Some 1,250 miles (2,000 km) from its source in the Tibetan Himalayas, having passed through China, Myanmar (Burma), northern Thailand, then Laos, the Mekong River reaches Chiang Khan in Northeast Thailand. From here the river forms the border with Laos until it flows into Cambodia. Although relatively few tourists visit this border country, it has many natural and cultural attractions.
The agricultural basin of the Mekong River Valley stands in contrast to the dusty, parched Khorat Plateau to the south and west and the rugged mountains on the Lao side of the river. The Mekong River Valley’s relatively fertile land means fruit and vegetables can be produced on a marketable scale. Furthermore, due to its distance from Bangkok, the area has escaped widespread development and remains one of the most beautiful, unspoiled regions in the country.
Lively Nong Khai is the most important border town in the region and the access point to the Lao capital, Vientiane. The stretch of river to the west of here is dotted with numerous picturesque towns and villages with traditional teak houses. At Phu Phrabat Historical Park (near Ban Phu), a variety of mesmerizing sandstone rock formations can be seen. Nearby are the extraordinary huge Buddhist and Hindu statues of Wat Khaek. As the river winds its way east and then south, past Nakhon Phanom, it passes one of the most important Buddhist pilgrimage sites in Thailand, Wat Phra That Phanom. The temple supposedly dates from the death of the Lord Buddha in 543 BC.
Farther downriver is Pha Taem, a cliff face painted with huge prehistoric figures and unusual geometrical patterns. Not far away, at Khong Chiam, the Mun River flows into the Mekong, creating the phenomenon of the “two-colored river.” From here the Mekong flows into Laos and then Cambodia. The Cambodian border with Thailand has been the scene of skirmishes between rival factions and, as a result, it is not always possible to reach one of the most magnificent of all Khmer monuments, Prasat Khao Phra Wihan