Where to go in Isaan? How about the budding town of Chiang Khan just along the Mekong river! Some people say it’s “what Pai used to be decades ago,” and maybe in some senses it resembles the quirkiness of Pai, but it has a completely different vibe. First of all, there are no hippies, faux hippies or Rasta bars. No one is outside past 10pm and it is very little touristed by non-Thais.
Secondly, Chiang Khan claims a very different type of natural beauty. While Pai has hot springs, caves and waterfalls, Chiang Khan has the freakin Mekong, Laos across the street and one “tourist attraction” mountain, surrounded by dense greenery. It took us over an hour to find the damn mountain (which was 10min from the guesthouse) because there were no signs in English – that’s when you know it hasn’t been taken over by foreigners yet.
Thirdly, the main visitor’s part of Chiang Khan is one street long, which rests on the banks of the Mekong. The street is famous for its two rows of decades old (some over 100years) traditional teak houses, most of which you can book for a night on AirBnB or Agoda! The surrounding area is a suburban neighborhood, paved roads, schools, etc. A new boardwalk was being built when I visited last year, so it may be prepping for an increase in tourism.
Besides the above, there is not much else to do that you can’t do anywhere else in Thailand. There is a Walking Street at night selling handicrafts similar to what you’d find in Pai. Two days is all you need here for a relaxed, sleep-in, read-by-the-river-all-day kind of trip.
One more major Chiang Khan attraction – the Phi Ta Khon Festival. It is supposedly a colorful crazy few days with townsmen festooned in handmade masks and wooden penises parading through the streets. There are concerts, rockets, ghosts and all around celebration. Check it out if you can!