Nakhon Phanom is the capital city of Nakhon Phanom Province in northeastern Thailand (Isaan). The city is on the Mekong River above Mukdahan Province, which is where I travelled from. There is a highway near the river that connects Mukdahan to Nakhon Phanom, though you rarely get a glimpse of the water along the way. I was visiting Nakhon Phanom to follow the future railway that is planned along the same route.
Like Mukdahan, Nakhon Phanom is connected to Laos by a bridge (the Third Thai–Lao Friendship Bridge), with Thakhek on the other side of the Mekong. Thakhek will also play an important role in railway development with a planned railway from Vientiane to Vietnam being studied to pass through Thakhek.
[The Nakhon Phanom boat station for Laos.]
The Isaan region is often talked about as being overlooked by foreign travellers, but I usually see some westerners walking about (either backpackers or school teachers), but here I didn’t see any. Even though it is an international frontier, Nakhon Phanom felt off the beaten track.
As with my visit to Mukdahan, I found a place to stay near the Mekong River. My trip was in February, which is in the dry season but not too hot yet. The sky was a dazzling blue, and being next to the Mekong felt so spacious. The mountains on the Laos side of the river add to the scenic view.
[Mekong River at Nakhon Phanom.]
Part of the spacious feeling was that the river walk is more open than in Mukdahan, where there was a market cluttering the view. I hope Mukdahan can renovate their riverfront walk.
Riverfront monuments range from the sublime, such as this Naga shrine…
…to the ridiculous, such as this chicken family.
It’s a long riverfront walk, and there is also a dedicated bike path on some sections.
Some of the most historic buildings are still standing here, such as the old courthouse.
The Former Governors Residence Museum.
Tourism Authority of Thailand is along here, though it’s not close to the most central part of the riverfront.
The best feature though is the riverside trees.
There is a night market along the river, so coming here before sunset is the real sweet spot in the day when it isn’t hot and not too crowded.
I found this amazing soup which I don’t know the name of, but it might be Laotian in origin.
The soup included a table to add extra greens. I went back again the next night and didn’t feel bad about it.
There is a Vietnamese community here, as there is in Khon Kaen and Mukdahan. Along the riverfront is the Vietnamese Clock Tower.
I went looking for Vietnamese food and I found a place serving banh cuon, which is one of my favourite breakfast meals in Vietnam.
The banh cuon maker is at the front of the restaurant, just like you would see in Vietnam. The pork filling was a slightly different to what I was used to, and I think I have developed a preference for Vietnam fish sauce over Thai fish sauce, but overall I was happy to find this place.
One of the main attractions of Nakhon Phanom is Ho Chi Minh’s house. The house is located 5km from the riverfront at Ban Na Chok village. My plan was to get a taxi there and walk back, though my taxi driver was confused about why I didn’t want a ride back.
The Ho Chi Minh Museum is next to the house, and it has become a popular pilgrimage destinations for Vietnamese travellers. There were some tour buses at the museum when I arrived.
The museum is next to the property where Ho Chi Minh stayed in the late 1920s. It’s referred to as Uncle Ho’s House, though he was going by the name of Nguyen Ai Quoc at that point, and he was too young to be an uncle. He would adopt the name Ho Chi Minh in 1942, and men usually start being referred to as “uncle” in their fifties (as I have personally found out in recent years).
The house is a replica of the house that stood here, and it includes some memorabilia of his life.
Nakhon Phanom seems far away from Vietnam to be a safe house, but Vietnam and Laos was part of French Indochina, so in reality the house was only a few kilometres from the frontline of occupied land.
Being in the garden gave me the feeling of wanting to hide from city life and responsibility, and I could see the appeal of this retreat. Who knows, maybe I will end up retiring in a garden farmhouse in Isaan when I am ready.
While sitting at a desk surrounded by greenery is nice, the real work was on the other side of the river. That old saying came to mind:
“A ship in the harbour is safe but that is not what a ship is for.”
This little hideaway was a temporary reprieve to gather thoughts and plot the revolution. From this bucolic setting, he would end up in a Hong Kong prison in 1931, WWII was still a decade away, and he would then become president of Vietnam in 1945.
I’m glad I took the walk back because it was such a beautiful day and I passed some more humble farmhouses that had me dreaming of Isaan life.
I passed through the Vietnamese Arch.
And then by the Vietnamese centetery.
Nakhon Phanom is not really on the way to anywhere, so normally I might think that it would be unlikely I would be back again. Even if I go to Laos overland, it would be to visit Savannakhet via Mukdahan. If the railway is built here, then I will be back for sure. Work has already begun on marking out the land for construction, so you never know, the next time I come to Nakhon Phanom might be by train.
[A map of the proposed Ban Phai – Mukdahan – Nakhon Phanom railway.]
From Nakhon Phanom I got a bus to Udon Thani. It wasn’t apparent if there was a direct bus at the bus station, but I found one that left at 6am, and it went the long way along the Mekong. It took me 6 hours to get there, and it had me wishing that the train was already finished.
[Nakhon Phanom bus station.]
Next up, Udon Thani.