After Luang Namtha, my next destination was Huay Xai, otherwise referred to as Boteng. This is something to be aware of for Laos, many of the towns are known by completely different names. And it’s not even necessarily a local vs. tourist thing as it is in places like Myanmar. I believe Boteng is the Province that holds Huay Xai, but it seems like most people refer to this town as Boteng.
I spent three nights in this town, though you’d have a hard time finding any tourist who spends more than one night here, if that. The town is right at a big border crossing with Thailand (across the river) and is the starting point for two-day slow boat journeys to Luang Prabang. Most tourists get picked up directly at the border crossing by a boat tour company and go directly onto the boat. The town is also known for being the starting point for a program called the Gibbons Experience. The program essentially entails going deep into the jungle where the company has established a network of zip lines, exploring the jungle by day via ziplines, and sleeping in tree huts for 1-3 nights. It’s kind of expensive for Lao, but comes highly recommended (though you will be sleeping in the jungle so if the sounds of insects and rodents moving around disturbs you, probably not the place for you). I was in town to catch a slow boat to Luang Prabang.
A shot of the town. There is really not much at all to do in town aside from visiting two Buddhist complexes and walking around a bit. I did little more than sleep in and work on photos during my stay in town:
It turned out that my hotel was a 20 minute ride from the centre of town (some 12 km). At first, I thought this would pose no problem at all because I’ve had no difficulty renting mopeds in Lao. However, once I got into town I very quickly determined that literally no one rents out scooters or bicycles in the whole city. I still haven’t figured out if it’s some scam to force people who want to see the surrounding areas to sign up for a pricey guided tour. There was one company that had scooters, but you could only hire one as part of an organized tour–$50 USD vs. the usual $10 CDN I pay for a rental. In any event, getting into town was not a problem because the hotel offered a free shuttle one-way, but getting back proved to be more complicated because the few tuk tuks available in town shut down for the night at 6:00 pm. I ended up finding the son of a shop owner in town who would take me to my hotel on his motorbike for about $6 CDN. Luckily he was available each of my three nights–a good solution for a solo travel, good luck finding your way back if you’re travelling as a couple.
The remote location of the hotel combined with what I assume to be its regular abundance of vacancies proved to be just what I needed. One thing that you need to know about Lao is that there are roosters EVERYWHERE and their alarm clocks are broken. They generally get going sometime between 3:00 – 4:30 am and don’t shut up until the entire neighbourhood is awake. Because the hotel was in the middle of nowhere, I finally avoided the roosters and had a few nights of solid sleep. It also turned out to be the fanciest of my hotel stays in Lao, and I eventually even got into the grandiose Chinese-communist vibe of the building. In my entire time there, I’m pretty sure that I only ever saw two other sets of guests, which is odd given that the hotel has tons of rooms. I eventually figured out that the hotel is all about special events like weddings, and is otherwise empty.
The hotel had many strange features. One was an immense bar on the lobby level which was always empty, but which they opened up if you requested it. On my first night there a drunken crew of four women came in after I had the place opened and belted out karaoke on stage for a few hours.
The second odd feature of the hotel was the huge karaoke area in the basement. They had about 8 decent-sized private rooms that you could hire out by the hour for a few bucks. This was the only part of the hotel where I actually saw people, I think the hotel is one of the better known places in the area for karaoke. And yes, I realise that it looks more like a brothel than karaoke lounge, but I was never propositioned, so I’m pretty sure it’s all about the karaoke:
I tried to make the most of my stay, so I spent a fair bit of time walking around taking pictures of the place. City was pretty enough, aside from the lack of scooter rentals I was pretty happy. I had a mellow set of days there and managed to get some much-needed rest after my hectic days of travel up north:
Wat Chomkao Manilat, a Buddhist monastery:
I figured I should take a shot of this place. It was one of the few chill restaurants in town that I could comfortably sit in all day, so I spent a good four hours per day there editing shots:
On my second night in town, I decided to give one of the karaoke rooms at my hotel a go. I’ve been to plenty of karaoke bars in my time, but I’ve always been way too shy to sing, so I figured that renting a room for an hour was the obvious solution. The prior night, I’d met one of the employees at the hotel, a cool kid attending his first year of university, and he’d promised to show me the ropes. So I found the kid, and got to singing:
As you can tell from my emotional face, I got into character fast, sadly sounding a lot like Meatloaf:
For those of you interested in the cherry-popping songs of the night, here it goes:
1. It’s not Unusual
2. New York New York
3. These Boots are made for Walking (not the most masculine song, but hey I was running short on choices, and it’s a kick-ass song).
4. My Way.
5. With or Without You.
I’ll leave you a final shot of my walks Huay Xai: