The friendship bridge which connects Laos and Thailand has put Nong Khai on the map, but this border town is bustling and has much more to offer than simple border hopping convenience. Nong Khai’s main drag is deliciously nestled between the Mekong river and the area’s sprawling rice paddies. The city itself is small, one main road quickly splits off into a tangled web of meandering back allies making it a perfect cycling destination. Nong Khai makes an excellent base for exploring the more remote country side of Isaan, providing a slightly more developed backpackers network, a larger selection of creature comforts, and easy access to traveller information.
Places to stay in Nong Khai
This place ranks as one of my favourite guesthouses in all of Thailand. From a lush garden pavilion, enjoy dark roasted coffee, french baguettes with cheese, and a heaping bowl of mango, muesli, and yoghurt all while taking in the splendid views of the Mekong river. Rooms are tastefully decorated, affordable, and the owner Julian is bursting with helpful information and captivating stories.
This historic stunner is a very appealing budget friendly option. Stay here if you are looking for a quieter sleeping situation in a hotel that is still centrally located. Ask for rooms in the more charming old section of the guesthouse!
Set in a lush garden this wooden house feels quite a lot like home. Rooms are cheap and include free WIFI and use of the onsite bicycles. Even if you choose to stay somewhere else check out the guesthouse’s website which includes lots of up to date information on the area.
Things to do in Nong Khai
Saturday walking market: In the tradition of Chiang Mai’s walking street. Nong Khai is now promoting Isaan’s own local artists. Stroll along the Mekong every Saturday night munching on a crispy plate of Som Tom (the birthplace of the famous papaya salad now found all over Thailand) while you contemplate what goodies you can cram into your backpack.
Buddha garden- Sala Keoku: A few minutes outside of the city centre lies this impressive statue garden. Take your time exploring the stone representations of both Buddhist and Hindu deities. Bring a camera, this place is overflowing with amazing photo-ops.
Tha Sadet Market: This covered market provides an interesting mix of both Laos and Thai products. A hodge podge of things both practical and entirely unnecessary. Underwear with pockets? Who knows it might be the new alternative to money belts.
Boat cruise: Itching to soak in more views of the Mekong? Why not hop on an hour long sunset boat cruise. The tour leaves from the pier directly below Mutmee Guesthouse every evening.
Temples: Unsurprisingly Nong Khai is chock full of temples to explore, the most popular being Wat Pho Chai. Having a mid-road crisis? Head to Wat Noen Phra Nao which offers Vipassana meditation courses.
Rent a bicycle: This town is small enough to cover in one day and photogenic enough to make one desire a slower paced mode of transportation.
Naga Fireballs: If you happened to be in Nong Khai at the end of October make sure not to miss this surprising event. Every year methane balls of gas rise unexplained out of the Mekong river. The event is marked by local celebrations including regional food, dance, and lantern lightings.
- By bus: Direct buses headed to Nong Khai leave from both Chiang Mai and Bangkok. Both journeys will take around 12 hours and will cost you roughly 600 baht.
- Fly: Nong Khai does not have its own airport so you will have to fly into nearby Udon Thani. From Udon Thani you can easily catch one of the local yellow buses north to Nong Khai, the journey will take about an hour and shouldn’t cost more than 30 baht.
- From Laos: If you are in Vientiane, Nong Khai is just a short jaunt over the Friendship bridge. A bus from the capital to the bridge will take around 30 minutes. Don’t forget to budget in time to get through immigration!
Where to go next
- Vientiane: The capital city of Laos is just a hop, skip and a jump away. Best when explored for a couple of days, but if you are tight on time it can also become a day trip from Nong Khai.
- Udon Thani: This urban metropolis appears unexpectedly amongst the rice fields of Isaan. What it lacks in activity it makes up for in modern convinces and big city comfort.
- Chiang Khan: Often touted as a smaller version of Chiang Mai, this mountain town is where the locals go when they fancy a refreshing change of pace.