Getting there and away
There is no bus station or official bus stop in Xieng Kok. One unpaved, very bumpy dusty road leads to Muang Long and Muang Sing. Arriving buses usually stop near the boat landing and border checkpoint.
Departing buses will drive through town looking for passengers, so the general rule is to stand out on the street until one comes past or ask around. The one daily minibus is scheduled to depart at 07:00, but it needs enough passengers to make the journey worthwhile and it may drive around the block looking. If there are no passengers and you have no time to wait, then your other option is to pay for the whole bus. Negotiation skills will influence the price you pay, as will the cost of petrol and the number of other passengers.
Sample fares on the public bus include:
Muang Long for 20,000 kip (23 km, takes 1 hour)
Muang Sing for 50,000 kip (75 km, takes 3 hours, changing buses in Muang Long)
The boat ride down the Mekong River towards Huay Xai is a beautiful and adventurous journey that very few foreign tourists make.
There are no regular public boat services but slow boats laden with cargo frequently pass by. Head to the landing and negotiate. Given that your options at this point are limited, bank on about 1,000 baht or 250,000 kip for you as a foreigner, or more depending on the number of passengers and water buffalos. It’s a 5-6 hour journey to Ban Mom, and the village has a small guesthouse should you get stuck there. Or better yet, head further downriver to Ton Pheung, just south of the gaudy Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone/Kings Roman Casino (which is across the river from Chiang Saen, Thailand). From either Ban Mom or Ton Pheung you can take a songthaew to Huay Xai but they are more frequent from Ton Pheung (60 km, 1.5 hours on good road).
Don’t count on being able to take a speedboat anywhere between Huay Xai and Xieng Kok. We were told that it was not possible due to dry season water levels and exposed rocks, but it’s quite possible that drivers are also still skittish about the spate of attacks by armed Burmese gangs in 2012. If you do find a willing speedboat driver in rainy season, it’s a charter-your-own-boat affair and it will be costly, anywhere between 4,000 to 7,000 baht to Ban Mom or Ton Pheung.
Many foreign offices warn to exercise caution along the Mekong River border with Burma as it is a well-known drug trade route operated by armed groups. That’s part of the reason why local boat drivers are so vigilant about being off the river before it gets dark and why no one (except those up to no good) travels on the river at night. The Lao military have also been known to shoot at boats after dark.
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