Nong Khai: 5 Awesome Things To Do
Saturated with temples, rich culture and folk ways of life, Nong Khai is a destination that’s full of character and off the beaten path attractions. If you’re interested in visiting a peaceful and unique Thai province that’s free of mass tourism, Nong Khai should be on the top of your travel radar.
Climate: Tropical Savanna
Currency: Thai Baht (THB)
Time Zone: Indochina Time (ICT), UTC+7
Length of Trip: 2-3 days.
Trip Type: cultural / outdoor / gastronomic.
Our Experience: We spent 5 days in Nong Khai in 2022.
Disclaimer: Before planning your trip, it’s essential to check for any travel restrictions, visa requirements, and other relevant information, as these might change over time.
Nong Khai is ideal for:
It isn’t ideal for:
For half of the year in Nong Khai, a vast 2,600-rai pond earns its colloquial name as hundreds of pink lotus flowers burst into full bloom. Mornings here reveal a breathtaking scene as these delicate loti carpet the surface of the murky water beneath.
To allow visitors access to this captivating expanse of lotus flowers, the nearby villages of Ban Nong Po and Ban Phai Sithong, offer boat-rowing services at Wang Bua Daeng for a reasonable cost of 50 baht per person or 200 baht per boat.
These guided trips last approximately 45 minutes and are most rewarding during the early morning hours, between 6:30 am and 9:30 am, when the blossoms shine before yielding to the sun’s intensity.
Throughout history, the lotus flower has carried profound symbolic significance in various Eastern cultures, earning its place as one of the world’s most revered plants. Within Buddhist tradition, the lotus stands as a powerful emblem of purity.
The lotus is considered to be “pure,” due to its ability to resurface from muddy waters each day, untainted and immaculate.
The different types of loti are symbolically connected to different aspects of Buddhism:
Pink: the supreme and true lotus of the Buddha.
Red: symbolizes love and compassion.
Purple: symbolizes esotericism and mysticism.
Blue: symbolizes wisdom and intelligence.
White: symbolizes Bodhi (the tree of awakening).
A hidden gem in Nong Khai is Wat Tham Si Mongkhon, aka the Naga Cave temple. Constructed in 1938, this expansive subterranean cavern was designed to mirror the underwater realm of the Naga, a revered serpent-like guardian of Buddhism’s Three Gems.
Local folklore holds that the cave is part of a vast pilgrimage route for Laotian monks, an underground passage that only those who are spiritually awakened can find.
At a cost of 100 baht, a knowledgeable guide will accompany you and a small group on a half-hour journey through a winding path within the cave. For safety precautions, entry into the cave is allowed only with a guide, as the maze-like passages can be disorienting and claustrophobic.
When entering the cave, you’ll need to be barefoot and squeeze through tight crevices (sometimes even on your back). During our visit, ankle-deep water covered the cave’s floor while its walls emitted a sweat-inducing humidity. Supposedly, these conditions are consistent year-round.
For individuals of average fitness, moving through the cave shouldn’t be too difficult.
Within the cavern, numerous spots for meditation can be found, each housing miniature Buddha and Naga statues. Additionally, the cave harbors a collection of stacked rocks that signifies the burial ground of an ancient coffin. Throughout the Bronze Age and Neolithic eras, caves served a spiritual role as burial grounds across Thailand.
Situated thirteen kilometers from Wat Tham Si Mongkhon is the skywalk of Wat Pha Tak Suea. This 16-meter-long skywalk features a transparent glass floor that offers a clear line of sight to the Mekong River below. Jutting out from the cliff’s edge, this striking U-shaped walkway grants visitors an unobstructed panoramic view.
Operating daily from 6:00 am to 6:00 pm, the skywalk’s admission is a mere 20 baht per person, which covers the necessary “shoe covers” to walk on the glass floor. Notably, the skywalk’s platform can host a maximum of 20 individuals at any given time, with its structure boasting a weight capacity of up to 2,500 kg.
From our perspective, the skywalk’s platform seemed safe due its caliber of design and structural build. Although, we encountered some families who hesitated to venture onto it. Their apprehension stemmed from recent reports of glass skywalks fracturing in China.
Regardless, our confidence in Nong Khai’s skywalk remained steadfast. It was definitely a lot safer than crossing Wat Phu Tok’s rickety cliffside planks.
Situated along the Mekong River’s edge, Nong Khai is home to an expansive, modern promenade stretching over 10 kilometers. This waterfront thoroughfare hosts a variety of attractions, including temples, century-old structures, restaurants, and cultural landmarks, providing ample opportunities for exploration and enjoyment.
In front of Wat Lamduan, is one of Nong Khai’s most important cultural landmarks – the Lan Phaya Nak. This imposing statue features two colossal nagas and is where the enigmatic fireball festival occurs. It’s an annual gathering which draws crowds in the thousands, who come to witness vibrant red orbs that emerge from the Mekong River and ascend into the sky before vanishing.
Steeped in Isaan lore, these red orbs are attributed to supernatural origins and commemorate Buddha’s return to Earth from the heaven after a three-month Lent period. According to legend, nagas emerged from the Mekong River to extend their welcome to the returning Buddha. However, due to the limitations of human perception, these creatures appeared as floating red orbs.
Despite extensive research, the natural cause of Nong Khai’s annual display of red orbs continues to elude scientists.
In the morning, locals embrace the promenade for their exercise routines, engaging in activities ranging from Tai Chi and cycling to brisk jogging. The refreshing morning climate coupled with the relaxing view of a peach-colored sunrise over the Mekong, provides an ideal setting for physical exercise.
Additionally, for photographers, morning on the promenade offers a less chaotic perspective to street photography in Thailand. With a small-profile camera and some patience, you can get some interesting and non-cliche shots here.
Nestled at the end of the promenade, you’ll find the Tha Sadet Market, an indoor mall that’s open from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm every day. While it’s not lavish like Bangkok’s shopping centers, this quirky labyrinth of shops presents an eclectic blend of clothing, electronics, and assorted curiosities sourced from Laos and Vietnam. As long as you keep your expectations low, you’ll have fun time sifting through some funky souvenirs.
As far as food is concerned, Tha Sadet Market is an excellent lunchtime spot. Over the years, Nong Khai has earned a reputation for offering some of the best Vietnamese cuisine in Thailand.
We highly recommend getting some pho, appetizers, and Vietnamese iced coffee at Ca Phe Viet. Or grabbing a monstrous serving of pork namneung at the ever-popular Daeng Namnueng.
During the evenings, nightlife options in Nong Khai are limited, yet a variety of food stalls, restaurants, and bars stay open along the promenade til late.
Regrettably, we didn’t spend any time on the promenade after blue hour, so we can’t provide any insight into specific places to visit.
Located just beyond the town’s borders, lies an extravagant Burton-esque park known as the Sala Keoku. This unique park showcases 208 massive and somewhat eerie statues, set amidst a sprawling garden spanning over 16,000 square meters.
Several sculptures within Sala Keoku soar to an impressive 25 meters in height, dwarfing the buildings of the neighboring village. Crafted from concrete, these larger-than-life interpretations of revered religious tales were conceived under the visionary guidance of a Laotian monk.
The park’s centerpiece is a captivating sculpture depicting the Buddha under the protection of a highly-stylized seven-headed Naga. It’s an imposing statue of monumental proportions that makes the 20 baht entrance fee seem undervalued.
Established in 1978 by Luangpu Bunluea Surirat, Sala Keoku emerged from his visionary pursuit to harmonize teachings from Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, along with various folkloric deities to craft his distinctive sculptures.
Tragically, Surirat’s life was cut short in 1996 when a sculpture collapsed upon him. Today, his mummified remains rest on the third floor of Sala Keoku’s main building, with his devotees asserting that his hair continues to grow til this day. We cannot confirm nor deny this claim.
On Sunday evenings, an unconventional market unfolds alongside an operational railroad track in the heart of Nong Khai. This oddly-placed market provides visitors with a taste of authentic Isaan cuisine and a glimpse into the local artistry of the province. Food wise, the offerings span from hearty meals at budget-friendly rates to convenient on-the-go bites.
Above all, we suggest indulging in the Khanom Jeen (ขนมจีน) with fish meatball curry, followed by the delight of fresh sapodillas for a wholesome and delicious dinner.
If you’re feeling more gastronomically adventurous, there’s the option to try Rice Eggs (ไข่ข้าว) – fertilized eggs that were steamed just before hatching. It’s the Isaan equivalent of the well-known Filipino dish, Balut. To complement its unique flavor, pair the eggs with Kanom Gui Chai Tod (กุ๋ยช่ายทอด), pan-fried chive cakes that you dip into semi-sweet black soy sauce.
Absolutely, Nong Khai is well worth a visit for travelers seeking an authentic Thai experience beyond the typical tourist spots. From its captivating Naga Cave Temple and Lotus Pond to the Glass Skywalk with panoramic views, Nong Khai offers a blend of natural beauty and cultural exploration.
Nong Khai is generally considered safe for travelers. It maintains a peaceful atmosphere and is known for its friendly locals. Common travel precautions apply, such as safeguarding personal belongings, using reputable transportation services, and being cautious in unfamiliar areas, especially at night.
Nong Khai is known for its picturesque riverfront, serene temples, and vibrant markets. The city is famous for its annual Naga Fireball Festival, where mysterious glowing orbs are said to rise from the Mekong River. It’s also recognized for attractions like the Sala Keoku sculpture park with its fantastical statues, and the Wat Tha Sadej market.
The best time to visit Nong Khai is during the cool and dry season, which typically spans from November to February. During these months, the weather is pleasant and comfortable for outdoor activities, sightseeing, and exploring the city’s attractions. The temperatures are milder, and there is less humidity compared to the hotter months.
Additionally, this period aligns with the Naga Fireball Festival, usually held around October, which is a unique and culturally significant event in the region.
What are the best areas to stay in Nong Khai?
Nong Khai offers several great areas to stay, each with its own unique charm. Some of the best areas to consider are:
City Center: Staying in the city center puts you close to the Mekong River, where you can enjoy scenic views, riverside walks, and visit attractions. This area also offers a variety of dining and shopping options.
For a wallet-friendly holiday in the city center, we recommend staying at the White Inn. Alternatively if you’re seeking a fancier room, check out the Amanta Hotel.
Soi 1 Area: This area is near the Thai-Laos Friendship Bridge and offers easy access to both the city center and the border crossing. It’s a convenient location if you’re planning to also explore Laos.
Promenade Area: Along the Mekong River, there is a beautiful promenade where you can catch stunning sunrises. Staying in this area gives you a peaceful atmosphere and proximity to the riverfront attractions.
No, Nong Khai does not have its own airport. The nearest major airport to Nong Khai is the Udon Thani International Airport, which is located in Udon Thani province, approximately 60 kilometers (37 miles) from Nong Khai.
Travelers visiting Nong Khai often use Udon Thani Airport as their point of entry and then travel by road to Nong Khai, which is well-connected by buses, taxis, and private transfers.
Within the city center, you’ll find tuk-tuks, songthaews (shared pickup trucks), and motorbike taxis that are commonly used for short distances. These options are convenient for navigating around the local attractions and markets.
If you’re looking to explore areas beyond the city center or travel to different places around the province, you’ll need to rent a vehicle such as a motorbike or car. A car rental will provide the most flexibility and freedom to venture to more remote locations.
To travel from Bangkok to Nong Khai, you have a few transportation options:
Train: You can take a train from Bangkok’s Bang Sue Grand Station to Nong Khai Railway Station. This scenic journey offers comfortable seating options and sleeping berths for overnight travel. The train station in Nong Khai is conveniently located near the city center.
Bus: There are both VIP and standard bus services that operate between Bangkok’s Northern Bus Terminal (Mo Chit) and Nong Khai’s Bus Terminal. Buses provide a range of amenities, including air conditioning and comfortable seating. The bus journey takes several hours, and it’s recommended to book your tickets in advance, especially during peak travel seasons.
Private Transportation: If you prefer a more personalized travel experience, you can hire a private car or van to take you from Bangkok to Nong Khai. This option offers convenience and flexibility, allowing you to make stops along the way and travel at your own pace.
To travel from Nong Khai to Vientiane, the capital city of Laos, you can follow these steps:
Crossing the Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge: Start by heading to the Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge, which connects Nong Khai in Thailand to Vientiane in Laos. You can reach the bridge by taking a local tuk-tuk or taxi. The bridge is open for both pedestrians and vehicles.
Immigration and Visa Process: Once you reach the bridge, you will go through immigration procedures on the Thai side to exit Thailand. After crossing the bridge, you will go through Lao immigration to enter Laos. Make sure you have your passport, visa (if required), and any necessary documentation ready.
Transportation to Vientiane: Once you’ve completed immigration procedures on the Lao side of the bridge, you can find various transportation options to reach Vientiane. These options include shared vans and taxis (pricing ranges from 400-600 baht).
Arriving in Vientiane: The journey from the border crossing to Vientiane takes around 15-20 minutes, depending on traffic.
Remember to check the latest travel requirements, visa information, and any updates on border crossing procedures before your trip. Keep your important documents secure and be prepared for some waiting time at immigration checkpoints.
Tip #1: We intentionally left Wat Pho Chai off of this list as it was, in our humble opinion, an overhyped tourist trap. While there were some nice murals inside the temple, there’s just so many non-touristy temples scattered throughout Nong Khai that’s there’s no particular reason to come here. You’re most likely better off spending your time elsewhere.
Tip #2: At Wat Si Mongkhong, please DO NOT bring a backpack or a sling into the cave – we did and like idiots, we struggled. We originally thought the cave was like the rest of the open-air Wat Thams throughout Thailand – we were wrong. Also, it’s best to wear more outdoor-focused clothes that won’t rip easily and that’ll dry quickly.