Due to its close proximity to Vientiane, most people stop off here before heading on to neighbouring Laos. Visitors are usually pleasantly surprised to discover however that Nong Khai is a nice city to visit in its own right. Set on the banks of the Mekong River and with welcoming locals, a wide array of interesting local festivals and its own cultural identity; it’s the perfect place to learn about another side of Thailand.
Sitting on the banks of the Mekong, just across from Vientiane in Laos, Nong Khai (หนองคาย) has been popular with travellers for years. Its popularity is about more than just its proximity to Vientiane and its bounty of banana pancakes, though. Seduced by its dreamy pink sunsets and sluggish pace of life, many visitors who mean to stay one night end up bedding down for many more.
The most famous attraction is Sala Kaew Ku – an incredible sculpture park that has huge statues of Buddha, Vishnu and Shiva contained within its confines. With great views out over the river and the usual stunning temples to boot; Nong Khai is a picturesque and peaceful place to visit – apart from during the festivals!
Historically, Nong Khai shifted back and forth between several opposing forces, including the Ayutthaya kingdom of what’s now Thailand, the Lan Xiang kingdom of Laos and southern Chinese Haw warriors, but for the most part, there was little to distinguish one side of the Mekong from the other until the French snatched Laos from Siam in 1893. Culturally, Isaan and Laos still share similar cuisines, dialects and religious beliefs.
Nong Khai’s most famous legend derives from when Siam plundered many of Laos’ most valuable Buddha images during a brutal late 18th century invasion. One of the images — solid gold head and all — was forever lost in the Mekong after the raft carrying it sunk during a storm. The superstitious Thais viewed it as a sort of mystical protest mounted by the Buddha image itself. While one of the remaining two images eventually made it to Bangkok, the other remains at Wat Pho Chai as Nong Khai’s most sacred treasure.