Although Bokeo is the smallest province in Laos, it harbours a large number of interesting minority groups (approximate 30 ethnicities). The province split off from Luang Nam Tha and was created in 1983. The name Bokeo translates as 'gem mine' and the city is known as the 'land of sapphires'. Panning for gold, and digging for precious stones is a major occupation here.
Huay Xai, the capital provincial of Bokeo, sits on the bank of the Mekong River. Like most minor cities in Laos, several temples built in earlier centuries and surrounding villages seem to be the only attractions. However, Bokeo's real economic strength is tourism. A holiday among a network of hunts and shelters built on top of trees in primary monsoon dry deciduous forest is a decidedly appealing one. A perfect spot where one can observe the forest's rare habitants from above. Besides fascinating attractions and delightful activities, Houay Xai is also known as the gateway to explore the rest of Laos, a famous stopover spot for most arrivals before boarding a boat and heading southeast to Pak Beng and Luang Prabang. A trip up north on Bokeo's winding and bumpy roads will lead to Luang Namtha and beyond.
Over the centuries, Bokeo has remained an important stopover for Chinese traders traveling by boats between China and Thailand. Nowadays, the only connection between Bokeo and Chiang Rai is via ferry and speedboat. However, a bridge between Laos and Thailand is scheduled to open in 2012.