries: the governor's new palace in Houayxay. The image left shows the state of the affair in 12/2011, the image right in 1/2013. Meanwhile it's certainly complete. Images and photocomposition (2014) by Asienreisender


Bokeo Province

Houayxay is also the capital of Bokeo Province. On the busses from Oudomxay the destination Houayxay is frequently signed out as 'Bokeo'. There is practically no other place of significance in Bokeo Province.

The 4th Thailand/Laos Friendship Bridge over the Mekong River by Asienreisender

The 4th Thailand/Laos friendship bridge over the Mekong River, some five kilometers south of Houayxay. A new bridgehead is under construction, meanwhile completed: it's the custom office with a number of more buildings and an expanded, new road. The colours look so strange because of the heavy air pollution in the greater Golden Triangle. Image by Asienreisender, 3/2013

Unique is therefore the wildife of 'Bokeo Nature Reserve'. It got a reputation for the presence of the last Black Crested Gibbons, who were for a time believed to be extinct already, when they were (re-)discovered in the remote forests of Bokeo Province. Besides the gibbons there are some wild water buffalos and elephants living there, together with bears and allegedly some last tigers. Years ago there were only 30 tigers assumed to still live in the wild in Laos. A tiger's corpse, sold on a Chinese market, would bring as much as $US 70,000. A great number of superstitious Chinese with too much purchase power believe in the magical powers of tiger ingredients in form of Chinese medicine. The selling of animals of all kinds in Boten for a time gave a very bad example of this weired believes.

However, the Greater Mekong Subregion is rich in wildlife, and many plants and animals haven't even been discovered yet. A recent World Wildlife Fund publication (June 2014) describes 367 new species discovered in the two years 2012 - 2013 along the magnificient Mekong River. In Bokeo Province still live many seldom and very seldom animals. The new bridge and the expanded road nr. 3 don't do the wildlife any good. There have been large impacts along this former jungle road for the sake of agrarian monocultures. Poaching brings a lot of money for local hunters, worth the little risk of coming in trouble with widely meaningless laws for environmental protection.

Street View Houayxay by Asienreisender

Houayxay's main street. Image by Asienreisender, 4/2010

The Mekong River at Houayxay/Chiang Khong is also already overfished. The big fish are all disappeared in the last years. More fishermen with more and better equipment don't harvest more fish. The population decline will lead to a decrease of catches in the soon future. Particularly the Giant Mekong Catfish, the largest sweetwater fish in the world, and a symbol of the region and Chiang Khong particularly, has disappeared. Idiotically the great species of catfish are considered a delicacy and it's a question of status to eat them for a high price in the restaurants. In fact the scavengers are certainly not healthier than other fish or chicken - on the contrary there will be a higher concentration of toxicants in their meat than in other animals who are not at the end of the food chain.

However, there is not only a great variety of wild animals living in Bokeo, but also a large diversity of different ethnics. Bokeo is, like north Laos generally, tribal territory. There are at least 34 different ethnic groups counted in the province, including Akha, Hmong, Khamu, Shan, Tai Daeng, Tai Khao, Tai Lue and many more. Together with the lowland Laotians and an increasing number of Chinese immigrants they shape the towns and villages.

The only industries here, beside the new plantation economies run mostly by foreigners, are mining for semiprecious stones and gold.

Due to it's status as a provincial capital Houayxay got in the last years also a new, representative (bombastic) new governor's palace.

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Published on June 15th, 2014