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Following the Mekong from Nong Khai (Tilapia?)

  • exacto

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    This question is primarily for Tilapia but I'd love to hear from others too. I'm looking to spend some time later this year following the Mekong both up and down river from Nong Khai. I did this nearly a decade ago now and it was very charming, old-school Thailand backpacker with bamboo along the waterside.

    You'd mentioned in an earlier post about hiring a motor scooter from Nong Khai as an option for travel. What about other possibilities? How good/frequent/reliable is the local transportation in those areas? How easy (and legal) is it to buy a motor scooter so I can make a long one-way trip and not be tied into returning to Nong Khai.

    Which areas would you say are best for visiting and which places are best for overnighting? Do you have a favorite guest house or restaurant to recommend? Thanks.

    #1 Posted: 13/1/2009 - 23:52

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  • Tilapia

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    Hi Exacto,

    I'd say that the very best part of the Mekong in that area is the stretch between Chiang Khan and Pak Chom. BUT, there is no public transport between these two places anymore. There were regular songthaews about 10 + years ago, but no longer. Instead, one is forced to go from Pak Chom south on Highway 2108 to where it joins Highway 201, jump off and wait for a songthaew going back north to CK. It takes about 3 hours, is a nice, hilly trip, but not very convenient if you want to stick to the river. A real drag when you consider that CK is about 45 km from Pak Chom.

    The same is true if you want to go east towards Nong Khai FROM Chiang Khan. You have to to south to the junction and hope that a bus comes along OR you have to go all the way south to Loei and then get on a bus to Pak Chom. There are only a couple each day, if memory serves correctly.

    So, in a nutshell, transport is not particularly good along the river in and out of Chiang Khan. It is, however, okay between Pak Chom and Nong Khai , and then to the east of Nong Khai , as well.

    So, best way to deal with this is to have your own transport. But if that's not an option, then I think it would be a good idea to rent a start in Chiang Khan and make a day trip along the river to Pak Chom. That particular stretch of river is fantastic. Traffic is light, the scenery is spectacular, and there are some really nice little villages along the way. I recommend doing it one way or the other at sunset. Gorgeous!!!

    I'll write more later. Gotta get back to work.

    Cheers

    #2 Posted: 14/1/2009 - 00:58

  • Tilapia

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    I meant to say, "... it would be a good idea to start in Chiang Khan, rent a motorbike there, and make a day trip along the river to Pak Chom."

    Also, as for guest houses, there are a handful of them in CK, and they all look pretty good. A few of the older ones are gone, but a couple others have sprung up. Most are in the eastern part of town on the river. Rarely are they busy.

    For food, there are a bunch of GH's and restaurants along the river, but the food is expensive. Good, but expensive. There are a handful of really good and inexpensive spots at the junction of 201, 211, and 2195 ... basically, the main intersection in town across the road from the police station.

    More later.

    #3 Posted: 14/1/2009 - 01:05

  • exacto

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    Thanks for the great info. I'll be travelling with friends later in the year. They are keen to visit Burma, but I think while they are doing that I'll pop up and hang out along the Mekong river.

    Perhaps I'll rent a scooter in Nong Khai after all and make a week out of it. I'll definitely stop over in Si Chiang Mai too, since I've got fond and sentimental memories of that place.

    I'd love to hear more if there is more to tell. Regards.

    #4 Posted: 14/1/2009 - 22:50

  • Tilapia

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    Pak Chom is a really nice little town, but there is only one budget place to stay in and, unfortunately, that place has taken a turn for the worse. Unless there's been a change in the last month, the husband half of the ownership, much to the disdain of the wife half, has made that quiet, cozy spot on the river into a Thai-style karaoke centre. The huts are still there, and the food is still good, but the ambiance is gone and the peace and quiet in the evening has gone the way of the Dodo. Let's hope that this change doesn't last and it goes back to what it was.

    There is another spot on the eastern side of town, on the riverside, but it is more of a hotel resort kind of place and didn't look too interesting. But, if your goal is to stay and check out Pak Chom, either of these places would probably do. Afterall, you can always join in on the karaoke zaniness.

    Between Pak Chom and Sangkhom there is little to choose from in the way of accommodation, though there is the odd little Thai-style resort here and there (maybe 2 or 3 scattered along the river.) There are a handful of lovely little, tidy villages with the usual bunch of rice and noodle joints. Best bet is to continue on to Sangkhom and stay at Buoy Bungalows. Again, it's a gorgeous ride and, along much of it (as well as between Pak Chom and CK) the hills that flank the river shade the road in the later part of the afternoon. It really is a fantastic place to ride. Excellent!

    As for Si Chiangmai, when we were there only a guy named Brian was staying at Tim's, and it wasn't really open for business, although he offered us a couple of rooms. The place had been badly damaged by the floods from a few months ago and hasn't yet recovered, and we were left wondering if it would ever open again. Instead of staying there we stayed at the Sitsuwan Hotel, which was fine. It's just a few doors to the east of Tim's, and was fine for the night. A bit cold and stale, but the rooms were a decent size, had towels, blankets, toilet paper, TV, refrigerator, bathroom, but no hot water.

    Exacto, another way you might approach this area, especially if you've got a week, or so, to burn, would be to rent a motorbike in Phitsanulok or Loei, and then make a loop going one way or the other along the river, and the other half through the hills to the south. On a bike you can do the entire stretch from CK to NK in a day, which would almost be a shame. There are lots of areas to explore around there. Roads that lead off the main highway go down to the riverside where you'll find fields of tomato, chili, eggplant, beans, lettuce, and lots of other stuff. The villages rarely see foreigners, and there are always places to stop and eat at. Anyway, I always think that an extra day or two at Buoy Bungalow in Sangkhom is well worth it.

    I forgot to mention that you can continue west out of CK to Tha Li, but the road isn't particularly good. The scenery, though, is amazing.

    I'll write more later.

    #5 Posted: 15/1/2009 - 05:50

  • exacto

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    I'm not sure karaoke is my strong suit, but I could always give it a go. Sorry to hear about the flooding damaging Tim's in Si Chiang Mai. I first stayed there in 1992, and while it was never the most comfortable place, I always thought there was something special about the guest house and the town.

    Great idea about starting the journey in P-lok or Loei instead of Nong Khai, although I could always end up there as well. Any thoughts about starting way up in Naan, or is that just too far?

    I was also thinking about buying a motorbike rather than renting one for the trip. I'm looking at spending about two months in Thailand this next trip, so that might be good value, and I've got friends I could leave the bike with when I'm done. But I've no idea how easy it might be to buy a scooter anymore.

    In any case, thanks for all the great info. I'm taking notes and really looking forward to Buoy. Ciao.

    #6 Posted: 15/1/2009 - 11:59

  • Tilapia

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    Hey Exacto,

    Have you gone on this trip yet? I've been away for a bit. Well ... more like negligent.

    #7 Posted: 13/2/2009 - 19:36

  • exacto

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    Hey Tilapia,

    Not yet. I won't arrive in Thailand until December '09. Cheers.

    #8 Posted: 13/2/2009 - 22:35

  • Tilapia

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    I'll write more later.

    Not interested in going to Burma? If you haven't been, it's incredible!

    #9 Posted: 16/2/2009 - 02:13

  • exacto

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    hi tilapia,

    i spent an afternoon in tachilek once, being shadowed by the secret police as we shopped and enjoyed a few beers. does that count?

    seriously, i would be interested in burma, but it is a matter of logistics (limited time and too much to see - partly your fault by the way as i keep adding off-the-beaten-track places to my itinerary that you've suggested :-) as well as the lingering ASSK plee to avoid until things get better. plus, i don't know how things are lately, but the last time i seriously considered going to burma was in the late '80's and SLORC was making it almost impossible for a holder of a US passport to get a visa. perhaps that has improved now. my friends are travelling on kiwi passports, so i imagine they will have an easier time of it.

    the new 15- vs. 30-day land entry visa is a bummer too. this will be a long trip for me, perhaps as long as 60 days, so i'll need to get a visa before i fly, and the timing for the burma portion of my friends trip would hose up the visa thing too.

    anyway, that's a long answer and probably more detail than you wanted. i'm still looking to do a long trip along the length of the mekong, perhaps all the way down into the ubon area and then across into southern laos just before returning to thailand for the flight back home. cheers.

    #10 Posted: 16/2/2009 - 03:50

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  • exacto

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    oops - make that the late 90's and early 00's as well as whatever SLORC was calling itself at the time. regards.

    #11 Posted: 16/2/2009 - 03:52

  • Tilapia

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    I guess that counts. You crossed the border and probably drank Myanmar Beer, so that's being in Burma.

    I met a handful of Americans in Burma in 2003. I doubt that many people have problems getting visas unless they state that they are journalists, professional photographers, human rights workers, etc. on their applications.

    Understand what you're saying about the politics there. Lots of people feel the same way. For me, though, the only reason that the situation that exists is because of China, hardly a bastion of human rights itself, and nobody says "Don't go to China."

    I wasn't aware of how China was involved with Burma until I was actually there and saw it for myself.

    Anyway, it will always be there and it probably isn't changing too quickly. A trip along the Mekong sounds good to me. Hmmmm ... maybe I'll try that sometime.

    Like I said, I'll write more about it later.

    Cheers!

    #12 Posted: 19/2/2009 - 01:42

  • Tilapia

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    Okay, now that I'm back here again I'm afraid that I can't continue typing at the moment as some friends have just arrived. Will try to get at it tomorrow (March 23rd) or the next day. Sorry for the delay.

    Cheers.

    #13 Posted: 23/3/2009 - 02:26

  • exacto

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    you know Tilapia, i've always found your advice to be fishy. i crack myself up.

    okay. standing by for additional information on the follow the Mekong tour 2009/2010.

    glad to see that your definition of visiting a country includes crossing the border and drinking the local beer too. i've got long layovers in seoul on both the outbound and return leg of my trip to thailand in december/january, and i definitely plan on trying a few of the local barley sodas. cheers.

    #14 Posted: 25/3/2009 - 08:18

  • MADMAC

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    exacto
    Keep in mind you can't buy a motorcycle or a car in Thailand... like land, it's a bit complicated. However, since you have friends there, hopefully one that you trust has a wife, in which case it can be in her name.

    The small, 125cc bikes are not comfortable at all for long hauls though. More than a half hour on one of those seats and my ass is not happy. Depending on how much money you have, a Honda Phantom is pretty ubiquitous now and it's a decent little bike to make jaunts from province to province.

    I live down in Mukdahan, and I love that river road going north out of NKP to Nong Khai.

    Have a great trip.

    #15 Posted: 9/6/2009 - 12:39

  • exacto

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    Thanks guys for the excellent suggestions. I think I've got the Nong Khai to points west part sorted out, but am still looking for suggestions on heading from Nong Khai east through Beung Kan and on to NKP. For example, is public transportation still available on this section along the river? Any suggestions for a place to stay in Beung Kan?

    After NKP, I'll be heading on to That Phanom for a few relaxing days and some fun bike rides. Cheers.

    #16 Posted: 3/10/2009 - 04:43

  • somtam2000

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    Yes there is still bus transport along that route, though last I heard (via Julian at Mutmee) the old guesthouse in BuengKan is closed. There are other hotels in town though (and you can cross into Laos as well from here).

    The other good thing about BK is there is that hilltop wat you can visit from here - the name escapes me, but it was great.

    BK on to Nakhon Phanom, not a lot in the way of sizeable towns, but great scenery...

    #17 Posted: 3/10/2009 - 08:35

  • MADMAC

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    Exacto
    When do you think you'll be in That Phanom? I would be happy to ride up there and meet you if the scheduling works.

    #18 Posted: 3/10/2009 - 13:20

  • Tilapia

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    Hi Exacto,

    Here is part of a webjournal where the guy riding goes east and then south along the Mekong from Nong Khai. It is from Crazy Guy on a Bike. You'll probably find a few things in it that are helpful.

    http://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/page/?o=RrzKj&page_id=97781&v=2Y

    Cheers.

    #19 Posted: 3/10/2009 - 23:32

  • exacto

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    Thanks again for the feedback gents. This section along the river is one of the places I've always wanted to visit in Thailand but never have.

    MADMAC, thanks. This trip will be in mid January. Since we're both on here fairly often, I'll keep you posted as the time gets closer.

    Tilapia, this Crazy Guy on a Bike is pretty great stuff. I was surprised to read just how many others were making a similar bicycle journey through the same places.

    #20 Posted: 4/10/2009 - 20:12

  • Tilapia

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    True. Plus the number of people doing webjournals represent just a small percentage of those making the trip(s). It's still not a large number, though, compared to the number of people cycling in other parts of Thailand.

    #21 Posted: 5/10/2009 - 00:04

  • Loftus

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    Will be in Laos for 3 weeks end Jan,catching bus to Luang Nam Tha and then on to Mong Khoaow, need a bit of help on how to spend the rest of the time eventually getting to Vientiane, can one of you intrepid travellers make some suggestions?
    Philip, South Africa.

    #22 Posted: 6/1/2010 - 15:39

  • exacto

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    So far so good on this trip guys. I'm afraid I didn't make it as far as Chiang Kha as I had hoped, but had a few fantastic days at Buoy Guesthouse in Sangkhom. Right now I'm in Nong Khai (tuesday) and plan to spend tomorrow night (weds) in Beung Kan before heading down to That Phanom for a night or two and then Mukdahan for a night before heading over to Laos.

    MADMAC, if you are in the area and still interested in getting together, please let me know if the dates for That Phanom or Mukdahan work for you and perhaps we can meet up for a chat and some non-Thai food. Cheers.

    #23 Posted: 12/1/2010 - 13:42

  • exacto

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    I've made it as far as Bueng Kan. It is a peaceful little town with a nice walkway along the river front, although the river is running on the very far side of the channel these days. There isn't much here, but it is quiet and friendly and great value for money. There are a few hotels in the 350 to 400 baht range that are very comfortable too.

    According to the Thai Immigration people here, it is still possible to cross over to Laos from here too, although only if you have your Lao visa sorted beforehand. There is no visa on arrival on the other side at this spot.

    I'm headed to That Phanom tomorrow for a night or two and then Muk for a night, if you see this MADMAC and are interested in meeting. Regards.

    #24 Posted: 13/1/2010 - 19:59

  • exacto

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    Just enjoyed an overnight stay in That Phanom . The river views from here are good, and as others have mentioned, there are many charming restaurants and snack spots right along the river where you can grab a beer to go with your book and relax for an afternoon. Wat That Phanom is beautiful and inviting too, particularly all lit up at night.

    Bummer about Niyana Guesthouse closing. It definitely takes some of the fun out of a stay here, although there are a few spots that are more than enough for a night.

    I'm off to Mukdahan now for a night or so before crossing over to Savannakhet and continuing this journey along the river from the other side. Cheers.

    #25 Posted: 15/1/2010 - 08:42

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