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.