Some guide books describe Nong Khai as ‘a bustling town’, unfortunately I did not find this to be so… My impressions might have been dinted by the cold and gloomy weather during my visit, but I thought it a rather quiet place.
The setting of the town is pleasant, and they have made good efforts at using the riverside. Rimkong is a pedestrianised walk way along the river banks and lined with restaurants and bars – this is the main area for entertainment and it picks up on Saturday nights when a walking street market takes over; with all the usual stuff plus some live music.
The town is a major frontier point as well, the bridge below is the ‘Friendship Bridge’, linking Thailand with Laos on the other bank of the Mekong.
On a less happy note, I saw at least 2 young elephants being led around town, begging for cash etc. I thought this had been banned.
The only real ‘must see’ sight in Nong Khai is Sala Keaw Ku, a sort of religious theme park a few kilometers out of town. Built by a Laotian mystic called Luang Pu Bunleua Sulilat (he moved here in 1978 having been deported by the Communist Government in Laos), the park features statues from Buddhist and Hindu mythology. Its all wonderfully over the top and many of the statues are truly gigantic.
The main building houses not only some photos of the park’s founder, but him himself: lying under a plastic dome on the top floor. Whilst this is clearly a place of pilgrimage for many visitors I do struggle to understand some aspects of what goes on; the green fairy lights round the coffin, the badly retouched photos and the slot machine ‘prayer machines’ for example; just seem to lack gravitas…