Mukdahan does not see many foreign visitors, and the majority of those who do arrive there, head right to the other side of the Mekong to the Lao city of Savannakhet, whether to apply for their Thai visa at the Thai consulate or to explore the southern provinces of Laos. Yet Mukdahan remains a very attractive riverside town, with great views over the Mekong, stylish cafes serving fresh coffee and a busy Indochine market which takes over the promenade on a daily bases. There are picturesque wats all along the river and the pace of life in Mukdahan is very laid back. All in all, even if not a destination all by itself, Mukdahan still makes quite a pleasant stop on your way to Laos or further afield to Isan.
Getting to Mukdahan
Neither Eastern, nor Northeastern railway line reaches Mukdahan. The only way to get there over land is by bus.
From Bangkok to Mukdahan by bus
Buses to Mukdahan leave from Morchit, Bangkok’s northern Bus Terminal. Though the terminal is huge, it is easy to navigate as there is plenty of staff ready to direct you to the correct gate. The overwhelming majority of buses depart in the morning and in the evening. As a standard, they all have a toilet on board, serve snacks and make several pit stops en route at large gas stations with a wide choice of forecourt operators, from hawkers stalls and chain restaurants to 7/Eleven convenience stores.
Tip: Air conditioning tends to be freezing in buses. Though for night trips blankets are provided, have a sweater or a jacket packed in your hand luggage.
The average travel time from Bangkok to Mukdahan is ten hours. Travelling by day steals you precious daytime, but leaving early in the morning (e.g. with an 8.30 Thaisanuan Tour VIP bus; arrival time to Mukdahan at 5.20pm; THB624), you normally have enough time both to find an accommodation in Mukdahan before it gets dark – if you are planning to stay in the city, or to cross the border to Laos (the border crossing stays open till 10pm).
Thaisanuan Tour also operates three evening express buses at 7pm (arriving to Mukdahan at 5am), at 9pm and 9.05pm (arriving at 7am and 7.05am), all at THB520. There is a VIP bus by Sahaphan company at 8.30pm (arriving at 5.20am, THB606) and VIP24, which is the most convenient way to travel, at 9.15pm (6.50am; THB808).
Getting to Laos from Mukdahan
The international bus from Mukdahan to Savannakhet departs from the same bus station in Mukdahan to which buses from Bangkok arrive. Buses leave every hour from 7.30am to 5.30pm with the last bus heading to Laos at 7pm. If you are in a hurry to submit the documents to the Thai consulate in Savannakhet (from 8.30am to 11am), after completing your border formalities at the Lao side, instead of returning to your international bus negotiate a tuk-tuk ride to the consulate. It will save you some 20 minutes. Drivers usually ask about THB200, but THB120 is a more realistic price.
The Second Thai-Lao Friendship bridge
A 1600 m long, 12 m wide concrete bridge spanning over the Mekong between the northeastern Thai province of Mukdahan and Savannakhet in Laos was opened in 2007. Note that traffic on the bridge drives on the right side, as in Laos. The changeover is at the Thai end of the bridge.
Note: If you are heading to Savannakhet to get your tourist visa to Thailand, note that effective from November, 13, 2015, there are no more double entry tourist visas. In Savannakhet, the only option for a foreigner is a single entry tourist visa which costs THB1000. A long waited for 6-month tourist visa costs THB5000 and can be obtained through the Thai consulate or embassy in your home country only.
There are yellow songthaews plying the route between the centre of the city and Mukdahan’s bus terminal which is located west of town. A ride costs just THB10. You can easily cover the central part of the town along the Mekong on foot, or negotiate a tuk-tuk ride. If you want to go further afield, some of the guesthouses and hotels offer scooters for rent; sometimes for as low as THB100 per day.
Where to stay
There are a lot of cheap but clean digs around the Indochine market, but if you venture further south, there are great places facing the river at a reasonable price. The best choice without any doubt is Riverview Mekong Hotel at N49 by the river, though you will have to walk quite a bit to get to the market area.
There is not much to do in Mukdahan itself apart from soaking up the atmosphere of a cosy riverside town. Several brightly coloured temples along the promenade bear distinctive Lao features. In the evening you may sometimes catch a dance class in one of them. The Indochine market is a great way to shop for Thai, Lao, Vietnamese or Chinese goods, from spices to everyday cotton clothes. Several street food restaurants offer food right in front of the market during daytime. For a stunning view over Laos and the Mekong head to the Phu Manorom mountain. It is especially picturesque at the sunrise. If you have another day to spend around Mukdahan, do not miss Phu Pha Thoep National Park which is best known for enormous stone ‘mushrooms’. There are good cycling opportunities in the vicinity, too. You can rent a bicycle (THB50) and head to the north of the city, following the narrow secondary or dirt roads along the river whenever possible. The setting is idyllic and there are a couple of nice temples – including one of the oldest wats in Mukdahan, Wat Manophirom – and a lot of fish farms.
Tip: Less that in 60 km north from Mukdahan lies That Phanom, a town in Nakhon Phanom province. Wat Phra That Phanom, the main temple of That Phanom, is one of the most important and revered temples of Isan. On religious holidays it draws crowds of worshippers from the both sides of the Mekong River. The form of the main stupa of Wat Phra That Phanom is replicated in many other wats in the area. A worth-to-visit destination from That Phanom is Renu Nakhon, famous for its cotton weaving traditions.