It’s late afternoon and we’re nearing Nakhon Phanom and enjoying the beautiful scenery of Isaan.
It’s just over an hour’s drive north of That Phanom and its magnificent temple containing the breastbone of Lord Buddha. So far we’ve driven more than 800kms from Bangkok Airport and enjoyed some really friendly people, incredible scenery and delicious food.
The River Hotel is an excellent choice
As we enter the city, we see our hotel up ahead on the right and drive into the carpark. We’re staying at the River Hotel and from the road it looks impressive.
The front desk staff are pleasant and efficient, speak really good English, and in a few minutes, we’re being taken up to our room.
So far, the Isaan hotels we have stayed in have been excellent and the River Hotel is no exception. Our room is modern and clean and looks out across the Mekong River to Laos. The river is narrower at this point and the town of Thakhek is quite close. Thakhek is a former trading port in central Laos.
We’re staying here for two nights and looking forward to the sights, experiences and excellent food that this bustling riverside city has to offer.
The hotel is busy and we join other guests wandering around the grounds and taking photos of the river with the Laos hills highlighted in the late afternoon sun.
The fish is delicious
It’s been a long day so we decide eat at the hotel restaurant.
Great choice. With live music and excellent river fish, the atmosphere in the restaurant is great. Before long we’re joining al the other diners singing Happy Birthday to an elderly smiling man at the next table and enjoying the Thai country music.
Our visit to Wat Phra That Phanom has made this one of our best days in rural Thailand and we look forward to exploring Nakhon Phanom tomorrow.
The next morning we’re up early and enjoying seeing dawn break over the Mekong River. There’s a cool breeze blowing and as it nears sunrise the sky takes on the changing colours of the day.
After a leisurely breakfast we drive the few kilometres into the town centre to take a look around and we park near the riverbank. There are lots of people about in this area.
The riverside areas are popular
Many are visiting an interesting and unusual monument from which water is jetting. It’s Phaya Si Sattanakharat, which roughly means the King of Nagas.
Nagas are mythical serpents or snakes that locals believe live in the Mekong river and guard them from evil spirits. This one has seven heads and it’s situated at the riverfront area of the Indochina Nakhon Phanom market.
The monument is quite spectacular and a large crowd has gathered around to pray, take photos and let the good spirits take care of them. As it’s considered an auspicious place, there are lots of lottery ticket sellers nearby. They are kept busy by believers who want that luck to translate to wealth.
No one has seen a real Naga so far but people have seen evidence of them. Perhaps not too different to the Loch Ness Monster?
There are also some interesting sculptures that people line up to be photographed with. I have no idea of their relevance but as I see these often in my travels in rural Thailand, I assume they are there to add to the fun.
I’m fascinated by a sign that gives the distance to the neighbouring countries who make up Indochine. Laos is directly behind the sign only a few hundred metres away. Although the Thai countryside is flat, there are sandstone hills that dominate the Laos horizon.
A foot massage is a must do
One of the joys of travelling around Thailand is the incredibly skilled people who give foot massages (which is actually reflexology) and can be really therapeutic. My foot massage in Nakhon Phanom is excellent.
While the masseuse is working on my foot, she detects that I have a knee problem ( I have – arthritis) and concentrates on that area. Initially it’s painful but as the massage continues, the pain subsides and for the first time in weeks my knee feels great. The massage lasts for an hour and I walk out feeling refreshed and relaxed. It cost 150 bt.
I wander around the town taking in the interesting shops and local businesses. In a square I see an unusual clock tower that is different from the architecture of the surroundings.
I learn that it was built by the local Vietnamese community in 1960 as a commemoration before many of them returned home to Vietnam to fight in the war.
There’s a strong Indochina influence
Nakhon Phanom is the closest point in Thailand to Vietnam and there is still a strong Vietnamese influence in the province.
The fusion of Thai, Laos and Vietnamese food in some of the restaurants here produces delicious meals.
Many of the goods sold in the shops here originated in Laos and Vietnam also and you’ll hear the languages all being spoken. Which makes this a fascinating place to visit.
In the late afternoon we line up to join the sunset cruise on the river.
The 50 baht sunset cruise is great value
As passengers board we are handed life jackets and instructed on how to wear them. In typical Thai style everyone is laughing and having fun while we wait to sail.
The Captain comes around, welcoming everyone on board and collecting the cruise price 50bt per person. He explains that food is available for sale on the lower deck when we get under way.
As we depart, the Captain commences a running commentary (interspersed with music) that will last the full hour we are on the river. For the most part I have no idea what he’s saying but the music is relaxing.
We sail north close to the Thai side of the river and as the sun sets, cross to the Laos riverbank and head south, past fish farms and the small town on the riverbank.
By this time, it’s getting dark, and the contrast between the two countries is evident with the lights of Nakhon Phanom lighting up the horizon brightly. As we return across to the Thai side, looking back, the lights of Thakhek seem dim.
I join all my new friends in disembarking the boat and it’s a happy group of shipmates climbing the steps to the city.
After a few photos of the Naga and the nearby temple we drive back to our hotel.
Nakhon Phanom is a fascinating place and well worth while visiting for a few days.