As one of the few places in Thailand where it’s possible for foreigners to cross to Laos, CHIANG KHONG is constantly bustling with travellers waiting to go over the river to the Lao town of Houayxai and embark on the lovely Mekong boat journey down to Luang Prabang. On a high, steep bank above the water, Chiang Khong is strung out along a single, north–south street, Thanon Sai Klang, between the cross-river pier at Hua Wiang and the fishing port of Ban Hat Khrai. Once you’ve admired the elevated view of the traffic on the Mekong and glimpsed the ruined, red-brick turrets of the French-built Fort Carnot in Houayxai, there’s little to do in the town itself, though several local excursions might tempt you to stay a little longer. On Fridays, there’s a bustling market around the bridge to the south of central Chiang Khong, while Saturdays see a night market, mostly for food, on the main street.
If you’d like to explore the area around Chiang Khong more fully, the best option is to put yourself up at Baan Tam-Mi-La guesthouse, where Khun Wat has simple local maps and lots of information. Thung Na Noi, a Hmong village 8km west, with a market every Friday, makes a good cycling trip, with the possibility of returning by a more circuitous, 12km route through the forest. There’s a guesthouse in the village and an attractive waterfall, Huai Tong, 3km away. At the Thai Lue village of Si Dornchai, 14km south of Chiang Khong on Route 1020, you can watch weavers at work at three shops near the bridge – this would also make a good trip by bike, returning via back roads along the river. With your own car or motorbike, you could push on from Si Dornchai for 50km to the interesting Kuomintang village of Ban Pha Tang and the precipitous mountain viewpoint at Phu Chi Fa, 25km beyond.