This is a very long post so settle in for a good read.

We recently had a friend from Canberra (Phillip) visit us for a few days and I planned a roadtrip to shown him a few of the sights away from our home base. The timing was perfect because we had bought a new pickup the week before and I was dying for a chance to try it out on a trip. You can read about our large purchase HERE.

The whole staff gather for a group photo once we had signed the paperwork.

My new toy is still at that early stage when it is a pleasure to find an excuse to drive somewhere.

One of the best varied drives in the area is from a small town on the Mekong River called Chiang Khan following the Mekong as it heads east (right on a map) ending up at a town called Nong Khai (or of course doing it in reverse). This is a drive I thoroughly recommend.

For us this drive is a perfect loop. In the map above you can see our home town of Si Bun Ruang under Nong Bua Lamphu towards the bottom. If you can see highway 210 then head west, join the 201, go up and it ends on the banks of the Mekong River at Chiang Khan. Stage two is if you then follow that red and white dotted line to the right, which is the border between Thailand and Laos as defined by the Mekong (the road number is 211), until you reach Nong Khai. In our case we return on highway 2 as it drops down (south) to Udon Thani. We then rejoin the 210 back to Nong Bua Lamphu and south to Si Bun Ruang. It is a 500 km round trip.

I have covered our last visit to Chiang Khan HERE and several visits to Nong Khai in previous blogs, the latest being HERE, so I am not going to repeat it all again. However I found some new sights this time around and of course each trip has it’s own flavour so I have focussed on the new and tried not to repeat myself too much. Even if you follow my posts you will find most of this is new.

The best way to comfortably see everything on this drive is to stay a night in Chiang Khan and one in Nong Khai and that’s what we did this time (obviously you can reverse the trip and have your second day in Chiang Khan – whatever works for you).

From Si Bun Ruang our more obvious route is to take the 210 as it goes through the town of Nong Bua Lamphu and then turn right onto the 201 and end up in Chiang Khan as I mentioned above. However the 210 from Nong Bua is a rubbish road. They are doing a lot of roadworks on it, so it will improve over time but it is mostly single lane, very busy and the roadworks often bring things to a crawl. There’s nothing much to see along the way although Tham (= cave in Thai) Erawan as marked on the map is worth the climb if you are feeling fit. My blog post HERE.

I decided to give the 210 a miss and change the point where we joined the 201 by firstly heading south from Si Bun Ruang (down) and then cutting across country to find the 201 at the very bottom left of the map above. We would then just stay on that road until it arrived in Chiang Khan.

The backroads on the first part of the trip were in reasonable condition although the countryside is pretty dull this time of year at the end of the dry season. Once the rice gets planted in June it will become more picture postcard Thai tropical looking. In the middle of nowhere we stopped off at a local temple that had been built at the bottom of a small hill. I am always optimistic about the potential quality of the sights here and am usually disappointed. In respect to wats they are usually funded by the local villages they represent, who don’t have much money, and on the whole are very basic and often not maintained because of a lack of enthusiasm or money or both. This one fell into that category but it did have a bat cave so that made it worthwhile 🙂 Whatever the outcome as a result of taking time out from a planned trip the good thing is that these are useful opportunities to have a break from driving and take a few photos.

A pretty standard small village wat. The bell tower in the background.

The monk arrived when he saw there were visitors and told Gaun about the bat cave further up the hill.

A bit of a climb but not too far thank goodness as it was pretty hot.

The cave. Better than some but full of bats so the smell discouraged a closer inspection!

Back on the road shortly after this side trip we joined the 201 and headed north towards our destination. I have to say that this road isn’t much better than the 210. It is also single lane although there maybe more overtaking opportunities. Heaps of trucks going both ways and scenically nothing special. However it made a change from our usual route and might become our norm if heading to Loei and beyond in the future.

On the other side of the provincial capital of Loei (refer to the map above) I spotted a feature I wanted to explore called Buddha Hill. You will see the signposts well before the turn so it is easy to find just off the road on the right. If you use a GPS these coords will find it 17°36’20.46″N 101°42’56.94″E.

This Google Earth image is only added to show you that Buddha Hill isn’t much of a deviation from your trip.

Buddha Hill is inside an Army base, the main entrance of which is just before this one, so you will come to a checkpoint but just drive through. We got a smart salute, which was probably the soldier’s only activity for the day and helped break his boredom. Just past the entry turn right and then almost immediately left. The road climbs steeply to two parking areas one lower than the other. The final run to the upper parking is very steep and it gave the turbo diesel of our new truck the chance to show off. The only other visitors had left their car at the lower carpark!

Buddha Hill is well worth a stop so do add it to your schedule if heading to or from Chiang Khan. It is a very new structure, beautifully maintained so far and maybe it will continue to be as it comes under the control of the army. It has good views over the surrounding countryside and the Buddha statue itself is impressive and very serene looking.

This is a photo of a poster on display showing the opening ceremony.

Gaun showing her respect at the statue.

This is a very common Buddha pose called “Touching the Earth”. If interested you can read about all the Buddha statue poses and what they mean HERE.

Even though it was a misty day the view back to Loei was worth the short climb.

Excellent presentation here. Really good to see in a country where how things look often takes a pretty low priority.

You are being watched so behave 🙂 Cameras in the trees.

We timed our arrival in Chiang Khan for mid afternoon as there is not much to do there until the night markets kick off starting around 6.00 pm. Do read my previous post on this town via the link above if you are visiting. It might help you make the most of your stay, which in my opinion has a lot to do with timing. I am only going to write about new things so here we go.

The main attraction of Chiang Khan are the wooden buildings alongside the Mekong River and the evening markets that happen there. Because you are locked into seeing the markets it follows you are also stuck with staying the night there, which is a challenge on the accommodation side of things. I have yet to find a decent place by my standards (although I have only been twice) so can’t make any recommendations.

The first time we stayed at a wooden guesthouse right on walking street called the The Husband & Wife Guesthouse HERE (the wife seems to be missing) and found it pretty ordinary. A traditional wooden house sounds romantic but they are noisy because everything is timber and you will end up getting to know your neighbours better than you wanted to. Also in our case the room was very small and I believe other wooden places suffer the same fate and bathrooms are often shared.

This isn’t our room but it is very much like it. Pretty basic and expensive (by Thai standards) for what you get.

This time I decided to move away from the walking street and we booked into a highly rated new resort called Baan Suan La Moon just outside the central area HERE. I am never sure how places get their ratings on the booking sites but this one is given an Excellent 8.9 by Booking.com. It was all pretty standard resort Thai. Newly built but falling apart already, maintenance a mystery and a shower that aimed water everywhere except where you wanted it. It was OK but a 7.0 would be a more realistic rating.

Our accommodation on the left. Adequate but nothing special.

Next time I might give Chic Chiangkhan Hotel a try HERE. A lot more expensive but I wouldn’t mind because these expeditions are like a holiday to me and blow the cost (well under A$80.00 anyway) and if I could just find somewhere that came close to meeting expectations I would be prepared to pay extra. Chic looked very nice right on the waterfront but slightly away from the night market (quieter) at the far end of the walking street.

Chic Hotel looks OK from the back overlooking the Mekong River. A mix of wood and concrete so it could be quieter inside for sleeping.

Watch out because the cheaper rooms don’t face the river and some don’t even have a window! A$90.00 will get you one of these with a small bathroom and a even window 🙂

Looking downstream (east) from the back of the Chic Hotel. As you can see the more developed part of the town fronting the river ends here. We will follow the river into the distance at the base of those hills the next day.

Warning Chiang Khan is very much a Thai tourist destination so the prices for accommodation reflect this and it does get busy on weekends I believe. “Dead as” during the week both times we have been, almost too quiet.

The walkway alongside the river. This is as crowded as I have seen it 🙂

Now you’d expect in a western sense that a riverside path like this fronted with lots of guesthouses and hotels would be a mecca for quality bars, restaurants and cafes but you will be disappointed with Chiang Khan. There are a few but certainly during the week (it may be different on a weekend) nothing was happening. Many didn’t even seem to be open and there are very few decent places (or even indecent places!) to sit, have a cold drink and take in the river, the passing traffic and view Laos.

Moving away from the waterfront we decided to have a late lunch at the number one restaurant in Chiang Khan according to Trip Advisor – a pizza place 🙂 Oh dear. Anyway I often have the urge for western food so no complaints from me. I actually recommend Slinks HERE on a small soi (street) just off the walking street.

The food was limited in choice but tasty and the pizzas were thin crust and excellent. They do some Thai (Isaan) food for your partners although Gaun will take a Hawaiian pizza over a pappaya salad anytime!

They have had a go at giving it a bit of character. During the day you will need to wake the staff (literally) who in our case were from Nong Bua Lamphu, our home town.

Little touches. I liked this one about Grandmas.

Because I am just writing about new things and not giving you a flowing account of our time in Chiang Khan I will jump straight to massage. My friend from Canberra wanted a massage so we picked this place.

This traditional Thai massage place is about halfway down walking street on the right (looking east).

I enjoyed the inside, which was very different from most massage shops. Slightly eccentric, which I can relate to!

Gaun with the owner and some ointment we bought. This lady is a big character.

The massage was reported as a success so I pass that on for what its worth if you ever find yourself in the town. The usual 200 baht (A$8.00) for one hour although for Thai you can often find them for 150 baht. On the way to the massage place we passed a small, very standard wat on the main road with a difference.

Can you spot the thing that caught my attention?

In a land where maintenance is a foreign concept the sight of a monk actually repainting something was worth a photo. Thank goodness for a decent telephoto! (Sigma 18 – 250mm for the photo minded).

There is a bit of unexpected stuff like this around in Chiang Khan, which helps give it a sense of fun and more photo opportunities.

Phillip capturing a shot of one of the local stalls. many of the shops are closed during the day and only open starting from about 5 pm for the night market.

Sunset – one of the attractions of anywhere situated on the Mekong.

Laos on the other side.

And a couple of photos from a previous post just to give you an idea of how the night markets look:

Day 2 we called back to Slink for breakfast (the food wasn’t bad but the coffee was the worst cup of something supposed to be approximating coffee I have ever had) and as the only parking for a large pickup is in the temple grounds we were lucky to pass a wedding photo session that was underway.

The happy couple and a two ladyboys, who will often as not be the people arranging makeup and clothes.

The couple offered to have a photo taken by us. Thais don’t mind a photo or three.

Although this looks like the post wedding photo session it is actually only for the wedding invitation cards. Thias have a full dress affair so that they have a photo to go on the formal invitation and also a large print to stand at the entrance of the wedding ceremony when that happens. It can be quite a cost before you even start on the “real” aspects of the wedding. Gaun and I went through the same thing and our large photo is framed on a wall in our house. Unfortunately there was such a demand for the invitations (true) that I don’t have a copy 🙁

Our formal pre-wedding photo.

Driving out of Chiang Khan on highway 211, which follows the Mekong to Nong Khai, our first stop was not far at a wat in the hills called Wat Phra Buddhabaht Phu Kwai.

This Google Earth image shows you the relativity of the wat to Chiang Khan. GPS 17°53’52.59″N 101°44’59.02″E will get you close.

Chiang Khan itself is pretty light-on with quality temples so it was a pleasure to find this newly constructed chedi hidden away a few minutes off the main road. I missed it on our last trip so can include it as a new item in this post with a recommendation you drop in as part of your explore of the area.

A chedi (pronounced a bit like “JD” in Thai) is a tower structure usually with a room at the bottom with openings on the four sides. Some of these are very large and some have multiple levels (see below) you can climb to but this was a simple one.

For example Phra Mahathat Kaen Nakhon is a large chedi in the grounds of Wat Nong Wang in Khon Kaen. You can read about our visit there HERE.

A typical white, gold, red structure but nicely done.

You can buy a package of flowers, candles and incense (joss) sticks on the left and then light the candles and incense here (your candles are 99% guaranteed to blow out!). The umbrellas are sitting in concrete filled paint tubs to give that authentic Thai look 🙂

Inside the chedi looking out to the hills in the background. I think that is one of the many Buddha footprints you will find all over Thailand.

Looking down on the chedi from the back.

Some closer detail.

Don’t just stop at the chedi. There is more to see. Climb the steps and follow the path around and you will come across this very stylish Buddha statue.

I especially like the matching finger nails!

And of course you must feed the rabbits!!!!!!! Some temples have a theme but this is the first one I have come across that was stocked with rabbits, which are seen as a good luck animal in Thailand.

The split finger salute is nothing to do with “V for Victory” Churchill but represents rabbit ears! Always be careful applying western preconceived ideas onto Thai culture 🙂 This is Gaun with friend at a recent wedding in the village.

The rabbits are in a very large rocky enclosure overlooking the chedi building. If it wasn’t so misty you would have great views over the surrounding countryside.

Life is full of surprises in Thailand and this was one of them. You can buy food and go into the enclosure to feed them.

Looking pretty relaxed about life. I know the feeling.

For some reason there was a small separate enclosure which had a piglet and a rabbit. One of them is going to grow up thinking he/she is something else!

Don’t stop because there is still more to see even though it isn’t clear that there is.

If you climb the stairs on the left hand side of the chedi (looking at it from the carpark) you will see this sign with an arrow. Follow it.

You will pass a structure with lots of statues no doubt waiting for more money to build a better presentation area.

The guy in the middle is an Indian hermit called Ruesi and you will come across him in many temples or just in single shrines in the countryside everywhere here. Keep your eye out and you will be surprised how often he shows up.

This Ruesi was in a shrine on the side of the road in absolutely nowhere close to the Laos border as we drove to a city in the north called Nan. A great post that you can read about HERE.

Ruesi is nothing to do with Buddhism. Thailand is a wonderful mix of beliefs and superstitions. You can read more about Ruesi HERE. Funnily recently we passed a small festival happening outside Nong Bua Lamphu, close to where we live and stopped of course to see what was going on.

This is a spirit shrine on the edge of the road and cars toot three times for good luck. Not a good place to stop for a relaxing nap!

Part of the ritual in progress was the “ordination” of someone as Ruesi, which was a first for me. I haven’t seen that done before.

The beard is a bit short but he has the traditional Ruesi tiger skin.

OK, back to topic. The reason you are following that arrow is that there is a great view at the top of the hill at the back of the wat. A shame it was so misty but as you can see it is a short walk that is worth the effort.

On the way to the crest of the hill and at the top you will find lots of these stones stacked on top of each other, once again done for good luck.

Gaun does her own mini version.

How long would these last in our societies? Knocked down the first day.

And yet more with beautiful bamboo in the background.

Things like views are very much a farang obsession and Gaun is far more interested in her favourite aspect of life (next to food and her lovely farang husband of course) flowers:

She is always disappointed that her plants that get such tender loving care don’t seem to perform as well as ones she sees just growing out of nothing 🙂 Poor Gaun.

And if you haven’t yet gained enough good luck ring the bells to finish off your visit.

Back on the road our next couple of stops were at places I have covered before in my previous posts so I won’t do more than touch on them. Good luck comes in all sorts of shapes and sizes in Thailand and your next stop maybe 10 minutes drive from the temple once you get back on the 211 heading east to Nong Khai is no exception:

If large phallic statues are your thing then I have just the thing for you. You will find this shrine at 17°59’25.79″N 17°59’25.79″N

The view at the back of the shrine. This is at the end of the dry season so the Mekong is pretty low. That’s Laos on the other side.

A lunch stop next and I recommend this place, which you can’t miss because it sort of stands out. Decent food, plenty of it and at local rather than tourist prices. A nice change from Chiang Khan.

This eating place is on the left (driving east) overlooking the Mekong.

It has been a long day! Waiting for lunch to arrive Thai-style.

The last time I saw these blue headed lizards was in Chiang Mai.

Well worth the wait. Tom Yum Pla a spicy sour dish for three people – 250 baht.

This Laos boat was seen struggling against the strong water flow to head upriver. You can join this cruise if you have the money and it looks brilliant. Information HERE.

Here are a few photos from their website and I have included the itinerary here Pandaw. Maybe my lottery ticket will come in soon.

Not too shabby.

The captain would need to know his river because there are lots of shallows and rocks.

Another “new” stop on this trip. This is tobacco drying at the side of the road. I haven’t seen this before so it is obviously a seasonal thing.

The tobacco leaves being sorted.

We bought a kilo for Lud, who is a very moderate smoker and rolls his own, at a cost of 150 baht or A$6.00. No tax!

And the final scenic stop for day 2 was a must if travelling this route – the Nong Khai Skywalk. Once again the weather spoiled the full potential of this unusual temple attraction but it was still worth the detour.

18° 2’13.36″N 102°18’18.62″E will find it on your GPS.

The skywalk is attached to a wat called Pha Tak Suea and I can’t work out how that fits into Buddhist teachings.A huge income earner though and you can see the benefits for the temple by the ongoing construction happening on the hill. Whatever the philosophy (or lack of) the skywalk is worth a visit so add it to your list.

The Nong Khai Skywalk. Spectacular views on the right day.

With a glass floor for an increased heart rate.

Although it is called the Nong Khai Skywalk it is located about an hour’s drive from the town and the remainder of the trip is pretty Thai ordinary with increasing development as you drive into Nong Khai itself.

If you are staying overnight in Nong Khai, which we did for our second night away from home, then I strongly recommend Mut Mee Guesthouse (no kickback involved although I am open to offers). It is a wonderful peaceful oasis set right on the Mekong. Great rooms, not expensive and beautifully maintained under the ownership of Jerome an English guy.

GPS for the guesthouse 17°53’0.43″N 102°44’31.56″E

For parking the laneway to the guesthouse is VERY narrow and not recommended. There is almost no parking at the end anyway. Instead aim for the street to the right of the guesthouse as marked on the map above 17°52’59.90″N 102°44’35.92″E where there is plenty of space. Mut Mee can be easily accessed from the public walkway at the top of the street next to the river.

The laneway to reception. Best to avoid especially driving a large pickup as I was.

I recommend Mut Mee for a variety of reasons. Firstly it is owned by a farang who runs the place to farang standards. Maintenance seems to be carried out and things like the taps falling out of the basin, windows that won’t close, doors that won’t open, showers that dribble water at a pressure to make wetting your toothbrush a challenge etc just don’t seem to be on the agenda. The rooms have been furnished with items of decoration that make them attractive not just a concrete firm bed, see-through curtains and a fluorescent tube light.

Mut Mee is beautifully located literally right on the Mekong River. There is a public walkway immediately in front of the guesthouse but it doesn’t intrude at all.

The dining area of Mut Mee on the left and the Mekong on the right.

The grounds have been established to provide for a relaxing environment. You could spend your entire time just within the gardens and never leave. Seriously my next break from village life will be at Mut Mee with a couple of good books.

Lots of tables, chairs, hammocks and other places to relax are scattered throughout the gardens.

Thai massage tables and service on the left under that thatched roof.

Mut Mee is self contained in that there is a good in-house restaurant at very reasonable prices and basic drinks including alcohol works on an honour system. Take what you want from the fridge and record it against your room, something I have never seen in operation before. There’s also a massage service and a bookstore.

This is the main accommodation building.

The rooms are well priced in my opinion. The various quotes we had when enquiring were:

(Prices are per night excluding breakfast)

Room 4: Double bed with mosquito nets & fan, shared bathroom outside with hot shower. Price 350 Baht, which is next to…

Room 5: Twin beds with mosquito nets & fan, shared bathroom outside with hot shower. Price 350 Baht

Room 12: Double bed with mosquito net, air con & fan, private bathroom with hot shower and veranda. Price 650 Baht, which is next to…

Room BW: Double bed with mosquito net, air con & fan, private bathroom with hot shower and veranda. Price 650 Baht

In The New Building…

Room Chaba: Double bed, fan and air con, private bathroom with hot shower, Cable TV, Fridge, Kettle. Room is set back but has balcony looking towards Mekong River. Price: 850 Baht, which is next to…

Room Garuda: Double bed, fan and air con, private bathroom with hot shower, Cable TV, Fridge, Kettle. Room is set back but has balcony looking towards Mekong River. Price: 850 Baht

Room Esarn: Double bed, fan and air con, private bathroom with hot shower, Cable TV, Fridge, Kettle. A balcony looking towards garden and Mekong River. Price: 850 Baht, which is next to…

Room Dharuni: Downstairs, Double Bed, veranda over the Mekong River, Private Bathroom with Hot Shower, Air con, Cable TV, Fridge, Kettle. This is the 2nd Best Room in the House.  1000 Baht

Gaun entering our room the Esarn. I recommend the Dharuni and for A$40.00 a night it is a bargain.

Although this is a publically owned walkway the Mut Mee had spent money to improve their part of this wall.

A free cup of coffee in the morning with my friend Phillip (I’m the good looking one)

Followed by a very decent farang breakfast.

Enough free promotion for Mut Mee. Leaving the guesthouse to find the car I had to capture this image:

Brooms for sale overlooking the Mekong.

Day 3 our first stop for the morning in Nong Khai was a sculpture park I have written about several times before called Sala Kukaew or Sala Kaew Ku or Sala Keoku, covered recently HERE so won’t again. It is one of THE attractions in the area so read my post and see if it would interest you.

Huge characterful sculptures make this a pretty unique attraction.

This was followed by a visit to what I regard as the best temple in Nong Khai and it isn’t Wat Pho Chai, which is rated number two in Nong Khai attractions by Trip Advisor. You will probably be the only person at this temple Wat Noen Panao Wanaram rather than the crowds at the Pho Chai. They are close to each other so do them both for contrast. Wat Noen is one of my favourites in Thailand and you will find it here GPS 17°53’5.40″N 102°45’52.72″E.

Set in large treed grounds with multiple buildings.

Monks and Buddha.

There are lots of great photo opportunities at this wat so don’t get caught at the first group of buildings but have a wander throughout the grounds and you will be surprised at the number of structures and quality of the presentation. High class and I have seen a few! I will give you a selection of photos just to give you a taste of what is on offer.

The bell tower.

The tree of life.

Treed areas for shade and cool on a hot day.

Spot the real monk.

And another striking version of the tree of life.

We came back to find Phillip chatting to a monk who could speak some English.

The markets adjacent to the Mekong were next before we headed home but that’s an old story that I won’t repeat. See my last link in this post if you want more.

This was a super enjoyable couple of days on the road and as you can see if you add in all the attractions I have written about in previous posts to this one it can be a varied and interesting round trip. I do recommend it as one of the best road explores you can easily do if you find yourself in the north east of Thailand with transport and a few days free.

Thanks for reading.