Houei Xai & entering Laos @ FB4 / Friendship Bridge 4 from Chiang Khong.


Staff member
Jan 16, 2003
Chiang Khong
A weekend in Houei Xai.
Why? When I first moved to Chiang Khong after 35 years in Chiang Mai, one of my fantasies was to be able to do lots quick 'n easy trips to Laos, maybe China & even a Xieng Kok loop & a Muang Sing loop.

Why I moved to Chiang Khong


Whilst Chiang Khong is still a magic little spot for me, the fantasy of little loops through Laos/ China / Myanmar didn't eventuate for multiple reasons.
Computers, bureaucracy & corruption all made it more difficult, not easier for border crossings!
Once upon a time, before computers, it was actually easier to cross borders where your details were simply written in a book, with some details ignored or even fudged. There were no boxes to tick & supporting documents to be submitted & verified. ;)
For years I rode my Africa Twin to / from Laos with no rego, you simply write down some engine & chassis details with no check 99% of the time. It is what it was and nobody really cared. They all knew you & away you went, and then computers came. Grrh. : unamused:


2004 crossing to Laos with a Kafe sticker on the bike for rego.

Sadly, for the border crossings China, never relaxed the regulations to facilitate travel, and Myanmar never came to agreement with the Shan to open the border at Kenglat opposite Xieng Kok.


In 2019, a bike crash in Laos enroute to Luang Prabang

and then 3 years of covid

and then another bike crash near Chiang Khong in 2022
all kept me out of Laos for too long!

The old ferry crossing downtown Chiang Khong used to be so much fun, 500 baht for the ferry and away you went.

Sometimes it seems as if it was easier & quicker!

From 2013, the downtown ferry port was closed for international crossings & we all had to use the bridge FB4.
Like all the Friendship Bridges they facilitated trade & cargo for the big companies out of town, but for the local traders downtown, they all lost a lot of business; and just for many restaurants they all lost their lunch time walk in trade from customs & immigration officials downtown. With the bridges so far out of town, and most of them are 5-10 kms away, those bridge officials sought out new places to go.

A busy Chiang Khong ferry port 2003.

Building the FB4

Time to head back to Houei Xai & the GT after several years absence.

Entry to the Chiang Khong FB4 port, 6 kms out of town.

My departure for my weekend getaway was late & somewhat "delayed" on account of getting my days mixed up.
In the morning I got an invite from Luca to meet up for a Flow Brekky @2.20PM, which I gratefully accepted.
Then 2hrs beforehand I realised that I was supposed to in HX & not at the Flow.
However with the bridge not closing until 10PM, I thought what the heck, just crossover at dusk or in the early evening, there will be less traffic too, so it will actually be easier. And so it was!

Nobody there

The proceedure, hasn't changed in years. Stop at the line & proceed to complete the necessary paperwork.

1. Get your immigration forms TM2 Information of Conveyance & TM4 Crew List for the vehicle you taking out of the country.


(The immigration staff were a bit slack completing the forms for me, as they knew me & that I was returning home to Chiang Khong after my weekend getaway.)

2. Get your immigration exit stamp & present the TM2 & TM4.

After you've done immigration, move your bike forward to the customs booth after the immigration booth.

3. Complete the customs temporary export papers .

A completed customs temporary export form

If you have crossed the Thai border with the same vehicle before, your detail should be in the customs computer & they will rapidly print out the form for you sign. They are efficient. If the bike's details are not in the computer, then it may take 5-10 minutes for the data to be put into the computer.

Overstay Fines.
Many people have asked me recently about the overstay fines for export / import.
According to the customs officer who did my paperwork, there are two scenarios.
1. Thai registration. the maximum fine is 1,000 baht regardless of how long the bike overstays!
However, if you are going on an extended trip, please advise the main customs office from where you are exiting.
2. Foreign registration. the fine is 1,000 baht a day, maximum 10,000 baht.

Start to finish on the Thai side = 25 minutes. Exceptional service & no excess fees asked for.
It could not be easier.

Customs paperwork dome, move your bike forward again, park it on the designated spot for a photo. Then off you go across the bridge.

Crossing the bridge

New staff housing alongside the bridge, in preparation for the proposed one-stop service coming, once the train line is operating?




Entering Laos & the new Houei Xai city project which seems to have come to a halt. Financial issues? No one I asked in Houei Xai seems to know the answer.

Entering Laos

Same as on the Thai side. Park your bike carefully behind the line.

The procedure, clear immigration first.
1. Get your visa on Arrival

2. Go to the immigration booth & get stamped into Laos.

Move your bike forward to the customs booth. Park behind the line.

3. Police Security Clearance

The gentleman here was most polite & efficient entering the bike & my details in the computer.
On my last entry there was a giant touch screen where you entered your own details.
I asked what happened to this machine. We don't use that anymore, stopped years ago?? Strange I thought.


3. Pay your registration fee & get a sticker @ the LDB.

4. Clear customs,

No friendly cop, looking to extort money 2,000 baht for entering Laos!
All friendly staff, looking for something to do & someone to talk to perhaps?
Total cost including 150 baht insurance, was 300 baht I think + Laos visa cost.
Total time = 30 minutes = zero complaints.
It couldn't have been easier. Welcome to Laos.

30 minutes later downtown HX.

The Riverside HX is great for undercover parking & location.

Kicking back in Houei Xai looking at Chiang Khong.

more to come, looking for old contacts & checking what's going on in HX / Bokeo...
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Staff member
Jan 16, 2003
Chiang Khong
Downtown Houei Xai city was almost like a ghost town.
First night in downtown HX city.

Cars parked up but zero activity.

The BAP Guesthouse

Sadly, the loveable, charming French speaking old lady owner had passed on since my last visit.
She was a dynamic wonderful woman, who used to sell tens of GTR Laos maps in the hay day of the map business; and I had many an interesting chat with her discussing tourism, back packers& business. She was undoubtedly one of Houei Xai's characters.

Admittedly it was a weekend, but the only people you see in the streets are the backpacker boat trippers, and they are only there early morning before catching the boat, or late in the day after the boat arrives.

Everyone else stayed indoors out of the heat, or as in the case of the Gecko Restaurant, they had a group of "housewives" playing bingo, I think it was, for 2-days solid.

Multiple tour & boat companies have closed up shop.

A few massage shops were the only notable new businesses I saw open..

Sadly, for me too, the owners of the Houay Say Riverside hotel, had also passed on.
On my very first trip into Laos in 95 they had a popular little restaurant in the main street we ate there.
The food was always good & thereafter I always used their restaurant.
Eventually they built the Riverside Houay Say hotel & it was the place to eat & stay at for years in HX.

The HX Riverside in 2011


Post covid 2023 it's looking a bit drab, with the restaurant no longer operating for the public.

A winner though was at the Oudomphone 2 hotel. Both Mum & Dad still going & still damn happy.
I stayed at their original hotel the Keo Oudomphone multiple times, then they opened the Oudomphone2 in the centre of town.

2008 with Robert Hiekel + Mum & daughter.

2023 with Mum & Dad

The highlight of HX though was meeting up with a really old mate John "kowsali" Connel.
John arrived in Chiang Mai around the same time as me, + John Spies. We became mates over the years & my very first trip out to Cave Lodge (pre cave lodge) was with John in a pickup, that got stuck in the mud at night on the trail from Soppong out to Ban Tham. Connell knew the way & had to walk in the dark to get John Spies at his then house. Spiesy had to come with his old Landrover to tow us out! We go back that far. Connell was working with wheat & an NGO getting farmers to grow wheat & make bread in Thailand.
Eventually he moved onto Laos with another NGO & we lost contact while Laos was "closed."
Fast forward to 95 then & on the very first bike trip into Laos, I was in HX only 30 minutes (before hotel check in) & I bumped into John Connell in the street. We were both speechless.
In 2023 then I had not been in HX for several years & lost contact with John who had retired to Australia, except he was back in HX, out of retirement, with a new aid project in HX. And there he was in almost exactly the same spot walking down the main street of HX city, less than 50 metres from where I saw him in 95!!! We weren't speechless this time & had a lot to talk about.
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Staff member
Jan 16, 2003
Chiang Khong
On an afternoon visit to the hilltop Wang View restaurant I met another NGO guy Frank, whom I had not met for several years, and we both struggled to remember the last time and location, it had been so long.

2023 in Houei Xai @ the Wang View

Life has obviously been good to all of us, Frank, Connell & myself, some of you would say.

A note on the Wang View: it is the # 1 night spot in HX, with live music, a disco & a karaoke.

The view from the restaurant is stupendous.


But the food sucks! The research assistant & I both deemed the food inedible & left most of it.
Not fit for human consumption we thought!

So, should you go eat & have a few drinks at the Wang View, just stick to some snack food to go with your beer. Don't order food for a meal!

Highlight of the Wang View though was a young Khamu gal from Pha Oudom 30 kms from Houei Xai.

New on the job, she was keen to learn about the outside world from both the research assistant and lung.
We had a fascinating one-hour conversation with her about her family & life in the back blocks of Pha Oudom.
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Staff member
Jan 16, 2003
Chiang Khong
Back in downtown Houei Xai city.

My Lao Restaurant has expanded on the river front & even taken over the old port immigration office.

The original restaurant

The view across the river to CK


The expanded section that now includes the old immigration office.




Mar 29, 2021
Fantastic Laos trip.
Thanks for all news✌️
Who can stop you now after the rehabilitation


Staff member
Jan 16, 2003
Chiang Khong
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Staff member
Jan 16, 2003
Chiang Khong
14 kms upstream from Houei Xai, where the Mekong river narrows & passes through a narrower rocky section is a shrine for a Lao princess, one of the daughters of the last Lao King Chao Anuvong, who drowned in a boating accident.

It is an important shrine & the locals come often to pray & make merit.
Most of the vehicles driving past also toot their horns as they go by.


The location of the princess shrine marks the spot on the river where the boat went down.




I seem to recall that the tragedy involved a Buddha image being paraded around the countryside, but I cannot find the story???


Jurgen has mentioned it on GTR here

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Staff member
Jan 16, 2003
Chiang Khong
Kings Roman - the Lao Vegas & Sin City

From the "Lost princess shrine" it 41 kms upstream to the wild west casino sin city of Kings Roman / Ton Phueng.

The road is generally narrow bumpy asphalt / concrete with a few trailer trucks that you should take care of.

The turn off to Ton Phueng.

Ton Phueng used to be the sleepy little village opposite Chiang Saen.
In 2023 though it is the scene of a building frenzy & booming with kms of pubs, restaurants, karaoke, phone & beauty shops, servicing the masses working / visiting the Kings Roman Megalopolis.

Outside the main attraction, the Kapok Star wonder hotel.




In 2010 it all looked likethis:



The old road from Houei Xai:

In 2023 the road from Houei Xai:




The change is unbelievable & a bit frightening.

I never imagined there would be such a fully developed, functioning city behind the casino facade you see from across the river in Thailand; but indeed there are apartment blocks, shopping malls, pubs, restaurants, karaoke, phone, shoe & beauty shops. It is amazing & deserves more exploration - I need to return & check it all out!

Some Chinese tourist attractions.





It should be noted that generally in the heat of the day there are few people out & about.
Hence there are few people in these photos.
Then at dusk the punters start coming out like thousands of termites after a shower of rain.
I would have liked to stay longer, to witness the night scene, but time was up for the day.

Some night time images from the Thai side:



Not sure what is going on - some info - how the hell could this happen!
The GTSEZ is run by a Chinese-born gangster-tycoon Zhao Wei, who in 2007 secured a 99-year lease for kms of prime paddy land on the Mekong River, basically stretching from Ton Phueng to the Golden Triangle.

Zhao Wei was born Liaoning, China on 16 September 1952.
Starting as a timber trader he moved to Macau in the 1990s & invested in casinos & gambling.
In 2001 then Zhao moved to Mong La on the Myanmar / China border and founded a casino franchise, Landun Entertainment.
In 2005, this complex ran foul of the Chinese authorities who imposed a travel ban to Mong La following reports of officials gambling & losing state funds. The travel ban caused the casinos to shut down.
The same also happened with the casinos at Boten on the Laos / China border, where China state officials, gambled away government money, ran up debts & were detained until they paid their debbts, or were even killed!
In 2007 Zhao Wei popped up again with a new casino biz - the 99-year King Roman lease. Construction soon started & has proceeded at a frightening pace ever since.

More info

As crooked as he is, laundering money, he has great influence in the area; and has secured 2 more long term leases. One near the Plain of Jars and one near the Vietnam border in Saravan.

Perhaps the most famous incident related to the GTSEZ was the 2011 murder of 13 Chinese Sailors on a boat loaded with drugs, that was "highjacked."

Yesterday, ASTV Manager Online, that has for years been reporting on news in the Golden Triangle, presented a clearer (but still incomplete) picture of what happened to the two Chinese cargo ships and their crew last October.

According to the report, the two ships were seized by Naw Kham, “the freshwater pirate”, who has been running a protection racket in the area since 2007, on 4 November. One of the crew women had then made a call to Thailand’s Chiang Saen to inform about what had taken place. This had sealed the fate of herself and the rest of the crew, it says.

On the next day, the two boats were stormed and taken by the Thai Army’s Pha Mueng Task Force.

On 6 October, Pha Mueng and the Office of the Narcotics Control Board (ONCB) officials held a press conference to explain the previous day’s events.

According to them, Pha Mueng received information at 06:00 on 5 October about the hijacking of the two boats and had accordingly organized a team to intercept them.

At 10:30, the two ships turned up and seeing the Thai officials trying to head them off, the unidentified armed men on the ships fired at the officials and later escaped in a speedboat. The catch, Pha Mueng and ONCB said, included 1 dead armed man and 920,000 pills of “yaba” (methamphetamines).

On 7 October, the dead crewmen and women started floating up on the river one after another.

On 28 October, Thai police summoned 9 Pha Mueng officers to face two charges: killing of 13 Chinese crewmen and women and concealing evidence, which the officers had promptly denied.

However, there are still two Jigsaw pieces missing, the report says: two well known men living in the nearby Maesai district: “Uncle N” and “Mr S”, who is Uncle N’s relative. (A source in Maesai told SHAN “Uncle N” was none other than Olarn Somphongphan aka Chamras Phacharoen, a known “Chao Paw” (Godfather) in the district.

Due to the disappearance of the two who are believed to have gone underground, at least three questions remain unanswered:

Where did the drugs originate?
Who seized the boats and killed the crew?
Who would be the recipient of the drugs?

A local who wished to remain anonymous said one way to find it out is to look at the year’s events that had made headlines in the area and piece them together:

4 April 2011
A ship belonging to Kings Romans Casino on the Laotian side of the Mekong seized and 19 crewmen abducted. Zhao Wei, the casino owner, was reported to have paid a hefty B 22 million ($730,000) ransom to Naw Kham

21 September 2011
Burmese and Laotian security forces attacked Naw Kham’s men at Sri Dorn Mee island, 25 km north of the Triangle. 20 of his men were said to have been killed, while 4 of the wounded came to Chiangrai for medical treatment

26 September 2011
Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister announced that Kings Romans was raided and 20 sacks of yaba pills were seized

5 October 2011
Pha Mueng seized two cargo ships, one either belonging to Zhao Wei or his associate Ah Ming

Updated (1 December 2011)
According to ASTV report, 30 November, there were 4 boats manned by an unknown armed group escorting the two cargo ships into Thai waters on 5 October. 9 Thai officers who are under investigation meanwhile say they had only fired warning shots.

It remains unclear who killed the Chinese crewmen on board the Hua Ping and Yu Xing 8 boats on Oct 5.
But nine army personnel of the 3rd Army Region's Pha Muang Task Force came under suspicion and have since been charged with the murders.
One initial account says the soldiers intercepted the Hua Ping and Yu Xing 8 as they entered a stretch of the Mekong and found 920,000
methamphetamine pills and one dead body on board one of the boats.

Other bodies were later retrieved from the river. Most were blindfolded, tied up and had bullet wounds.
The nine soldiers have denied the charges, blaming a drug trafficking gang from Shan State in Myanmar led by Nor Kham, who they said had hijacked the cargo boats.

A source at the northern branch of the Office of the Narcotics Control Board said criminal violence along the Mekong mostly involves drug
trafficking gangs betraying each other.
The source said there are four criminal groups with vested interests in trading, drug trafficking and protection money along the Mekong which is
the principal transport route for cargoes from Xishuangbanna through to ports in Myanmar, Laos and Thailand's Chiang Saen. There are 13 trade
ports dotted along the route.

See also

Enjoy, there is a lot of interesting history in the top North.
Read up on it a bit & it makes the ride a lot more rewarding.
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