A road runs parallel to the Mekong for 630km, linking the fast-growing border town of Mukdahan with CHIANG KHAN, a friendly town 55km north of Loei, which happily hasn’t been entirely converted to concrete yet. Rows of shuttered wooden shophouses stretch out in a 2km ribbon parallel to the river, which for much of the year runs red with what locals call “the blood of the trees”: rampant deforestation on the Lao side causes the rust-coloured topsoil to erode into the river. The town has only two streets – the main through-route (Highway 211), also known as Thanon Sri Chiang Khan, and the quieter Thanon Chai Khong on the waterfront – with a line of sois connecting them, numbered from west to east. There’s a cool vibe to the place, with entrepreneurial young Thais setting up quirky new gift shops and guesthouses all the time and, away from all the kitsch, there are a few interesting sights to see. Arguably the most enjoyable thing you can do here is to join up with other travellers for a boat trip on the river.