If you travel on the northeast route through the Khorat Plain in Thailand, you will eventually come to Nong Khai. This city is located on the banks of the Mekong, on the opposite side is already Laos. The river flows quite sluggishly, the modern promenade high above the water opens a wide view. The first of the „friendship bridges“ between Thailand and Laos allows a few kilometers up the river to cross the border.
Sunken temple, golden Buddha and strolling street – Nong Khai in Thailand
Even though the center of Nong Khai is a typical Asian city with many of the characterless concrete buildings, the town has some quite pleasant corners. Many westerners who have settled in and around Nong Khai – partly with Thai women, partly solo – will have thought the same. Particularly pleasant is the influence of the calmly flowing Mekong River, on the banks of which one can stroll along a rather elaborate promenade erected as a concrete bridge. It is said that the former PM Thaksin Shinawatra wanted to set himself a monument with such promenades and other prestige projects.
On the waterfront, seafood restaurants, bars, boutiques and temples alternate, and two giant dragons spout water instead of fire for a bit of freshness. The view over the Mekong and across to Laos has a liberating effect, and in the evening people always gather for the sunset. If this promenade has greatly changed the previously much more natural Mekong – bank with steep slopes down to the river, it is now accepted and one of the meeting places in Nong Khai. At least one has thought of setting up a bike path, which is of course also used by scooters and others. So strictly one does not see that in Thailand…
Temples in and along the Mekong River
At the eastern end of the boardwalk, the remains of a chedi rise out of the water in the dry season when the Mekong River level has dropped low enough. This belongs to the temple Phra That Klang Naam, which sank into the Mekong in 1847. When the top of the chedi emerges from the water, flags and cloths are immediately attached to it.
Opposite, on the city side of the waterfront, is the impressive temple Phra That Nong Khai with its gilded chedi. If you are traveling by bike, this is also the right point to turn further south and make your way through some suburban neighborhoods. Because then you come to the Buddha Park.
Sala Kaeo Ku – the Buddha Park
One of the attractions in Nong Khai is the Buddha Park Sala Kaeo Ku in the southeast of the city. Around 1978 the artist Luang Pu Bunleua Sulilat, in thai: หลวงปู่บุญเหลือ สุรีรัตน์ created with his followers a park with huge figures of different eastern religions.
Among them are Buddha – sculptures like the meditating Buddha protected by a seven-headed Naga – snake and Hindu – deities like the demon Rahu. Numerous groups of figures show mythological scenes. The explanations are written on the pedestal, but unfortunately only in Thai. For the artist and mystic Sulilat the park should also contribute to the understanding between the different religions. He always considered a peaceful coexistence of the faiths possible and necessary. The park also includes a Sala Kaeo Ku pavilion with other artifacts. The way to the Sala Kaeo Ku Park should be taken on a visit to Nong Khai in any case – the monumental figures are a main – sight in this town.
Golden Buddha of Nong Khai, Gallery Hostel
In Wat Pho Chai of Nong Khai a Golden Buddha is worshipped. The statue with the name Luang Pho Phra Sai and a head of pure gold is about 1,50m high and should have been brought from Vientiane to Krung Thep by order of King Rama I. But during the crossing over the Mekong the boat with the statue sank. Only years later it could be found and salvaged at low water. Wall frescoes in Wat Pho Chai tell of these adventurous stories.
In general, Nong Khai was often in the center of the disputes between Lao Lan Chang and the Siam Empire of Ayutthaia. Thus, different cultures have left their traces in the city, most recently also the French as colonial power in Vietnam and Laos. Single houses in French colonial style can be found in some places in Nong Khai.
If you are an art lover and want to sleep among paintings and sculptures, we recommend the Gallery Hostel. This simple, clean accommodation in an old villa is regularly visited by art lovers in Nong Khai. On the ground floor and upper floor hang and stand numerous works of art probably mainly by regional artists of today. Even a washing corner is integrated into the gallery. You are welcome as an exhibition visitor or as a buyer even if you don’t stay overnight. There is also a small snack bar with outdoor seating in the front garden.
Nong Khai nightlife – bars and restaurants of western dropouts
As already mentioned, Nong Khai is a place where many dropouts from western countries have settled. This is also reflected in the cityscape a bit, for example when you come across the Danish corner bar or the Boncafé with German bakery, goulash and Leberkäse (Meatloaf). Through such establishments Nong Khai also has a bit of nightlife, which is not common everywhere in Thailand. Otherwise, backpackers often stay in town for a day or two before crossing the border into Laos or returning from there to Bangkok. Behind the waterfront is also a small Indochina – market Tha Sadet, where various goods and clothes from China, Laos or Vietnam are offered – from electronic knickknacks to shoes and clothes.
Travel tips Nong Khai
Further information for your arrival in Thailand you will get in the „discover Thailand“ post.
Arrival by bus or train
To get from Bangkok to Nong Khai (about 620km), you have to leave the main line of the train to Chiang Mai at Ayutthaia at the latest. There are through trains from Bangkok Hua Lamphong to Nong Khai* or even over the Friendship Bridge another 8km to Laos. If you want to see something of Thailand before, stopovers in Ayutthaia and Phimai via Khorat are recommended.
Of course, there are also buses from Bangkok to Nong Khai… or from some other cities. For example, I tried the night bus from Nakhon Ratchasima* via Udon Thani. Unfortunately, that was a pretty short night, as we arrived in Nong Khai already around 6 a.m.. At that time you can only hang around for a while, e.g. on a bench at the waterfront. Back to Bangkok it goes here*.
From and to Nong Khai buses go to Vientiane, the capital of Laos, so to speak in the small border traffic (30km). But since I had to get a visa on arrival for Laos first, I took a tuktuk to the Friendship Bridge, left there as a pedestrian, got on one of the shuttle buses between the border crossing points and entered Laos again as a pedestrian. Behind the border crossing then almost the cab and tuktuk drivers fight over a passenger. But cheaper is a shared cab – the drivers make clear price announcements and accept Thai baht for payment there. If you can tear yourself away and want the cheapest option, you have to walk a bit and find a line of the Vientiane city bus.
From the border crossing at the bridge to the center of Vientiane it is about 20 km. This bridge is so far the only rail connection between Thailand and Laos. However, the train also goes only 8km to Ban Thanaleng village, from there you have to take a bus to Vientiane.
Accommodation in Nong Khai – hotels, apartments, hostels
budget accomodation in hostels
I have already mentioned the Silsopa Gallery Hostel* as worthwhile. The shared rooms are right next to the gallery rooms, but after the exhibition closes they are quiet, clean and pleasant for a night or two. When I was there, there was not too much „visitor traffic“. If it gets more, you’ll have to put up with some noise during the day. For your trips along the waterfront and, for example, to Sala Kaeo Ku Buddha Park, you can borrow bicycles for free.
Hug Khieng Khong Nongkhai Hostel* also offers free bike rental. The hostel includes family room, terrace and garden. Coffee, barbecue, breakfast, snack bar are the culinary offers in the house. For children there is a playroom, games can be borrowed.
A traditional and quite nice backpacker – hostel is the mut mee garden Guesthouse* on the Mekong shore opposite the boat landing (western end of the developed waterfront). Here are several houses in a spacious garden plot, in the wooden upper floor there are friendly rooms of different price ranges. In front of the reception you can sit nicely outside, a garden restaurant next to it offers a variety of good dishes. House guests can „write“ with their order slip and pay at the end.
More upscale accommodations in hotels and resorts in Nong Khai
A bit outside of Nong Khai (about 6km) you will find the Rivertree House*. The owners of the resort make up for the distance to town by providing free bicycles. So you are flexible in exploring the surroundings, accommodated in the countryside and yet not so far away from the city and the sights. Double rooms as well as separate houses also for larger groups (up to 7 guests) are offered. A breakfast buffet is part of the accommodation. There are also family rooms. Garden and terrace can be used. In about 3km distance a golf course attracts passionate lawn sportsmen.
Only about 400m from the Mekong River bank and the Indochina market is the budget Pikul Apartment Hotel*. Rooms feature air-conditioning, refrigerators, shower bathrooms and mosquito nets. Also provided are coffee/tea facilities. The hotel is located on a quiet side street. Balcony and garden invite you to relax.
White Inn Hotel Nong Khai *** The modern White Inn Hotel* is located near Tha Sadet Market and the Mekong River bank. In the same street there are several restaurants, including an Italian restaurant practically opposite. There is also a restaurant in the building itself. The rooms are air-conditioned and quite spacious.
Amanta Hotel **** Amanta Hotel Nong Khai* offers a special view over Nong Khai from the rooftop restaurant. Coffee/tea facilities and a refrigerator are provided in all rooms. Breakfast options include buffet vegetarian, Asian and Western dishes. The hotel has a fitness center for guests. It is about 1.4 km to Indochina Market.
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