Getting From Bangkok to Nakhon Phanom by Bus
From Don Mueang to Mo Chit Bus Terminal: The bus to Nakhon Phanom, a city built along the mighty Mekong River which forms the border with Laos, is easy to access from Bangkok. The buses to this region (the northeast of Thailand) all leave from the Mo Chit 2 bus station in the north of Bangkok. We flew in to the Don Muang Airport (DMK), and got on the shuttle bus which goes to Mo Chit BTS station. The shuttle bus is the A1 bus and picks up just outside the arrivals section at a fixed point, just to the left of the tourist information desk. You pay the 30 baht on board. Internet searching had told us that you then had to take a taxi from the BTS station. However, the lady working on the shuttle bus told us that the BTS stop was Mo Chit 1 and that the shuttle kept going to Mo Chit 2, which was the big bus station. Good news! So we just stayed on the shuttle bus after the first stop and then 15 minutes later we were there. It is the last stop of the shuttle bus.
[Note: if I was coming from the center of Bangkok or the Suvarnabhumi airport (BKK) on a budget I would probably find my way to the Mo Chit BTS station and take the ten minute or less taxi to the bus depot.]
When we first got off the shuttle bus it didn't look like a bus station. But you pass the ice coffee vendors and go through a literal tunnel of market stalls and you'll eventually come out to find the big, 3-story bus station.
Where and How to Buy the Ticket: The counters for the northeastern region are all on the third floor (the elevator is nice). From the elevator, the companies that run to Nakhon Phanom are on the opposite wall to the left. The first one you come to (where a lady tries to make you think it is the only option) is the 999 company. But there appear to be several companies running buses to Nakhon Phanom: 999 and Lotus Phibun. The signs are all in Thai but if you walk along the counters further you will find Nakhon Phanom written in English. We chose the second company, Lotus Phibun. There were a variety of afternoon options, from 17:30 to 20:00. The earlier ones (17:30 and 18:00) had the cheapest options, at around 550 baht. The 427 baht price listed doesn't seem to exist for the nighttime trip. All the later ones were the upgraded “First Class” price, coming in at 615 to 1k baht. We booked with 12Go a day before, (the Lotus Phibun VIP/First Class bus for 1k baht at 18:30), and were told we'd arrive at around 6 in the morning. You show the booking ID and they confirm everything with you on their computer screen: departure time, date, arrival time, seat numbers. Then they confirm everything with you on the printed ticket as well, and tell you to arrive at your platform 30 minutes early.
Departure Platforms: The platforms for departure are down on the ground level. You walk out the doors opposite of where you came in originally, and there are many attendants to show your ticket to who will direct you to your correct platform. They are very clearly labeled. One confusing thing is that many buses leave from the same platform consecutively, so if your bus is a little late then the bus taking off at your departure time isn't actually yours. This can be hard to accept, but the guys working the doors seem to know what they are doing. We were twice told “not yet, not yet,” but then our bus finally came 15 minutes late. Just be sure to check with them each time, even though they say “we call you.” Big bags go below, and then we were quickly ready to go.
Station: The ground level of the bus station has a food court with a variety of options. All signs are in Thai but they have food in transparent cases so you can just point at what you want, and the prices should come out to 30 – 40 baht for a meal. There is also a 7-eleven next to the food court to buy whatever you need for your journey.
On the Bus: The Lotus Phibun bus was surprising in quality. It had an airplane theme; there was a “flight attendant” and the driver spoke to the passengers with a microphone before “take-off.” The seats were very spacious, and after we were underway the attendant gave us blankets, water, snacks, juice, and even a rice and chicken meal. The bus had two floors, with upper being less expensive option which hosted about 20-30 seats, while the more expensive lower floor is more quiet and comfortable. The seats were pre-reclined, which was fine at night though might be a pain in the daytime. The seats also have leg supports that you can raise up or down. There was no wifi or outlets. The air conditioning was strong, though blankets and pillows are provided. Also, the bathroom in the bus – small but relatively clean - allowed for this with no problems. The bus stopped once at a University an hour and half before the terminal to drop some students off, and then the attendant woke everybody up with a soymilk breakfast. At about 6:30 a.m. we arrived in Nakhon Phanom, so the 11 hour journey estimate was correct.
In Nakhon Phanom: The bus station in Nakhon Phanom is very small, with a 3-baht bathroom and a couple travel agency offices. There is also a setup at one end selling basic mini-market type items: cookies, instant soup and cold drinks, etc. There are, of course, a couple guys waiting to take you to a hotel or wherever you want to go, even that early in the morning. Just remember that nothing is very big here and shouldn't be more than a 40 baht ride away.
The city center isn't too big, so whatever the destination one of the guys waiting in a tuk tuk is happy to take you where you want to go. The tuk tuks here are actually used by local people, which was interesting to see. In the city, there are a couple of cool temples, like the Wat Okat. Of course, there is also the Mekong itself. The waterfront is an interesting walk, and just south of the Wat Okat temple there is a two story market where you can shop for a variety of not-overpriced items, as well as enjoy a meal on the second story balcony, taking in the view of the Mekong and mountainous Laos on the other side.