Chiang Khan: A Cultural Boiling Pot
Originally a sleepy, low-key Mekong riverside town well off the popular tourist trail, Chiang Khan has transformed over the last decade into popular domestic tourist destination with plenty of interesting sights and activities for all to enjoy.
The change began on 2009 when the Tourism Authority of Thailand started to promote Chiang Khan – and other parts of the northeastern Thailand – to Bangkok’s emerging middles class as place that conjures up a mix of pastoral nostalgia, nature and cultural heritage.
Chiang Khan was first founded during the late-19th century when Laotian villagers crossed the Mekong River to flee the French colonization of Laos. As more migrants arrived from Vietnam and China, Chiang Khan became a popular trading hub, mainly because of its location on the river and the Thai-Lao border. However, in 1975 when the communist Pathet Lao seized power from the Lao government, it cut economic Thais with Thailand and trading in the town stopped.
After many years of quiet isolation with few western tourists, Chiang Khan is now in vogue with mostly Thai visitors and boasts trendy restaurants, shops guest houses and hotels. Weekends are more popular, so we recommend aiming for weekdays when planning a trip.
It’s easy to see why people are drawn to this quiet backwater: The majority of its picturesque authentic 19th century wooden houses are still well preserved, and there are plenty eateries available, offering both international as well as Thai food.
Most wooden houses along the Mekong riverside promenade and ‘walking street’ of Chai Kong Road are an odd mix of kitsch and boutique-style architecture, which also make for some excellent photo opportunities.
In addition, watching the sunset over the Mekong is always a huge attraction on its own – especially with a nice cool drink in your hand. Also popular are the early morning monks doing their alms rounds, a picturesque allure for photo enthusiasts.
The town also has some important temples of which the 17th century Wat Si Khun Muang is the most sacred. Its construction dates from the reign of King Rama III and the architecture of the ordination hall is influenced by the Lanna and Lan Chang styles found in Northern Provinces of Laos. There is also Wat Tha Khok that was founded in 1852 and contains an elaborate ordination hall.
The best way to explore Chiang Khan is either on foot or by rented bicycle as the town is quite small. For those wanting to visit Pu Tok, a nearby hill offering great views over Chiang Khan and the Mekong River, it’s best to make use of the local tuk-tuks.
Finally, the night market is a vibrant affair with lots of buskers, ‘artists’, dancing children and street-food vendors. Many stands also offer anything from Chiang Khan t-shirts and smart phone speakers to traditional Thai puppets, wooden animist amulets and talisman.
Keep in mind though that the emphasis is on Thai tourists and as a result, English is not that widely spoken.
There are daily flights from Bangkok to Loei, which is only a 50 km drive away from Chiang Khan and also gateway to several national parks in the region, such as Phu Hin Rongkla.
A visit to Chiang Khan is in particular recommended in combination with Laos. For the more adventurous-minded FIT travelers or small groups a combination with Sayaboury and Luang Prabang provides a great opportunity to visit a lesser-known part of Laos. However, Khiri also has an exclusive alternative suitable for the intrepid traveler seeking to include this off-the-beaten-track destination in style.
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