Nong Khai / Thailand



Nong Khai

Nong Khai is a Thai town (and province capital of a province bearing the same name) at the northern border of Isan at the bank of the Mekong River. It's a Thai outpost and bridgehead for the border trade with neighbouring Laos, a trade which includes also Chinese and Vietnamese goods. As a formerly remote place, the town started to boom at the end of the cold war and the opening of the Laotian economy in the early 1990s. As a landmark of the new and tightening connection between the two countries, the first Thai/Laotian Friendship Bridge was opened in 1994.

Nong Khai Town
'Nong Khai at Dusk' by Asienreisender

One of the river's parallel roads at dusk. Image by Asienreisender, 11/2006

The town is home to officially around 50,000 inhabitants; the province counts more than 910,000 people. They are counted as Thai People, although a majority speaks still Laotion as native language. Also other dialects as Isan language (phasa Isan), other Laotian dialects and Vietnamese are partially spoken. Thai language is, however, the official and standard language here.

In it's history, the place was under shifting control of the kingdom of Ayutthaya and the kingdom of Lan Xang. Also the Haw Wars affected Nong Khai in the 1880s. Allegedly, Nong Khai was for a time under French rule in the early 20th century until 1932.

When I came here for the first time in 2006, the place was already a popular destination and quite well developed. This development, triggered by the construction of the Mekong bridge in the mid 1990s, continued; when I saw the place again in 2011, it had grown much.

For many ex-patriates in Isan and travellers who spend more time in Thailand than the touristic visitors, Nong Khai is on the way for the notorious Thai Visa Run to Vientiane.

The Mekong River at Nong Khai
'The Mekong River at Nong Khai' by Asienreisender

Sunset over the magnificent river. Image by Asienreisender, 3/2011



Nong Khai's economy is coined by agriculture, particularly rice, together with silk production, cassava, cattle and water buffalos. The proximity to the Laotian capital Vientiane (24km distance) boosts also the border trade. Probably, as it is so in all border towns, smuggling in general and drug smuggling in particular are part of the (at least shadow-) economy.

'A Tuktuk in Nong Khai' by Asienreisender

One of the many tuktuks who coin the streetlife. Image by Asienreisender, 11/2006

The fishing industries, who exploit the natural riches of the Mekong River, play a role in the local economy.

There are branches of universities, high schools and other educational institutions in the province, who also pay a tribute to the local economy.

Additionally is Nong Khai a tourist destination for Thais as well as for tourists from other Asian countries and Westerners. Many western expatriates have decided to settle down in Nong Khai. The place is massively booming since years and got increasingly expensive.



Nong Khai lies at the northeastern railway line, which connects Bangkok via Khorat, Khon Kaen, Udon Thani with Nong Khai and goes further to Vientiane. It's planned to modernize and expand the railway line in cooperation with China to Kunming in Yunnan. After the completion the railway connection would link Beijing with Singapore.

Famous is the 1st Thai/Laotian Friendship Bridge, which spans over the Mekong River. It's about six kilometers west of the town's center.

The Mekong Bridge at Nong Khai
'The First Thai/Laos Friendship Bridge over the Mekong River at Nong Khai' by Asienreisender

The 1st Thai/Laotian Friendship Bridge, opened in 1994, long before the following Mekong bridges at Mukdahan, Nakhon Phanom and Chiang Khong opened. Image by Asienreisender, 11/2006

The next airport is in Udon Thani, the southern neighbour province, about less than 60km from here.



There are not many sights in or around town, and none of them is of a greater interest. Apart from the usual, many temples of who some are claimed to be very old (up to 2,000 years, what has to be treated with suspicion), there is above all Sala-Kaeo-Ku Park (also: Wat Khaek) to mention. Normally referred to as the Sculpture Park or the Buddha Park, the larger outdoor place has a collection of large concrete sculptures of mystical fable animals and other figures out of the Ramayana Epos and the buddhist world. The leading spirit of Sala Kaeo Ku was the Laotian artist Luang Pu Bunleua Sulilat. He bought the land in 1978, after he exiled from Laos to Thailand, and organized the construction of this bizarre assemblage of monuments. There is another one of the same kind not far from here in Vientiane Province, which was also made by Bunleua Sulilat in the 1950s and 1960s.

Sala-Kaeo-Ku | Buddhapark

Photocomposition: Nong Khai's Sculpture Park

The excentric Sculpture Park at Nong Khai is a unique place, apart from the similar park on the banks of the Mekong River in nearby Vientiane Province, Laos. However, both parks were created by the same artist, the Laotian spiritual Luang Pu Bunleua Sulilat. The one in Laos is his earlier work, while that in Nong Khai seems to be more sophisticated, for the artist was more experienced in this phase of his life.

The reason why he came to Thailand was maybe that the communist regime in Laos turned intolerant against religiously inspired works, or he came into any conflict with the state ideology.

'Sala-Kaeo-Ku / Buddha Park Nong Khai' by Asienreisender
Luang Pu Bunleua Sulilat

Luang Pu Bunleua Sulilat

Luang Pu has seen himself as a mystic. I don't know exactly when he was born, but is was roughly in the mid 1920s. He had been in Vietnam, where he made a development in his spiritual believes, and came to Thailand in 1974 (?!). He had a strong affinity to snakes. Certainly an attempt of self-mystification, he claimed that he had a childhood experience in a forest, where he fell into a hole and met the ascetic Kaewkoo, who taught him the secrets of the underworld and all about snakes. Snakes were for him mystical beings, their purity expressed in the absence of arms, hands and legs, so that they are unable to destroy the world.

There are alltogether above a hundred sculptures in the park, made with concrete and steel. Many of them are very large, several meters high. They remind, of course, to all the sculptures and paintings we see in a great number everywhere around in Thailands many, many temple sites. These sculptures therefore represent the mystical figures of the hindu and buddhist cosmos.

Remarkable is the wheel of life in the back of the park. This sculpture expresses the cycle of life from procreation to death in the artist's view.

I don't know where Luang Pu had the means from to create the both parks, but he must have had a wealthy background. He died in 1996, in his early 70s, after an accident in the park. Luang Pu's mummified body is now itself an attraction, for it can be seen in the main building under a glass shield. His mystification is still going on, for some of Pu's disciples here claim that the master's hair would be still growing and ned an occasional haircut.

All images and photocomposition by Asienreisender, 11/2006 and 4/2016

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Reachable from Nong Khai by motorbike is Phu Phrabat Historical Park, a remarkable landscape which was inhabited in pre-historic times already. The park lies in neighbouring Udon Thani Province, though. There are bizarre rock formations to see and cave paintings who date back several thousand years.

'Thai Wat' by Asienreisender

A classical Thai wat. Image by Asienreisender, 11/2006

Also sometimes counted as a sight is the large Indochina Market along the riverbanks (Tha Sadet Market). Plenty of goods, mostly from Vietnam, but also from China and partially from Laos and Thailand itself are here for sale. The large market is equipped with a modern, protecting roof.

It's nice to have a walk along the broad and kilometers long promenade the river up- and downwards. There is often a fresh breeze at the water and little traffic. The promenade is seamed with restaurants and some guesthouses. Some of the restaurants are on river boats.

Meanwhile there is also a freshwater aquarium to visit on Khon Kaen University campus, displaying aquatic species who live in the Mekong.

The Chinese Dragon Festival

Nong Khai Dragon Festival 2006

'Chinese Dragon Festival' by Asienreisender

This Chinese festival is a great, annual event in town. It's hold in November and starts with an hours-lasting street parade of hundreds of exotically costumed participants of all ages, men and women. There is a lot of acrobatics, shows, plays and fireworks to see. Alltogether, the festival lasts ten long days.

All images and photocomposition by Asienreisender, 11/2006 and 4/2016

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A number of festivals happen in Nong Khai around the year. Apart from Songkran, the buddhist water festival (sometimes: buddhist new year), there is a rowing festival with boat races, a candle festival and a rocket festival. In March, Anou Savari Festival is held to memorize the defeat of the Haws in 1886. Particularly strange here are the Mekong Fireballs, a mysterious appearance of glowing balls who rise out of the Mekong waters after dusk. In November happens the Chinese Dragon Festival. Thai Chinese parade through the streets in vivid costumes and give acrobatic shows. Also in November is Loi Krathong, the 'floating light festival', held.