CHIANG KHAN – Nested 1 hour away from the airport of Loei is the rustic gem of Chiang Khan. You might be wondering, where is Chiang Khan, you must be talking about Chiang Mai?
Nope, you heard me right – Chiang KHAN, spelled with a ‘K’. This little district part of the Loei province in Thailand is almost untouched by foreign tourists, with majority of the visitors coming from local Thais from surrounding cities in Thailand. It is the coldest part of Thailand during winter, and can get as cold a -6 degrees, hence Thais love to flock here to enjoy the cold.
We scooted over to Chiang Khan via local budget airline Nok Air, an adorable little propeller plane with their airline symbol – a bird’s beak. Flights to this destination is very affordable from Bangkok, and even with a last minute over the counter purchase, I paid around SGD$95 for a 1-way ticket. Alternatively, one can also catch a 2-way coach down 8 hours from Bangkok at 700baht.
6 Reasons why Chiang Khan is worth your time
1. A Pretty Little Wooden Town
One very iconic aspect about Chiang Khan is that – almost every single house here is made out of purely wood, in particular teak wood which is in ample supply here. Chiang Khan use to be a french colony, hence some of the houses here still have some french influence. But the general style is that they are all made of wood – rows and rows of wooden houses line the streets, no matter if it is an old resident house, a café, a shophouse or a hotel, there is a distinct consistent style of every single house built here. And other than 2 hotels, everything else in this little town is only at maximum of 2 storeys high. No high rise 5 star hotels or malls spotted here.
In some sense, the main walking street ( from Soi 1 – 25 to be exact) even feels like a movie set, with neat little wooden houses parallel to the beautiful Mekong River flowing by the side. The stunning river that hold the record of being the 10th or 12th longest river in the world. I will share more later.
(For those looking for accommodation, we stayed at the lovely wooden Sri Chiang Khan Hotel )
2. The Mekong
Holding the record of the one of the world’s top 15th longest rivers, this freshwater river cuts through from China to Southeast Asia like Myanmar, Thailand, Laos and more. We are lucky to be able to take a lovely long boat river cruise down The Mekong, and release our hand-made ‘Pa Sad Loi Kroh’ or also known as the ‘Banana Castle’ – a good luck offering to wade off the bad and bring in the good!
3. Fantastic Night Market and Food
The night market in Chiang Khan is really beautiful and hipster. Not your usual ridiculously crowded shopping districts of Bangkok and Phuket with schools of sweaty tourists, this cooling river side night walking street is comfortably busy, with lovely street food stalls selling a range of food quite different from what you can get from the usual touristy parts of Thailand. There are hippie and vintage shops, souvenir t-shirts, tons of street food stalls with such interesting variety, live music and more.
Some suggestions for good thai dinner would be Nucha Restaurant, Kang Kood Koon along the main street.
Discover the full range of Chiang Khan street food snacks here
4. Amazing Cycling Route to immerse in culture and sights
Bicycles as a means of transport is very popular in Chiang Khan. You can rent a bicycle and cycle along the Mekong River or the main street with the stretch of wooden houses lining the sides. We cycled past temples, dropped by the old school cinema house, visit the cotton factory where they make quilts from scratch during winter period, play some instruments at the music school or even drop by to visit the professional decorative paper cutting uncle who has been in this line for many years. Everything about Chiang Khan is still very rare and authentic, so you will get some really cultural and soulful sharing and interactions with these villagers.
For something even more unique, sign up for a cooking class to cook authentic Chiang Khan inspired thai food – like the Banana flowers Salad with Prawn and vermicelli (Issan style) or the traditional sweet dessert made out of yam, pumpkin and coconut milk.
Chiang Khan music school – really?
Immersing in the wind instruments here at Chiang Khan music school – Ajarn Sompote music school. It was a lovely auditory experience and before long, we had to be pulled out of the Chiang Khan music school to be on our way on our bikes to the next pitstop again.
5. Visit the Black Thai Tribe Tai Dam
A last minute addition on our way back to the Loei airport, we stop over and got to interact with the lovely people from the Black Thai Tribe Tai Dam , dancing, dressing up in their traditional costume and enjoying the stunning view of the rice paddy fields.
6. Thailand Eco Tourism
Not yet bursting out of its seams with tourists, this little destination plays its part to really be a self-sustaining and environmentally conscious destination which reduces its carbon footprint. Hardly can you find any Styrofoam boxes used here, and there isn’t massive amounts of trash generated every day. The residents really protect the natural beauty of the place and try not to destroy it. Really unexpected for a place to be big on eco tourism.
In conclusion, apart from the usual popular destinations like Bangkok, Krabi, Chiang Mai and Phuket, the only word I can describe this gem of Thailand is – Rustic. A truly beautiful little place where culture meets tranquility meets the Mekong.
Come visit Chiang Khan before the rest of the world catches up with it.
( This trip was made possible by Thailand Eco and Adventure Tourism Association ( TEATA) and Thailand Tourism Board )
To read more about other destinations in Thailand