The Town that Turned Retro

The main thing you will notice when strolling down the main street of the small village of Chiang Khan, Northern Thailand, is that the town has turned retro! The street running parallel to the Mekong River, is lined with teak buildings that have been beautifully restored, and most of these – shops, guest houses, restaurants and tea houses- proudly display an eclectic collection of retro decor. The era is mostly 60s and totally kitsch. Open any of the photos below and delight in retro madness.

The municipality won the year 2010 architectural conservation award from Architect Council of Thailand. Since that year, more than 2000 old teak houses and shops along the main road, Thanon Chai Khong and nearby lanes, have been registered with the municipality’s architectural campaign, with over 600 receiving grants to renovate. This, in the era of the uniform concrete block house, is delightful to see. The young and well-heeled from Bangkok swarm here on the weekends, to stay in ‘original’ old houses with matching decor. The young are embracing Thai architectural history they barely remember, the old teak house, which is now missing from big cities.

Original guesthouse facing onto the Mekong river at Chiang Khan, Thailand.
Original guesthouse facing onto the Mekong river at Chiang Khan, Thailand.

During the day, the town is sleepy, with only a few restaurants and coffee houses open for business. In the late afternoon, the main street transforms into a walking market, although the number of stalls vastly increases on Friday and Saturday nights when the young city folk arrive in mini buses from down south.

The other welcome feature is that the main street and series of  20 or so perpendicular lanes, are devoid of through traffic. Here the bicycle rules and has become the town logo.

You won’t find backpacker travellers here or westernised food, no pancakes or pizzas, and very little spoken English. If you go, take your Thai phrase book. There are a couple of great restaurants in town that do offer a menu in English, the best being Faikam, which does wonderful versions of most Thai favourites. The average cost for a double room, with aircon and bathroom, facing the Mekong River starts at around 600 Baht per night ( AU $24.00).

How to get there. Fly into Loei, with Air Asia, from various big cities in Thailand, then take a mini van from the airport to Chiang Khan. Or, go, as we did, along the Mekong river by car, from Nong Khai to Chiang Khan, one of the great road trips of Asia.

Chiang Khan or Inner city Melbourne?
Chiang Khan or Inner city Melbourne?

17 thoughts on “The Town that Turned Retro”

  1. What a fascinating revelation! It is so inspiring when towns or regions take on the challenge of remaking themselves to survive. I really could hardly believe most of those photos were taken in Thailand! Love that they have made the bicycle their logo, too! Thanks so much Francesca.

    Like

    1. There is another town in Thailand doing the same thing with the old teak shops- in Lampang, also an interesting spot to visit. We often only see one side of Thailand n the mainstream media- beaches and resorts. Once away from these, the country is fascinating.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hello Francesca … I just love the photos! And that blue door. Magic stuff. Love the idea of no western tucker. I was so surprised when we were in Shanghai at the array of food … Are you still on holiday? I have been away too and just back (with a tiny tan 😀 )

    Like

Now over to you.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s