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Chiang Khan – Wooden Houses and Monk Alms

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In the know destinations – Thailand


I can’t even begin to count the number of times that I’ve visited Thailand. Some visits were just short beach holidays or passing through on my way to other destinations. Several, longer visits involved extensive travel for months on my way to nowhere, just exploring this wonderful country.

And although the list of Thailand’s highlights seems endless, there are still many places like Chiang Khan that are not yet overrun by tourists, but certainly worth discovering. Interesting cities oozing with local culture. Small laidback riverine towns and spectacular nature reserves. Not exactly hidden gems, but without the usual crowds, only visited by the few travelers in the know.



Chiang Khan


monk alms in chiang khan
Chiang Khan – Wooden houses and monk almsphotocredit @doghall

Oh, did I say no crowds? It seems that things have changed in Chiang Khan since I was there last. 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 their trip would take them into Laos.

Well, at least the Mekong is still there, mysterious, grand and beautiful as if time stood still. However, on weekends and public holidays, the village is invaded by well to do weekend trippers from Bangkok.

They come for Saturday Mekong sunsets, a touch of national heritage and the beautiful surrounding nature. On Sunday in the early morning they go out in the street to give alms to the Thai monks. It’s a big thing in Chiang Khan and quite an impressive site. By Sunday evening they have all gone and you can have the town to yourself.

I still think this is a good place to come. 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. The river Kong remains the absolute star with majestic viewpoints.



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How to get to Chiang Khan


It’s possible to fly from Bangkok to the nearby city of Loei in about 1h15m. Use the Skyscanner website to search and book flights. Sometimes flying is cheaper than buses and trains. Of course you’ll miss all the nice scenery.

Busses leave the Mochit terminal in Bangkok every morning and evening for a 10 hour bus ride to Chiang Khan. Chiang Mai busses only go as far as Loei. At the Loei bus terminal find the the blue songthaews #1395 (Caged pick-up trucks with benches) that drive up and down to Chiang Khan every 30 minutes. You won’t find the songthaew tickets online, you just have to show up.

For bus/ferry/train schedules and tickets from Bangkok to Chiang Khan and from Chiang Mai to Loei, use the transport planning tool from 12Go.com to book online. Especially during high season and public holidays it makes sense to book ahead to secure your seat(s). The tool is incredibly easy to use, 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.


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Getting Around

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.



Things to see/do in Chiang Khan


Chai Khong Road

One of the main draws of Chiang Khan, besides the stunning river views, is the Chai Khong road. For 2km teakwood houses line this road parallel to the riverside. 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 slightly artificial feel to it, it’s nicely done with attention to original details.

Phu Thok

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 THB100 for a roundtrip. From the foot of the mountain, 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.


phu thok near Chiang Khan
Phu Thok fog coming inPhoto by icon0.com from Pexels

Temples

Chiang Khan and its surroundings boasts many temples and some of them are really worth a closer look. Wat Si 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.

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 habited 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 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 up there are spectacular rapids on display against the backdrop of a beautiful mountain landscape. Tuk-tuks can bring you here from Chiang Khan, but I recommend to rent a bicycle and go it yourself.


Chiang Khan
View from Kaeng Khut Khu

Travel Insurance

Don’t forget travel insurance, you’re a million miles away from from professional and reliable health care. One that also covers your medical care abroad and includes evacuations and repatriation. I use World Nomads, because they are the true specialist in travel insurance and their price for the service is unbeatable. They cover a range of adventure sports and activities and even your motor bike rental adventures (if you follow the rules). You can buy cover online, even if you’re already in the middle of traveling.

Knowing they had my back has always given me great piece of mind. Fortunately I never had to claim anything, but fellow travelers I met on the road told me that the online claims process went very smooth.

Read more about travel insurance here, or get an instant quote right now!



Where to stay in Chiang Khan


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 very rare these days.


Husband & Wife Guesthouse
Budget = from THB500 to THB1000 
This is how I remember guesthouses in Chiang Khan. Only now, there’s wifi / aircon and prices have gone up. But only just a little and it even includes a good breakfast. Cozy guesthouse in a good location. Real value.


The Pud Dee
Mid Range = from THB1000 to THB2500
A lovely small guesthouse, more like an B&B. Comfortable rooms and beds in a well kept environment. Auntie is welcoming and pampers her guests. The included breakfast has Western options as well, which is rare in Chiang Khan accommodations.

To compare prices and read reviews check out Agoda.com.  The best prices, regular discounts and off season deals.



Where to eat in Chiang Khan


There’s certainly no shortage of places to eat in Chiang Khan. Plenty of secluded (pricey) restaurants with 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). Local Mekong (lot’s of fish) dishes right on the riverside 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 a bowl of rice’. And then it kinda makes sense. Anyway, this restaurant offers Thai and Thai/Western dishes. They do this extremely well for unbeatable prices.

Tam Kong Daeng (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.

Thai markets are always a reliable source for good food. The local night market is situated on the Eastern stretch of Chai Kong road and is dubbed ‘Walking Street’. Small local eateries and street stall vendors sell all kinds of local sweet and savory snacks.



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