Nong Khai province is hidden away, tucked into the far northeastern corner of Thailand. The province sits quietly in the Mekong River valley, patiently waiting to welcome you to the Isaan area.
This area was formerly part of the Vientiane kingdom, and is only 25 kilometers away from the present day Vientiane, Laos. The region was historically marred by conflict. In 1827, King Rama III of Siam allowed a favored lord to build Meuang Nong Khai. All was well for a time, but in the 1870’s – 1880’s, the region was repeatedly attacked by the Yunnanese. The Thai and Lao residents of the region were able to successfully defend themselves and retain control. The Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge, opened in 1994, builds on this tradition of good relations and is working to improve development and trade in the region and cross-border.
Nong Khai is liberally dotted with waterfalls. Among these, make it a point to seek out Namtok (“nam” is water, “tok” is fall) Than Thong, Namtok Than Thip, Namtok Chet Si (“Seven Colors”, named for the refraction of light through the water creating rainbows), and Namtok Chanaen.
Another great attraction is Sala Kaew Ku, also called Wat Khaek. The park features concrete statuary from many predominant religions, contrasting the Buddhist, Hindu, and Christian icons in an unusual setting. You will find the naga, or river dragon, heavily represented, and the entire park leans toward the Hindu faith a little more than to the others. The park was built in the late 1970’s, and the founder’s remains are still enshrined onsite. You can find the park about five kilometers west of Nong Khai.
Also be sure to visit Thasadej Indochina market, located in the town of Nong Khai along the Mekong River. Covering more than one kilometer of waterfront, the bazaar boasts duty-free goods from China, Vietnam, and Laos, including foods and sweets. Local goods and handicrafts are also on offer here, and you really must have lunch at one of the numerous food stalls inside the market. The food here is a great value and wonderfully flavorful.
Getting around locally is no problem. For the less adventurous (or easily lost!), stick with the tuk-tuks that are well known from Bangkok. You can typically hire one for 40-50 Thai baht (THB) per person. If you are able to find your own way around, many shops offer bicycles for rent, and motorbikes are available as well. Remember that you’ll have to produce your passport in order to rent a motorbike, and helmets are mandatory, but often ignored.
If you missed lunch at the market, don’t worry. There are plenty of other opportunities. Street food sold by the vendors along the riverside road (Rimkhong) and along Prajak Road is very good and completely inexpensive. For a Vietnamese meal, stop in at Daeng Naem Nueang. You can dine in, or ask for a carry-out and take it away to your favorite local spot.
Nong Khai won’t offer you gigantic shopping malls, extra-large nightclubs, or earth-shaking discos. It will offer you peace and tranquility, and the chance to experience Issan for yourself. Its another facet of Thailand, and one you will treasure. Bon Voyage!