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.
Nong Khai station guide
Nong Khai - Bus
Located on the Mekong River, just a stone’s throw away from the Thai-Lao border, pretty Nong Khai is a city of just under 50,000 people in northeast Thailand. The city is just 25kms from Vientiane, linked to Laos by the Friendship Bridge over the Mekong River, and many travellers pass through it en route to the Laos capital.
Nong Khai bus station is located fairly centrally, on Prajak Sillapakhom Road, and there are frequent departures to nearby Udon Thani (about an hour’s drive away) at a cost of 40 baht or 20 baht in second and third class respectively. There are a number of buses each day to Bangkok, around nine hours away, and several to the Isaan town of Khon Kaen. Travellers flying out of Thailand can get a bus from the city direct to Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport. It is also possible to travel direct to Vientiane, across the Friendship Bridge.
Nong Khai is also where the northeastern railway line comes to its end. Travel to or from Bangkok takes between 10 and 12 hours, with stops at Khon Kaen and Udon Thani. Services leave from Hua Lumphong station in Bangkok. The nearest airport to Nong Khai is in Udon Thani, 56km away; the airport has mini-bus connections to Nong Khai.
Nong Khai is a nice place to spend a bit of time en route to or from Laos. There are several interesting markets with a vast array of goods on offer, including a daily one and a Saturday walking street, located near the Mekong River. The town also boasts a selection of banks and ATMs and a Tesco-Lotus supermarket to the south of the centre.
Travellers will find a wide variety of places to eat and sleep, with some guesthouses located close to the Mekong River. Many guesthouses offer bikes for rent and local tours by minibus are also available.
Nong Khai - train
Nong Khai Railway Station is the terminus of the northeastern railway that runs from Bangkok via Khon Kaen and Udon Thani. A trip to Nong Khai would take 10-12 hours so it is advisable for travelers to take sleeper trains for a more convenient trip.
The Nong Khai bound trains also make stops at Udon Thani, Khon Kaen, Nakhon Ratchasima and Saraburi stations.
For passengers or tourists going to Laos for either visa renewal or holidays, there are shuttle buses onward from the train station to Tha Nalaeng, Laos. Tickets are sold only at Nong Khai Station. Check www.thaivisa.com for latest infos about visas.
On March 5, 2009 a rail link from Nong Khai to Tha Nalaeng was opened to public but only operates 2 times per day.
Bung Khla - Bus
Bung Khla is a minor town and a district of the province of Bueng Kan in northeastern Thailand. It lies on the southern bank of the Mekong River, opposite the Laotian town of Pakxan. Bung Khla is sited at the point where Routes 212 and 222 meet.
Nong Khai is the main town to aim for en route to Bung Khla. From Bangkok’s Mochit bus terminal, frequent services run to Nong Khai, and there are local connections to Bung Khla, a trip of two hours. Services of interest to travellers here include banks, shops, restaurants and hotels such as The One Hotel, located just off Route 212.
Si Chiang Mai - Bus
Si Chiang Mai is a tiny district of just over 30,000 inhabitants lying on the banks of the Mekong in Thailand’s northeastern Nong Khai province. From the district, you can see the Lao capital Vientiane across the river, and ferries run from the village of Ban Mo on Sundays and Tuesdays at 18:00, although only those with Lao visas will be allowed into the neighbouring country. The area is famous for its spring roll wrappers.
Provincial buses serve the town during the day but, other than the scenic view and the pleasant surroundings, there is little to keep travellers occupied for more than a day or so. If you are thinking of coming here from Bangkok, transport from Mochit terminal to Nong Khai is the best option, with a local bus to Si Chiang Mai.
Sangkhom - Bus
Sitting on the Thai bank of the Mekong River, Sangkhom offers panoramic views over to Laos. There are a number of guesthouses in the village which are pastoral locations to spend a few days. Highway 211 follows the Mekong from Nong Khai and passes through Sangkhom on its way to Chiang Khan.
Sangkhom is 700kms north of Bangkok. There are no direct buses between the two locations. The quickest route is to take an intercity bus from Mochit terminal to Nong Khai. The journey takes around nine hours. It is better to take a night bus as it allows a seamless connection for the 07:30 local service to Sangkhom.
Fao Rai - Bus
Fao Rai is a district situated on the east side of Thailand's narrow Nong Khai province across the Mekong River from Laos. Two major roads converge at the town of Fao Rai, which contains a police station, temple, and bus stop. Three Air Udon buses make the nine and a half hour journey between Fao Rai and Bangkok's Mochit station per day.
Fao Rai is a rural district with few tourist amenities, so the nearest quality hotels are located in neighbouring Phon Phisai. The days between 10 and 16 October are the busiest time of year at Buapha's Hotel, Asia Mantion Hotel, and other Phon Phisai establishments. The Naga Fireball Festival lights up both sides of the Mekong River during these days.
Phon Phisai - Bus
Located within a short driving distance of Nong Khai, Phon Phisai is a small Isasn town. The bus station in Phon Phisai is situated in the centre of town. From here buses to and arrive from Bangkok’s Northern terminal, Mochit, as well as other popular travel destinations, with services running daily. Getting around town is easy as there are always tuk-tuks on hand near the bus station. The small town can also be explored on foot.
Phon Phisai is an ideal spot to see the Mekong fireballs. This spectacular natural event takes place every year around October. These fiery mysterious balls draw huge crowds of visiting tourists each year. Many of the villagers believe that the burning balls come out of the mouth of a dragon.
So Phisai - Bus
So Phisal is a district and small village located in northeast Thailand's Bueng Kan province 76kms east of the nearest major city, Nong Khai, and 573kms northeast of Bangkok. One of So Phisai's nearest tourist attractions is a famous forest temple cave called Tham Jan Tom. A well-known monk named Ajahn Chuan stayed in this 20m deep temple cave between 1958 and 1962.
Direct bus service is available between So Phisai's bus station and Bangkok’s Mochit terminal. Passengers can make this 10-hour journey aboard charter buses or the national bus service. One of the nearest hotels to So Phisai is Resort Rose View, a small establishment mainly frequented by locals. Most places to stay in the larger community of Nong Khai are small guesthouses like Amazon and Friendship guesthouses.
Rattanawapi - Bus
The easternmost district of northeast Thailand's Nong Khai province is Rattanawapi, across the Mekong River from Laos. However, Rattanawapi has no border crossing or bus station. This sleepy town's busiest time of year is the annual Naga Fireball Festival, which takes place between 10 and 16 October.
Rattanawapi's nearest bus station is Chum Phon Sub District Bus Station in neighbouring Phon Phisai district. Each day, buses make the 40-minute journey to Nong Khai, the nearest border crossing to Laos, and the much longer 670-kilometre journey to Bangkok’s Mochit terminal. Riverside camping is Rattanawapi's only accommodation option, so those preferring hotels must stay at Phon Phisai's Keerawan House, a small guesthouse. The nearest larger hotels like the One Hotel and BK Place are situated in neighbouring Bueng Kan.