Lost in time at Chiang Khan, Loei, Thailand

Chiang Khan, a quiet border town in Loei opposite Laos, oozes with a feel reminiscent of Pai not long ago

Chiang Khan, Loei, Thailand

Chiang Khan, Loei, Thailand

Chiang Khan is a backwater town in Loei Province where time seems to stand still.

This oasis of tranquility sits by the mighty Mekong River that separates Thailand and Laos. Rows of old wooden houses lining its banks present a beautiful natural backdrop to the town while friendly locals make tourists feel welcome, especially those looking to get away from overdeveloped touristy destinations.

The feel of yesteryear still hangs heavy on Chiang Khan, and to city slickers it may well even seem like ghost town, but a string of guesthouses and homestay facilities that have sprung up by the river’s banks in recent years is evidence enough that a more tourists are visiting the town, generating in the process extra income for its residents and their families.

And with that has come a threat typical of every other emerging tourist destination _ the looming risk of a change in the way locals conduct their daily business. Not wanting to see their town go down that road, Chiang Khan residents have promised themselves not to fall for tourist dollars nor compromise their traditional values and lifestyle.

They apparently have Pai, a hip tourist destination in Mae Hong Son Province, in mind. Before it became popular, Pai boasted the same dreamlike feel Chiang Khan with oozes today, but sadly missing these days.

Chiang Khan residents appear to have adapted to this change of pace quite well. Visiting there recently I spotted several guesthouses converted from private homes with minimal changes to the original structure, an Internet cafe, a few restaurants, traditional massage and bike rental outlets.

Malee Duangkaew, 65, and Pradit Soonthornwat, 60, a retired police officer, run guesthouses, and both were adamant they would do what’s right for Chiang Khan rather than chase tourist dollars, no matter how tempting the prospects.

”Our guest rooms are simple, yet comfortable. Visitors need to get used to our way of life. This is all we can offer them. I do believe people visit our community because they enjoy the environment we offer,” said Malee.

Pradit disclosed that investors have approached them offering to open up a karaoke bar to serve the increasing number of tourists visiting, but after discussing the matter at length they decided against the idea.

Tourists enjoy a leisurely walk on the embankment built to contain the Mekong River.

Tourists enjoy a leisurely walk on the embankment built to contain the Mekong River.

”We take genuine pride in our communal way of life. There is not a soul on the road after dark, so Chiang Khan is definitely not for people who enjoy nightlife,” he said.

”If you hear loud music in the middle of the night, be informed it comes from a village in Laos on the other side of the river.”

A few metres from Malee’s guesthouse is the only souvenir shop in town, peddling T-shirts with Chiang Khan written in bold letters, postcards and coffee mugs etc. Cotton quilts and glazed strips of coconut are popular items to take back home.

Wat Si Khun Muang is a showcase of Lao architecture.

Wat Si Khun Muang is a showcase of Lao architecture.

During a bicycle tour of Chiang Khan I found the locals amiable, always ready with a hello or smile.

One attraction worth checking out while in Chiang Khan is Kaeng Khut Khoo, a rapid in the middle of the Mekong River, just three kilometres from the town’s district office.

The northeastern province of Loei has several features common with the northern region, namely mountains and foggy yet pleasant weather most time of the year, though the temperature can fluctuate between extremes during summer and winter. The province is blessed with abundant natural beauty and bears a unique blend of Isan and Lao cultures. / Bangkokpost

A floating room with thatched roof for guests wishing someplace different to stay the night.

A floating room with thatched roof for guests wishing someplace different to stay the night.

At the bus terminal in Muang district there is regular bus service to Chiang Khan. For timetable, call 042-814-551. It takes approximately 45 minutes from Muang district to get to ChiangKhanIntersection, your drop off point, where there are tuktuks that connect visitors to various points in the district.

Chiang Khan, Loei ,Thailand Map

Chiang Khan, Loei ,Thailand Map

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