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Nong Khai

Mysterious fireballs on the Mekong river

Thai Laos friendship bridge crossing Mekong river
Mekong river bridge to Laos

Nong Khai is a province in North East Thailand (Isan) bordering Laos. Tha Thai Laos friendship bridge crossing the Mekong river connects the two countries. Travellers often use Nong Khai as a base to travel to Vientiane, Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang. The provincial capital Nong Khai town is about 25 kilometers from Vientiane, the capital of Laos.

To do & see in Nong Khai

Nong Khai province offers a number of historical, cultural and natural attractions.

Tha Sadet market

Tha Sadet is a large for the most part covered day time market on the South bank of the Mekong river spanning several streets. Vendors of the market which is also known as the “Indochina market” offer mainly products from Thailand, Laos and neighboring countries like handicrafts, clothing, food, electronics and toys. Numerous small restaurants sell Thai and Laotian food. Next to the market is the Tha Sadet pier where travellers can take a ferry across the Mekong river to Laos. Visa for Laos should be arranged in advance. Tha Sadet market is found on the banks of the Mekong river, East of the town center.

Phrathat Nong Khai

Phrathat Nong Khai is a submerged chedi (pagoda) in the Mekong river. Only the top of the chedi which is also known as Phrathat Klang Nam or “the sunken chedi” is visible during the dry season when the water level in the Mekong river is low. During the rainy season the chedi is completely submerged by the river. Local people have decorated the top of the chedi with colored flags.

The Phrathat Nong Khai is believed to have been constructed somewhere between the 15th and 17th century. According to legend, the pagoda was build to enshrine relics of the Buddha. Some time during the 18th century the chedi was submerged in the Mekong river. A replica of the Laos style chedi was constructed in 2006 on the Mekong river bank. Phrathat Nong Khai is found along Rim Kong road, about 2 kilometers East of Tha Sadet market.

Sculptures at Sala Keoku
Sculptures at Sala Keoku

Sala Keoku

Sala Keoku, also known as Wat Khaek is Nong Khai’s most noticeable attraction. Sala Keoku is a park with large concrete sculptures such as Buddha and Hindu statues, as well as depictions of the mythological Naga snake, humans and several animals. A sculpting called “The Wheel of Life” symbolizes the Buddhist belief of the cycle of birth, death and rebirth on the way to reaching enlightenment and ending the cycle. The park was build in the late 1970’s by Luang Pu Bounleua Sulilat, a Laos national who had moved to Thailand. A similar park named Xieng Khuan Buddha Park can be found on the other side of the Mekong river in Laos.

Sala Keoku is located just South of Highway 212, a few kilometers East of the Nong Khai downtown area. The park opens daily from 7 am until 6 pm, admission is 20 Thai Baht per person.

Mysterious Mekong fireballs

Every year late October during the full moon night marking the end of Buddhist lent a mysterious event takes place on the Mekong river. Fireballs rise up from the river and shoot into the air. The glowing reddish and orange balls of fire, also known as Naga fireballs or “Bang Fai Phaya Nak” shoot high into the air for a few seconds before disappearing. According to local belief, the fire balls are produced by the Naga, a mythological snake believed to live in the Mekong river. The fireballs are visible on a long stretch of the Mekong river, in greatest numbers around the town of Phon Phisai, a small town East of Nong Khai town. Late October Thai people from all over the country travel to Nong Khai to witness the phenomenon on the river banks.

Getting to Nong Khai

Nong Khai is located 625 kilometers North East of Bangkok. You can get there by air, train or bus.

Air

There is no airport in Nong Khai. The nearest airport is Udon Thani, about 60 kilometers South. From Udon Thani airport, take a minivan to Nong Khai for 200 Baht.

Train

Nong Khai is on the State Railway of Thailand’s North Eastern line. Trains depart from Bangkok’s Hualamphong station. Sleeper trains take between 10 and 13 hours, depending on the type of train. Fares for the 621 kilometer trip are 103, 238 and 497 Thai Baht for third, second and third class. For more information, check the State Railway of Thailand website.

Bus

Ordinary and air conditioned busses depart from Bangkok’s North Eastern bus terminal Mo Chit II on Kamphaeng Phet 2 road. The trip takes about 9 hours, one way fare is 550 Thai Baht. The Nong Khai bus station is on Prajak road near the Tha Sadet pier on the Mekong river.