Sunday, October 3, 2010

Chilling by the Mekong

Nong Khai is an endearing little town lying on one side of the mighty Mekong River. For some people it is just a place to pass through to do a visa run into neighboring Laos across the friendship Bridge, but it is a popular tourist destination and a place well worth spending a little time in. Although it is a relatively small town, its status as a transit point for Laos means there are numerous guest houses and restaurants.

This is a riparian town so, like many riparian towns, one of the best things to do is to soak up the atmosphere alongside the riverbank. A long boardwalk, lined with timber decked restaurants and bars hugs the contours of the Mekong. The Tha Sadet market, accessible from the boardwalk, is pretty large and is a typical Thai market, with lots of imported goods from Laos. In the evening stroll along the river side and choose one of the numerous river side restaurants to eat in. Don't leave it too late to eat because they roll up the shutters relatively early here. After eating you can find a few bars in the vicinity. The Warm Up bar was one of my favorites, with its atmospheric lighting and peaceful vantage point looking over to the odd twinkling light on the Laos side of the river. It attracted a younger, mostly Thai clientele, but this middle aged farang was made to feel most welcome.

During the day there are a number of sights to see in, or around the town. I previously did a blog post on probably the best known attraction in Nong Khai, the Sala Kaew Ku (or Sala Keo Ku) sculpture park. In addition, there are a few temples to keep temple enthusiasts occuppied for a while. Wat Pho Chai on Thanon Phochai houses a large, impressive Buddha with a head of gold and a body of bronze. Wat Lam Duan has an immense Buddha on top of the bot gazing out placidly over the Mekong. Phra That Klang Nam is a Lao chedi smack bang in the middle of the Mekong. It is submerged for much of the year but can be seen during the dry season. There is also a small Nong Khai museum which I did not have time to visit so I cannot comment on it.

You can do a sunset river cruise along the Mekong, which leaves from 5 pm daily behind Wat Hai. If you want to explore the Mekong further any guest house will be able to arrange something for you.

My only visit to Nong Khai was in March, but late October is an exciting time to visit because of the annual boat races to celebrate the end of the Buddhist lent and the rainy season. Long naga-headed boats take part in the races along the Mekong, which is presumably much faster flowing and many meters higher than it is in March. This time also coincides with the mysterious naga fireballs!

Accommodation is plentiful in Nong Khai with enough to suit a wide range of budgets. We stayed at the Pantawee Hotel on Haisoke Road which has rooms in different price ranges. Ours ran at about 1000 baht a night for a comfortable, clean room with a desktop computer with free internet, DVD, fridge etc. That suited us but there are many far less expensive, and no doubt, more expensive places around town.

Getting there is easy. Most people will probably come via the main transportation hub for the region, Udon Thani. From there frequent buses run to Nong Khai in under one hour. However, buses do stop at a slightly inconvenient location, a short way out of town, but too far to walk with luggage. This leaves you at the mercy of the tuk tuk drivers. Negotiate a fixed price before the start of the journey. It is only a 5 or 10 minute drive but they will try and get 200 baht which is crazy money for such a short drive.

Enjoy, and be sure to let me know if you have any further tips, recommendations or reports about this cool little Mekong town.

Thai Connoisseur


  1. Talen, indeed the sheer beauty of the Mekong river region and the relaxed way of life with the friendliness of the people makes Mekong country very special. Most of my 'Mekong time' has been spent in Laos, with just 2 days in NK. I have yet to experience Nakhon Phanom, Mukdahan and other Thai places along the river. Btw, I thought it was you who did a blog post on the Naga fireballs of NK a while back, but a quick scan of your archives didn't locate it.

    No need to feel envious by the way, as I am far from the Mighty Mekong right now. Brussels!!

  2. Peter I've been to Nong Khai many a time. I wouldn't say I adore it but it has grown on me over the years. I spend a lot of my Thailand holiday time in Udon Thani Province and always make a couple of trips to Nong Khai. My partner loves the Tha Sadet Market, she'll spend hours perusing the stalls. I settle for a bar, the Bangkok Post, a couple of beers and watching Thai life stroll by.

    I've also visited Sala Keo Kou four times and believe me the fifth is probably not too far away. It's an amazing place, yet probably unknown to most tourists visiting the area. The sculpture park's mentor Luang Pu Bunleua Sulilat, previously constructed the Buddha Park near Vientiane in Laos, way back in the 50's. Anyone visiting Nong Khai should make the effort to see Luang Pu Bunleua Sulilat’s amazing work at Sala Keo Kou.

    The Naga Festival is actually taking place this weekend and is a festival I have got to see one day, although nearby Phon Phisai will be where I'll actually view it.

    Thanks for the memories although come December I'll be enjoying the delights of Nong Khai once more. I'll make it a point to check out the Warm Up Bar.

  3. Hi Martyn, my one trip to NK made a good impression on me. The early closing times take a bit of getting used to if you are more of a Bangkok person, but no big deal if you just accept that 'early to rise and early to bed' is the mantra of life here. The Mekong river, and by extension, the towns alongside it, hold a great fascination for me.

    Although I was aware of the Buddha Park in Vientiane I did not visit as I (probably mistakenly) thought it would be too similar to the Nong Khai park, and the short time available seemed better spent exploring the main sites of Vientiane before catching the plane to Luang Prabang.

    Have a great time In NK. You may even need a light jacket sitting on the terrace of the Warm Up bar in December with a cool breeze flowing across the Mekong!



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