Nong Khai (หนองคาย) is the provincial capital of Nong Khai Province in the north-eastern Isaan region of Thailand. The city lies on the western bank of the Mekong river, only 20km from Vientiane, the capital of Laos.
[Modifica sezione] Understand
Nong Khai is a sleepy Thai town with strong Lao influences, and is home to small Chinese and Vietnamese communities as well.
Most locals speak both Thai and the local dialect called Isaan, which is closely related to both the Thai and Lao languages. Many locals speak a little bit of English, mostly tourism-related words, and are generally very friendly and helpful if you smile and are polite.
[Modifica sezione] Get in
[Modifica sezione] By plane
The nearest airport (on the Thai side) is in Udon Thani, 56km away. There are direct shuttle buses four times a day between the airport and the Friendship Bridge (2km outside Nong Khai), plus taxis and minibuses that will take you in to Nong Khai proper.
Thai Airways and Air Asia operate flights between Bangkok (Suvarnabhumi) and Udon Thani. Nok Air operates a service between Bangkok (Don Muang) and Udon.
[Modifica sezione] By bus
There are departures to Udon Thani at least once per hour from the BKS station on the main drag, Prajak road. The hour-long ride costs 20 baht in 3rd class (non-air con).
A 1st class bus service connects Nong Khai directly with Suvarnabhumi Airport (the new BKK).
[Modifica sezione] By train
Until the long-awaited extension to Vientiane materializes, Nong Khai is the terminus of the Thai railway line from Bangkok via Khon Kaen and Udon Thani. A first class sleeper ticket from Bangkok to Nong Khai or vice versa is currently about 1200 baht, and a second class sleeper ticket (surprisingly comfortable for the price) is about 700 baht. Sleepers often sell out at peak times so you may need to book in advance.
[Modifica sezione] Get around
The only mode of public transport in the city is by tuk-tuk. Although the price has gone up recently due to the increased cost of gasoline, they remain inexpensive at 20-30 baht/person to anywhere around the city centre.
Some tuk-tuk drivers will ask for much more than 20-30 baht/person, but you can generally bargain with them to reach a reasonable price. When bargaining, smile and be patient and polite.
A trip to or from the Friendship Bridge will cost upwards of 70 baht if only one passenger is on board.
Another great way to discover Nongkhai and its surroundings is by bicycle. Some guest houses and several rental places around town offer bicycles (30 baht/day) and motorbikes (200 baht/day); lower prices can usually be negotiated for longer rentals.
[Modifica sezione] See
Nong Khai has one sight that cannot be missed - Sala Kaew Ku (also known as Wat Khaek), located 6km east of Nong Khai on Highway 212.
This utterly bizarre park of massive sculptures (some over 20m tall) is the handiwork of the mystic Luang Pa Bunleua Sulilat, who bought the land in 1978 when he was kicked out of his native Laos - a similar park of his earlier work remains near Vientiane. Synthesizing Buddhism, Hindu and Confucianist ideologies, Buddhas, many-armed goddesses, naga snakes and all sorts of human-animal hybrids dominate the scenery. Entry is a non-obligatory 10 baht donation.
There is no direct public transport and you might find it a little tricky to get back, so you're best off arranging a return ride with a tuk-tuk (100 baht or so, including the cost of the driver waiting one hour).
Particularly noteworthy is the Wheel of Life, depicting his theory of the cycle of life; you enter via from a womb-shaped tunnel and walk the circle past statues depicting the stages.
Luang Pa's mummified remains are enshrined on the third floor of the Sala Kaew Ku pavilion itself.
[Modifica sezione] Do
Nong Khai is a charming city to wander around on foot or rented bicycle (30 baht/day) and meet the friendly and helpful locals. It's also a good place from which soak up the Isaan culture of the neighbouring towns, which can easily be reached by bus from the main BKS ("Bor-kor-sor") bus station in the city centre, on Prajak road.
If you expect the usual tourist traps of Bangkok and Phuket, you will be disappointed. There are no superclubs, go-go bars and mega malls to fill your hours. This is a place to chill by the Mekong river watching passenger and cargo boats transit between Thailand and Laos, or to finish that paperback that has been sitting in your luggage for weeks. You may also consider stocking up on travel necessities before trudging on to Laos. Many who have planned an overnight stay for transit means have ended up staying for weeks.
For those interested in Muay Thai boxing lessons on a long-term basis, go to the boxing stadium beside the Grand Hotel and inquire from ex-Muay Thai boxing national champion Arjarn Lart, a friendly local who speaks just enough English to get you by. This is the real deal, so do not expect an air-conditioned gym with cushy floor mats surrounded by ceiling high mirrors.
During the months from March to May when the Mekong river level resides to its lowest, the Jomanee ("Joe-mar-nee") 'beach' appears near the Friendship Bridge, 2km west of town. Food and drink vendors readily provide mats, shade and music for the hundreds of locals - and two or three tourists - who patronise their stalls. An excellent spot to watch the sunset.
[Modifica sezione] Buy
There are plenty of banks with ATMs in town, in particular on the main drag, Prajak road, and on Meechai road, which is runs parallel and to the north of Prajak road. Some ATMs limit the amount you can take out to 3,000 baht/day. The ones inside Tesco-Lotus near the cashiers allow up withdrawls up to 25,000 baht. The only bank branch open on Saturdays is at the Tesco-Lotus mall. If you stand in front of the main entrance pass the building on the right side and enter near the bookshop.
The recently renovated Thasadej market is a 500m covered alley market beside the Mekong river, where one can find hand made Thai and Lao products, Chinese teas, cheap (and often low quality) electronics, clothes and a bewildering assortment of other items. It's open daily 08:00-18:00.
South of town on the Udon Thani road is a Tesco-Lotus, a fully-fledged western-style supermarket with satellite shopping arcade and a cinema.
[Modifica sezione] Eat & Drink
[Modifica sezione] Sleep
Budget accommodation is of good value, extensive and affordable relative to the other more popular cities of Thailand.
[Modifica sezione] Get out