Bokeo, one of Laos’ hidden gems

Welcoming Visit Laos Year 2018, Vientiane Times is publishing a series of feature articles and images inviting you to experience the authentic nature, culture, history and hospitality of Laos, Jewel of the Mekong.

You might think that 10 days in the small town of Huayxai district, Bokeo province, is rather a long time for a visitor, but you will soon find out that there is plenty of interest in the area and the days will fly by.
This was my second visit after I first went there two years ago. I didn’t make many plans but my main reason for going was to attend the Kapok Flower Festival held on a small island in Tonpheung district. There are so many kapok trees that it looks as though they were cultivated at one time.
It’s a wonderful festival and there were many visitors - from Laos, Thailand and Myanmar - as it’s within the Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone.

Sunset at Chomkao Minilat temple.

On my way back I stopped to spend an hour or so at the Ancient Princess Sculpture, known locally as Phapha, which was built in the 5th Century and lies 15 kilometres to the north of Huayxai near Pakngao village.
Local people told me it was a shrine to King Anouvong’s daughter to mark her death after she was killed in a boat accident on the Mekong. Many people like to stop here to pay respect and pray for good luck
On my return to Huayxai I went to the tourist office to get a pamphlet about local attractions and ask for suggestions.
I didn’t need a car or motorbike to get around because the town is not that big and the weather was cool so it was pleasant to walk.
I walked along a road close to the Mekong for about 15 minutes and came across an old French fort which was built in the 1900s during a period of French occupation. Then I went to Vangview Market which has a lot of local produce including plants foraged from woodlands.
There are many nice restaurants in the town where you can always find good food, especially by the river, but you need to get there early for dinner because they don’t stay open late.
Every morning there’s an almsgiving procession through Huayxai just as in Luang Prabang but on a much smaller scale.
I spent two days and a night at the Gibbon Experience at the Ban Toub Forest Conservation Centre which was truly wonderful. I went hiking and sped along a zip-line, as well as spending the night in a treehouse.
This was the best forest I had seen in Laos because it was large and full of big trees and in the morning I could hear the sounds of many different animals.
The full programme was three days and two nights but I had to leave a day early because I wanted to take part in the book festival with Reading Elephant Laos.
The book festival was a huge success because it was the start of the new school term so all the children had books and pencils.
The festival started with some game playing after which the staff read some stories from the books and then the children read them.
The happy event ended with the distribution of books, pencils and some sports materials to the children and teachers.
Afterwards we went to a nice restaurant by the Nam Tin dike where there are many huts on a wooden bridge. You can ask a boatman to take you around the lake or you can just stay in the middle.
It’s a great place to come in the afternoon and loiter until evening so that you get to see the sunset and the locals doing some fishing.
Back in town, I spent a few days at the Reading Elephant Laos bookshop to help children read storybooks, play some games, and practise a bit of English.
One of the things you shouldn’t miss during a visit here is Chomkhao Minilat temple. This is very large and located on the top of a hill in the centre of Huayxai and was built in 1880.
It is a holy place that is worshipped by everyone in the area, with special activities held there from time to time. You can learn about the history of the temple which is related to the settlement of Huayxai.
You can see pictures of the Sithon and Manola folktale carved on the door and images of the Phavetsadone tale on the walls of the monastery.
Most visitors like to go there in the late afternoon to get a fantastic view of the sunset, while the early morning is a good time to catch the sunrise.
My visit was particularly enjoyable because I had plenty of time to take things slowly and really enjoy my experiences. Of course, there were many places I didn’t have time to get to but for me that’s always a good excuse to return.

By Patithin Phetmeuangphuan
(Latest Update February 6, 2018)

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