"Rice Farming was never on my itinerary!" Top 5 Page for this destination Nong Khai by Anniko

Nong Khai Travel Guide: 114 reviews and 342 photos

You never know where you may end up!

Light illuminated the dawn sky, as the train's curtains were drawn to reveal paddy fields. Scattered upon them were farmers, bent over in ankle deep water. My Japanese ancestors cultivated rice, so the scene greeting my eyes for the first time, was a revelation.

I was headed for northeastern Thailand, to a region officially known as Isaan. The following days would be spent in Nong Khai, a rural town that stretched along the Mekong River. It was also adjacent to the Laos border. I had made the commitment to volunteer in Thailand, for three weeks, in July 2011.


Living at volunteer headquarters in Nong Khai, as the only foreigner, proved to be an invaluable experience. The locals, who lived permanently on the premises, warmly accepted me into their lives. For three weeks, I enjoyed the company of Pai and Prom, female trainees from Ban Hatkai village in Laos, where one of the organization’s projects was located. There, families took turns hosting volunteers from the center. In return, Pai and Prom, both twenty-one, were given an opportunity to learn English and computer skills in Nong Khai. Another trainee was a twenty year-old man named Joy, also from the same village.

Another local living at the center was the university student we called Moss. He was brought up in a village in the surrounding district.

What an opportunity!

Unexpectedly, the chance to spend the weekend among paddy fields came my way. Young Moss, the university student who lived at volunteer headquarters, was returning to his parents’ village on the weekend, to assist with rice planting. He invited me along, together with trainees Pai, Prom and Joy. Moss’s community had only experienced two other foreigners, both males.

Moss’s parents and relatives greeted us, in front of a double-story house. Modern conveniences, including electrical appliances, television and refrigerators, occupied its interior. Other homes nearby were similar. Straw mats had been laid on the tiles, in preparation for dinner. We sat in a circle, as a variety of dishes were presented. Sticky rice, pressed into a ball with the fingers, accompanied the tasty dishes.

After rising to a new day, Moss led us on a leisurely stroll past paddy fields. All of a sudden the girls, Pai and Prom, squealed with excitement. Appearing ahead were ponds of blossoming lotus lilies, a well-known symbol of eastern philosophy. The Lotus grows from mud, up through dirty water, to appear as beautiful flower. The murk represents the muck of the ordinary world, our negative emotions causing self-centeredness. Emerging from it, the lotus bloom opens, untainted and unstained, resembling a purified spirit. To be among the flowers, was very special.

Upon our return, a breakfast of sticky rice, with an assortment of food was served. Then it was off to the farm, 4 km away. The utility parked adjacent to a large cubby house, a shelter on the paddy fields where children played while parents worked.

We tiptoed along raised paths separating each field. Upon reaching the area to be planted, my feet were stung by ants. It was a relief to submerge burning flesh into gooey mud beneath the water. A bunch of shoots was handed to me, and I was shown how to press the roots into sodden earth. Working in unison beside me, were Pai, Prom and Joy.

The villagers were amused by my presence, the first foreigner to participate in their rice planting process. Laughter erupted as they observed my attempts. After three-quarters of an hour, concern about work completed and my inability to keep up with the others, made me wander back to the cubby house. My mud-splattered body passed out in slumber after collapsing onto a straw mat. Occasionally I’d wake, when the children placed a drink, or some fruit, next to me.

After the fields were planted, the farmers returned to the cubby house and hosed mud off their clothes. Lunch was then cooked and served with sticky rice. It was one large jovial family, as we sat and viewed paddy fields, now filled with young shoots.

The sense of togetherness existing among the villagers overwhelmed me. Children from several households gathered to play. With numerous adults looking after them, they reaped the benefits of love from many directions. Most endearing to witness were neighbors helping each other on rice paddies. Backbreaking work was lightened by fellowship through shared effort. Egotism didn’t exist. Equality and oneness pervaded, together with respect and consideration for others.

On Sunday, the villagers piled onto the back of a utility, and drove us to volunteer headquarters in Nong Khai. It was a sentimental farewell. My journey to a rice-farming village was invaluable, and worlds away from the tourist resorts westerners frequent. I’d experienced one of the most authentic views of Asian culture that a foreigner could ever encounter.

  • Last visit to Nong Khai: Dec 2010
  • Intro Updated Jun 23, 2013
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Reviews (3)

Comments (6)

  • Jim_Eliason's Profile Photo
    Apr 5, 2014 at 5:22 AM

    Nice tips

  • angiebabe's Profile Photo
    Feb 4, 2014 at 11:35 PM

    brilliant! ive just had a week visiting the rice terraces in Yuanyang in Yunnan, southern China as they are flooded with water for Jan-March in prep for rice planting which attracts the light and reflections of the skies so they are drawcard for photos then...the terraces are quite narrow so when i walked on a few i felt like i could too easily fall in lol!..they are very steep too! what an exellent experience you had and enjoyed reading about them thanks!

  • balhannah's Profile Photo
    Jul 1, 2013 at 3:44 AM

    What a wonderful experience! I've really enjoyed reading your pages and seeing your photo's!

  • jojes's Profile Photo
    Jun 28, 2013 at 1:52 PM

    We've been to NK a couple of years ago. Ah, the overnight sleeper train ... An experience on itself ...
    I-san is a really beautiful region when you ask me, and so different from most of the traditional tourist areas in Thailand.

    • Anniko's Profile Photo
      Jun 29, 2013 at 9:55 PM

      Yes, I loved the overnight sleeper train. It was quite an adventure!
      I agree that Isan is very traditional, and therefore has a unique beauty that you won't find in the tourist areas of Thailand.

    • jojes's Profile Photo
      Jun 30, 2013 at 12:56 AM

      That's true. We only had a couple of days to spend there but we absolutely loved it. Especially the Mekong at the part where it forms the Lao border is stunning.

  • IreneMcKay's Profile Photo
    Jun 28, 2013 at 3:13 AM

    Sounds like you had an interesting time here. Love the candle ceremony photos. Irene

    • Anniko's Profile Photo
      Jun 29, 2013 at 9:47 PM

      Thanks Irene ... Yes it was very interesting.

  • cachaseiro's Profile Photo
    Jun 24, 2013 at 1:31 AM

    Great page.
    Really nice to read about your experiences there.
    I was in Nong Khai myself a few years ago while doing a longer cycling trip around South East Asia.

    • Anniko's Profile Photo
      Jun 24, 2013 at 3:44 AM

      Thanks Claus.
      Cycling would be a great way to experience South East Asia, if only I had your energy. Planting rice for three quarters of an hour, was enough to knock me out.

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