ONE OF THE WORLD’S great rivers, the Mekong separates much of Laos and Thailand. Many towns dot the river, with colourful markets the hustle, fishing boats and river traders the bustle. Sunset views and some spicy Laos influenced food add to the experience.
I’ve barely covered a handful of places here. The cuisine varies from town to town, as does the scenery. Homestay villages where elephants come from the forest, or dragons breathing fire from the river, there is much more for me to explore.
Just a short hop from the Golden Triangle marker at Sop Ruak, Chiang Saen is a sleepy town which was once a major city in the 13th century. From here, the Mekong flows 2,600km to sea.
The Mekong forms much -not all- of the border with Laos, and now has quite a few crossing points.
Chiang Saen was a Lanna capital until 1282, captured by the Burmese in 16th century, and sacked by Siam in 1803.
These days, it is a peaceful, riverside town with city walls and Buddhist temples from the 1200-1300s.
Nong Khai sits 800km away, at the site of the first Thai-Laos bridge, larger by multiples but still quiet and pleasant.
One of the best things to do in Nong Khai is sit by the river, watching the sun hide behind the Laos hills.
The laid back feel of the town, good choice of eating, and river front guest houses can see a stay in Nong Khai extend accidentally.
The Tha Sadet market on the river is a good place to wander and graze, but be warned - Isaan food can pack a punch.
Open to the street outside, Dee Dee Pochana is one of the most populat Nong Khai restaurants. Over a dozen chefs prepare the full gauntlet of Isaan Thai dishes- soups, salads, grilled chicken being specialities.
Housed in Wat Pho Chai is Luang Po Phra Sai, a large Lan Xang–era Buddha image, with a gold head, bronze body and ruby encrusted head-dress. Dunno why I didn't photograph it....
Three statues were made by Lao King Setthathirat, but taken by Rama I in 1778. One is in Bangkok, another sank in a storm. The third stayed where the cart carrying it broke down - Nong Khai.
For a less conventional view of Buddhism, try Sala Keoku, wonderous park full of whimsical statues.
Statues up to 25m tall depict the tales of Buddha, hell, life cycles in re-incarnation.....
....and dogs playing cards....and riding motorcycles. A fun place to go.
To explore the surrounding country-side, get yourself a scooter and go.
Phu Phra Bat Historical Park is 64 scenic kilometres away, in pleasant hills with dramatic sandstorm formations.
Undersea erosion 15,000,000 years ago has created caves, balanced boulders, spires and overhangs.
In sheltered areas rock art from 6,000 years ago can be seen. Buddhist chedis have been built in several places.
Kids play takraw in Si Chiang Mai, slither of a town between the river and the hills, with excellent river frontage and classical wooden houses.
In Si Chiang Mai, Wat Hin Mak Peng has high views along the Mekong, and lakes and forested grounds.
Buddha at Wat Hing Mak Peng keeps an eye on the river below.
Further east, the Mekong turns south. Along the way are many small towns and villages, with mountains, parks, forests, homestays, temples and much more on offer.