Nong Khai is a sleepy Thai town with strong Lao influences, and is home to small Chinese and Vietnamese communities as well. Most locals speak both Thai and the local dialect called Isaan, which is closely related to both the Thai and Lao languages. Many locals speak a little bit of English, mostly tourism-related words, and are generally very friendly and helpful if you smile and are polite.
One of the many questions Thais may ask a foreigner visiting Thailand is ‘Have you been to Chiang Mai yet?’, underscoring the feeling that Chiang Mai is a keystone of any journey to Thailand. Along with Sukhothai further south, it was the first Southeast Asian state to make the historic transition from domination by Mon and Khmer cultures to a new era ruled by Thais.