The major border town in this corner of Isaan is NONG KHAI, an ethnically diverse town that’s thrived since the construction of the Thai-Australian Friendship Bridge over the Mekong on the west side of town in 1994. Occupying a strategic position at the end of Highway 2 and the northeastern rail line, and just 24km from Vientiane, Nong Khai acts as a conduit for goods bought and sold by Thais and Lao, who are allowed to pass between the two cities freely for day-trips. Consequently, the covered souvenir market that sprawls to the east of the main pier, Tha Sadet, carries Lao silver, wood and cane items, as well as goods from as far afield as China, Korea and Russia, plus local basketware and silk.
As with most of the towns along this part of the Mekong, the thing to do in Nong Khai is just to take it easy, enjoying the riverside atmosphere and the peaceful settings of its guesthouses, which offer good value. Before you lapse into a relaxation-induced coma, though, try joining an evening river-tour, or make a day-trip out to see the impressive sculptures and rock formations in the surrounding countryside (see Eating and drinking).