Thailand's North-East

THAT PHANOM

Global Mark : 13.39

Ratings by criteria : 

Charm Scenery Parks Culture Minor. Market Relax Fiesta 

Cost

AVER.
5 3 2 3 3 4 4 2 5 13.78

Ratings by backpackers :

Surveyed Liked  Comeback  Recommend  Range AVER.
1 100% (1) 100% (1) 100% (1) 13 13.00


Description :
  A sleepy little town by the Mekong with a famous Wat

Comments : Certainly worth a stop, is it not charming enough for a longer stay ?

What to do ? Relax along the Mekong / Get a glimpse at Lao greeneries / Spot a few Chinese & French houses / Walk around the Temple, with & without shoes / Learn about its history at the Art & Cultural Center behind it / See also all kind of gongs, Buddha, coins or weapons / Ride a bike out ! / Sip whisky by the river / Twice weekly, watch Lao people sell all kind of forest products / Once a year, just before the full moon festival, join the crowd and throw rice, flower, candy and... money !

What you may not like ? The barking dogs / The heat / The limited opening of the museum : Sat & Sund only from 8:30 to 16 / The Lao Market every Mond & Thursday morning only / Not being allowed to cross to Laos / Receiving a B10 coin in the eye...

How long ? One day to visit, a week to forget it all...


Where to stay ? Two good guesthouses near the river, equally recommendable : backpacker's atmosphere with billboards loaded with informations, literature, self-service drinks, etc.

  • Pom's House, Soi 2, 10mn from bus station / Dorm (2-4) 60, Dbl 80(1) or 120 (2) / Bike B40 per day or B20 half day / Go there for the big wooden rooms, the clean lobby with video TV and the central location / What you may not like : the approximatively English & the not spotless rooms
  • Niyana's GH, another 500m further North, next to a Temple / Dorm (2-3) 50, Sgl 70, Dbl 100(1) or 120 (2) / Mosquito net / Bike B25 / Internet B25 per hour (to be installed) / Small garden (to be arranged) / Go there for the tips, conversation & free map of the owner (an artist who decorated each room with her work), the relaxed atmosphere, the cheapest prices, the clean Dbl concrete rooms downstairs and all the backpackers' services (Thai Lesson, meditation, tour to National Park, Thai-Lao set dinner, etc.) / What you may not like : accessing the Sgl rooms via the dormitory, the size of the rooms & the remoteness.
  • Chai Von Hotel, just north of the arch, on the left side / Rooms w. shower 120 / Tiny rooms, bad noise isolation, dirty, grotty & no English nor atmosphere but the cheapest bathroom attached...
  • A bit South of Pom's House along the Mekong, a motel without English name nor English speaking staff has got clean rooms w. AC, TV & HW shower for B300. 


Backpacker's Tips : Ralf S, Australia (June 03)
 Niyana's GH moved in Pom's House, Rimkhong Road 110, Soi 2, tel(042)541450 / Sgl 70(3), Dbl 140(3) / Mosquito net / Bike B25 / no Internet planned, but there is a fast Internet cafe jus 300m west of the bus station for 20 Baht per hour / the museum is now open daily


Where to eat ? The night market south of the Temple is disappointingly small. Small & cheap (B20) restaurants can fortunately be found around the arch on Thanon Phanom Phanarak. Opposite Chai Von Hotel, a Wall's Ice Cream parlors offer huge balls for B10 and will add toppings for B5 more. 

Internet ? SPC Homenet, 200m south of the arch : B25 per hour with no minimum. A bit slow but acceptable. Niyana's GH is also planning to set up a service. 


Biking the surroundings ? After walking the town, ride out ! There are basically two circuits :
- South along the Mekong toward some rapids (16km) and the original Song Kon Church (another 3 km)
- North along the Mekong (road on construction, about 7km) then west to Renu Nakhon (7km from the main highway) and its handicraft market (best on Saturday)


Touring Wat Phra That Phanom ? The original Temple was built in the 6th century BC to host Buddha's breast-bone relic. There was then several modifications and restorations to reach its actual shape and height (57 meters). It is similar to Pha That Luang in Vientiane but much nicer and free to visit. A few structures around it are also worth a look, in particular the Art & Cultural Center, unfortunately open on Sat & Sund only from 8:30 to 16. The Temple itself is open daily from 6 to 17:30 but its beauty is visible at any time of the day or night, thanks to its superb illuminations. During the full moon Festival in March or April, the Wat attracts thousands of peoples from all over Thailand & Laos. 

Backpacker's Tips : Tam Chiwai, Hong Kong (Sept 00)
 Every Mon & Thu, A Lao market will be held in front of the pier. Because the lao people will cross over to sell their product that's how the name come by. Get a bicycle and head out of town, to the rapids Kaeng Kaa Bao about 10km from town. Popular with Thai tourist, you can have your lunch by the river where there are many wooden huts over looking the rapids. 3km further on is the western styled church Wat Songkhon, which memorizes 7 mortals who sacrificed their life.


Leaving That Phanom ?
Two ways to reach Nong Khai :
- via Nakhon Phanom : a longer but more scenic road along the Mekong. Possible to break the journey at A Hong Village (GH managed by a Dutch), 22km after Beung Kan. See the locality for more details. This is the circuit I would recommend.
- via Sakhon Nakhon (another sacred Lao-style Stupa plus a peaceful Royal Park) & Udon Thani, with a possible break at the village of Ban Chiang (10km off the road, small museum open daily except Mond & Tues and lovely pottery, GH managed by an Australian)


Bus Schedules : 
 

To Price Class Duration Time Nb Freq.
Nakhon Phanom 18 fan 1 6:30 to 17 a lot 30mn
Udon Thani 71/119 fan/ac 5/4 11:30,12:30,13:30/10:45,14:45 3/2 na
Sakhon Nakhon ? fan 2 7 to 16 a few hour
Mukdahan 17 fan 1 7 to 16 a lot 30-60mn
Ubon 66/119 fan/ac 4/3 7 to 14/7:45 to 16 a few 1-2 hrs
Bangkok 200/284/356 fan/ac2/ac1 11 '16/8,17/17:30 1/2/2 na

Note : To Nakhon Phanom, also songthaew every 10mn for B15

The trip to Nakhon Phanom : SSSS / R / B18 / 1 hour / Fan bus
Several companies are sharing the route toward Nakhon Phanom so it is best not to go to the bus station but to the main road in front of the Wat. Doing that, I caught a No555 bus, freshly arrived from Mukdahan. 
The ride was faster than expected as it took just over one hour to reach the nice Mekong bank of Nakhon Phanom : river on the right, temples on the left. The bus station was however 15mn further, well inside this large modern city. 

See also the trip from Mukdahan