Nong Khai (8-12 Mar 14)

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March 11th 2014
Published: March 11th 2014
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Sala KaewkuSala KaewkuSala Kaewku

A quite astonishing, almost bizarre park of towering Buddhist statues and figures, built by a Buddhist mystic with equally mysterious life story decades ago.
The march northeastwards continued with a 3h bus ride from Khon Kaen to the riverside town of Nong Khai, fronting the mighty Mekhong. This wasn't actually my first time in this Thai border town -- some seven years ago I'd passed by briefly en route to the Laotian capital of Vientiane that sits just across the river, barely 20km away. Seven years later I finally had the opportunity to see what I'd missed the last time.

In fact, not that much, but perhaps that's precisely the charm of Nong Khai. Apart from the weekending Thai crowd from the other provinces who'd made it up here for a quick getaway, Nong Khai preserves its quiet charm throughout the rest of the week. I'd originally planned on staying only three days, but soon decided to spend an extra day just soaking up the town's tranquility, as well as enjoying the excellent Mut Mee Guesthouse, which for once was indeed as comfortable and value-for-money as LP proclaimed. And while I'd arrived with the main intention of merely making the obligatory visa run, I soon realised Nong Khai itself was a good enough reason. Boasting also the somewhat bizarra Sala Kaewku, a kitschy park filled with towering concrete Buddhist statues from decades ago, Nong Khai definitely offers more than just a few days worth. I can see why some farangs have set up camp here permanently, notwithstanding the hordes of mosquitoes that come out at night. Apparently there's also a mysterious festival every October where fireballs purportedly from Naga living in the Mekhong shoot hundreds of feet straight up into the sky. I've heard there's a scientific explanation, but perhaps these things are more fun left uninvestigated. One day, I'll have a chance to witness this mysterious phenomenon myself.

As mentioned, I did take the opportunity for a quick visa run across the Friendship bridge, and a day trip to the nearby Laotian capital of Vientiane. The shuttle bus ride across the bridge did bring back some memories. I'd visited some seven years ago, on my first backpacking trip to Laos, and took the same route from Nong Khai across the bridge. I certainly now feel some differences from then though. The capital seems a little more populated now, with more middle-class and even a few high-end looking stores. The Nam Phou fountain plaza also is sporting more sidewalk cafes and terraces these
Mut Mee GuesthouseMut Mee GuesthouseMut Mee Guesthouse

And it's magical garden. Indeed almost a destination by itself, as LP proclaims. One of the better ones in terms of quality and value that I've seen on my two years backpacking, and surely that must be saying something.
days, compared to what I remember. Looks like even sleepy Laos moves on...

Stayed at Mut Mee Guesthouse.

Additional photos below
Photos: 21, Displayed: 21


What a Tree!What a Tree!
What a Tree!

Harry Potter anyone?
So Thais Play Petanque tooSo Thais Play Petanque too
So Thais Play Petanque too

Looks like they've caught the bug from their Laotian neighbours from across the river.
Prap Ho MonumentPrap Ho Monument
Prap Ho Monument

And it was the Anou Savari Festival.
The Sunken ChediThe Sunken Chedi
The Sunken Chedi

Or the replica at least, built a couple of years ago.
The Real Sunken ChediThe Real Sunken Chedi
The Real Sunken Chedi

That's its tip you see poking out of the water, marked with the coloured flags. I think it sank some 150 years ago.
Sala KaewkuSala Kaewku
Sala Kaewku

And the Circle of Life exhibit.
Thai Crocodile ShowThai Crocodile Show
Thai Crocodile Show

Remarkably, the first I've seen since I started my travels. Watch the hand!

Vientiane temple with a 200+ year history.
Nam Phou FountainNam Phou Fountain
Nam Phou Fountain

I don't remember all those sidewalk cafes and restaurants being there 7 years ago. Even sleepy Vientiane changes.

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