Xayaboury Province - Things to See and Do

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Lone Rider

Blokes Who Can
Jan 29, 2011
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About Xayaboury - Things to See and Do

Xayaboury Province (sometimes spelled as Sayaboury, Xayabury, Xaignabouly and other variants) with Xayaboury town as its capital is situated in the northwest of Laos. It shares borders with Vientiane and Luang Prabang provinces in the east, Bokeo and Oudomxai provinces in the north and Thailand in the west. This mountainous province has several peaks with altitudes of more than 1,000 meters.

It covers an area of 16,389 square kilometers and has a population of over 352,000 people (2007). There are several different ethnic groups including Lao, Tai Lue, Tai Dam, Khmu, Prai, Htin, Kri, Akha, Hmong, Yuan and Mlabri. It has 10 Districts: Sayaboury, Khop, Hongsa, Ngeun, Xienghone, Phiang, Paklai, Kenethao, Botene and Thongmyxay


Elephant Festival Parade

Xayaboury Province is well known for elephants and the province hosts the Lao PDR's annual Elephant Festival around February of each year. This is an event that is gaining broader international recognition due to Sayaboury’s large elephant population, the animals importance in the livelihoods of local people, and the growing interest around the world in preserving this endangered mammal.

Laos is also known as the “Lane Chang or Land of a Million Elephants” and the province as the “Land of the Elephants”. However, estimates by the Elephant Conservation Center put its population to be closer to a thousand.


Xayaboury is mountainous and has a rugged landscape with lots of forested areas. The province is known for the production of rice, cotton, maize, peanuts, etc. as well as fruit like oranges, etc. The province has one national protected area (NPA) the Nam Phoui NPA (1,912 square kilometer) in the southern part of the province along the border with Thailand. Its area is rugged and mountainous with peaks that reach 1790 M.


The NPA has a substantial wild elephant population, with an estimated 350 animals. Gibbon, gaur, tiger, dhole, serow, silvered langur, Asiatic black bear, Malayan sun bear and possibly even Sumatran rhinos are some of the other large animals found in the area. It is also home to one of the last remaining hunter-gatherer tribe in South-East Asia, the Malabri (Mlabri) sometimes also called the “yellow leave people”.

The Tong Luang group, or Khao Pa Tong Luang in their full name, Khao Pa means “access to forest” and Tong Luang means “yellow leaves”. They use large leaves to make their camps and move to another place when the leaves become yellow – meaning they stay in the one place for a week and food sources are scarce so they have to move to settle in other places. This group has only 21 people with two communities in Nam Phui NPA, and the population has decreased from the previous figure (only 28 people in 2000). They have no children now, due to lack of choice for marriage - they are all relatives now. However, some couples also did disobey the taboo–marriage with their own relatives is reported. High mortality in child birth is also reported.​

In addition you can find waterfalls like the Na Kha, Ban Kum, Tad Ham and Tad Heuang waterfalls in the southern districts as well as caves and various other tourist attractions like ancient stupa’s and temples, etc. However, Xayaboury in the recent past was quite remote and only now, with the upgrading and paving of highway 4 which runs from north to south through the province, the area is opening up and as a result, Xayaboury is a destination “in the making”.


Traditional Boat Races near Paklai

Useful Contacts and Information

Xayaboury Provincial Tourism Office: Tel: 030-5180095
Email: sayaboury_ptd@tourismlaos.org http://www.ecotourismlaos.com/xayaboury.htm
Tourism Office Ngeun : Mr. Khamdee 020-55190586
Tourism Office Hongsa : Mr. Siphouvong 020-55778142
Tourism Office Xienghone : Mr. Bounmy 020-55977310
Tourism Office Xienghone : Mr. Bounmy 020-55977310
Tourism Office Khop : Mr. Say 020-55978470

The Xayaboury Cotton Group and Weaving Centre Mrs. Nuansy Ratanasithy, 020-55877042 and 074-213092 - email:nuansyratansithy@yahoo.com

There are international ATM's in Xayaboury and Hongsa and probably also in Paklay

Things to Do and See: There are lots of things to see and do in Xayaboury Province and its districts but you have your work cut out for you. Very little "hard information" is available for most of the attractions so you will need to depend on local guides to help find the caves, waterfalls, etc.

Attractions which are easy to find are consist of the Community Based Tourism (CBT) activities where local communities organize treks, home-stays, etc. One of the better know CBT's in Xayaboury are the “1000 Caves” in Ban Nathang/Ban Keo and the "Houay Namsay Medicinal Plant Preserve and Spa Centre" in Ban Houay Namkeang or a combination of both which is known as the Phaxang Circuit (trekking, boating, caving, etc.)


The Phaxang Circuit and one of the caves

Part of the 1000 Caves is the Tham Chia Khiu Cave which was named after the faint but pungent aroma of bat guano (bat droppings), the villagers favorite fertilizer, and also the source of gun-powder for villagers’ muskets in the past (Chia-khiu - smell of bats) or, if you are more adventurous (you will be totally immersed in water along the 1 km. long cave tunnel) do the Tham Nam Lot tunnel-cave exploration. The Nam Than river cuts a 1-km tunnel right through the mountain, known as Tham Nam Lot. While there, ask your local guide to bring you to a forested area nearby where all the plants seem to have giant leaves. Some of the taro-like Phouk (Alocasia macrorrhiza) have huge leaves and locally they are known as "elephant ear leaves".

Another CBT activity is the “Xayaboury Organic Cotton” cooperative which is based in Ngeun district. Here traditional techniques of natural dyeing and weaving are preserved. Another handicraft center is the Ban Nangoua Pottery. Outside Luang Prabang this is the only village in Laos that continues to make pottery the traditional way. They dig and prepare the clay manually and after making the pottery, fire them in a kiln dug out in the soil



There are also numerous other caves in other areas of the province but most, if not all, will require a local guide as they are rarely visited unless it is by local villagers during traditional ceremonies.

Near Ban Kham you will find the Ban Kham Cave (2 km from town) which is behind the Outhomcave temple and is a quiet place for meditation. However, during the Lao New Year people like to celebrate the new year there. Grandfather Khamphan Cave (near Thong village) and Houyting Cave (near Houyngeuay village) are located in a remote forest in Ngeun District. In Xienghone District you will find the Namkhom Cave which is a beautiful cave in a remote place which can be reached by walking from Ban Namkhom. The Phalub Cave (near Ban Houaysakhaeng) is located in a nice forest. In Khop District there are two caves Nang Ngoy Cave (50 meter up a steep cliff) which is off-limits as the local population relate it to a mystery which, if the cave is accessed, would bring bad luck and the Luang Cave, the biggest cave in the conservation area which can be accessed with a guide are waiting for daring adventurers to be discovered.

The spirit of Tham Nang Ngoy - Legend holds that widow, when she drank water from an Oupalath bull's footprint, became pregnant and got a beautiful daughter named Nang Taeng On. When the daughter asked about her father, she was told "Your father was an Oupalath bull and wanders between here and Khop". Nang Taeng On followed the tracks of the bull and saw a cave near Ban Nam Pao. Every day she went there to wait for her father, to take a bath and wash her cloths which she hang to dry from a meter long stone. One day the local village people went to the cave to collect soil but soon afterward all became ill and died. Soon after that Nang Taeng On disappeared as did the washing stone. Locals claim that on full moon she appears in front of the cave.​

In addition to these caves which are all located in the northern part of the province, there are also quite a few in the southern part. Unfortunately very little is known about these caves other than the location near named villages. These caves consist of: The Tham Nam Lot Cave near Ban Nachan about 50 km north of Paklai, Tham Peo Pong Pha (Sky Cave as the sun is shining into the cave through a slit in the roof) at Ban Muong Pa and the Tham Kok Ma (Wind Cave as it is always cool inside). Some 32 km. north-west of Paklai two more caves can be found: the: Tham Pa Keo and a further 3 km north-west is the Khun Lou Cave located. 16 km northwest from Paklai near Ban Phon there are two more caves: Tham Nang Phon Hom Cave and the wide tunnel Tham Phabon which has a Buddha statue inside the cave. Besides the caves, there are also quite a few waterfalls, ancient temples and other attractions.

Waterfalls: In Hongsa district you will find the Inteam Waterfall which is located at Nongchong mountain about 8 km from Hongsa where it is surrounded by green forests. The Khamsane Waterfall is near the Mekong River close to Thaxuang village. In Xienghone District the Houy Lae waterfall (near the Mekong) and the Houay-Sakhaeng waterfall (near Dong village) are worthwhile to look at or maybe better discovering as they are quite large and are off the beaten track.

Tad Jao Waterfall (near the new bridge being built over the Mekong - border of Xayaboury and Luang Prabang province). There is a small hermit cave and shrine at the head of the falls. Local people consider the area as being sacred and disturbing the area will bring illness and death. Older people remember that a Lao Airline plane flew over the falls and crashed and the area above the falls is now a no-fly zone. A Khmu soldier who moved rocks in the stream which changed its course and shortly after the soldier died. People, who once built a house here but saw their house being washed away.


The Tad Jao Waterfall should be located just south of the new bridge

In the south, about 10 km south of the district capital of Botene, you can find the Nam Ham waterfall. Like quite a few others, this waterfall is also linked to a legend in which a daughter of the king is taken away by a serpent. While a search was started to find the daughter, the search had to be abandoned as the search party could not go beyond the Nam Ham waterfall.


The Rabit Rapids (upper picture) which are close to the Nam Ham Waterfall (lower picture)

Temples (Wat) and Stupa's:
Wat Sisavang Vong in Xayaboury town reputedly erected by King Sisavang Vong himself on the site of a former temple. This is one of the three temples in Laos regarded as of the highest rank (the other two are in Paklai - also called Wat Sisavangvong and in Attapeu in the south). Novices all over the country aspire to study, meditate and hope to be ordained here but each year only 100 are chosen for the honor.
In Xayaboury town, Wat Sibounheuang is located on the banks of the Nam Houng River. Its ancient foundations dating back to the 16th century or perhaps earlier (some sources indicate it was built in 1456). The temple houses a 7 meter long reclining golden Buddha. Locals come here to ask for blessings before a trip and go to make merit once they are back from their trip. The village ghost also resides here at the temple and each year in mid-March the 3-dat Phavet (Ghost) procession is held here. The procession starts at the cemetery and ends with the burning of clothes and throwing them in the river.


Phavet Ceremony and Wat Siphoum in Kenethao District

Wat Ban Natonoy. This temple or rather the 100 year old Bho tree also called the Stair to Heaven plays an important role during the Lao New Year (Pii Mai) in mid April. Local people carry perfumed water and flowers for merit making, climb the stairs to pray and pour the water down through a wooden through into a small hut and the hands of a Buddha statue. Back downstairs, the faithful bow under Buddha's hands, allowing the holy water to drip on their heads for good luck.

Tower to Heaven at Wat Ban Nato-Noy

Some people may also be interested in Wat Simungkhoun in Hongsa with its collection of Buddha images and the old city walls of an ancient settlement with a history shrouded in mystery.

Every year in April people come to celebrate and perform Buddhist ceremonies at the Puak Stupa near Ban Don Moun, Khop District.

According to the legend, the stupa was built in 1538 when eagles from India dropped some bones of the Lord Buddha on a Bho tree. When the eagles returned they could not find the bones even with the help of thousands of other birds. A local hunter saw the birds and investigated and saw termites busy building a mound around mushrooms (puak) over the bones. The hunter told the viceroy who ordered a 14 meter high stupa built over the termite hill. To this day the local people pray for good spring rains and when they travel, they take some of the soil for good luck with them.

The mysterious old Phra That Maad Kham (Mat Kham) or Golden Flea Stupa in Keokounmoun village, Ngeun District is source to a nice fairy tale about a flea and a silver elephant.

According to the legend, the ancient villagers saw a silver-skinned elephant walking along the river, when it suddenly vanished into a sinkhole and was buried alive. They tried to dig the elephant out but when they reached the bottom, they only found a swarm of golden fleas which covered their bodies. They quickly climbed out and built a stupa to cover the hole.

Phra Tad Maad Kham

The Xienglom Stupa is located at the center of the municipality of Muang Xienghone and was built in 1304 AD by Burmese. The stupa is highly respected by the Xienghone people. Many stories are known about the stupa and to listen to them will give you the opportunity to get closer to the history of the area. Ask for Mr. Bounyang 020-5597 8596 who can tell a lot of these stories and he has also has a collection of ancient weapons in the district culture office which may be of interest to some..


Xienglom Stupa

About 1 km, from Hongsa the Lak Mueng Stupa is located on a hill. It was built in the year 1572 AD and till now is being considered a holy place where people go to worship.

At the shores of the Nam Tien reservoir southwest of Xayaboury you can visit the Elephant Conservation Center (ECC). The ECC (http://www.elephantconservationcenter.com/index.php) focuses on providing the mahouts and their elephants a safe environment while at the same time supplying an income for the mahouts through soft tourism activities. The ECC has also a specialized hospital and laboratory at their premises where they can give full-time care to sick or injured elephants. The ECC differentiates itself from the elephant tourist camps by being a safe haven for elephant reproduction, lactation, recovery and disease diagnosis. Visitors are welcome but they are expected to contribute to the Center’s mission by volunteering in some capacity to improve the center’s facilities and/or infrastructure.



ECC works in close cooperation with Elefant Asia (http://elefantasia.org/?lang=en) which concentrates efforts in three main directions: elephant veterinary care, educational/environmental awareness and economic viability for mahouts.

Approximate -some maybe kilometers of - coordinates of the attractions covered
Ban Don Moun (That Puak Stupa) N19 40.705 E100 31.718
Ban Dong (Houay Sakheang Waterfall - rainy season only) N19 41.246 E101 00.412
Ban Houayngeuy (Houyting Cave) N19 50.270 E101 02.625
Ban Houaysakheng (Phalub Cave) N19 40.086 E100 59.357
Ban Moksatou (Khmu weaving) N19 39.823 E100 58.210
Ban Muangpa (Tham Peo Pong Pha - Sky Cave) N18 33.295 E101 36.289
Ban Nachan (Tham Nam Lot - wet cave) N18 34.650 E101 37.858
Ban Nam Phao (Tham Luang Cave) N19 40.917 E100 34.290
Ban Namkhom (Namkhom Cave) N19 38.106 E100 45.291
Ban Phon (Tham Nang Phon Hom Cave and Tham Phabon) N18 17.132 E101 18.074
Ban Tham (Tham Phounoy and the Water Caves) N19 38.597 E100 35.549
Ban Thong (Grandfather Khamphan Cave) N19 45.896 E101 06.755
Nam Ham Waterfall N17 45.591 E101 08.393
Tad Jao Waterfall N19 25.451 E101 50.797
Wat Nato-Noy N19 14.091 E101 42.687
Wat Outhomkham (Ban Kham Cave) N19 38.597 E100 51.044
Wat Simouongkhoun N19 42.574 E101 19.921
Wat Sisavang N18 12.959 E101 24.568
Wat Sisavangvon N19 15.883 E101 42.669
Wat Sriphoum N17 43.975 E101 23.963
Xienglom Stupa N19 37.035 E100 48.438

Several International Organizations are currently working in the province to develop community based tourism services. The objectives are to establish sustainable tourism as a substantial source of income for the poor population of the province by enhancing their skills and improving the cooperation of all stakeholders (Lao National Tourism Administration, private sector, and international organizations) to ensure significant income is generated while negative impacts of tourism are mitigated.
Buying a trek from the local CBT supports the different service providers: guides, home-stays, food, etc. Purchasing the superb organic cotton handicrafts contributes to the perpetuation of local culture and traditional techniques, while reinforcing the relevance of organic agriculture.

Note: Most of the pictures shown here have been borrowed from information material produced by the Lao National Tourism Association - pictures were taken by Pictures by Ines Seiler - DED, Laurence Thouvenin and Bernie Rosenbloom and various other persons.
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