When I first learnt that the location of the 2018 Mekong Tourism Forum (MTF 2018) was Nakhon Phanom in Thailand, I wondered where this place was.
Nakhon Phanom is a small city in the north-eastern region of Thailand called Isaan and it borders with Laos, the Mekong River separating the two countries. Being geographically close to Laos and Vietnam, the population of Nakhon Phanom – roughly 700,000 people – is a diverse mix of Thais, Thai-Vietnamese and Thai-Chinese. The main languages spoken here are Isaan and Thai but culturally, the city is more Lao as it was once part of Laos until the 19th century.
There are not many foreign tourists in Nakhon Phanom, in fact, I think, the number of foreign tourists increased during the MTF2018 conference only! The city attracts mainly domestic tourists and apparently the entire province has only 25 hotels.
While Nakhon Phanom is currently not experiencing high tourist footfalls like Bangkok and Chiang Mai, the province is trying to attract more foreign tourists. That is one of the reasons why MTF2018 was held in Nakhon Phanom to generate awareness and interest and to start laying foundations in building tourism here.
I enjoyed my four-day trip in Nakhon Phanom – the city is quiet and peaceful, its people are hospitable, just like any Thai you meet in the country but they seem to have a calmer temperament than the city folks. As such, I’m concerned that smaller cities like Nakhon Phanom might not be able to cope with high volumes of tourists in the future due to limited resources in the region but after learning that the local province and Tourism Mekong are focusing and prioritising sustainable and responsible tourism, I feel assured that they are going in the right direction.
*Also Read: 3Cs of Chiang Mai – Scenes From the City
I will be writing more about the MTF2018 conference in my next post but for now, here are four reasons to visit Nakhon Phanom:
The Great Naga and Riverfront
The Great Naga monument is the main landmark of Nakhon Phanom and you won’t miss it for it’s situated by the riverfront. The Great Naga or the mythical serpent of the Mekong River is highly regarded in their local folklore and culture – the locals believe that the naga is the protector of Buddha, thus, nagas are prevalent in this city from monuments to figurines and decorations. Also, a naga was alleged seen in the Mekong River…or perhaps it was a large eel 😊
With the Mekong River running adjacent to the city, you can go for a stroll by the riverfront or cycle on bike lanes to enjoy one of the finest views of the Mekong River. Alternatively, you can go on a one-hour river cruise and the best time to go is just before sunset. The cruise also crosses into the Lao side of the river, so that gives you bragging rights that you were in Laos for a couple of minutes!
*Also Read: Historical and Romantic City of Hue
“Sky Labs” (tuk-tuk)
The most convenient way to get around Nakhon Phanom is the tuk-tuk but locals commonly refer them as “sky lab”. Why the locals call them “sky lab”? Because when the driver speeds, the front of the vehicle gives the impression that it’s flying!
Well, of course, we do not want the tuk-tuk driver to go against traffic rules but if you wish to see the three-wheeler “flying”, then ask the driver to speed when there are no other vehicles and pedestrians nearby. I’m sure he will oblige but let me put a disclaimer here, travel on the “sky lab” at your own risk, lol!
Wat Phra That Phanom Temple
One must visit Buddhist temples when in Thailand and one of the highly revered temples of north-east Thailand is the Wat Phra That Phanom. Wat Phra That Phanom is considered a sacred and pilgrimage place for Thais as it is said to contain the relic of the breastbone of Buddha.
The highlight of the temple is the 57-metre high Laotian style chedi that can be seen from afar. The chedi was built in the tenth century at a height of eight metres and by the end of the seventeenth century, the height of the chedi was further reconstructed and raised to 47 metres and subsequently to 57 metres in 1941. However, the foundations of the chedi were not strong, hence it collapsed during heavy rains in 1975, destroying the temple complex. It took them four years to repair, rebuild and restore the chedi and the temple complex to what we see today.
*Also Read: An Evening at Temple of the Tooth, Kandy
If you still prefer to get away from the city or town centre and would like to have a real cultural immersion experience, consider travelling to the local ethnic villages nearby. There are many ethnic villages situated close to Nakhon Phanom, all of them have their own unique culture, traditional attire, food, dance and music. The communities are keen to welcome foreign guests who wish to explore their villages and to learn about their traditions and way of life – there are opportunities for you to help with farming, fishing, weaving and cooking.
Because the village experience is not mainstream tourism, it might be difficult for you to figure out logistics on your own. As such, I would highly recommend you to contact the Thai Ecotourism and Adventure Travel Association (TEATA) . With their vast experience in sustainable tourism for the past two decades, they are the right people who can assist you in planning and deciding which village to visit, how to get there and what experience that you would like to have.
*Also Read: Homestay in Nepali Village
How to get to Nakhon Phanom
Air: Air Asia and Nok Air fly from Bangkok (Don Mueang Airport) to Nakhon Phanom, and the flight is approximately 90 minutes.
Bus: There are buses available from Bangkok to Nakhon Phanom. The distance between Bangkok and Nakhon Phanom is approximately 740km, hence the bus journey is about eleven hours.
Train: There is no rail service in Nakhon Phanom, however, the closest railway station is in Ubon, Udon or Nong Khai, four hours away.
Where to Stay
If you are looking for boutique/mid-range accommodation, there are a number of hotels for you to choose from.
I stayed at The River Hotel located a few kilometres from the city centre. What I loved about The River Hotel is that most of the rooms face the beautiful Mekong River.
*For reviews on The River Hotel, click here.
If you are travelling (or planning to travel) in northern Thailand, why not change your route and head to offbeat Nakhon Phanom instead? Granted, cities in the north such as Chiang Mai are more enticing but if you are looking to escape the busy tourist locations and to see more provincial culture, then this city of Nagas will be right for you.
*My trip to Nakhon Phanom was sponsored by Destination Mekong and Mekong Tourism Forum 2018. All opinions shared in this post are my own.
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