Last Updated on November 15, 2018 at 9:21 am by
There’s a whole world of wonder in Thailand, the thing is, most people get trapped following the same well-trodden route. That’s not necessarily a bad thing mind you, and if you are on a tight schedule, who wouldn’t want to see a “Best Of” itinerary replete with highlights of The Land of Smiles. Sometimes though, it’s the less explored nooks and crannies of this country that make for more memorable experiences.
If you’ve been to any number of the more popular spots in Thailand, you know what to expect: crowded temples, crowded beaches, and endless touts — those vendors who hound you to take their tours, stay at their hotels, or buy their wares. If you’ve had it up to your eyeballs with all that, may I present to you for your consideration the lovely city of Nakhon Phanom, where you’ll have zero crowds, and equally as important — zero touts.
Plus, Nakhon Phanom is an absolute scream.
There are plenty of activities to do if you know where to look, and if you’ve found here reading this, well then I’d say you’re off to a smashing start. Here are a few of the Best Things to Do in Nakhon Phanom, Thailand:
Visit Wat Phra That Phanom Temple
This is Thailand, so there are bound to be temples. Located in nearby That Phanom, this temple is special for a number of reasons, first and foremost because it is alleged to contain the breastbone of Buddha. It’s also a favourite pilgrimage spot for those born in the Year of the Monkey, and — get this — there are literally THOUSANDS OF PRICELESS BUDDHA STATUES INSIDE!! Golden Buddhas, wooden Buddhas, jade Buddhas, gold-leaf clad Buddhas — this temple has them all, in every shape, pose, posture, and size imaginable.
The kicker is, you can’t get in to see them. Only on special occasions will the monks who run the place allow special guests to climb the somewhat treacherous 5-story ladder inside the structure to get a look, and even then, only men are allowed. (Sorry ladies, the rules are a bit out of the Dark Ages — something to do with menstrual cycles or some nonsense like that.) But hey, I don’t make the rules, I just report on ‘em.
Still, it’s a beautiful temple all the same, and well worth the trek as part of a day trip from Nakhon Phanom.
Get your Instagram-worthy photo taken along the Mekong River
Thais love postcard-worthy spots, and the Mekong River offers plenty. Look for this giant postcard/photo frame near the Friendship Bridge to get a great photo opp for you and your travel companions.
Visit the 7-Headed Naga
Arguably the crown jewel of Nakhon Phanom, the magnificently ornate 7-Headed Naga acts as the epicentre of all activity in the town. It’s a stellar place to meet up with fellow travellers, and most tour groups will depart and end their trips there. The coffee shop across the street also makes a mean iced latte and a devil’s food cake that should come with an addiction warning. It’s that good.
Try some weird food
If extreme cuisine occasionally tickles (oryour palate, then Nakhon Phanom delivers it in spades. From crickets to slugs to well I’m not sure what other kinds of critters are on display at that stall there, but you’ll be spoiled for choice when it comes to Fear Factor quality cuisine. And since this isn’t Khao San Road in Bangkok, you’ll be paying the local’s price — not the inflated tourist price you’ll pay at most places throughout Thailand.
Try Some Not-so-weird (AKA Good) Food
If freaky food ain’t your forté, then there’s plenty of “normal” eats to keep your hunger at bay. Have you heard of Thai food? Yeah, there’s lots of that stuff here. In fact, it’s everywhere. The Germans and the Brits have yet to invade this place with their schnitzel and bangers and mash, so local cuisine is the clear winner still.
Just pick any restaurant or street stall, and you’ll be fine. (Except for the aforementioned critter cuisine ones that is, steer clear of those unless you’re cultivating a devil-may-care type persona.)
Immerse Yourself Traditional Dance, Knife Making, or Rice Planting
Any number of hotels or tour companies in Nakhon Phanom can arrange a day trip for you to visit a nearby village to see traditional dancing (see above).
You can also try your hand at knife making…
…silk-worm farming, and even planting rice at a working rice farm — as we did below at KHAO-KHUN-MAE.
Visit the Sun Tree Art & Culture Organic Market
Situated along the Mekong River a prime piece of real estate just a short stroll up from the 7-Headed Naga, the brand-spanking new Sun Tree Art & Culture Market is still finding its legs, but it’s going to be a culture-lover’s paradise when things get into full swing. Local artisans can sell their wares without having to pay a stall fee, and everyone from farmers to weavers to foodies give demonstrations on their craft. These aren’t just plain demos though, this is a roll-up-your-sleeves and actually learn how to do it yourself type dealio. You’ve never known
Meander over to the Friendship Bridge
“No man is a failure who has friends.” Says the guy who posts a photo of himself, alone, by a bridge suitable for jumping.
Kidding, that’s actually a quote from It’s a Wonderful Life (BEST Christmas movie EVER!) The Third Thailand-Laos Friendship Bridge blends as well as a bridge can, and offers some pretty stellar vistas of the mountainous landscape across the Mighty Mekong. If you have a visa for Laos, you are allowed to cross the bridge for the best views. if you don’t, you’ll still fall in love with the view of the bridge faster than you can say, “Zuzu’s Petals.”
Bike Ride along the Mekong River
Image courtesy of Shayan Naveed from Dose of Life
Nakhon Phanom was named the happiest place in Thailand a few years back, and judging by how fit the folks are here, I can see why. There are miles of bike paths along the Mekong River, as well as other areas throughout the city. You can usually rent a bicycle from your hotel, or ask at the front desk. It’s not hard to find bike rentals here. There are also heaps of locals jogging their way to a better version of themselves, as well as exercising at the many outdoor gym stations scattered throughout the town. Nakhon Phanom is fit AF.
Mekong River Boat Ride
You don’t need to be Einstein to figure out you really should take a jaunt on the river here — I mean, look at that view! Our group took a cruise along the Mekong River with one of the local boat tour operators. I was impressed by how close we got to the Laos side of the Mekong — we even waved at some friendly Laotians out for a speed walking session, and you know what — they even waved back. Must have something to do with that Friendship Bridge. It’s a great way to pass an hour or two. PRO TIP: Try to schedule your boat tour for sunset — you’ll get a spectacular view of both sides of the Mekong and the perfect lighting to capture those low-hanging clouds hugging the Lao hills.
Take a Stroll Down Walking Street
There’s a sense of exploration about Nakhon Phanom. You find the way as you go. As I mentioned, there are no endless touts hollering at you. There are no crowds of sun-kissed tourists jockeying for selfie positions in front of monuments and temples. There’s no money grab or heavy sales pitch here. Nakhon Phanom grows on you like a comfortable sweater. If spots like Krabi and Pattaya are “in-your-face” Thailand, this is Thailand behind-the-scenes. It’s like you’ve got the place to yourself most days. If you’re a seasoned traveller, and somewhere along the road your travels have taken you from joyous to jaded, then a place like Nakhon Phanom truly is a gift — it ignites that travel spark again.
It’s as pleasant as pleasant can get. And if you’re looking for an alternative to the mass tourism marring some locales in Thailand, than Nakhon Phanom should be on your radar — it really is a sweet spot in a sometimes tangy Thailand.
Have you ever been to Nakhon Phanom?
NOTE: I was a guest of TEATA — the Thailand Ecotourism and Adventure Travel Association in association with the Mekong Tourism Forum during my time in Nakhon Phanom. The Mekong Tourism Forum aims to promote tourism in countries along the Mekong River (Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, China, and Myanmar) All views are my own.