In a nutshell
The capital town of Nakhon Phanom province is located in the Isaan region, 730 km North East of Bangkok, along the Laos border.
Why go to Nakhon Phanom
The city of mountains (this is the literal translation of Nakhon Phanom) owes his name to the stunning setting along the Mekong River with a dramatic view over the green mountains of Laos on the other side of the border. During the centuries people from Vietnam and Laos have decided to settle down here and their influence on this city’s traditions, food and everyday life is clearly visible. Nakhon Phanom is a chilled and relaxed capital with a long and vibrant riverfront which is ideal to spend a few days break during your travelling in the Isaan provinces and on your way to Laos. Many travelers unfortunately miss the opportunity to explore this beautiful city considering it just as a gate away to Laos; crossing the border here is easier and quicker than other places (Nong Khai as an example) since there’s never a long line and a direct bus to Tha Khaek will wait at the border for people to clear all the customs formalities.
When to go to Nakhon Phanom
Nakhon Phanom is worth a visit all year round since you’ll hardly have to do anything else than chill out, meet locals, enjoy the genuine multicultural atmosphere and admire the wonderful landscape. Nevertheless if you wish to avoid the worst part of the rainy season, don’t plan your visit from June to September. December and January are the driest and cooler months of the year. If possible, try to be here during the Illuminated Boat Festival (see the ‘’what to do’’ section for more information) that takes place every year in October and it’s one of the most spectacular festival in the country.
Where to stay in Nakhon Phanom
Not being a major western tourists’ destination, Nakhon Phanom lacks choices when it comes to accommodation, not offering any real backpackers’ solution neither the classic travelers oriented guesthouses that you can find almost everywhere in Thailand. Anyway the few hotels available still offer enough rooms to accommodate anybody at affordable prices. Reservation is not needed unless you’re coming for the Boat Festival that attracts thousands of visitors from Thailand and Laos.
Where and what to eat in Nakhon Phanom
Like everywhere else in Isaan region, food is one of the main reason that make us love this small capital town. The night market on Fueang Nakorn Rd, just 5 minutes away from the river, is perfect to try all the traditional Isaan dishes. There are a few table available, but we suggest you to get all the food that you need and then move to eat it at the riverfront sipping a cold beer while the sun is going down. Prices are extremely cheap (THB30/THB60) and food is delicious (and spicy).
If you’re looking for a nicer setting and a more comfortable solution there are a lot of riverfront restaurants with a nice terrace on the Mekong River; try the Plaa Pao if you like freshwater fishes. Prices are slightly higher with the whole fish coming for roughly THB200; it’s enough food to be shared among 3 people when you order something else on the side (papaya salad with sticky rice is a must in this region).
Don’t be surprised to see many Vietnamese restaurants all around town; a strong community is present in town and if you want to try a different cuisine don’t hesitate; it will be authentic, tasty and cheap.
Getting around Nakhon Phanom
The city center is small enough to be comfortably covered on foot. Rent a bicycle for THB100 a day (available at many shops and hotels in town) if you want to explore the city a little more; a new bicycle track running along the Mekong River makes a cycling tour safer and pleasant. Tuk tuk and motorbike taxies are waiting at every corner and will take you everywhere in town for few bhat. For a day trip out of town motorbike rentals are available at THB250 per day.
Getting to and from Nakhon Phanom
A small regional airport with daily flights to/from Bangkok Don Muang is located 18 km west of town. A shared minivan to town will cost you THB100 per person.
The bus station is in the city center, 1,5 km away from the riverfront. A tuk tuk or a metered taxi will take you to your hotel for roughly THB50. If you still don’t have a hotel ask them to drop you at the clock tower on Fueang Nakorn Rd. From there you can easily walk and search for accommodation.
Several daily departures to/from Bangkok Mo Chit station are available. The majority of the buses cover the distance with an overnight trip and the last departure from Bangkok is at 8:00pm. The journey takes 12 to 14 hours and tickets range from THB450 for a second class to THB850 for a VIP. The Transport Authority of Thailand runs a very comfortable VIP air-conditioned bus which leave Mo Chit at 7:15pm and Nakhon Phanom at 6:00pm on the way back; remember to bring a jumper with you since air-con buses in Thailand are crazy cold (a blanket is provided anyway).
Daily buses are available to Chiang Mai (THB820, 14 hours), Chiang Rai (THB900, 18 hours) and many destinations in the Isaan provinces (Khon Khaen, Udon Thani, and Khorat).
To That Phanom you can take a minibus for THB40. They leave every 20 minutes from 6:00am to 6:00pm.
International buses to Tha Khaek in Laos depart every half an hour all day long and stop at the border to wait for people to get through immigration. This make any border run extremely convenient and quick when compared to other border crossing in Thailand. The bus ticket is only THB70.
Safe travel in Nakhon Phanom
Nakhon Phanom is a safe town to travel with friendly and chilled locals ready to help you if you need. Don’t expect them to speak that much of English thou since western tourism is still highly undeveloped. A large hospital with good international standards is available if needed along with a tourist police office.