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Although the list of Thailand’s highlights seems endless, there are still many places like Chiang Khan that are not yet completely overrun by tourists, but certainly worth discovering. Interesting cities oozing with local culture. Small laid back riverside towns and spectacular nature reserves. Not all of them hidden gems necessarily, but without the usual crowds, only visited by the few travelers in the know.
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Oh, did I say no crowds? Well, It seems that things have changed a bit in Chiang Khan. Back in 2006 Chiang Khan was still the sleepy village on the banks of the Mekong. Just a handful of backpackers found their way here to relax before continuing their trip to Laos.
Nowadays however, on weekends and public holidays, the village is invaded by well to do weekend trippers from Bangkok. They come for the Saturday Mekong sunset, a touch of national heritage and the beautiful surrounding nature. On Sundays in the early morning they go out to the streets to give alms to the Thai monks. It’s a big thing here in Chiang Khan and quite an impressive site. By Sunday evening the hordes will all have left and you can have the town to yourself.
Well, at least the Mekong is still there, mysterious, grand and beautiful as ever. However, we may have to fear for the Mekong as well. Upstream waterworks in China and Laos are threatening to bleed the river dry, but that’s a story for another day.
Chiang Khan is a good place to visit. It may have strayed a bit from authenticity, but the local Tai Dam people are still around and friendly as ever. The town is atmospheric and the direct vicinity offers many temples to visit. Moreover, the surrounding nature and the mighty river Kong remain the absolute stars with majestic viewpoints.
Reasons to visit/skip Chiang Khan
3 Reasons to visit Chiang Khan
Part of travel is to learn about culture and traditions of the host country. In Chiang Khan we can witness and even participate in the ritual of monk alms up close. What a great way to build mutual understanding and share mutual respect;
Come here to see another side of Thailand. Less well known doesn’t mean less beautiful or less fun. Experience the slower pace and the no-nonsense lifestyle of the Thai countryside, combined with the friendly and hospitable nature of the local population;
The beautiful surroundings in the North of Central Thailand are eminent. River, mountains, jungle and plains, all of them offering gorgeous views to last you a lifetime.
2 Reasons to skip Chiang Khan
On weekends and public holidays, half of the Bangkok population visits Chiang Khan. For well to do Bangkokians it’s the hip and happening place to be. The usual intimate and tranquil atmosphere that makes Chiang Khan so special is nowhere to be found. As a result the accommodation rates are up big time. For the period around the New Year celebrations hotel rates are even through the roof;
If you came to Thailand with the white sand beaches in mind then you might want to skip Chiang Khan. There is no beach and neither does it have any of the atmosphere so typical for beach destinations. It’s just not that kind of place.
Chai Khong Road
One of the main draws of Chiang Khan, besides the stunning river views, is the Chai Khong road. For 2km straight, teak-wood houses line this road parallel to the riverside. Over time, the majority of wooden houses have been rebuilt, renovated or remodeled into boutique hotels and souvenir shops. I have to admit that, although it has a slight artificial feel to it, on the whole it’s nicely done with attention to original details.
Phu Thok mountain is a popular viewpoint just 5km South of Chiang Khan. People come for the panoramic views of the mountain area and the Mekong river. The most spectacular view is to be seen at sunrise when a thick blanket of fog comes in from the Mekong over the landscape. Tuk-tuks from Chiang Khan normally charge about THB100 for a round-trip to the foot of the mountain. From there, visitors are transported up the mountain road (2km) in the back of pick-up trucks (THB25 p/p). This attraction is very crowded on weekends and public holidays.
Chiang Khan and its surroundings boasts many temples and some of them are really worth a closer look. Wat Sri Khun Muang is probably the most revered temple in Chiang Khan. It’s built in the Northern Lanna and Lan Chang styles with detailed mural paintings. The temple is easy to access from Chai Kong Road and opens from 6am to 6pm.
Skywalk Chiang Khan
Another spectacular viewpoint about 20 km West of Chiang Khan where the Mekong flows into Thailand from Laos and merges with the Huang river. This huge installation consists of two sky bridges, three glass platforms towering 80 meters above the landscape and a 19 meters high Buddha statue. It offers fantastic views of the landscape and the river’s duo-tone caused by the coalescence. Note that the shuttle bus from the parking charges THB25 per person and the rental fee for special shoes is THB30 for a pair.
Tai Dam village
About 18 km South of Chiang Khan is the small Tai Dam cultural village. The original village name is Ban Na Pa Nat and it’s inhabited by the Tai Dam hilltribe (black Thai, because of their black clothing). It’s very much like an open air museum where the Tai Dam demonstrate their traditional handicrafts and arts. Yes, they put up a show, dancing in folklore costumes and of course they are happy if you buy some of their products. They are however, very much authentic and the small extra income from tourism enables them to keep their culture and traditions alive.
Kaeng Khut Khu
Another popular viewpoint is at Kaeng Khut Khu at the Mekong, 5 km East of Chiang Khan. When water levels are low there are spectacular rapids on display against the backdrop of a beautiful mountainous landscape. To get there from Chiang Khan is easy enough with a rental bicycle and it’s kind of nice to go it your own. Alternatively, one of the many tuk-tuks in town will be more than happy to transport you there and back.
Make sure to only visit Kaeng Khut Ku in dry season from November to May. That’s when colorful boulders in and along the river are exposed. In rainy season, when water levels are high, these boulders are completely submerged and therefor not visible. Likewise with the small Island in the middle of the river. Low water levels force the water to go around and accelerate in the process. You can make a day of it if you decide to do a boat tour. Maybe even have lunch in one of the traditional river bank restaurants.
Do not skimp on travel insurance! Keep in mind that you’re a million miles away from professional and reliable health care. Any serious injury or ailment will almost certainly involve costly medical transport to Bangkok.
Make sure to cover your medical care abroad that includes evacuation and repatriation. Also include adventure sports and activities, even if you’re just hiking or renting a scooter.
Accommodations are mainly clustered in Chai Khong street parallel to the Mekong. This is also the most lively area with restaurants, bars, markets and handicraft shops. Chiang Khan is renowned for offering small scale, quality boutique accommodation.
Unfortunately, decent low budget options are becoming more and more rare these days. Good deals can be found in the side and parallel streets of Chai Khong Road. No river views, but equal quality and lower rates.
Mid Range = THB1000 to THB2500
This is how I remember guesthouses in Chiang Khan. Only now, there’s wifi / aircon and of course prices have gone up. However, the location on Chai Khong road with river views and the service are top notch and justify the rates. Also, a hearty breakfast is included.
With a View @ Chiang Khan
Mid Range = from THB1000 to THB2500
The new kid in town. A lovely guesthouse with a nice teak wood touch and an excellent in-house cafe. Small, but comfortable rooms and beds in a well kept environment. Of course there’s a great view of the Mekong. Breakfast and free bicycle rent included.
There’s certainly no shortage of places to eat in Chiang Khan. Plenty of secluded (pricey) restaurants with pleasant river views, as well as small local eateries offering an array of Isan, Laotian, Chinese and even Vietnamese delights are abundant.
Kraw Si Pan (Chai Kong road, next to the Dai Heng hotel). Price wise an exception from the usually more expensive riverside restaurants. The local Mekong (lot’s of fish) dishes here are surprisingly affordable and can be enjoyed in a cozy atmosphere.
Kinsende kinkhowder (road 211 in between the Wat Matchimaram and Wat Maha Tat). A somewhat strange name, but I was told that it’s phonetic local dialect meaning ‘eat the noodles, eat the rice’, and then it kinda makes sense. Anyway, this restaurant offers an extensive menu of Thai and Thai/Western dishes. They do this extremely well for unbeatable prices.
Tam Dong Dang (road 211, 150 meters East from the Chiang Khan hospital). Thai style restaurant as we all know it. Honest local food where locals come to eat. Opening hours are from 7am to 7pm, so best for lunch or an authentic Thai brekkie.
Night Market Thai markets are always a reliable source for good food. The night market of Chiang Khan is situated on the Eastern stretch of Chai Kong road and is also dubbed ‘Walking Street’. Next to t-shirts and handicrafts there are many small local eateries and street stall vendors that sell all kinds of local sweet and savory snacks.
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Daily flights from Bangkok only take 1h15m to get to the city of Loei in the North of Central Thailand. From here it’s just under 50km to Chiang Khan. Use the Skyscanner website to search and book your flight. Sometimes flying is cheaper than buses and trains.
Buses leave the Mochit terminal in Bangkok every morning and evening for a 10 hour bus ride straight to Chiang Khan. Buses from Chiang Mai only go as far as Loei. At the Loei bus terminal find the blue colored songthaews (Caged pick-up trucks with benches) with number 1395. They drive up and down to Chiang Khan every 30 minutes and the going rate at the time of writing is THB35 one-way. You won’t find the songthaew tickets online, you just have to show up at the bus terminal.
For bus/ferry/train schedules and tickets from Bangkok to Chiang Khan and from Chiang Mai to Loei, use the transport planning tool below from 12Go.asia to book online. Especially during high season and public holidays it makes sense to book ahead to secure your seat(s). Just fill out your place of departure, your destination and travel date. It will show the complete schedule and ticket price of all related transport. Make your choice and book instantly.
Even with its new found popularity Chiang Khan is still a small town and all interesting stuff happens near the riverside. Because of this, the town is easily navigated on foot or by bicycle. The latter are easy to rent for about THB100 p/d. If your lucky, your guesthouse may even offer them free for use.
It has been said that motorbikes are not rented out to foreigners in Chiang Khan. Officially because of a serious crash by a tourist, but more likely because of the local tuk-tuk
mafia lobby. I have no idea if this is true or if it’s just a rumor. Should anyone know more about this, please share your knowledge with us in the comment section below.
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