But sitting on the western edge of Northeast Thailand, Loei province is gaining attention for its own version of craggy hill country and balmy weather.
It may have fewer tourists, but it makes up for it with a variety of natural attractions that are not overcrowded.
Located around 500 km north of Bangkok, the province borders the hill country of Laos where the Mekong River resumes its journey south as the border line between the two countries.
Ridges and mountains dominate the horizon to the north and travelling due north from Loei town would bring you to the world heritage town of Luang Prabang 400 km in the heart of Laos.
Loei is famous for its hilly geography and high peaks such as Phu Kradueang, Phu Luang and Phu Ruea that offer breathtaking views of mountain ridges covered in a sea of mist.
For those who love cool weather, Loei is one of the coldest with temperatures occasionally dropping almost to freezing point. However, temperatures are more likely to hover around 20 to 26 degrees centigrade, November to February.
But there is more to Loei’s charm than just natural attractions. There is a diversity of ethnic groups living in areas bordering Sayabouly and Vientiane province in Laos. Loei is a province where the cultures of two countries mingle. It is also a province with an abundance of homestay accommodation that allows visitors to interact with communities.
Homestay and Community-Based Tourism
Homestay tourism is part of the new trend towards slow tourism where the emphasis lies on appreciating natural beauty as well as learning from communities visited. It is about taking time out to learn village skills, or understand a different culture. One of the most popular spots for homestay especially for young tourists is the small riverside town of Chiang Khan now the most popular tourist address in Loei province .
To gain more from homestay it is recommended that visitors spend time in Baan Na-O Homestay in Muang district, Loei province.
If the objective is to learn more about the province’s folklore tradition known as Pee Ta Khon; then the best venue is Na-Thum Nham-Tang Homestay in Dan Sai District.
Natural attractions can be explored at Baan Na Pah Nard Cultural Village in Khao Kaeo sub-district, Chiang Khan District.
• Baan Na-O Homestay
Located in Mueang district, Baan Na-O Homestay highlights the lifestyles of a local ethnic group known as “Tai Loei.” They orginated from Luang Prabang and Vientiane in Laos and migrated to establish a community at Baan Na-O 350 years ago.
The community offers 40 local Tai Loei traditional houses for tourists where visitors can learn more about the Tai Loei lifestyle, history, architecture and traditions.
Rates of Bt350/person/night apply for accommodation, two meals, local performances and the morning activity of offering sticky rice to monks.
Visitors can choose from a variety of activities priced at Bt500/ person. This rate includes local guides and narration. Also guests can visit a local museum and various temples.
• Na-Thum Nham-Tang Homestay
Dan Sai is the home of the famous Phee Ta Khon festival and the popular Na-Thum Nham-Tang Homestay. The place is open year round, but during the famous Phee Ta Khon festival the place is packed with tourists, mainly Japanese who are keen to learn more about Pee Ta Khon traditions linked to Dan Sai.
Na-Thum Nham-Tang Homestay won the top standard award in 2006 from the Ministry of Tourism and Sports so visitors can be sure that the community is ready to welcome tourists.
The history of the community is related to Phra That Si Song Rak, or Si Song Rak Stupa. The stupa was built in 1560 by the Laotian King, Setthathirath and the Thai King, Somdet Phra Maha Chakkraphat, to signify the harmony between the two countries.
The highlight of a visit is the demonstration show known as the Phee Ta Khon performance, but in addition guests will learn how to make a Phee Ta Khon mask.
The homestay can accommodate up to 100 persons. Rates start at Bt150/ person/ night but excludes meals. Meals cost an extra Bt50 a day. Tours cost Bt300 including a local guide and the tour.
Dan Sai district is around 90 km from Loei Airport. To book accommodation, contact 6642 892 339 or 6686 862 4812.
• Baan Na Pah Nard Cultural Village
Baan Na Pah Nard Cultural Village or Tai Dum Cultural Village, is located in Khao Kaeo sub-district. Tai Dum or Black Tai, is a reference to the costumes that villagers wear.
They are mainly descendents from the Tai Dum hill tribes that lived around Dien Bien Phu in Vietnam. These people still maintain their core values as illustrated in houses, handicrafts and their daily lifestyle.
Baan Na Pah Nard Cultural Village opened for homestay quite recently and concentrates mainly on weaving.
Overnight stays cost Bt100/ person/ night without meals. Meals cost Bt80 per sitting.
Baan Na Pah Nard Cultural Village is around 50 km from Loei Airport. Visitors must book at least one week in advance at 6681 048 2000.
• Phee Ta Khon Festival
Phee Ta Khon Festival is held annually in Dan Sai district, Loei province. The festival is part of the merit ceremony of Boon Luang, which is a combination of merit making ceremonies, March to April, called Boon Pha Ved and another ceremony around June called Boon Bang Fai. However, instead of holding two separate ceremonies, the local community combined them and scheduled the event in June or July. The dates of Phee Ta Khon Festival vary as they are determined by the town’s mediums.
Loei is accessible by road and by air. There is no railways to the province, but nearby provinces-Udon Thani and Nong Khai.
Currently, there are two airlines flying to Loei; Nok Air (four weekly) and Solar Air (three weekly). Both airlines are based in Don Mueang Airport.