Thailand's North-East

NONG KHAI

Global Mark : 12.78

Ratings by criteria : 

Charm Scenery Parks Culture Minor. Market Relax Fiesta 

Cost

AVER.
3 3 2 2 3 4 3 2 4 11.56

Ratings by backpackers :

Surveyed Liked  Comeback  Recommend  Range AVER.
3 100% (3) 67% (2) 100% (3) 12 to 15 14.00


Description :
  A relaxed town with Wat & shops on the riverbank, a few colonial houses and a friendship bridge to Laos. 

Comments : Opposite Laos is off course the main attraction but Nong Khai is pleasant enough to be worth a short stay on your NE itinerary.

What to do ? Negotiate the fare with the tuk-tuk driver / Walk the riverbank from the scenery section (east) to the shopping section (central) and then, if courageous, to the bridge section (west) / Spot nice mansions of officials (Governor, Chief Judge) or old French-style buildings / Rent a bike (B30) & tour the area / See the weirdest collection of Buddhist statue of Thailand (and possibly of the world) / Crawl inside a vagina and assist to all the steps of development of a human being from birth to following Buddha to Nirvana / Feed huge fish at water ponds / Wander around the market & swing in a wooden nacelle / Shop on anything from silk or medicinal products to fake playstation or kitschy Chinese Buddha at the pier (Tha Sadet) / Cruise the Mekong toward sunset / Store on snacks at a big supermarket / Visit a Village Weaver handicraft or an art gallery / Spot lots of temples with drum & drums towers / Play football with locals / In the evening, join the elderly for a stroll along the river / Practice meditation / Drink "natural & untreated" water from the Mekong, a treat which cost B173 at Mut-mee GH but could easily be free if you dare do it ! / If more time, explore the surroundings : remains of a 500 years old Lao Temple which replaced a 2000 years old Indian-style Stupa (Wat Phra That Bang Phuan, 24km), a large Buddha reputed to cure sadness (Luag Pho Ong Tu, 33km), paintings on strangely shaped rocks (Pra Puttabat Buabok Historical Park, 70km), etc. / And once a year : experience the unexplained phenomenon (?) of orange fireball eruptions from the Mekong ("Bang Fai Phaya-Nak", full moon night of 11th lunar month), assist to the Rocket Festival (May) or get splash during the Song Kran Festival (April)

What you may not like ? The monopolistic position of the tuk-tuk on local transport & the cost of each ride / The aggressive mosquitoes / Having your Laos visa arranged by an agency while you can get one at the border for much cheaper / The nothing-special temples / 

How long ? One day should be enough considering there are more charming places around.


Where to stay ? 

Hotels  << Get precise info, book online and save money !

- On Rimkhong Rd, by the Mekong, 20mn walk from the bus station or B20 :

  • Maekhong GH (460689), west of the ferry to Laos / Sgl 100, Dbl 150-200, VIP rooms w. HW shower 400, w. AC 500 / HW in common shower / Mountain bike B30 per day / Go there for the clean rooms and the relaxed river view from the cozy restaurant or one of the VIP room / What you may not like : the dim lightning, the bad noise isolation and the rather small VIP rooms
  • Chongkhong GH (042 412229), 100m further west / Rooms "small" or "big" 100, w. AC 300 / HW in common shower / Go there for the correctly sized & comfortable wooden rooms with some view over the Mekong and the relaxed atmosphere / What you may not like : the limited English of the old owner
  • Rimkhong GH (460625), 50m further on the left / Sgl 80, Dbl 150 / Go there for the cheapest price near the river and the relaxed little garden / What you may not like : the tiny, basic & not so fresh rooms and the limited English spoken.

- West of Wat Haisok, 3mn walk from the above, in a little charming Soi with barking dogs

  • KC GH / Dorm 80(3-4), Sgl 100, bigger Sgl 120, Dbl 150 / HW in common shower / Go there for the relaxed atmosphere, the good English of the Thai girl, the large wooden rooms and to try to get a discount / What you may not like : the not so cheap prices for not so great rooms (basic & bad noise isolation)
  • Mut-Mee GH / 50m further, by the Mekong / English owner / Dorm 80(3), Sgl 110, Twin 130, Dbl 170, Dbl w. shower 210, w. balcony & view 270 or 360, Family room (2+1) w. HW shower 330 / Bike 39, mountain bike 52 / Internet B1 per mn / Go there for the great relaxing garden with statues and a giant chessboard, the nicely decorated dorm ("often empty"), the travel infos & extra activities in HS (yoga, meditation, Tai Chi, etc.) / What you may not like : the basic Sgl in a different house a bit off the Mekong area, the noisy bamboo twins, the dim lightning in all the rooms and the popularity of the place, making it busy in HS. 

- In other parts of town :

  • Chez Kai GH (previously Chez Pierrot, 460968), 1160 Soi Samosorn, little street south of the above area, the Library & Governor's Mansion / Sgl 100, Dbl 150 / Bike 20 per day / Go there for the tiny garden, one large Sgl w. balcony and to monitor its future development as it was awaken recently after a few years of sleep... / What you may not like : except for the traffic around, let's wait until ready...
  • Meeting Place (042 421223), 1117 Soi Chuen Jitt / Australian owner / Dbl 200-250 / The rooms are huge but empty and the popular western restaurant w. pool table below could make this place noisy at night. 
  • Sawasdee GH (412502), 402 Meechai Rd, the nearest from the bus station, next to a beautiful colonial house turned into a "Steak house" / Sgl 80, Dbl 120, w. AC & HW shower 280 / Bike 30 per day / Go there for the cleanest room in town, the cheapest Sgl & Dbl and the relaxed lobby & sitting area w. plants / What you may not like : the noise from the street

Backpacker's Tips : Julian Wright, Mut Mee GH (June 04)
 On our own behalf let me say that the "noisy bamboo twins" were demolished three years ago and have been replaced with better properly built doubles with showers, the singles have been reorganised and the lighting greatly improved....

Backpacker's Tips : Ralf S, Australia (June 03)
 Sawasdee Guesthouse: Sgl 100, Dbl 140, AC HW Dbl 300, AC HW TV Refrigerator Dbl 380 / no more bikes, but still clean & relaxed. / Internet: now there are a few places in town 15 - 25 Baht per hour


Where to eat ? If you arrive from Laos and are craving for burgers, steaks or pizzas, head toward The Meeting Place, The Danish Baker or Nobbi's. There is unfortunately no extensive night market in town (a few food stalls by the market but you will be served in plastic bags as there are no places to seat) but a few cheap local restaurants south of KC GH. Opposite Rimkhong GH, a series of small restaurants have tables by the river but slightly inflated prices (B30 for fried rice).

Internet ? Strangely for a border town, there aren't too many places. The cheapest one is KSC (461115, open 10:00 to 20:00) at 854 Moo 5, Mittraphad Rd, between Prajak & Route 212, south of the GH, Hospital & Police Station area : B20 per hour with B10 minimum charge. If you have a lot of mails on standby, they also sell 10 hours' cards for B150. 

Bike & Motorbike ? The standard price for motorbike is B200. For bikes, it varies between B20 (at Chez Kai GH) and B50, with an average price at B30. Plenty of places so shop around...

Sunset points ? A popular place is on the boat which cruises the river for about one hour : leaves from Wat Haisok (near Mut-Mee GH) at 17:30, B30, food & drinks available. An alternative is to base yourself in the small garden below the Friendship Bridge.

Backpacker's Tips : Julian Wright, Mut Mee GH (June 04)
 Food. Do check out some of the local specialities... The salted baked fish in the Tha Sadet Market is simply divine. And the Vientnamese Nem Nuang is absolutely divine too (but do watch the price on this one it can be cheap... but they are clever at getting you to order much more than you need... we can offer advice on this one!)
There are a number of Rocket festivals in May- June, but the best one is on Visakha Puja day (Buddha's Birthday... either late May or early June) and goes on for about a week... The parade is good on the first day and the rockets are gigantic!
The parade of illuminated floats on the river for Okk Paan Saa to coincide with the Maekong Fireballs in Phon Phisai are fantastic. Visible on the river after 7.00 pm they are as good as the floats in Nakorn Phanom and feature a wonderful array of rotating wheels, moving stairways and firing cannons. The rowing festival in the day time during this period is good too.
You didn't like our temples so much... but did you see Wat Tung Sawang with all it's little sala's see photo in Web site? Or the Chinese Temple? And Buddha on the roof overlooking the river of Wat Lam Duan is magnificent and I think built since you were here.


A strange "Buddhist" interpretation ? 

Beside shaving your head and wearing orange, visiting Sala Keo Kou should be the most original "Buddhist" experience of your life. It is striking certainly (some sculptures are massive and as high as 30m), intriguing definitively (a demon swallow a smiling head, dogs attack an elephant, a mermaid do what mermaid do,...) but finally not as weird as imagined at first as all sculptures have meaning, whatever it can be. The elephant is for example an illustration of a Thai proverb which claim that a righteous man does not need to worry about rumors, the same as an elephant does not care about barking dogs. 

Walking round the Wheel of Life is also particularly interesting : after crawling a vagina-tunnel, you found yourself as a fetus. Going left, you will pass all the different stage of life : childhood, adolescence, marriage, adultery (remember you are in Thailand), old age and death. The last step is to follow Buddha to Nirvana, outside of the circle. During this process, you also receive various Buddhist elements (the biggest statues) and the fifth senses plus the heart and also meet with various characters ranging from the King to a mafia man ! For a better description, get a copy of the excellent drawing made by Mut Mee GH.

If you liked the experience, there is a similar park near Vientiane in Laos. But in this one, you can also feed huge fish at two water ponds or buy cactus... A must visit therefore !

The park is about 4km east of Nong Khai, 500m off the road No212 to Nakhon Phanom (road on the south opposite a golden gate). Reaching it is rather expensive as with tuk-tuk only (buses won't take you there and I did not see any songthaew) : the requested price is B30-40 one way or B50-70 return. From the park, you can however get the ride for as low as B20. I personally paid B5 only but I walked back to the road and boarded a tuk-tuk with already 3 passengers. In addition, entrance cost B10. My advices therefore : 1/ If coming from A Hong or further east, insist that the bus drop you there 2/ If coming from Nong Khai, rent a bike !

 << Discover some weird sights

Visa to Laos ? Numerous agencies in town offer a 15 days' visa service for B1500 to B2500. It is quite ridiculous to do it with them as you can get a 15 days visa at the border for B1300 or $30 plus one or two photos. If you wish a 1 month visa, you will need to go to dull Khon Kaen where visa where reported costing B1600 for same day or B1100 for three working days. Considering that you have got 3 months to arrive into Laos, it is however best to arrange everything in Bangkok

Backpacker's Tips : Julian Wright, Mut Mee GH
 The price in Baht and Dollars is quite different and has been so for quite a while. It is either 30 US dollars or 1500 Baht. So as the current exchange is in the 39/41 range it means that it is a really bad idea to pay in Baht as this will cost you nearly 300 Baht more.

We also can provide visas ourselves, our price is cheaper, but the service is slower ie (880 Baht for a 15 day visa, but you have to wait four working
days, or 1080 for the same but you have to wait 2 working days). We are about 180 Baht more expensive than Bangkok, but some people think it's
nicer to wait here.

T
ake a bus in to Vientiane, not the tuk tuk, they are so uncomfortable over such a long distance and possibly dangerous on the mad Tha Deua road, and the bus is cheaper. If you already have a visa there is now a scheduled government bus from Nong Khai bus station to Vientiane. It leaves at 7.30 am 10.30 am 3.00 pm and 6.00 pm and costs 30 Baht. If you don't have a visa it won't wait for you to get one though.

Backpacker's Tips : Tam Chiwai, Hong Kong (Sept 00)
 On the way to Udon you can get off at BanChaing to see how they make those lovely pottery in beautiful design. There is also a museum where you can see one of the oldest kiln in Thailand


Going to Laos ? First, board a tuk-tuk to the Friendship Bridge (B30 or B20 from Route 212). Second, change for the compulsory bus (B10) toward the immigration offices, on each side of the bridge. Third, wait for a bus or take a tuk-tuk (B25) to Vientiane, 22km away. It is also possible to cross by ferry to Tha Dua in Laos if you have a valid visa.


Bus Schedules : 
 

To Price Class Duration Time Nb Freq.
Sang Khom 30 fan 2 6 to 14:20 9 hour
Loei 70 fan 7 6,7,8,9:30,10:40(?) 5 na
Beung Kan 45 fan 2.5 6:30 to 16:40 a lot 30mn
Udon Thani 17 fan 1.5 5:30 to 17:30 a lot 30mn
Nakkhon Phanom 91 fan 7 6:30,7:10,8,8:30,9,9:40 6 na
Bangkok 177/263 fan/ac2 12 5:30 to 19/7:30,19:30,20,20:30 +/4 various/na

Notes : To Sang Khom then continue to Chiang Khan for B50

The trip to Sang Khom : SSSS / L&R / B30 / 2.5 hrs / Fan green bus
Difficult to miss the bus : it is small and it is green ! The position inside if you measure more than 1.8m may however not be too natural. During week days, the first and last buses are usually full of students. 
If you do not wish to go to the bus station, you could walk south to Route 212 and catch it at the corner of the road leading to Texco Department Store
2.5 hours to cover 97km : yes, it means indeed some waiting time ! The ride started pretty well but delays occurred at Si Chiang Mai in order to renew the passengers. If you wish to stop here, there is at least one GH : Tim GH (Jean Daniel, tel 042 451072, email : timgh@ksc.th.com ) with good info on the surroundings activities. 
The ride was nice but nothing special at first except for some tree sculptures on the left before reaching Tha Bo. The last 15km are however best enjoyed on the right as the Mekong becomes at least visible.
If you know where you wishes to stay, ask the driver to get you off there. Indeed, the guesthouses are sprayed over 4 km and you do not wish to walk back on that road with little shade...

See also the trip from Beung Kan / A Hong