In a nutshell
Located a mere twenty kilometres from Laos, Nong Khai is both the capital city and province of a Northern Thai area called the Isaan.
Why go to Nong Khai
While this area isn’t often the first on most Thai traveller’s list of stops, the amount of culture surrounding the city and region is immense. The combination of the Mekong River and the border with Laos generate a feeling not present in many other parts of the country.
Known by many as the entryway into Laos, Nong Khai has much more to offer than just friendly passage onward. The parks, sculptures, and markets all draw in many travellers year round, offering indoor and outdoor highlights.
If you’re a bit weary about snakes, be prepared to see the city’s favourite symbol, the Naga, nearly everywhere. The locals revere this giant serpent as a guardian and find a way to intermix it into everyday life as often as possible.
You won’t find pristine beaches in this part of the country, but if you enjoy culture, avid exploration, and regional experiences, Nong Khai should definitely be on your Thai itinerary. If you’re like us, after following the backpacker trail along the coast, this part of the country will be a breath of fresh air before heading into Laos.
When to go to Nong Khai
This region’s weather is similar to the rest of Thailand’s.
From November to February, temperatures cool off a bit, and from March to May, expect intense heat. It’s also important to note when the rainy season comes and goes, from June through October.
Since most travellers take advantage of the cooler months in Nong Khai, you can expect guesthouse and tour prices to be higher than normal during those times. However, if you’re not averse to quick pockets of rainfall in the afternoons, the wet season might be a better option. By planning your day around the rain, you’ll be able to enjoy cheaper prices and far fewer crowds.
Where to stay in Nong Khai
There’s lots to choose from in terms of accommodation in Nong Khai. The majority of places to stay are guesthouses and budget friendly spots, which is great for the backpacker-type. However, if you’re looking for a more luxurious stay, you’ll likely be hard pressed to find many options that fit the bill.
Both along the river and near the centre of town, you’ll find plenty of options from as low as THB200 and up. While the hotels might not be high end, they do offer great value compared to other cities throughout Thailand. For a single bedroom with a fan, expect to pay closer to the lower end of THB200. For a spacious hotel room with air conditioning, wifi, a fridge, and en suite bathroom, you could pay upwards of THB1500.
Where to eat in Nong Khai
Rimkhong is the road that runs along the river in Nong Khai - one you’ll likely find yourself strolling down frequently during your trip. There, you’ll find countless restaurants and food options for dirt cheap prices. You’ll probably run into more locals than tourists around here, which is a good sign you’re in the right place.
Tha Sadet Market also houses a decent number of eateries selling local dishes like Mekong River fish, or a crowd favourite, Isaan chicken. Prices are slightly higher than what you’ll find further outside of the town’s centre, but the value is still excellent.
How to get around in Nong Khai
We found Nong Khai to be an incredibly walkable city, but even so, ended up renting bicycles on most days. Several guesthouses have them on offer for less than THB50 per day, so if you plan to do a fair amount of touring, they’re a great asset to have.
Otherwise, tuk-tuks are more than readily available to take you anywhere around town. We rarely paid more than THB70 on any trip, and we found them to be friendly, quick, and convenient. Drivers likely won’t speak much English, but they do post their fares in English, so no mime-haggling is necessary.
How to get to and from Nong Khai
Since Nong Khai is located in the northeast section of Thailand, you won’t have the benefit of easy international flights like you would in Bangkok. The closest domestic airport is located about an hour away from Nong Khai in Udon Thani, and international flights connect through Bangkok.
Fortunately, there are a decent amount of flights coming in through Bangkok on a daily basis. Even better, prices run as low as THB800 for a one way ticket with Thai Lion Air or Nok Air with Thai AirAsia offering great deal from time to time, too. Flights and barely last an hour.
For overland travellers, there’s also a train stop just outside the city centre accessible by tuk-tuk for no more than THB50. Trains to Bangkok and beyond are readily available, but do know the journeys are quite long, albeit relatively cheap. For the roughly a 10-hour trip to and from Bangkok, expect to pay as little as THB500 for a daytime train and as much as THB1500 for a first class sleeper on an express overnight train.
In our opinion, the easiest way to travel in and out of Nong Khai is via bus, whether you’re heading within or outside of Thailand. The bus station is conveniently located near the city centre, so it’ll likely be a quick walk or tuk-tuk ride to and from your guesthouse or hotel.
There is a whole bunch of buses heading to Nong Khai from Morchit bus terminal in Bangkok. Most of them are night buses and cost from THB500 up depending on the class of the bus. The ride takes about 10 hours. There is also a very popular service from Rayong and Pattaya to Nong Khai with 407 bus company with at least 3 buses leaving Rayong between 5pm and 8 pm daily.
Travel to Vientiane, Laos, by bus, is extremely easy, with international buses departing from Nong Khai bus station multiple times throughout the day from around 7.30am to 5pm. Tickets cost THB70 from the Lao side of the Friendship Bridge, and it’s a quick twenty kilometre ride. The same hours and price apply to the reverse route, as well.
Out of the busiest periods of New year or Songkran, you can almost always hop on a bus to Bangkok just showing in at the bus station in Nong Khai. Buses leave roughly every 45 minutes to an hour throughout the day, arriving into Bangkok’s Morchit station.
If you’re heading to Chang Mai, you’ll also be able to catch a bus out of the city. VIP sleeper buses leave around 7pm and cost just under THB1000. The journey takes about 12 hours, making the overnight bus a nice convenience.
Is Nong Khai safe to visit?
Nong Khai is known to be a generally safe city for travellers of all kinds. One thing to be aware of is careless tour operators offering border runs into Laos. While most companies take care of their passengers, some don’t do such a good job of keeping up with who’s in their group, so make sure not to lose sight of your driver or leave any bags on the bus as you go through immigration.