In the landlocked regions of Laos and Northeastern Thailand (known colloquially as Isaan), the famed beaches of Thailand are a considerable distance away.
The Sida Beach (Haad SIda หาดสีดา in Thai) is a unique inland beach located where the Mekong River makes an epic turn southward toward Cambodia and Vietnam. The sandy area is used by locals for swimming and as a local watering hole for water buffaloes.
I’d been curious what might be hidden away at that far corner for some time, So, if you share that curiosity, read along and learn what you need to see this quiet, hidden beach in this remote area of Thailand.
The Story of Sida Mekong River Beach
The environment of Isaan is notoriously dry when compared to the center and north of Thailand, and much of the land along Laos’ Mekong riverbank is the same.
Because of this, local beaches made on the Mekong River are relatively commonplace, whether just a sandy bank in a local village or the sandy island that sometimes emerges from the river along with the Laotian capital of Vientiane.
The Mekong River in Isaan
It’s important to note that the Mekong River is one of the longest and calmest rivers in the world. The entire river would be navigable by boat from the Mekong Delta in southern Vietnam all the way to Yunnan in China, but there is a small stretch of the river at the Laos-Cambodia border. This rocky section immediately south of the 4000 Islands in Champasak, Laos makes the river impassable beyond that point
While the Mekong River in Isaan marks a strict natural national boundary for most purposes, such as politics and tourism, it is a bit more of a suggestion to locals. During various visits to small towns in the region outside of the provincial capital, locals from both the Laos and Thailand side of the Mekong River can be seen crossing the river in small boats or sometimes even wading across in the calmer, shallower sections.
According to locals I talked to, this is a common occurrence where people cross for the day, often taking a product with them to sell in the neighboring town. Later in the day, they’ll then return home back across the river.
This effectively means they are illegally crossing the border each day. However, it seems a locally accepted practice in their inland border cities that share so much culturally.
Bueng Kan Province
Until 2011, Bueng Kan was a part of Nong Khai Province, meaning Nong Khai spanned almost the entire length of the Mekong River from the border with Vientiane. The idea to split off this new province from Nong Khai was originally proposed in 1990, but was put on hold for 20 years.
When the matter was re-examined in August 2010, it received much support, apparently a 99% approval among citizens of Nong Khai Province. A few months later, on 23 March 2011 Bueng Kan became a separate province, named after the largest city and new provincial capital. The province has a population of ~424,000 while the capital city has ~20,000 people.
A fifth border bridge in Bueng Kan connecting Thailand and Laos was scheduled to begin in 2020. However, these plans were delayed due to nationwide lockdowns from COVID-19.
Visiting Sida Mekong River Beach
Of all the areas to visit in Thailand, Isaan is one of the least frequented by foreign tourists. While the cities of Khorat, Khon Kaen, and Udon Thani and are on the common route from Bangkok to the Laos land border to Vientiane, few venture further inland.
For all the trips I’ve made through Thailand, and about 15-20 or so in Isaan, that remote little corner on the map, nearly 400 km from the national capital was farther than I’d ever made it. On an extended road trip along the northern border from Chiang Khan eastward, it seemed only right to take the road to its furthest extent, where the world’s 10th Longest River makes its final shift southward toward the ocean.
Arriving at Sida Beach
We arrived in Bung Khla about a half-hour after leaving breakfast in Bueng Kan. From the main road, it is a small drive (3 km) back toward the Mekong River. As the roughly paved road came to an end at the town’s school. An open dirt road curved around the school leading us to an open area where we parked.
In front of us were an open wooden gazebo and picnic table overlooking the Mekong River and the Laotian landscape in the distance. A concrete ramp led down toward the sandy area along the riverbank. The two of us walked down to the Mekong beach to find it entirely empty — very different from the handful of photos I had seen of it before, where large groups of locals had been swimming in the river.
The only sign of other people was a couple of men working on wooden boats on the riverbank and a single man swimming 1/3 of the way out into the river. He seemed to be carrying a net, likely fishing in the Mekong.
Off to the right, about 200 meters down from the boats, was a small herd of water buffaloes wading in the river. They seemed completely oblivious to us as we walked closer for some photographs.
Following just relaxing a few moments to take in the view, we began to head back up the paved boat path to the car. We still had a long drive ahead of us to Sakon Nakhon later that afternoon and still wanted to see the Tham Phra Waterfall on the way.
How to Get to Sida Mekong River Beach
GPS Coordinates: 18.3297, 103.97495
The Sida Mekong River Beach is located at the farthest northeastern corner of Thailand and can only be reached by private transportation, such as a car or motorcycle. It is too far (40 km) from Bueng Kan city to take a taxi (if they even exist there) and it is a distance from any of the major intercity bus routes that normally crisscross Isaan.
Sida Beach is reached by driving east out of Bueng Kan city on Highway 212 from Bueng Kan on the way to Nakhon Phanom. As this road begins heading more south than east, it is a sure sign that you’ve reached the far corner of Bueng Kan. You can turn off at either Road 3008 or at the tiny village of Bung Khla. Both of these routes eventually dead-end at a small local school.
Sida Beach is directly behind this school. A small dirt road wraps around the school and leads to a wooden gazebo overlooking both the great curve southward of the Mekong River and the Sida Beach.
Name: Sida Mekong River Beach หาดสีดา
Where: Bung Khla, Bueng Kan, Thailand
Location: 18.3297, 103.97495
Description: Sida Beach is a sandy area located at the remote northeastern corner of Thailand where the Mekong River turns south toward Cambodia and Vietnam.
Getting there: Private transportation is needed
Province in Thailand created in 2011 from the eastern areas of Nong Khai Province.
Common name for the northeastern region of Thailand.
The world’s 12th longest river, which flows from the Himalayas through China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam, into the Pacific Ocean.
Province in northeastern Thailand that holds the busiest border with Laos.