Thailand's North-East


Global Mark : 14.06    Top Ten : No7

Ratings by criteria : 

Charm Scenery Parks Culture Minor. Market Relax Fiesta 


5 4 2 3 3 3 5 2 4 13.78

Ratings by backpackers :

Surveyed Liked  Comeback  Recommend  Range AVER.
6 100% (6) 100% (6) 100% (6) 12 to 16 14.33

Description :
  A small town with tons of exploration around : Mekong, caves, waterfall, hidden monasteries,...

Comments : The city & accommodations are not as relaxed as Sang Khom (or possibly Pak Chom) but the town is loaded with charm and the countryside equally rich.

What to do ? Walk all the charming Soi (21 in total !) / Get up early to reach the market before 7:00 (after that, all the illegal salesperson are thrown out) / Visit a cotton factory / Meet monks at the city temples / Meditate at the countryside temples / Boat the Mekong / Walk rice or cotton fields (Dec & Jan) / Visit Tai Dam Hill tribe village / Explore an "end-of-the-world village" / Play with "shy ladies" plants (touch them to understand the name) / Meet the fauna : huge colorful butterflies, millipedes, lizards, scorpions, singing birds,... / Spot or descent Kul Kut rapids (winter time best or most dangerous) / Explore caves / Throw money inside a Buddha footprint / Ring gongs / Spot sculpted trees (check out Wat Sri Khun Muang between Soi 6 & 7 for elephants or dragon) / Walk along small Huang River, spotting Laos on the other side / Enjoy sunset / Relax in an herbal steam bath / Buy handicrafts / Swim the Mekong (Dec to May) / Join the noise : rent a motorbike ! / Degust the cheapest Wall's ice creams of Thailand (B5) / Drink real coffee / Play snooker or petanque / 

What you may not like ? The noisy motorbikes on the streets, the noisy speed boats on the river and you sandwiched in between / The lack of real attractions / The barking dogs / The lack of good bicycles for rent / The exhausting way up to see the disappointing Silver Mountain Wat / Not having a good flashlight when visiting the cave / Having to rent a motorbike to really explore around / Being finger pointed as "falang" every 2 minutes / 

How long ? Certainly a few weeks to explore it all ! A few days to get the idea...

Where to stay ? No bungalows unfortunately but charming houses in wood or teak.

- On noisy Chaikong Rd, by the noisy river : 

  • OK or Nam GH, between Soi 4 & 5 / Room 150 / Big room with view over the river but basic furniture, basic cleanliness and very basic English 
  • Rinkong GH (042 821125), between Soi 7 & 8 / French adventurer (he is the first one to have descended 400km of the Mekong on a pedal raft he designed) with family / Sgl 100, Dbl 150, bigger 200 / Common HW shower / Good maps of town + area / Tons of written travel information on the town, the surroundings or Thailand / Real coffee & French bread / Go there for the nice, clean & well furnished wooden rooms (some with river view) and to get tips on how to visit & enjoy the place / What you may not like : the owner is away a couple of months each year and his wife speak too little English or French to give any information...
  • Sooksoboon Hotel, just east of the above / Room 100, w. shower 150 / Common HW shower / Little English / Go there for the two tiny B150 rooms with great panoramic view on the river. The rooms without shower are bigger but lack the view and therefore the charm.
  • Friendship GH (042 822052, ), between Soi 9 & 10, on the other side of the road / Old Swedish owner / Room 150 (1) or 200 (2) / Maybe also a great deal room + motorbike + breakfast at B250 / Common HW shower / Free water for guests / Satellite TV / Internet B2 per mn / Go there for the nice teak house and the large clean rooms / What you may not like : the rather basic rooms without a view. A sign claim it is more quiet as off the river but it omit the noise from the road...
  • Ton Kong GH (042 821547), opposite the above / Helpful local owner speaking good English / Room 80(1) or 100(2), w. view 100(1) or 150(2), w. AC 300 / Common HW shower / Satellite TV / Free map / Motorbike 150 / Go there for the nice view from the terrace, the clean rooms, the numerous services offered and the praised food at reasonable price / What you may not like : the basic tiny rooms with bad noise isolation 
  • Dragon with Golden Balls GH, further away between Soi 16 & 17 / Sino-Thai owner / Rooms without shower from 300 to 490, cheaper if stay more than one day / Go there for the large clean wooden rooms and if you like dragon or crazy dogs / What you may not like : the no frills rooms, the limited river view, the confusing price policy and the lack of English to help you with it.
  • Chiang Khan GH (042 821691), after Soi 19 / Dutch owner with wife / Room 120(1) or 180(2) down to 100 or 150 if more than one night / Common HW shower / Chinese bike B50 per day / Go there for the clean rooms, the best view over the river (sunset plus sunrise) from the terrace, the relaxing sitting area with plants / What you may not like : the rather small & basic rooms

- On perpendicular Soi : no river view but much more quiet...

  • Poonsawat Hotel or GH, central Soi 9 / Room 80(1) or 100(2) / Common HW shower / Mini market with the cheapest beer in town (B25 a bottle) / Go there for the cheap big rooms, to spot the local life from the terrace overlooking the Soi or to use the washing machine for free / What you may not like : the grotty rooms and the lack of cleanliness or English
  • Home Stay GH, Soi 18 / English Teacher / Room 70(1) or 130(2) / Common HW shower / Go there for the acceptably clean rooms at good price if alone and the intimate atmosphere / What you may not like : two rooms only, three parts mattress and, the major drawn back, it is open from Friday to Sunday only as the owner now works in Sang Khom during the week
  • To finish, the cheapy of the town : Chieng Khan GH 2, opposite Soi 20 on noisy Sri Chiang Khan Rd / Room 50 or even less if you convince the owner that you do not have money / An excellent bargain if you get the room for free as it is very basic and quite dirty. The owner is a clever former lawyer with stories to tell but you will have to wake him first...
  • Zen GH (Soi 12) and its famous Herbal Steam Bath at B190 was closed at the time of writing and it was not clear whether or not it would reopen. 

Where to eat ? Plenty of local restaurants in town. For backpacker's atmosphere, Ton Khong GH has an extensive menu (incl. vegetarian) at reasonable prices : fried rice B25-35, curries B40. For dessert, at least two Wall's Ice Cream restaurants on the main street : go between Soi 13 & 14 for sundaes at B20 or between Soi 9 & 10 for scoop with some toppings at B5 or milk shakes at B10. For real coffee, head to Rinkong GH or, for more choice, to a coffee shop next to the Thai Farmer Bank (Soi 7 & 8). For breakfast, some GH have sets for B50 but you could also head toward the market and opt for salty pantanko (fried little bread shaped like an X, B1) with eggs "a la coque" (B5, insist for 3-4mn boiling).

Information ? Rimkong GH has got a great book loaded with informations (from transport or suggestions of treks to where to find an English newspaper) in case the owner (Pascal) is not around. In addition, books with info on Thailand, Isan Province (every place of interest along the Mekong is detailed) or backpackers' tips are also useful. You do not need to stay there to consult them but buy at least a drink... Tonkhong GH or Chiang Khan GH are also good sources of info, in particular when Pascal is away. 

Touring the area ? In season and if 3 people minimum, Rimkong GH organizes various trips (not the only GH to do so so shop around) : kut rapids by boat (B150), sunset over the Mekong (B135), Huang River (B235), boat to Paben cave (B490), one day discovery (B665), two days trekking (B980-1300). If you do not wish to spend money on a guide, one of its Chiang Khan Book gives precise indications (with photos !) for 10 treks, being on foot, on bike or on motorbike.

Markets ? Nakaseng & Nong Phu (about 50km away) have big busy markets twice a month, respectively on the 8th & 9th lunar days. Chiang Khan market however is charming all right but nothing special, even before 7am. 

Internet ? Friendship GH charges B2 per minute. It is expensive but much cheaper than what it was couple of months before. Keep waiting... or go to Loei where it cost only B20

Backpacker's Tips : Rebecca Sterinal (June 01) offers internet fiber optic connection for just 25 baht per hour or just 1 baht per minute for checking e-mail. They have 10 computers with Intel Celeron II 566/600/650 MHz chips w/USB ports. They offer digital photo services for just 10 baht per photo. Floppy disks are sold to store images and printing services also available. Just one block away from the Mekong river.

Bike & motorbike ? No mountain bike so far in town (the ones you need to explore) but this could change in a few months thanks to Rimkong GH. Chinese bikes are available at Chiang Khan GH or Dragon GH for a whopping B50 per day. Motorbikes however can be rented in a few places for B150 a day. 

A great walking day ? 

There are plenty of walking opportunities around Chiang Khan but the following walk between Ban Paben and Ban Umung is probably the most rewarding : a shrine with a Buddha foot print, a lost-in-time village and a large cave, all wrapped in superb mountainous sceneries and generously offered by smiling people. 

- Walk east along the Mekong until the end of Chaikong Rd, passing schools and police stations (15mn)
- Once on the main road, walk 5 minutes to spot a collection of trees shaped like animals on your left.
- Hitch your way toward Paben village, 8km away, or board a songthaew heading to Pakchom (B5-10). A lot of vehicles seem to be going to Kut Ku so you may have to hitch again from the turn off. 
- Have a look at Paben Village then turn right at the blue sign "Praphoothabarth Phukuayngien Temple" (good luck with the pronunciation). If you do not pass three tiny bridges within the first km, you are on the wrong path ! After 30mn walk (3km), you should reach three signs (red, blue & brown) pointing toward a concrete path going up.
- Sweat a lot for 30mn (1.3km) until reaching the statue of a buffalo. Take the stairs on the right toward a small shrine housing the unimpressive Buddha footprint, a few Buddha & gongs but above all a water dispenser ! Get back the liquid you lost coming up then walk down. The view is pretty but it is not quite high enough for a real panorama.
- Back on the dusty road, walk 30mn (4km) to reach Ban Umung, a charming village surrounded by mountains. Except for the public telephone and the few vehicles, you may feel like back in time. They do not see many falang around there so you will not walk unnoticed. Explore the area, talk to the people (never mind if nobody understand), play with the "hello" kids, smell roses and smile all around ! There is no restaurant but a few basic snack shop and at least one place for noodle & chicken soup for B10 (on the main village road heading north, on the right before the temple)
- Passing the temple on your left, take the small road on your right just before the yellow arrow & stop signs (another strange intrusion of civilization). At the road split in front of an house, take the left path. Altogether, walk 30mn (4km) until reaching a white sign with blue writing pointing to the right.
- Turn right. If you do not see the mountain directly in front of you, buy or change glasses ! Walk for 20mn (1.4km), keep going flat & left, until reaching some water ponds, the woods then the moss stairs. Turn on your flashlight and explore nice Paben cave. 
- Back on the path, walk another 30mn (3km) to reach Route 211. At this level, two wooden signs (blue & white) before a gas station and after a bridge. Hitch your way back.
- If still in shape and not too late (I personally gave up), stop 5km later (4km before Chiang Khan), turn left and walk (or hitch) 5km up to Phu Tok, the best view point of the area and a great sunset spot.
- Spotting the rapids of Kaeng Khut Khu could also be an option

Considering the pleasure of exploring at slow pace, the state of the roads and some steep parts, hitching (yes, there is unfortunately some traffic) & walking is the best option. Mountain bike or motorbike would not be impossible but not everywhere. Chinese bikes are definitively out !

Backpacker's Tips : Tam Chiwai, Hong Kong (Sept 00)
 On the 1st and 16th of each month, there is a market next to the immigration office.18km away, in Ban Na Pa Nat, there is a Thai Dam study center where you can learn this minority. Ban Na Boon, on the 201 highway, has a family style Thai boxing school for children. You can see how they train from 16:00 to 19:00. Funny to see one or two years old kids inside the ring...

 << Discover a Mekong view

How to leave Chiang Khan ?
To Udon Thani, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Phitsanulok or Nakhon Phanom, you will need to reach Loei first. 
For Bangkok, Phu Kradung Tour (the one with the bird) has go one good bus with toilet (AC1 category) leaving from next to the Honda Shop on Loei Rd at 18:30 for B246. The bus will reach Loei at 19:30 and depart for goods at 20:30. You can buy the ticket at Loei Bus Station for B227.

Bus Schedules :  

From Chiang Khan :

To Price Class Duration Time Nb Freq.
Bangkok 146/246 fan/vip 11 18/morning(?),18:30 1/2 na
Korat 166 vip 6 6,7,9,10,11,14 6 na
Loei 18 songthaew 1.5 6 to 17 a lot 30mn
Pak Chom 18 songthaew 1.5 when ready a few 30-60mn

Notes : To Bangkok, also vip at B317 & B490; ordi leave from market, vip from Laei Rd / To Korat from road to Loei

From Pak Chom :

To Price Class Duration Time Nb Freq.
Sang Khom 20-25 fan 1.5 7:50,8:50,9:50,10:50,12,13,15:30 7 na

The trip to Loei : SSSS / R / B18 / 75mn / songthaew
The songthaew departed on time all right (one every 30mn) but then speeded down as much as it could for 15mn. Some velocity was reached once in the countryside only.
The scenery was great with paddy fields and mountains in the background, on both side but slightly more on the right (seat therefore on the left, if possible at the back)

See also the trip from Sang Khom