Xieng Khuang: a warm winter retreat for chilly foreigners

For Visit Laos-China Year 2019, Vientiane Times is publishing a series of feature articles and images promoting the two countries’ collaboration in tourism and hoping to inspire more people, especially from China, to experience the nature, culture, history and hospitality of Laos, the jewel of the Mekong.

You’re not likely to see foreign visitors in Xieng Khuang province all year round, as in other parts of Laos, but in the winter it’s a popular place for people to escape from the cold in Europe and other northern countries.
Xieng Khuang, located in the north-east of Laos, is about 400 kilometres from Vientiane and becomes the haunt of overseas visitors from December to February each year.

The ancient stone jars in Xieng Khuang province.

A senior official at the Provincial Information, Culture and Tourism Department, Mr Phousavanh Vorasing, told Vientiane Times that many foreigners visit Xieng Khuang at this time of the year because they like to leave the cold and dreary cities of Europe behind.
In this part of Laos the average temperature range is 15 to 25 degrees Celsius. While this is relatively cool for Laos, it’s comfortably warm for visitors from northern climes.
“For the Lao, this temperature is cold and you’ll see most people wearing thick winter jackets. But foreign visitors will just be dressed in shirts and feel comfortable like that. It’s perfect for them,” he said.
But sometimes people get caught out and the mercury plummets. One year at the beginning of December the temperature dropped to zero in Xaysomboun province. At the same time, Xieng Khuang and Huaphan provinces recorded lows of 0.8 to 1.2 degrees.
Most visitors wander through the main streets of Phonsavanh in Xieng Khuang’s Paek district. They also like to tour the Plain of Jars, and visit Keng Mountain, Tham Piew cave, and Kha and Ka waterfalls. 
The enigmatic stone jars can be found at several sites in the districts of Paek, Phaxay, Phoukoud and Kham, and almost always top visitors’ itineraries.
Some of the sites are not far from the nearest town but others require a whole day to visit.
Anticipating an influx of visitors each winter, provincial authorities are not concerned about a lack of accommodation, saying there is plenty available for all comers.
Xieng Khuang has changed greatly in the past decade. The provincial capital Phonsavanh, in Paek district, has a large number of hotels, guesthouses and restaurants, and there’s a lively buzz in the streets.
During a recent visit, I stayed at a guesthouse in Phonsavanh and although I didn’t have a panoramic view over the town because some tall buildings obscured my vision, I really enjoyed my time there.
The weather in the first week of September was delightful and everything seemed to gleam in the early morning light. The days were quite hot, but the nights were a little cooler.
A popular restaurant called Hot Pot serves up dishes of the same name (locally known as sinchoum) and is well worth seeking out, so be sure to get directions to this place.
It’s not difficult to find as it’s centrally located. It is famous for its raw meats, vegetables and eggs cooked in boiling broth, which are nourishing for the body and not just great to taste.
Nok-aen (a kind of swallow)  is another popular dish on local menus and is a speciality found only in Xieng Khuang.
Another place of interest for visitors is the large Buddha statue at Phiavat temple in Khoun district, about 30 kilometres from the provincial capital. Astonishingly, this statue remained unscathed throughout years of bombing raids by the Americans during the Indochina War.
By road it takes about six hours to reach Xieng Khuang province from Vientiane. The route through Borikhamxay is much shorter than travelling along the winding and mountainous Road 13 North through Phoukhoun.
A 29-km section of the road in Borikhamxay province that will link the two northern provinces is currently under construction. At Thasy village, vehicles can turn left onto Road No. 1D in the direction of Xieng Khuang, where spectacular views await.

By Times Reporters
(Latest Update June 5, 2019)

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