Separated from Thailand by the mother river that is the Mekong, Huay Xai (ຫ້ວຍຊາຍ) is, for many, their first impression of Laos. While that used to be a bad thing, this oddly charming town has perked up in recent years. By night roadside food vendors take to the streets, and there are some welcoming traveller guesthouses and cafes serving tasty food.
Huay Xai was allegedly home to a US heroin-processing plant during the Secret War, but these days the only things trafficked through are travellers en route to Luang Prabang or the fabled Gibbon Experience, the most talked-about adventure in the country. Yet, with new day trips to nearby ethnic villages, worthwhile voluntourism opportunities and kayaking tours down the Mekong, there are good reasons to stick around for a while.