Doing nothing in Thailand's Chiang Khong

What we say: 3.5 stars

The small riverside town of Chiang Khong is primarily known as an entry or departure point for travellers to Laos but there’s a lot more to this charming north Thai town than an immigration checkpoint and a jetty. We reckon it’s well worth a detour even if you’re not planning on joining the slow boat circus to Luang Prabang.

Ok so the 'high street's' not much to write home about but.......

The high street’s not much to write home about, but …

Just what is there to do in Chiang Khong? Well, if the truth be known, this small, one-street town, lying on the banks of the Mekong in the far northeast of Chiang Rai province (directly opposite Huay Xai), offers practically nothing to do at all; pretty much no famous sites to be seen, zero museums and ancient monuments and zilch in the way of trekking opportunities. But that’s exactly why we are recommending it: Chiang Khong is just an awesome place to do nothing.

But stupendous views it does have!

… stupendous views it does have!

Okay, we’re exaggerating somewhat. What the town does have is a great vibe, friendly chilled out locals, lively little markets, a bunch of good places to eat, sleep and meet fellow travellers, and it’s also surrounded by stunning riverside and mountain scenery. A Kuomintang (remnants of the Chinese nationalist army fled here after defeat by Mao Tse Tung’s forces) cemetery lies on the hill above town, while you can enjoy a picturesque riverside promenade parallel to the town’s main street and check out half a dozen wats in town.

To visit the surrounding area and scenery you’ll need to hire a motorbike or bicycle in town, so ask at your guesthouse or check out the tour agents on the main street. If you don’t want to hire transport, then find a good viewpoint. Grab a locally grown coffee or a cold brew, wait until the evening pavement grills get going and… do nothing.

Tuk-tuk driver outside the bus station - doing nothing

Tuk tuk driver outside the bus station, busy doing nothing, Chiang Khong style.

Chiang Khong also makes a great base for exploring the area and if you don’t have transport then local buses and songthaews, (pick-up buses), ply routes to surrounding towns such as Sob Ruak, Chiang Saen or even Chiang Kham. All will take you through lovely scenery. Local tour operators — a few are on the main street — or guesthouses usually also have some day tour options.

Hmong woman checks out one of Chiang Khong's premier fashion outlets

Hmong woman and children check out one of Chiang Khong’s premier fashion outlets.

Buses from Chiang Khong bus station also head to Chiang Mai, Phayao and Lampang, so if you’re doing a Golden Triangle loop out of Chiang Rai, Chiang Khong makes for a very convenient finishing point.

So don’t worry about which temple to visit or which hilltribe village you’re going to hike to; just nibble and sup your way up the main street or stroll along the riverside walk early morning or late afternoon.

Chiang Khong, early morning

Chiang Khong, early morning.

And don’t forget to take your camera!

Last updated: 31st August, 2015

About the author:
Based in Chiang Mai, Mark Ord has been travelling Southeast Asia for over two decades and first crossed paths with Travelfish on Ko Lipe in the early 1990s.
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