Chiang Khong: sleepy little border town

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View from our balcony across the Mekong to Huay Xai, Laos

Our large “taxi” tuk tuk from the immigration bridge dropped us off at Day Waterfront Hotel at dusk. The proprietress could not have been friendlier, exclaiming, “There you are!” as we arrived. Nice to be expected. She offered us cold water and some of those delicious little bananas that grow in these parts as she recorded our passport info. Then, showed us to our spacious room with balcony overlooking the Mekong. The lights of Huay Xai sparkled across the river. The room was big, clean and airy and at 800 baht ($22.86), including a light continental breakfast of local sweets and coffee, it was a great bargain.

We quickly headed out again with 2 goals: get SIM cards and find dinner. I’d done research on Thai SIM cards and word was they were easy to get at any 7-11 or other convenience store and cheap. So, I’d opted to wait until we got to Chiang Khong to buy one rather than ordering one online like I did for Japan. After the easy SIM we’d picked up in the Luang Prabang airport–in and done in minutes–, I was hoping for the same thing in Thailand. Boy, was I wrong. After a hot stroll down a sidewalk-less street busy with roadside food stalls and buzzing scooters, tuk tuks and trucks, we struck out at both a 7-11 and a pharmacy across the way. Hmm. Maybe little Chiang Khong wasn’t like the rest of Thailand. Tabling the SIM card search for the moment, we turned to finding dinner.

Our friendly hotel hostess had recommended two places: Jam and Yim. She’d made Yim–the farther of the two–sound slightly more appealing, but we found it closed…and looking more like a potential mosquito haven than anything else. So, we retraced our steps to Jam which we’d passed just after we left our hotel. We ended up really enjoying our Thai meal and the friendly young Laotian waiter who spoke fairly functional English. As with many places we’ve found in this part of the world, the cooking at Jam was done on the sidewalk where customers could buy food to go as well as eat inside in the sheltered-but-open-to-the-sidewalk restaurant. We were the only guests on this sleepy Saturday evening. Chiang Khong seemed to be a place that closes up early. Oh well, dinner was all we really had in mind for the evening anyway.

We had a lazy next morning, too, enjoying local “pastries” and coffee in the open-air lobby of our hotel while we chatted with our hostess. The pastries were really gelatinous little rice treats in pretty colors, sweetened with coconut milk; no crust or dough involved. I’ve really come to like them. We’d ask our hostess to look into finding us a private car and driver to take us to Chiang Rai (a 2-hour trip) and take us to somewhere we could buy SIM cards along the way. There is a super-cheap bus option between Chiang Khong and Chiang Rai (pronounced “shang rye”), but it’s not air-conditioned and photos I’d seen raised some real questions about where we’d put our luggage in case of a full bus. This looked to be one of those times where throwing a little money at the situation made sense. Besides, we now knew how far our money could go in these parts and we really weren’t concerned at all about the extra cost in exchange for the comfort and convenience of an air-conditioned car and a driver who knew where to find SIM cards that would meet our needs. A door-to-door service (vs. bus station-to-bus station with the attendant need for transfers to and from the stations) sounded good, too. Sure enough, our hostess lined up a driver for 1500 baht ($42.86)–a fortune in these parts…but substantially less than I used to pay for cab rides between Charles de Gaulle Airport and our apartments in Paris. The added bonus to booking a private driver was that we could choose a departure time that gave us a little time to look around Chiang Khong. So, the driver was set to come at 1:30p.m., giving us time for a walk along the Mekong, a visit to a nearby Wat (temple), and lunch.

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Chiang Khong waterfront

Chiang Khong, as I mentioned, is a small, sleepy little border town with not much in the way of must-see sights. We descended the sloping driveway beside the hotel to a pleasant flower-bordered walkway along the river. The stroll was pretty, but the heat was mounting quickly. By the time we made it to the steps to Wat Phra Kaew, I was back to my tuck-a-cold-water-bottle-in-my-bra routine.

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Steps to Wat Phra Kaew from the waterfront

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Inside Chiang Khong wat with tribute to the recently deceased Thai king. All the country is in mourning for a much-loved monarch.
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Although the previous official portrait of the king is the most common, I loved this old photo of the king in his days as a monk (a common service for Thai males).

We made our way through the wat pretty quickly, exiting on the far side to the food stall-lined road down which we’d walked the night before. A small mobile phone store across the way failed to yield a SIM card to meet our needs, so we walked back towards the hotel, stopping again at Jam for lunch.

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Lunch at Jam

So much for Chiang Khong. We were glad we’d spent the night rather than trying to push on to Chiang Rai after arriving near nightfall, glad we’d done our little walk, and glad we hadn’t scheduled more time there.

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On an entirely different note, we’re excited to try the Tile Slim and Tile Mate trackers. Using bluetooth and GPS, we’re hoping these tiny devices help us keep track of phones, wallets and keys. We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

Comments and questions are welcome!