Airports Fly into Loei from Bangkok, or start this tour from Khorat, and fly back to Bangkok from Loei, or to Chiang Mai from nearby Udon Thani.
Transport This itinerary is ideal for self-driving, but buses and minivans cover the northern part of the trip and there are both trains and buses from Nong Khai to Khorat and on to Bangkok. Driving time between Nong Khai and Khorat is about 4 hours.
Day 1: Loei
Fly to the quiet town of Loei, and head for Phu Kradung National Park, a superb mountainous environment with a yearround cool climate that encourages unique flora and fauna. It’s a 3-mile (5-km) walk to the summit, where the park offers accommodation. The sunrise vistas from here are magnificent. If the walk doesn’t suit you, opt instead for the nearby Phu Rua National Park, where the cool breezes have made the area Thailand’s flower and winegrowing center.
Day 2: Chiang Khan
North of Loei, on the Mekong River, visit the charming town of Chiang Khan, with its old teakwood shop-houses and riverside esplanade. Chiang Khan has become a favorite weekend trip for young Bangkokians and is full of trendy boutiques, coffee shops, and great places to stay.
Days 3: Chiang Khan to Nong Khai
Savor the splendid views of the river, waterfalls, and small villages untouched by time on the road that winds along the Mekong between Chiang Khan and Nong Khai. Stop on the way for a lunch of fresh river fish, and cool off at the Than Thip Falls near Sangkhom.
Day 4: Nong Khai
The busy town of Nong Khai is situated on the Mekong River where the Friendship Bridge connects to the Lao capital of Vientiane. Its close trading position with Laos ensures that there are many bargains to be had in the bustling Indochina Market. Perhaps the most amazing sight in Nong Khai is the inimitable Wat Khaek. Here, an eccentric yogi assembled a fantastic collection of bizarre statuary drawn from Buddhist and Hindu traditions and his own imagination. Spend the evening in one of the restaurants or bars along the Rimkhong (the riverside road).
Day 5: Khorat
From Nong Khai, travel south to Khorat and visit the Thao Suranari Monument, dedicated to a local heroine who defeated Lao invaders with feminine guile. Have dinner in the lively Night Market; Khorat is famous for its spicy regional dishes and barbecued chicken.
Day 6: Prasat Hin Phimai
Take a day trip from Khorat to the nearby Prasat Hin Phimai, a thousand year-old Khmer site that has been beautifully restored. Both Buddhist and Hindu iconography abound here. The intricate carvings of Hindu deities in pink sandstone are awe-inspiring, and the Buddha statue at the temple’s epicenter is superlative.
Day 7: Prasat Hin Khao Phnom Rung
Take a second trip from Khorat to Prasat Hin Khao Phnom Rung. Once a Hindu temple, this is considered one of the best examples of Khmer architecture in Thailand. To understand the symbolism of the buildings in the complex, stop in at the visitor information center at the front gate. Hindus believe that as you walk over the three naga bridges approaching the central sanctuary, you are leaving the temporal world and entering the home of the god Shiva. Drive to Khorat Airport in the afternoon, or continue your journey.
To extend your trip…
After Nong Khai, follow the Mekong south through the picturesque riverside towns of Nakhon Phanom and Mukdahan, and rejoin the road to Khorat further south.