Chiang Khong is a small, sleepy town with one main road and no night life. It has a Friday market, a lot of temples, a craft village with a busy market and a temple. The weather is most pleasant from Oct-Jan, but the Giant Catfish Festival on 18 April is a cultural highlight. The Mekong giant catfish, one of the world's largest freshwater fish, is regarded with reverence in Thai folklore, and it is afforded special rituals and offerings.
Fewer tourists spend time in Chiang Khong these days because of the new bridge to Laos outside of town, and because the ferry to Laos is forbidden to foreigners.
Due to its location, the district forms a gateway to Laos, including the popular slow boat to Luang Prabang. Also bus travel on Asian Highway 3 from Ban Huay Xai across the river to Boten at the Chinese-Laotian border is available. The Fourth Thai–Lao Friendship Bridge crossing the river opened in 2013. Since then many tourists cross this Mekong Friendship Bridge and do not see the many sights of Chiang Khong.
From Huay Xai in Laos, ferries used to make the short trip across the Mekong. However, the Friendship IV Bridge crossing to Laos is now open and the previous Chiang Khong Immigration Office and Ferry is closed. The new Immigration Office is near the bridge, about 10 km south from Chiang Kong and about 20 km from Huay Xai.
- 1 Chiang Khong Old Bus Station (S of town near a 7-Eleven and an Esso petrol station).
- Chiang Khong New Bus Station (Close by the intersection to Laos border). The only private bus, but the public bus run from the old bus station.
- Buses run from major cities in Thailand, including Isaan.
- From Chiang Rai, red local buses depart regularly (mostly every half hour) from 05:00-16:00. It should take about 2 hr, but the driver may take it slow or stop for dinner, so plan for at least 2½ hr.
- From Chiang Mai, take a minibus (250 baht) direct or the "Green Bus", which makes many stops (200 baht). Public buses cost 150-270 baht. Or go to Chiang Rai (94-263 baht, 3 hr) by bus and then take another bus from there.
- Daytime and overnight buses run directly from Bangkok's Northern Bus Terminal (Mo Chit) to Chiang Khong every day. About five overnight buses leave at 19:00 and arrive at 08:00; and one daytime bus leaves Mo Chit at 07:00 and arrives at 20:00.
The riverfront area can be seen on foot but it's worth getting a tuk-tuk or taxi for the trip out to the bus station.
You can also rent a bike or motorbike to visit local villages and drive along the banks of the Mekong.
- Hmong Village (10 km)
- Nam Chang Dam for fishing and swimming (7 km)
- Thai Lue village with cloth weaving (15 km)
- Waterfall (near to Hmong village)
- The Chiang Khong Fishery Station. They inseminate and breed the largest fresh-water fish. Fingerlings bred here have been released in several rivers.
- Visit the famed Michael "Mr Jackey" Jacklood cover artist at his restaurant in town to hear a selection of fruity glam-rock cover songs
- Learn Thai cooking or have a Thai sauna at Baan Rimtaling
- Visit the Golden Triangle by motorbike - day trip (60 km)
- Visit a rustic village near the Mekong Village.
- The Hub: bike museum run by professional cyclist Alan Bate that has a great selection of bikes you wouldn't see elsewhere. In the centre of town.
Temples in Chiang Khong:
- Wat Hat Krai
- Wat Hou Weing
- Wat Luang
- Wat Phra Kaew
- Wat Prakeaw
- Wat Sob Dom
- Wat Sri Don Chai
- Wat Tung Duk
The major Thai banks all have ATMs in the town, there is also one front of the 7-Eleven at the bus station. If you are heading to Laos, it is better to withdraw baht here and then change it in Laos because in Huay Xai the maximum withdrawal per transaction is 1,000,000 kip (worth around US$100). In Laos, baht can be exchanged to kip at reasonable rates.
Lao kip can only be officially exchanged inside Laos. Thai banks and ATMs will not deal in it and money changers in Chiang Khong charge a fee. The Lao bank and ATM in Huay Xai will give kip. Thai baht and US dollars are readily accepted and exchanged in Laos at good rates.
Lao visas are cheaper if bought with US dollars instead of baht.
Chiang Khong has excellent markets on six days plus the main central fresh food market, close to the only town traffic lights, which is open daily. Night markets (the "walking street") are on Wednesdays and Fridays during the high season.
There are many good restaurants serving Mekong giant catfish plus dozens of other local fish, local dishes made with fresh local vegetables, herbs and fruits. Mexican, Italian, and other Western and Thai restaurants abound.
- Bamboo Mexican (half-way down main street on river side of the road). Great food done right. Really friendly owners.
- Name unknown (Near Boom Guesthouse on the opposite side of the street). Run for 25 years by a very nice lady who talks with farangs and provides good food.
- Nang Nuan (นางนวล), Ban Hat Khrai, ☏ . Good Thai food.
There several bars in town, but few seem to have many patrons.
- Baan Pak Pon (PP Home), email@example.com. Large, very clean rooms with fan or air-con, hot water, Wi-Fi, veranda with scenic river views. Family-owned by very friendly people. 350-600 baht.
- 1 Baan Rimtaling Cafe & Stay (บ้านริมตลิ่ง), 99/4 Moo 3 (400 m from bus stop/7-Eleven. Directions on a green sign at 7-Eleven. Head east down the side street next to the Esso petrol station), ☏ . Check-in: 14:00. Dorms, single, and double rooms, and bungalows, all with hot showers. Overlooks the Mekong. Free pickup at bus stop. Free ride to border in morning. You can learn Thai cooking here or have a Thai massage. Free Wi-Fi. English spoken. Ask for Maleewan. 100-450 baht.
- Ban Fai Guesthouse (านฝ้าย เกสต์เฮาส์), 108 Moo 8, ☏ . 9 rooms. 80-150 baht.
- Ban Rim Khong (บ้านริมโขง), 278/3 Moo 7, ☏ . Four rooms. 200-400 baht.
- Ban Tammila (บ้านตำมิละ), 113 Moo 8, ☏ , fax: . Nine rooms. 200-1100 baht.
- Chiangkhong Green Inn, 89/4 Moo 2, ☏ , GreenInn_CK@hotmail.com. Dorms, single, double, triple rooms. 200-1,000 baht.
- Chom Khong Guesthouse, ☏ .
- Chiang Khong River View Hotel, 141 Moo 12, ☏ . Hot showers, river views, some rooms with air-con. 350-600 baht.
- The Hub Pub and Funky Box Hostel, 114 Tesaban Soi 2 T.Wiang, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-in: 14:00-00:00, check-out: 11:00. 16-bed dorm 150 baht/night. Single 250. Twin/Double 350. 150-350 baht.
- Nam Khong Guesthouse, 408 Moo 1, ☏ .
- Rimnam Guesthouse and Restaurant, 166/1 Moo 12. 350-500 baht.
- Feral dogs can be a problem at night.
- If you book a slow boat to Luang Prabang, the guides will try to encourage you to switch to the bus for the same price. This is a scam. The bus is cheaper and you lose out on a pleasant boat trip while they pocket the difference in the fare. Do not believe their horror stories of floods, mosquito hordes, unexpected third nights spent on the slow boat, and crooks in Pakbeng.
- Chiang Mai is the obvious next destination for those coming from Laos.
- For those entering Laos, most guesthouses can arrange a package deal with food and overnight accommodation in Pakbeng for the trip to Luang Prabang, but it is fairly simple to do this independently. It's worth crossing the border a day early and spending the night in Huay Xai to be up and ready to catch a boat down the river first thing in the morning.
To get from Chiang Khong to Huay Xai there are basically two options.
- Take a tuk-tuk to border (the drivers ask 150 to 200 baht), shuttle bus from Thai immigration to Laos (20/25 baht), and from Lao immigration shared tuk-tuk to Huay Xai (100 baht or 25,000 kip). It is not allowed to cross the border bridge by foot or bike or motorcycle. Only car transport or shuttle bus is allowed. Be aware that while the border is open from 06:00 to 22:00, the buses only operate from 08:00 to 18:00 which could leave you stranded. The shuttle bus only drives when a reasonable amount of passengers arrive, so you might experience up to an hour to wait after Thai emigration to cross the bridge.
- Second option is to take tuk-tuk to old bus station (30 baht), then take the local bus going to Chiang Rai and ask the driver to stop at the new bus station (10 baht), and from the new bus station take the international bus (which is coming from Chiang Rai) to Huay Xai (Bokeo) bus terminal (30 baht). From there you still need to take tuk-tuk to your final destination in Huay Xai. The international bus to Huay Xai will leave from the Chiang Khong new bus station at 09:00, 12:00, 17:30, and 18:30 (as of May 2015, to be confirmed).
- The slow boat (now only one) is advertised to leave at 10:30. But it always leaves around 11:00 to 11:30. A good time to cross the border to go on the slow boat is 09:00. The Thai Immigration office can be quite congested at the 08:00 opening. Getting to the slow boat requires an exit stamp from Thailand Immigration (about 5 minutes), crossing the river (about 5 minutes), getting a Laos visa (about 20 minutes), and going upriver about 1 km. Walk or tuk-tuk. Prices for the two-day slow boat to Luang Prabang vary. Tickets bought in Chiang Khong cost 1,180 baht. However, as soon as you clear immigration in Huay Xai they can be bought for 950 baht and allegedly even cheaper at the boat pier. Thai baht, US dollars and Lao kip are all accepted at least as far as Luang Prabang.
- Golden Triangle - 55 km by road, pop into Chiang Saen on the way or cruise up the Mekong instead.