Chiang Khan is a delightful little town located in Loei Province in Isaan, in the northeast of Thailand. Situated on the banks of the Mekong River, Chiang Khan is 580km north of Bangkok and about 50km south of the town of Loei. Directly across the river is the country of Laos.
Chiang Khan was founded in the late 19th century when villagers from Laos crossed over the Mekong River after the French colonised Laos.
We were lucky enough to spend two nights in the district and I was definitely not disappointed with all it had to offer.
Local life in Chiang Khan
On arrival one of the first things that struck me about Chiang Khan was the vibrant main street of Chai Khong which runs parallel to the river.
It’s filled with history and charm that immediately made me quite nostalgic and experience a feeling of familiarity.
The locals were incredibly warm and friendly, and within minutes of being here, I had already decided I would be returning again one day soon.
During the day, Chiang Khan is lined with street vendors selling an array of local food and produce, including these river prawns which can be eaten straight off a skewer. Or they can also be deep fried.
At night, however, it turns into the bustling Walking Street Market which it is much better known for.
From 5pm onwards you can take a stroll up the street and find an assortment of freshly cooked street food, stalls with souvenirs, an array of clothing, buskers, or simply buy a coffee (which I might add the coffee here is exceptionally good) or just a cold beer to wander and take in all the things on offer.
The weekends can get quite busy as people from nearby neighbouring regions travel to Chiang Khan to indulge in the slow-paced, yet vibrant lifestyle on offer.
Chiang Khan is a good destination to choose if you’re looking for an undiscovered spot that is kind on the budget, especially if you’re backpacking around Thailand as the cost of living is pretty low compared to the larger cities
Mekong River sunrise in Chiang Khan
The scenery is nothing short of amazing, and if you don’t mind an early morning you can be treated to a dazzling sunrise overlooking the Mekong River, while the fog rolls in through the mountains across Laos in the background.
Phu Tok Mountain is also a lovely place to go to watch a sunrise.
Now I’m an avid lover of a good sunrise, and although the morning we were there didn’t offer much colour, the amazing views made it more than worthwhile getting up early for.
It’s known for the ‘sea of fog’ which blankets the town, river and surroundings early morning.
You can drive to the bottom of the mountain (or get your hotel to arrange for you) and then catch a local taxi – or songthaew to the top.
If sunrises aren’t really your thing, the sunsets are just as exquisite to watch while enjoying dinner from one of the many restaurants overlooking the Mekong River.
Buddhist Monks in Chiang Khan
One thing worth getting up for in the morning though is to see the Buddhist monks doing their sticky rice alms round at dawn every morning.
As many of the people from this area are descended from Laos, one of the age-old traditions they have brought with them is to give offerings to the monks of sticky rice during their morning alms rounds.
The monks start their rounds at 6 am every morning walking barefooted through the village accepting offerings of sticky rice from the locals.
In the North East regions, traditionally only sticky rice was offered, however, these days other food offerings, such as eggs fruit are also given.
The monks only eat two meals per day – breakfast and lunch, and whatever they are given must last them for their meals.
After lunchtime, they only drink water until the next morning.
A 90-year-old lady waits patiently every morning to give her offerings to the monks.
After each offering, the monks will stop and chant a prayer and blessing for the giver.
While we’re on the subject I’d like to talk a bit more about sticky rice.
It is quite different from the usual steamed rice you will find in area’s further south.
Sticky rice, also known as glutinous rice has a very low amylose content, which gives it its ‘sticky’ texture when cooked.
It is the staple food of the Isaan region and the main agricultural crops you will find growing up here.
Chiang Khan’s Festival of Ghosts
While in the Chiang Khan district I would highly recommend visiting the sleepy little farming village of Dan Sai, which is approximately 125km away.
It is the home of the Phi Ta Kohn festival, otherwise known as the Festival of the Ghosts.
The festival is held annually at the first weekend after the sixth full moon and lasts for three days.
It is part of a larger celebration known as Bun Luang, which is part of a Buddhist merit-making holiday.
There are a few different theories as to the origins of the festival, one of them being that Buddha, in one of his past lives was a prince who went away on a long journey and was presumed dead.
However, he did return and the celebrations upon his return were so joyful and loud that they ‘woke the dead’.
The costumes are loud and colourful, and the masks hand-painted masks are just incredible.
We were treated to a performance by the locals, including children, who don these colourful costumes and dance to traditional Isaan music. The experience was beautiful and incredibly moving.
If there was one more place you need to add to your bucket list I would highly recommend Chiang Khan as you will not be disappointed.