The town of Chiang Khan is I believe part of that mythical entity “The real Thailand”. Located in the Isaan province of Loei it can be found in a valley leading onto the Mekong River about 50 kilometres from the provincial capital which is also called Loei. Arriving at the outskirts of Chiang Khan is revealed a busy rural but on first impression unremarkable town. However once you have navigated the roads and the Sois that lead to the river you reach a long narrow river front road lined with a combination of teak timber and brick shop fronts and houses.
Once you have checked into one of the many guesthouses that line the street, its time to kick back on the guesthouse balcony and see what makes Chiang Khan special. The Mekong is much narrower here than further down river towards Nong Khai and gives a much clearer view into Laos. Wooden riverboats flying Lao and Thai flags putter up the river and in the dry season you can look up and down the river on both the Thai and Lao sides and see the market gardens that have been set up on the fertile riverbanks. The only sign of frenetic activity are the passenger speedboats screaming down the river, clocking awesome speeds. All and all just a good spot to sit back relax and enjoy a few beers.
About 4 kilometres down stream from Chiang Khan are the Kaeng Khut Khu rapids. At the rapids are a leafy park and a market. Stretching along the river opposite the market is a long thatched roof dining area. Sitting on raised bamboo platforms you can order delicious Isaan food including the local areas specialty – Kung Ten (dancing prawns). These are fresh still alive river prawns which are eaten or swallowed whole with a special sauce. Kaeng Khut Khu is a great place to while away a few hours eating, drinking and just taking in the scene.
After spending a few days in Chiang Khan I always better in myself. Why I don’t always know. Perhaps it’s the quiet, the friendliness of the townspeople, the fogs that roll down the river in the winter or perhaps just the little things such as the “klunk” echo that you hear bouncing across the river when something is dropped in the guesthouse or the shouted conversations out to the people on riverboats. All I know is that when I finally do leave each time, I have an underlying desire to return.
In future blogs I would like to expand further on other parts of that magic part of Thailand – The Mekong region. In the meantime if you are interested I have posted photographs of Chiang Khan and other parts of the Mekong on my website. Just click on the following link.