Laos // The far north //

Xieng Kok and around

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A rowdy frontier town on a remote stretch of the Mekong, XIENG KOK is the last river-town stop before China. The Upper Mekong scenery here is fantastic, the river narrow, fast and studded with islets of craggy stone, and the region’s remoteness gives it a real wilderness feel. Xieng Kok is right on the border with Myanmar, though the crossing isn’t open to foreigners. The town itself has a ramshackle charm, not least because few tourists make the trip out here.

Buses to and from Muang Long and Muang Sing depart around 7/8am, though it can be much later if there aren’t enough passengers. From Xieng Kok it is possible to travel downriver, but note that the boatmen, who know well that many travellers need to get down to Houayxai and exit into Thailand before their visas expire, have a reputation for extorting money from tourists. Expect to pay upwards of $90 for a boat. Unless you can get onto a cargo boat making its way downriver, the only other option is by speedboat, which is not recommended due to their appalling safety record (see Down the Mekong).

Some boats will only agree to travel as far as Muang Mom, about an hour’s trip north of Houayxai by speedboat, from which it should be easy enough to arrange a boat for the final stretch. There’s basic guesthouse accommodation available here (40,000K and under), and the usual noodle stalls.

There’s a handful of places to stay in Xieng Kok, the best of which is the Xieng Kok Resort (40,500–80,000K), on the embankment overlooking the river and landing. The self-contained wooden bungalows all have en-suite bathrooms (with squat toilet) and charming balconies overlooking the Mekong. Another popular choice is Khemkong Guesthouse & Restaurant (40,500–80,000K), above the boat landing and close to where buses normally drop off. The double rooms here are passable; some have en suites with squat toilets and bucket showers. All guesthouses have attached restaurants, though don’t expect any culinary marvels. Electricity in Xieng Kok is from private generators and generally available from dusk until 9pm.

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