We had to leave Thailand on 14th February as our 30-day visa expired then. Unfortunately, we weren’t booked into the Gibbon Experience trip until 17th February and they were fully booked so we couldn’t bring this forward. This meant we had three nights and 2 1/2 days to kill in Huay Xai. Huay Xai is a tiny little border town which usually sees tourists stop for one night there, if at all, to either start the Gibbon Experience from here or board the slow boat here. It consists of a single street of minimarts, restaurants, bars and guesthouses all of which are on the slightly pricier side (for a backpacker budget). This is usually fine as most people do not stay long but with three days/ nights to burn it was more of a struggle to find cheap food for us. The whole experience there was very mediocre and disappointing.
On first arriving in the town we looked around some guesthouses and chose a private room with bathroom at Sabaydee guesthouse for 90 000kip per night. We made this our base for the few days we were there so at least we had our own space and could spread out a bit. We wandered down the street to find some food and were surprised that we couldn’t find that much food within our budget (we were trying to stick to 15 000- 20 000 kip per meal).
We ended up at the Riverside Restaurant which had great views of the Mekong and got ourselves a BeerLao to celebrate getting to Laos. We also ended up being the only ones there and we still had to go over to the waitress to order as she was just constantly playing games on her phone, seeming a bit put out when we ordered food. When it eventually came quite a long time later it was very average- bland “noodles” in gravy which were more like pasta squares. After walking back down the street we returned to Sabaydee to chill out on the balcony area. In the evening we were excited to go to the Terrasse and Chill restaurant as I had read great reviews on trip advisor especially of them having amazing sandwiches. When we got up there though there seemed to be a family or locals group on Terrasse playing loud awful music and we were ushered onto the other Terrasse. Safe to say when we took our seats there was definitely no one else eating there. Plus there weren’t even sandwiches on the menu. We ended up sharing some fried chicken and sticky rice so we didn’t go way over budget but the whole evening was a disappointment. Instead of heading out to a bar we went back to our room and watched a film- Edge of 17.
Our second day was a bit more positive. We ended up going to a baguette shop for breakfast where we had breakfast baguettes (15 000kip) and coffee (5000 kip). The food was very nice and they also had a little girl (about 4) who after taking our order began playing pat-a-cake and wrestling with Dave which she found hilarious and was very cute (p.s she was super strong).
After breakfast, we took a leisurely stroll to the slow boat pier (outside of town about 10-15 mins) in order to find out how far it was and to see if we could find the ticket office. We got there about 11.30am, the boat is supposed to leave at 11 am but there were still people boarding the boat when we got there. We did not see signs for the ticket office and honestly did not look too hard for it as we know someone would point us to it on the day.
After walking back to Sabaydee with relaxed on the balcony catching up with writing blog posts and eating lunch of a bag of crisps and a Lipton ice tea. We had thought it would be cheaper to buy a few bits for lunch from the shop than to go out for lunch, however, those two things plus a bottle of water end up costing up 40 000kip!
In the afternoon we thought we would treat ourselves to a massage. We went to the Lao Red Cross Massage and Herbal Sauna just a few minutes out of the town towards the slow boat pier. We paid 50 000kip for a ‘relaxing’ massage. We were given massage clothes- baggy pants and a loose fitting top to put on in the changing room and our items were put into a small locker. We were then told to lay down in a small makeshift room on the rest of the terrace(consisting of one wall, the set of lockers, and two sides which were open to the outside and the rest of the terrace). There were curtains on the terrace sides however these were not pulled so we were given no privacy from the full family below watching from the connecting terrace. It was a weird experience being massaged firmly, punched sort of lightly, manipulated into some painful positions and slapped with the edge of the masseuse’s hands all as we were being watched! Parts of it were relaxing and enjoyable but these were often rudely disrupted by something painful. I think we came away in more pain than being more relaxed! In the evening we had very spicy salads at a local restaurant whilst we chatted away to Laura who we had met on the bus to Huay Xai. We went back to the Riverside Restaurant for a beer and continued chatting away with her whilst also watching a strange Asian drama the local children had on.
The next day we had a very lazy morning before venturing out for breakfast and coffee at the Dream Bakery. We checked in at the Gibbon Experience as you have to do this the day before you go. This consisted of us signing our lives away if anything were to happen or if we were mauled by bears! They also gave us a small piece of paper as a checklist of things to bring. We then walked up to another naga staircase to Wat Chome Khaou Maniratn, the temple at the top of the hill. Although we couldn’t go inside the artwork on the outside of the temple was surprisingly beautiful. The top of the hill also gave great views of the town below and the Mekong river.
From here we followed the signs down and across the back of town to Fort Canot. This was an old military fort. It is supposed to be locked off however a wall has blown down giving access to it. We climbed up to the top of the fort using the metal staircase and creaky old wooden steps, being careful to test each area before putting our full weight on it. The views at the top of the surrounding area and the river were stunning. We got baguettes again for lunch and then packed our bags ready for the Gibbon Experience (you can only take a small rucksack with you and you leave your large one/ valuables with them in their basement). For dinner, we went to Ming Meaung restaurant and had one of the best meals we had in Huay Xai for cheap. I had a noodle soup which was tasty despite it being very peppery and Dave had Pad Thai which was surprisingly good. I also tried Laoatian coffee (strong and sweet due to the condensed milk they put in!)
The next morning we ventured to the Gibbon Experience (leaving only one more night left in Huay Xai after it!).