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Nong Khai

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Nong Khai

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Parco Sala Kew Ku a Nong Khai

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.

Understand[Modifica sezione]

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.

Get in[Modifica sezione]

By plane[Modifica sezione]

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.

By bus[Modifica sezione]

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).

There are several departures daily from Bangkok (~9 hours), and across the border direct from Vientiane (55 baht, 17000 kip, two hours) via the Friendship Bridge.

A 1st class bus service connects Nong Khai directly with Suvarnabhumi Airport (the new BKK).

By train[Modifica sezione]

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.

Get around[Modifica sezione]

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.

See[Modifica sezione][add listing]

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.

Do[Modifica sezione][add listing]

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.

Buy[Modifica sezione][add listing]

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.

Eat & Drink[Modifica sezione]

  • The majority of Nong Khai locals eat out at the dozens of restaurants and bars along the Rimkhong (the riverside road) at the east end of town. Food here is cheaper and often better than in the town centre. English not always spoken but increasingly Nong Khai restaurants have menus in more than one language. One of the better European-style bars, The Bridge Bar [1], is also in this area. And floating on the Mekong river below Wat Hai Sok is the romantic Gaia Bar [2]
  • There are also many Thai food vendors along Prajak road that sell excellent cheap food.
  • Both of the above areas are aimed principally at evening customers, so many eateries don't open until after dark. However, there are a number of Thai (and European) establishments in and around Thasadej market which are open during the day.
  • Ruan Thai Coffee & Breakfast, Rim Kong road (near Surreal). Run by a very pleasant young Thai woman who does her best to speak English. The prices are a little high, but the food is excellent and the restaurant itself is also quite nice.
  • Surreal, Rim Kong Rd (near the Thasadej market). A must-stop for many passing through. An old abandoned wooden house converted into a lounge-bar. Surreal bar & restaurant has a nice view of the Mekong, fruit shakes, music and cocktails. The pool table is free to use for customers. You can also buy, trade and sell second-hand books there.
  • Dee Dee and Thai Thai on Prajak road, the main street in Nong Khai, are two Chinese-style diners right next to one another that serve good Thai and Chinese food. They are open later than most other restaurants.
  • Jose Ramon's Cantina, Thanon Takai. The best (and only) Mexican food in these parts.
  • Daeng Naem Nueang, along the Mekong on Rim Kong road slightly downstream from Surreal and just upstream from the Tha sadej market, is a Vietnamese restaurant widely acclaimed among Thai and Vietnamese residents of Nong Khai. The staff are friendly, but not all proficient in English, so bringing a Thai friend would help a lot. They also offer pre-made take-away packages of 'naem neuang' (a delicious Vietnamese dish) if you want to eat at home instead.
  • Im Im Dim Sum Serving dim sum, noodle, fried snacks, coffee and tea. Located in downtown Nong Khai, Soi Sook Pracha near the PP Sport Centre.

Sleep[Modifica sezione][add listing]

Budget accommodation is of good value, extensive and affordable relative to the other more popular cities of Thailand.

  • Mut Mee Guesthouse [3], by the Mekong River. Long-established. In a large tree filled garden overlooking the river, it has both simple and higher quality rooms. It has a boat called the Nagarina which cruises on the river at sunset and a beautiful floating bar, known as Gaia, which opens at night. Yoga & meditation classes are also available.
  • Amazon Guesthouse: a garden guesthouse. Laid-back but efficient accommodation. Close to the natural park and Mekong River. Has an outdoor lounge area where you can relax with a book and enjoy views of the river.
  • Mekong Guesthouse, also by the Mekong river on the bridge side of the market has rather expensive rooms with aircon but they also have a dorm for 150 baht with hot shower and TV. There's a good chance of being the only person in there too.
  • Friendship Guesthouse, in the Soi right next to the Sawasdee G.H. (402 Meechai Rd), on the left side towards the Mekhong. It's only 10 minutes from the bus station by foot, so save the 20 baht because the G.H. is a bit expensive, but one of the most beautiful and romantic places in town. A renovated dark-red wooden house set in a lush garden with beautiful double rooms for about 400 baht.
  • The Meeting Place [4] is a Western guest house with rooms from 200-350 baht with air-con. Best to call for a reservation.
  • Khiang Khong Guest House, beside the river. A new guest house, family run. Good rooms, hot water, comfortable beds.

Get out[Modifica sezione]

  • Vientiane, the capital of Laos, is just across the Mekong, and most visitors can get visas on arrival at the border.