My stepdaughter Peng recently had her second school holiday of the year (Thai kids only have two breaks a year at Songkran, Thai New Year in April, and October). She has wanted to visit a small town called Chiang Khan on the banks of the Mekong River for some time and this was her holiday treat. I have to confess that I also wanted to see the place as it is one of the big attractions for Thais in the area. We went during the week because it evidently gets packed on weekends.
Because it was a reasonable distance from us and one of the main attractions of the town is its evening markets I decided to spend the night there and then come home following the Mekong River east and visit another place on my to-do list called the Nong Khai Skywalk. On the map above you can see our home marked at the bottom. Our round trip took us up to where the 228 meets the 210 at our provincial capital of Nong Bua Lamphu. From there we drove west (left) and joined the 201 as it headed north towards the Mekong and the border with Laos. The 201 passes through a city and provincial capital called Loei about where the “201” label sits on the map. Our destination for day 1 was the Husband & Wife guesthouse in Chiang Khan.
Day 2, which I will cover in a separate post, had us heading east (right) towards the Nong Khai Skywalk marked on the map. This road follows the Mekong and is one of THE drives to do in Thailand in my opinion. We then turned onto highway 2 (marked 212 on the map) and the city of Udon Thani (labeled 22) and completing the circuit back home. Three hours driving day 1 and five hours day 2.
I will get bored with driving in Thailand eventually but in the meantime there are always little opportunities to break most trips with things that often aren’t scenically beautiful but fall into the unusual category and worth recording on “film”.
Just a note for those travelling in our footsteps. Highway 210 from Udon Thani to Nong Bua Lamphu is a great road. It is a dual and sometimes triple carriageway that allows you to travel the 50 km between these two places easily in 30 minutes. However once you leave Nong Bua heading west (left on the map) the road quickly becomes single lane and it is busy with limited overtaking opportunities. It is always a slow and frustrating (if you let it) drive. Allow plenty of time.
We arrived in Chiang Khan mid afternoon and had problems finding the guesthouse due to its wrong location on Google maps. I have written about this problem so often on the blog that you’d think that I would follow my own advice and triple check. Duh.
I have advised Google of this error and they very quickly responded with the position moved on the day I told them. You can now plan your Chiang Khan trip with confidence 🙂
Travelfish.org give a good summary of Chiang Khan, which I will copy below for those interested in more than just my words:
First established as an outpost of the Lan Xiang kingdom, the original Chiang Khan was destroyed by Haw warriors from China’s Yunnan region in the 1700s. The town was later re-established in its current location, this time as part of the Siamese empire, and was boosted when large numbers fled the north bank of the river after French colonialists assumed control of Laos in the late 19th century. It was during this period that Chiang Khan’s signature wood houses were built.
Once attracting only a trickle of foreign travellers and virtually no one else, the town’s narrow lanes are now stacked with “boutique” hotels and souvenirs shops that overflow from the well-preserved heritage architecture. A native told us that most of the long-time residents have moved over to the main drag, renting out their riverfront houses to entrepreneurs from Bangkok and beyond.
This fairly new tourism market is tilted heavily towards an increasingly wealthy wave of Thais. Few Thai destinations have evolved so explicitly for the domestic trade, and none as tightly packed as Chiang Khan. The age-old tradition of saffron-robed monks on morning alms round is now a major draw for snap-happy tourists. Though it gets extremely busy on weekends and holidays, especially in the cooler months, the town remains bucolic on weekdays.
There are three things you should be aware of when visiting Chiang Khan. (1) Don’t expect a cute wooden town as shown in all the photos, mine included. The scenic part is mostly the main street that runs one row of houses back from the Mekong. The rest is typical Thai ugly. My title “Chiang Khan – a wooden village on the Mekong” was a bit misleading – sorry 🙂 (2) This street is mainly shut and empty, on a weekday anyway, until the markets kick off starting around 5 pm, and (3) there isn’t much else to see in Chiang Khan apart from the wooden houses, the market and the Mekong at sunset. The wats are nothing special and that’s about it.
Having said that I really liked the place as the main street had real character, especially at night and sunset on the Mekong is always worth seeing.
You pay a premium to eat at one of the Mekong view restaurants although cheap by western standards of course. Take note that this is a rural Thai/Laos location. Once the sun goes down you will have a view of pretty well nothing! There’s not much in the way of development on the Laos side. I can remember the revolving restaurant at the top of the Telecom Tower in Canberra which had a similar problem. At night half the time you’d be looking at the lights of CBD Canberra (such as it is) and the suburbs and the rest at the great Australian countryside…..complete darkness 🙂
These markets are a very pleasant way to spend a couple of hours. They are a little different from others in that a lot of the offerings are based in good quality shops that cascade their products onto the street.
Lots of street stalls too of course. However the products themselves are mostly the same mass-produced stuff you will find in every market in Thailand. You need to realise that there is very little original craft on offer in this type of location (or anywhere else come to that). You will find 50 stalls selling Chiang Khan T-shirts, just as you will find their cousins (probably literally) selling Chiang Mai T-shirts in the evening or Sunday walking street markets there. I have been to MANY markets across Thailand and always keep an eye out to buy something original that is “real” Thai for our house or garden. I am still looking.
If you are visiting this part of Isaan a trip to Chiang Khan (on a weekday) is very much recommended. Check out my next post about Day 2 because this is a must do if you have your own transport. Plan to spend one night in Chiang Khan and the next in Nong Khai further east, again on the Mekong. The Mut Mee Guesthouse is a great place to stay HERE or HERE. There are some interesting things to see in this riverside town, some of which I have covered in my posts HERE and HERE.
Thanks for reading.