Nong Khai to Chiang Khan along the Mekong River September 2016

I decided that the road from Nong Khai to Chiang Khan following the Mekong River looked like it would be an interesting drive. The drive up from Udon Thani in the hired Toyota Fortuner full time 4WD auto wagon was unremarkable.

I bought a hat at the riverfront markets. I hate to think how much I have spent on hats in Thailand, only to abandon them on departure.

Nong Khai is a riverfront city and an important immigration point with Laos. It is the site of the first Thai-Laos Friendship Bridge, largely funded by a gift to Laos from Australia. It is the road and railway gateway to the capital of Laos, Vientiane, located 25 kilometres upriver, opposite the Thai town of Sri Chiang Mai.

One of the locals told me about a new tourist attraction – a Skywalk overlooking the Mekong River – a must see 70 kilometres or so along Route 211, near Sangkhom.

Route 211 is a very good sealed road that follows the Mekong River west for 200 kilometres from Nong Khai. We diverted off the highway to see the river at Pa Kho, and again at Wiang Khuk. Further on, Tha Bo has an impressive streetscape.

From Tha Bo we turned off Route 211 and took some ‘back roads’ to see the real Thai countryside. Lots of pineapple, rice, rubber, papaya, bananas, corn, bamboo, yams and numerous other crops I couldn’t identify. Dirt roads, small villages, and curious looks – clearly ‘Farangs’ don’t normally venture here.

The back roads took us through Pho Tak.

After investigating a few dead ends, some small villages and numerous farms along unnamed dirt roads we found a minor sealed road which lead to a named road which then rejoined Route 211 in the Houay Hiang area.

I drove into Sangkhom and found the Sangkhom River View restaurant and hotel. Home for the night.

What a night! I suspect the prawns that I ate but whatever the cause at 3.00 a.m. I was throwing up, had diarrahoea and lost consciousness. I regained consciousness lying on the bathroom floor an indeterminate time later. Not an experience I wish to repeat any time soon.

The Skywalk was seven kilometres west of the hotel so in the morning I piloted the Fortuner back along Route 211 to Pha Tang market.

A tributary of the Mekong flows behind the market and drops down a small rapid on its way to join the world’s tenth biggest river.

Directional signage for the Skywalk is non-existent and I drove several kilometres past the turnoff to Wat Pha Tak Suea and the Skywalk.

After asking some locals we realised that we had missed our turn. Undeterred, we continued on our way and visited Wat Tham Sri Mong Khon and cave.

The first time I had seen artisans at work, making statues.

It is difficult to criticise when one speaks only one language but surely the Translator could have done a better job than “Dental treatment fear not evil”!

After leaving the Wat we took the road back towards Route 211 and this time located the turnoff into the Skywalk. It would seem that the Wat is more important than the Skywalk and in Thai culture that is probably the case. This is a great tourist attraction. Opened in April 2016 at a cost of 17M THB (about AU$640,000), the Skywalk offers spectacular views of the Mekong River, Laos and the magnificent farmland of the Sangkhom region. It is not being very well promoted and certainly not signposted at all. The Tourism Authority of Thailand needs a kick up the bum.

While it doesn’t quite rate against the world’s most recognisable cantilever structure, the Grand Canyon Skywalk, it is still a fantastic and spectacular attraction.

After departing the Skywalk I turned west onto Route 211, going past where we’d stayed the previous night.

Route 211 closely follows this amazing river. We stopped at a viewpoint between Sangkhom and Ban Muang (Houay Hiang, Laos).

I turned off Route 211 seeking a signposted waterfall. In Thailand one sign is considered sufficient. We never did find the waterfall but the countryside was magnificent.

We stopped at a roadside restaurant at Nong Pla Buek for lunch. The local police chief was there (in civvies) with a group of recruits. He was maggoted. He chatted with us for a while, showed us pics of his son, and invited us back to the District Police HQ to do some shooting and drinking. Ain’t that a great combination! Pleading time pressures, we escaped from what could have been a very tricky situation.

Recycled tyres  make great rubbish bins in the north of Thailand.

After lunch we followed Route 211 through Pak Chom, Hat Kamphi and Huai Pichai to Chiang Khan where we selected a quiet guest house overlooking the river.

Although the title of this photo essay indicates that my trip finished at Chiang Khan the drive along the river does not end at Chiang Khan so the next morning, after a walk down Walking Street to find breakfast, we continued our journey.

Eventually we left the Mekong and drove into the hills around Tha Li. All types of farming. Again we got off the bitumen and searched the back roads for ‘authentic Thailand’.

I was also looking for a waterfall that I had seen signposted. Driving through one small village a youth on a motorbike came out in front of me from the right, cutting the corner. If I hadn’t slammed on the brakes and he hadn’t taken evasive action (ending off the other side of then road) he would have been a bonnet ornament. No helmet, thongs, T shirt and shorts which is standard wear for riding a motorbike in Thailand, however much the authorities are trying to change things. A little bit of excitement after the disappointment of finding a dry waterfall.

Our ramblings eventually took us to Loei where we booked into the Loei Palace Hotel, returning to Nong Khai the next day.

The drive along the Mekong and through the hills of Tha Li is an impressive trip with many more sights to see than we were able to include in just three days.

 

1400 words
102 images

Feel free to use any part of this document with attribution.

Kim Epton

 

 

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