After a quiet period on the blog I am having a brainstorm and catching up on news. It won’t last but I hope you are enjoying sharing some of our happenings over the last couple of months.
This is the second of my posts chatting about a recent “holiday” we had visiting the small town of Chiang Khan situated on the banks of the Mekong River, which you can read about HERE. I put “holiday” in quotes because from my retired point of view Gaun and I are on holiday all the time. However there is everyday holiday and tourist holiday and this trip falls into the latter category. In this post I will cover the drive from Chiang Khan to Nong Khai following route 211 as it winds its way alongside the Mekong.
If you are visiting the north east of Thailand do make the effort to hire some transport and drive this route. The roads are single lane but in good condition and mostly traffic free. You will pass through lots of small moo bans (villages) and there are plenty of photo and eating opportunities along the way. Make sure you see the Nong Khai Skywalk and you will understand why later in this post.
Leaving our guesthouse in Chiang Khan our first stop happened at a hill just outside the town, which had a wat built into the side. It may or may not be called Wat Phu Noi Samakkhi Tham as naming things in Thailand is always a bit hit and miss. Anyway “Phu” in Thai means a hill (except in the north where a hill is called a doi!) so that sort of looked hopeful. I was wanting to get some photos looking back to Chiang Khan and of the Mekong so a hill worked for me and the wat was a bonus.
Needless to say building work was happening as part of the endless task of Buddhist temple construction. People want to gain merit and the easiest way to do that is donate money to a temple. The monks live a simple life and philanthropy doesn’t seem to play a big part in the Buddhist tradition so that money is spent on new temples, statues and skywalks (which will make sense later).
This is another of Thailand’s best drives and you can read about it HERE.
You will often see tattoos on monks. They are usually Buddhist in theme not Pattaya nightlife related. However many monks are only “monking” for a short time so they have a “normal” life outside the wat and may have normal tattoos to match.
The temple used to have great views downstream (east) once but trees had grown and they were mostly now hidden. Maybe the new temple being a lot higher will open up the Mekong vista again.
Our next stop was as a result of this eye catching shrine at the side of the road:
These phallic symbols will “pop up” in all sorts of places from the small wooden ones at local markets, where they often have a bottle opener on one end (the same as in real life I guess), through to more elaborate presentations like this one.
Gaun hasn’t injured her wrist in the above photo. We had just got married (Valentine’s Day 2014) and those are all the white strings the attendees tie on your wrist for good luck. They stay on for three days. Remember it is usually left wrist for girls and ladyboys and right for boys!
And to complete my trip off topic Den Chai is also the town with one of the best cafes in Thailand. I will include it in a post about our return from the northern town of Nan when I get around to it but trust me this is an unusual cafe that makes a trip to Den Chai worth the stop as well as for the phallic symbols! The first two stunning days travelling the backroads to Nan can be found HERE and HERE.
I have no idea who uses these paths as this is a very small village and apart from a standard wat on the other side of the road there’s nothing here. Lots of dick worshipers maybe.
There are lots of eating choices along this route. Nothing fancy – all local Thai. I recommend this one about 30 minutes out of Chiang Khan and it’s hard to miss due to the subtle colour scheme. It is right on the Mekong with a sala overlooking the river and Laos.
It doesn’t really show in the photo but this was a huge serving and would have been a meal for three people in itself. Beautifully moist and tasty. 100 baht or A$4.00. The same thing in Chiang Khan would have been twice as expensive and half the quantity. The same as tourist towns everywhere.
Our next stop was at a border crossing to Laos. A large ferry was carrying trucks backwards and forwards between the two countries.
Laos is a place we will visit at some stage. I believe it is more scenic than Thailand but the infrastructure is way behind my new home country. The roads are dreadful I have been told, unlike Thailand which on the whole has an excellent road system.
The stop you must make on this trip is for the Nong Khai Skywalk. Don’t be fooled by the name, which relates to the province of Nong Khai not the city which is at least an hour’s drive away. GPS 18.2’13.01 N 102.18’18.84 E. The turn from the 211 coming from Chiang Khan looks like this:
The Skywalk is part of a temple called Wat Pha Tak Sua so that’s the signage you are looking for. And when you get there the Skywalk looks like this with a massive sweeping view over the Mekong and surrounding countryside, both Thailand and Laos.
As always I struggle to find the connection between Buddhism and a things like a A$650,000 skywalk. Good fun though and free. Make a donation, which is what we did.
Yes there is actually a wat there too as well as the tourist attraction. You make a donation and get a little pack comprised of a candle, three incense sticks and three paper wraps with the thinnest of gold foil inside.
If you have ever tried applying this gold leaf to a Buddha statue you will know that it rates as one of the hardest things in life. Secret – if there’s any water around slightly dampen the area first! I find the gold usually gets stuck on your fingers, where it is surprisingly hard to get off, or flutters to the floor. Practice makes perfect in time maybe.
My timing was off because I had planned to finish the day at the Nong Khai aquarium, which we visited without Peng over two years ago and was worth the time. Sorry Peng – next time. It would have made an interesting final stop on this round trip. You can read about the aquarium towards the end of this post HERE but I have pinched some photos from our previous visit to give you a taste.
I will finish this story by repeating the same ending as in my last post about this trip in case you missed it:
“If you are visiting this part of Isaan a trip to Chiang Khan (on a weekday) is very much recommended. Plan to spend one night in Chiang Khan and the next in Nong Khai further east, again on the Mekong (or reversed). The Mut Mee Guesthouse is a great place to stay HERE or HERE. There are some interesting things to see in Nong Khai, some of which I have covered in my posts HERE and HERE.”
Thanks for reading.