Chiang Khan in 2 days: a welcome dose of serene life in north-east Thailand

Chiang Khan may well be the nicest Thai destination you’ve never heard of.

Tucked right up on the Mekhong river which forms the border with Laos in the Isaan province of Loei, Chiang Khan is a popular destination for Thai people but is relatively off the radar for visitors.

In fact, we probably would never have heard of Chiang Khan at all had a Thai friend from Loei not recommended it to us. We’re glad that they did though, as Chiang Khan and the surrounding area has a whole lot to love about it.

In this short guide we’ll cover how to get to Chiang Khan and a few tips for food, sights and stays to help you plan a trip to this beautiful corner of Thailand.

How to get to Chiang Khan

Despite being right on the edge of Thailand, Chiang Khan is surprisingly easy to get to from Bangkok. We took a 1 hour flight from Bangkok DMK into the adorably tiny Loei airport, stopping for an apparently obligatory picture with the plane, eyes closed or otherwise. There are no gates, it just parks up right at the terminal. There are just 2 flights a day from Bangkok, one with AirAsia and one with Nok Air. Overnight buses also run between Bangkok and Chiang Khan.

At time of writing in November 2021, Loei province entry restrictions are similar to most Thai provinces: if you are double vaccinated against Covid-19, you can enter just by showing your vaccine certificate.

Other visitors can show a negative ATK or PCR test taken within 72hrs of arrival.

Out of the airport doors you can find your transport to Chiang Khan, a 40 kilometre stretch away from Loei airport. A shuttle service greets landing flights and is run by AirAsia. People stand outside the entrance selling tickets which are 250 baht one way.

You can also get a taxi and the listed price is 800 baht, although we’ve heard that crossing the road and getting a cab from outside the airport could be cheaper.

You can even rent a car right outside the airport and people were doing that on the spot upon arrival, cars started at 700 baht per day.

We took the van and about 40 minutes later were in Chiang Khan. The van will drop you to your hotel, but the driver likely won’t speak much or any English so if you have pre-booked accommodation, it’s helpful to have the address written in Thai.

Worst case you’d get dropped in the middle of Chiang Khan and your guesthouse is unlikely to be more than a 10 minute walk.

On the way back, you can also take the airport bus and it will pick you up from your hotel. We did arrange this in advance when we arrived at Loei airport, but it’s worth telling your guesthouse that you’re getting the bus and they can confirm exact timings.

Chiang Khan hotels and accommodation

Guesthouses in Chiang Khan are plentiful – this is a town that has very much grown with tourism in mind but retains a huge dose of charm and character.

Although it goes wholly against my love of planning, it’s perfectly possible to show up in Chiang Khan with no accommodation booked and pick a place.

The guesthouses all either have a sign out saying ว่าง for available (literally: free) or เต็ม for full. Most places will also post their room rates outside and they range typically from 800-1500 baht per night for a guesthouse on the riverfront itself, with varying levels of comfort and privacy for your money.

We pre-booked two nights at the Tao Kae Lao guesthouse at the western end of Chiang Khan. At the higher end cost wise at 1500 baht per night (around £35), the benefit is a beautiful little room right on the river in an old wooden house with just a couple of rooms.

The views from our room are right out over the Mekhong and into neighbouring Laos. The western end of Chiang Khan is also quite quiet, with just the chirp of birds in the tree in front for much of the day. Find a better view than this for 35 quid and you’ve done pretty well.

We’d highly recommend Tao Kae Lao but equally there are dozens of guesthouses along the front, so take your pick!

Chiang Khan restaurants and things to do

Chiang Khan is a very relaxed place that’s popular with Thai tourists, but there is still plenty to do and see. Chiang Khan has, to me at least, strong shades of one of our favourite ever places – Luang Prabang in Laos. They both face onto the same river, they’re both chock full of beautiful buildings, and they both have a relaxed charm that is hard to beat.

We wiled away many an hour just watching the slow life on the river in front – small boats out fishing, kids splashing in the river on the Laos side. Given that Laos, like much of Southeast Asia, is still closed to outsiders at time of writing, looking into it from across an international border is quite novel.

The town of Chiang Khan itself spreads in both directions for a couple of kilometres from a T-junction off the main road to Loei town. The town sits right along the southern bank of the Mekhong.

There are 3 roads which run parallel to the river, connected by small sois which contain lots of little eateries and hotels in narrow alleys of old, wooden buildings. The sois are numbered from Soi Srichiangkhan 0 on the western edge up to the 20s on the east of town.

It’s perfectly possible to walk around Chiang Khan, though most hotels offer free bikes to cruise around town which is a great option. Tuk tuks or samlors as they are called here are available and cheap.

Right on the river is a wide paved path with an additional wooden walkway. It is meant for walking and bicycles only, but you’ll see the occasional motorbike. This long stretch gives a perfect view of the meandering river and our guesthouse room faced right onto it.

There are a few notable places right on the riverfront – at the western end near Soi 2 are Smile@Chiang Khan where we had a really pleasant seafood lunch, and from 5pm onwards the craft brewery Jo+ Beer is a must visit. Jo+ Beer brew a good variety of their own excellent craft beers and serve them up on draft, ice cold to small tables overlooking the river while the sun sets in a burst of orange.

It may have been the setting but these were some of the best beers we’ve had in Thailand – especially their Weizen, chocolate stout and a dangerously tasty 7% IPA called Isan Rocket. They do a good range of fresh cooked beer snacks. Put it on your list.

Set back one row of buildings from the river is the main tourist road of Chiang Khan – Chai Kong.

Especially towards the middle of Chai Kong, there are a whole host of shops selling local crafts and a healthy range of Chiang Khan branded threads. If you want a t-shirt or a key chain to commemorate your visit, fill your boots here. There are also a number of decent restaurants scattered about – perhaps not as many as you’d expect in a tourist town but more than enough to keep you full!

A good breakfast spot is Boonchu bar (Soi 13) where 40 baht will land you a nice little plate of kai grata pan-fried eggs or a noodle soup. For coffee, try the starkly modern-looking Pudbok Coffee near Soi 5.

Lunch and dinner options are more plentiful. We picked up a couple of good recommendations from our go-to site for all Thai destinations, Travelfish. For lunch, Jum Nua on Soi 10 served us up a big and comforting bowl of the eponymous dish which I’ve never seen before.

A hearty pork noodle soup came along with a bowl of vivid pink-purple sauce we are reliably informed is made of fermented tofu and peanut. The owners were afraid it would be too spicy for us (it’s not) and served it separately but the idea is to mix them!

Another highlight is the very popular Heon Luang Prabang in the middle of town. With a big indoor space and some tables that overlook the river, Heon Liang Prabang serves up a mix of Laotian dishes plus a wide Thai selection.

We really enjoyed the fried fermented fish served with heaps of fried crispy shallots and a few spices.

Stir fried fern with oyster sauce was another good pick, but the menu was extensive and all looked good, and the staff were friendly and spoke a bit of English to boot.

We witnessed an impressive feat in Heon Luang Prabang; the family next to us managed to somehow plow through what looked like the entire menu without ever actually looking up from their phones – a fascinating spectator sport.

The best option for feeding time in Chiang Khan though is to check out the gigantic Chiang Khan night market that springs into life around sunset along Chai Kong road – on the Friday and Saturday we were there it was heaving and stretched for what must have been a kilometre down the street.

You can sample all manner of delights here, many of them on sticks for munching as you walk. Particularly popular were sticks of tiny whole prawns, chargrilled, crunchy and smoky. Coconut worms were also available for the adventurous – they tasted a bit like almonds.

There are many less challenging foods available too – you won’t be going hungry at Chiang Khan night market.

You could quite comfortably spend a couple of days in Chiang Khan without really venturing beyond the main strip and riverfront, perhaps sneaking up to the main through road to 7-Eleven for snacks – you’ll find the chain stores and banks on this road.

However, for a little more adventure, it’s absolutely worth a trip out of town to one of Loei’s newer attractions – the Chiang Khan Skywalk.

The Chiang Khan Skywalk

Set some 25km outside Chiang Khan, the Chiang Khan Skywalk is a new attraction that opened in 2020 but has quickly become popular with Thai tourists. The Skywalk is a glass-floored loop that stretches out over the Mekhong over towards Laos. That may not sound like much, but it was one of our favourite parts of the trip. There’s relatively little info about the Chiang Khan Skywalk in English, so I’ll post a bit of detail here and potentially post it as a standalone piece too.

Getting to Chiang Khan Skywalk

If you don’t have your own wheels, there are a couple of options to get to the Chiang Khan Skywalk. Your guesthouse in Chiang Khan will probably be able to arrange a van to the Skywalk, ours advertised a van going at 9am, 11am, 2pm and 4pm for 250 baht per person (return). We went down a different route and picked up one of the tuk-tuks/samlors that putter around the main road in Chiang Khan. Taking a tuk tuk may not be the fastest way to the Chiang Khan Skywalk, but it’s surely the most fun.

What I love about tuk tuk drivers around Thailand is that they’re up for pretty much any journey if you’re paying. I reckon we could have asked our driver to take us to Bangkok and he’d have given it a bash. As it was, he spent a few seconds wondering whether his ancient, juddering samlor was really cut out for a 50km round trip before quoting us 500 baht return.

The ancient, juddering samlor probably wasn’t cut out for a 50km round trip to the Skywalk – there were hills that pushed the limits of the engine’s capability to the edge and some interesting moments of being overtaken at pace by Avengers-themed megabuses.

But this was also a great way to see the beautifully bucolic surroundings as we wound along the quiet roads, with very little traffic save for the above bus and the occasional motorbike. A fun and terrifying game to play out here is a sweepstake on the age of the youngest kid you see driving a motorbike, which we reckoned on this trip was about 11.

The tuk tuk trip took about 30 minutes. The Skywalk area is still somewhat under construction and it looks like a set of new shops or potentially hotels are being built around the site. At present there’s just a large car park, a queue and a decent number of stalls selling food, drink and souvenirs.

As of now – November 2021 – everything is written in Thai but if you join the queue you can’t really go wrong. Note that you’ll need to show your vaccine certificate or a negative Covid test to get a ticket to the Chiang Khan Skywalk.

Visiting the Chiang Khan Skywalk

The attraction was quite busy when we went but was everything was sorted quite quickly. You’ll join a queue to buy tickets – you have two choices of ticket, and this being Thailand your choices are with elephants or without. Without elephants just gets you on to the Skywalk and costs 60 baht (around £1.50). With elephants costs 80 baht and seeminlgy gets you the option to look at or possible ride an elephant. Pro tip: don’t.

In busier periods you may have to wait until your number is called, but we didn’t have to wait.

You’ll then go to the next counter where you’ll need to buy some show covers for 30 baht. After that, walk up to the songthaew trucks back up by the road and you’ll be directed to one of them. There’s a short trip up a steep hill in the truck to the Chiang Khan Skywalk itself. The whole thing is pretty well organised, and if you get stuck there are plenty of staff around the help out.

The views from the Skywalk really are amazing. The structure is mainly made of glass, so once you’ve donned your snazzy shoe covers you can walk onto the Skywalk and look through the floor a long way to the ground. There are wonderful views of Laos and the Mekhong, plus the surrounding hills and mountains for some excellent photo opps. The structure does move a little bit and the glass floors probably aren’t for those who don’t like heights!

When we visited the Skywalk was busy but not heaving. In the middle of the day it was very hot, but you’re not up there for too long so the heat is bearable, just bring your sunscreen and a hat! These views are certainly worth a little heat.

A giant golden Buddha stands on the hill that the Skywalk juts out from, shimmering in the sun. All in all it’s an excellent and unique experience and great value, whilst still relatively new and not widely known just yet.

Here are a few more views from the Chiang Khan Skywalk.

The Skywalk is open daily from 7am to 6pm.

The Skywalk was possibly the highlight of our trip to Chiang Khan, but just a couple of days exploring this area left us wanting to come back.

Chiang Khan may be somewhat off the international tourist map, but it’s certainly worth visiting with more than enough charm to keep a visitor happy for a few days. In Chiang Khan it’s very easy to enjoy the slow life, the friendly vibe and the truly incredible natural surroundings and is a true breath of fresh air from hectic city life!



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