The capital of Bokeo province, Houay Xai is primarily a border crossing town. Immediately you will experience an economic difference, with housing more rudimentary than you see in Thailand. Main ethnic groups are Lanten, Hmong, Lahu, Yao, Akha, and Tai Lue.
From Houay Xai you can make day trips to ethnic Lanten villages where the production of traditional saa (mulberry) paper and other crafts can be seen.
For a truly unique experience, hop off here and head to the Gibbon Experience in Bokeo - a forest camp made up of tree houses and zip lines! The forests here have some of the last remaining groups of black-cheeked gibbons in all of Laos, and travellers can both help in conservation and get an opportunity to see these animals with a visit.