Known for its gorgeous wooden houses, Chiang Khan, Thailand, is a town where you can enjoy an authentic cultural experience. It is a district in Thailand’s province of Loei.
Established in 1707, General Khun Khan set up a new settlement and named it after himself, Chiang Khan. In 1777, Luang Prabang in Laos was also part of Chiang Khan, but it was later given back to Laos. There are still many traditions that were carried over from the Laotians. The costume, food, culture, and language was influenced by Luang Prabang. This little-known gem is just an hour’s flight from Bangkok followed by a short 45-minute ride into town. Located right on the border of Laos and sitting directly on the Mekong River, it is not to be missed during your trip to Thailand!
Tour the town's historic wooden houses
The main draw of Chiang Khan is its gorgeous wooden houses that stretch 1.5 kilometers (0.9 miles) through town and along the Mekong River. These century-old homes are still intact today. The oldest wooden house is Grandpa Sing Khan’s, which is 200 years old and is located on Soi 19. Grandad Aup’s house, constructed of clay and wood, is 100 years old and located on Soi 14. A fun fact about the houses is that they were built on movable wooden planks so that they could move the whole house if needed. The town of Chiang Khan was moved when the territory was taken back by Laos, so having a house on planks made it easy to move it to the new town.
Eat local food at the night market
No town in Thailand would be complete without a market, and Chiang Khan has its own market filled with local artisan gifts and clothes. There are many street eats to stuff yourself silly. Make sure you try khao lam, which is sticky rice stuffed with taro and grilled in bamboo leaf, or miang kum, which is a small leaf packet stuffed with tamarind, ginger, shallots, and peanuts. This bite-sized snack served on a stick of four is an explosion in your mouth with the sweet and sourness of the tamarind and the crunch of the peanuts. If you’re adventurous, get a stick of koong ping, tiny river prawns that have been deep fried and skewered for easy eating. Make sure to save room for dessert! Ma praew kaew is a local favorite, where strips of coconut flesh are wok-fried with sugar syrup until the sweet syrup has been absorbed entirely by the coconut and then packaged up and sold in plastic bags for 100 THB (3.00 USD).
Visit during Chiang Khan’s Phi Khon Nam Festival
The most popular time to visit Chiang Khan is during the Ghost Festival of ‘Phi Khon Nam’. The festival occurs every year right before the farming season begins and is held to ask the spirits to bring enough rain to grow crops. Locals paint and wear masks to bring the rain. The masks have antlers representing the buffalo, which is a major worker in the fields, and strings of ribbon hang down from the antlers to represent the rain. You can make a mask by having your accommodation book a morning with Ban Ton La, the mask painters.
Getting to Chiang Khan by bus or flight
There are two main ways to get to Chiang Khan. One way is by taking the overnight bus from Bangkok directly to Chiang Khan. The bus departs from Mo Chit station and takes 9 hours. It costs 700 THB (20.00 USD). The second way is for those who would prefer to fly, there are two flights a day with either Air Asia or Nok Air to Loei, and from Loei you can take a bus or songtaew (converted pickup truck) into Chiang Khan for 30 - 40 THB (0.86 - 1.14 USD).
If you only have a couple of days, you can join a small tour group with TEATA (Thai Ecotourism & Adventure Travel Association), which focuses on low-carbon tourism and creative and sustainable tourism. They have many guides available to escort you to Chiang Khan and show you around.
However you get to Chiang Khan, you are sure to have the best experience and one that is unlike any other you will have had elsewhere in Thailand.
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