Loei, Thailand is perhaps best known to visitors for its annual Ghost Festival. However, it also sports beautiful views of the Mekong River from a historic waterfront town, mist-shrouded mountains, and a unique minority tribe that can be visited year-round. We’ve put together a travel guide to Loei Thailand with special attention given to two cities, Chiang Khan and Dansai.
This little province, which is in the northeast corner of Isaan, is ideal for people who want to travel to a region that is still largely unaffected by international tourism.
And how do you pronounce Loei? Well, this vowel doesn’t exist in English, but you can get pretty close to making the correct sound by saying ‘loy’ with a big grin on your face and clenched teeth. Google Translate has a better version but you’ll have to manually copy and paste in the Thai word: เลย.
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Chiang Khan, Loei
Give alms to monks on the Chiang Khan Walking Street
Every morning, just before sunrise, visitors line up along the Chiang Khan Walking Street (ถนนคนเดินเชียงคาน) in anticipation of the monks’ daily pilgrimage from their temple. Along this road are century-old wooden stilt houses, which also back up to the Mekong River. A dozen or so orange-robed, bald-headed, bare-footed men make their way down the street.
The procession starts slowly enough. One by one, the monks trickle in. Visitors line up at the edge of the dimly lit walking street and kneel on straw mats.
They give alms of sticky rice, breaking off soft, squishy nuggets and placing them in the bowls each monk is carrying. This is the staple of the monks’ diets are typically in addition to small plastic bags of watery curries or steamed vegetables provided by local businesses and residents. It’s not uncommon to give flower offerings, small treats, or necessities such as toilet paper, too.
|TIP: Women should be especially careful not to touch monks. It’s a big no-no.|
Your guesthouse will be able to give you a straw mat to kneel on and sticky rice as an offering. We stayed at the Old Chiang Khan Boutique Hotel, which was perfectly situated on the walking street for the event.
Explore Chiang Khan’s fresh market
After the sun rises, visit the town’s local fresh market. You can count on being one of the only few foreigners there, as most visitors retreat back to their hotel for breakfast before departing for the day’s activities.
Our friend and amazing photographer, Mick Shippen, led the way. Wide-eyed, we saw pig heads and grilled, skewed rats – a first for us – as well as the stacks of smoked fish and pyramids of eggs. Customers will be downing strong, hot coffee with a side of fried dough called bpa tong go or the classic khao dtum rice porridge.
You’re sure to receive glances from the market sellers and shoppers. Chances are, they are just as intrigued by your presence as you are of the pungent smelling soups, piles of vegetables and fruits, and displays of rice and noodles.
We visited during the market’s morning hours but other guides say it reopens as an evening market, too.
Visit the Tai Dam Cultural Village at Ban Na Pa Nat
The Tai Dam (pronounced tie dahm) are a cultural minority whose name implies “the people who wear black” evident by the black robes that the villagers wear.
Less than 20 km from Chiang Khan is the Thai Dam culture village (บ้านพิพิธภัณฑ์ไทดำ) where you can learn more about these conservative people and their simpler way of life. There you’ll find several stilted houses built in the traditional style with three rooms, two staircases (one for men, one for women) and ornamental roofs. Other smaller buildings display tools, cooking devices, and the Thai Dam’s distinguishing black costumes.
This is also the home of the 12th Women’s District Weaving Club. Tai Dam women are renowned for their traditional weaving skills using cotton, which is grown in the nearby hills.
Throws, scarves, other tapestries and even knitting yarn are available for purchase from the shop at the cultural village. Visitors can even try spinning yarn on a spinning wheel or weaving on a manual loom. If you don’t have the time or means to visit the cultural village, you can still check out the Tai Dam weavers’ products at their shop along the Chiang Khan Walking Street.
Contact: Thai Dam Cultural Conservation Society
Phone: (081) 048-2000
Visiting Hours: 9 am to 9 pm
Although we did not take part in a homestay with the Tai Dam, other visitors have made mention that there are authentic opportunities available. Call the organizers one week in advance at (083) 332-2828 or (084) 925-0771 or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Other fun things to do in Chiang Khan, Loei:
- Cruise on the Mekong River: Take a longtail boat on the river separating Thailand and Lao. Prices start at 800 baht. Call (086) 233-7840 or (086) 131-2687.
- Dine with a riverfront view: Visit the Kaeng Khud Khu viewpoint overlooks a picturesque curve in the Mekong River and offers riverside dining.
- Shop at the Chiang Khan Walking Street Market: Explore what local shopkeepers, artisans, and restaurants have to offer from 5-10pm daily.
- Go cycling: Rent a bicycle from a neighboring guesthouse (typically 50 THB per hour) and ride along the 2 km long riverfront ‘boardwalk’ near the Chiang Khan Walking Street.
- Get a unique massage: Ba Kom Goi has trained masseuses who walk on your back and balance themselves using overhead poles.
- See the mountain mists: Take a tuk-tuk ride from town (100 baht) followed by an entry fee plus ride (25 baht) to the top of Phu Tok mountain to see the fog rolling over the landscape (gates open at 5 am).
- Get blessed: Visit the town’s riverside temple, Wat Si Khun Muang (วัดศรีคุณเมือง), and receive a blessing.
Photo credit: Peter from Surachai.com
It is also possible for families, couples, or solo travelers to take a small group tour with the TEATA (Thai Ecotourism & Adventure Travel Association). They focus on low-carbon tourism and creative and sustainable tourism. They have English-speaking guides that can escort you around Chiang Khan.
Visit the Phi Ta Khon Museum near Wat Phon Chai
Loei, Thailand is known for Phi Ta Khon (ผีตาโขน, pronounced pee ta kone) or the Ghost Festival. This celebration vibrantly combines art and culture and reveals the party-loving crazy dancing side of the normally reserved locals.
Phi Ta Khon is distinguished by the festival’s masks. The masks are made from woven rice steam baskets and coconut husks and then elaborately painted. Each has a characteristic mad grin and a long, crooked nose.
In addition to wearing the masks during the festival, young men don costumes of rags and other colorful pieces of cloth sewn together, wear wooden cowbells around their waists or necks and, er, wave around large phallic-shaped objects – because fertility!
The Phi Ta Khon Festival takes place each year roughly in June. Ok, technically it’s during the seventh month of the lunar calendar. And it’s one of those holidays where the exact dates change annually.
After the three-day celebration, the best masks are put on display at the Phi Ta Khon Museum, which is also known as the Dansai Folk Museum. That’s a good thing because they often take several days to complete. Visitors can paint their own smaller masks to take home, too, or buy small souvenirs from the onsite shop.
Visiting Hours: 9 am to 5 pm daily
Phone: (042) 891-094
Dine and craft at Kawainthip Homestay
One of the cooler experiences we had in Dansai was visiting the Thai homestay Kawinthip. Our host, Khun Apinya, taught us how to cook a few traditional Isaan dishes in her outdoor kitchen surrounded by a shady garden. Afterward, we enjoyed a satisfying lunch of steamed vegetables, fried fish, bamboo shoot soup, and tropical fruit on her outdoor balcony.
She also hosts a handicraft workshop where you can paint Phi Ta Khon Masks. And even though we didn’t spend the night, she offers her home up to visitors for low rates, too.
Contact: Kawinthip.dansai (กวินทิพย์หัตถกรรม)
Phone: (042) 892-339 (086) 862-4812, Khun Apinya Kittipong
Go on the ‘Spirit of Dansai’ route with Green Bike Tour
We stretched our legs of a two-hour bike tour of Dansai’s countryside. Get fitted with a bike and helmet at the Dansai Hospital and then cycle through the subdistrict of Baan Doen. Highlights include:
- Wat Neramit Wipattasana: This temple crafted of beautiful reddish laterite stone and home to a nine-headed serpent
- Pra That Sri Song Rak: Couples come and pray at this temple for everlasting love
*Do not wear red when entering this temple or bring an offering of red flowers
- Wat Phon Chai and Phi Ta Khon (Ghost Festival) Museum
We were lucky enough to cycle by a small community making a feast. We stopped, curious, and saw the people making huge batches of Thai-styled fried chicken and papaya salad. In one area, about a half-dozen women were sitting in a circle on a colorful woven mat making a snack. After a bit of questioning, we found out they were making a pumpkin and coconut dessert steamed in a banana leaf. It’s called kanom tien (ขนมเทียน) and it was delicious!
We arranged the ‘Spirit of Dansai Route’ with Green Bike Tour through our hotel, Phuna Come Resort. The guide on this bike tour is normally a local school student training to be a guide. He or she will have good English but may not be fluent.
Contact: Green Bike Tour
Phone: (083) 147-4199, Khun Apichart
Cost: 900 THB for the tour plus 200 THB per person for bike rentals
Other interesting things to do in Loei Thailand
- Visit the Poinsettia Garden Phurua in the Phu Ruea National Park
- Dine lakeside in ‘raft huts’ at the Huay Krathing Reservoir
- Sample local wine at Chateau De Loei Winery (let it be known that it is not comparable to Western standards)
Many of these places are part of community-based tourism. For more information or if you need help planning your trip, email the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) Loei Office at email@example.com. Alternatively, call them at (042) 812-812 or (042) 811-405, Monday through Friday 8:30 am to 4:30 pm.
Getting to Loei
Even though Loei is one of the least populated provinces in Thailand, visitors will be happy to learn that it has its own airport. There are options to fly from Bangkok directly into the tiny Loei Airport and you can even reserve a rental car at the airport.
It’s also possible to travel by railway, but the train only services Loei’s neighboring provinces. The Northeastern Line goes to Khon Kaen and Udon Thani and the Northern Lines goes to Phinsanalok. Either way, you’ll have to take a bus to your final destination in Loei if you don’t have a friend pick you up or your own ride.
Rather than bore you with the specific details here, we’ve created a separate guide to traveling to and around Loei.
If you’re adamant about spending time in Isaan, check out Loei’s neighboring province, Udon Thani, too. Afterward, continue your journey to the quiet, lesser-known island of Koh Mak before rounding off your trip with Bangkok’s highlights and heading home.