Nakhon Phanom, or NKP, is one of the few un-westernized cities of Thailand. Stepping into this small city on the Mekong is like stepping back 30 years into Thailand’s past. You will find very little English, very little Western food, and a lot of Thai pride. The people of Nakhon Phanom love their city.
The city is historically significant in the Vietnam war. Its fame comes from a hidden U.S. military base just outside the city, which would operate bombing strikes in Vietnam.
The U.S. picked the position because the Mekong river served as natural protection against enemy insurgents attempting to attack from Laos. Little did the U.S. know that Ho Chi Minh himself was staying only a few kilometers away in the city of Nakhon Phanom.
Now the little town is famous for it’s walking street and downtown by the river. It regularly hosts different concerts and events drawing local and foreign tourists alike to celebrate along the beautiful Mekong river.
Nakhon Phanom is perfect for backpackers looking for an authentic Thai experience. There is little western food or culture, sometimes making communication difficult. But if you are willing to sacrifice some of your western sensibilities, then you can enjoy a wonderful trip filled with delicious Issan street food and views of Laos’ beautiful mountains over the Mekong river.
Where to stay in Nakhon Phanom
Your option in Nakhon Phanom range from very small, old, local spots to newer, expensive hotels. There are no hostels in Nakhon Phanom and guest houses are sparse.
Fortune River View Hotel is one of the nicest hotels in the city. It is about a 5-minute ride or 10-15 minute from the downtown by the river. It’s an excellent place to stay with a nice view of the river, restaurant on site, and a pool. It is the only hotel in the city with a pool and their restaurant even had a few Western dishes (i.e. spaghetti, steak, pork burger, french fries). It costs about 1700 baht a night, so it’s not exactly cheap. (See featured image at the top of the page)
Chic-Chidkong Hotel is slightly less expensive and its location is better. While it doesn’t have a pool or large facility, it is clean modern and right in the middle of town.
From your room, you can see the famous Naga statue of Nakhon Phanom and most of the attractions of the city are within a 2-minute walk. The place also has a coffee shop/cafe in its lobby. The rooms cost about 1000 baht a night.
NP Residence. Finally, the most reasonably priced place is the NP residence. Rooms go for about 500-600 baht a night, and you aren’t too far from the main sites. You are about 15-20 minute walk from the main spots on the river. If you rent a motorbike, then you can still get around to see everything.
Things to do in Nakhon Phanom
Ride Along the Bike Path
One of the best things to do in NKP is to ride a bike. You can rent one from your hotel or from a local bike shop. The city has a tremendous path running along the Mekong, and a bike is a great way to see the sites.
The most popular thing to do in Nakhon Phanom by far is to go to their Walking Street. It’s a night market they host every weekend. It is the place to be for locals and travelers alike. It’s one of the best places to get food and drinks along the Mekong. If you are looking for real Issan street food, then this is the place to be.
Ho Chi Minh House
The famous hiding place of Vietnam’s notorious leader. It’s a little bit outside of the town. You can pay a local Tuk Tuk to take you there for 60 baht or so. Some confusion surrounds the house itself.
The main tourist attraction is actually a replica built by the Thai government, but the actual house is a small, older building on the property. So you can still see it. The entrance is free, but donations are appreciated.
While Walking Street is the favorite thing to do, the Naga is the most famous attraction. Towering above the Mekong is the 7-headed snake said to live in the river.
The Naga is mythical semi-deity within Buddhism. One Naga is specifically known for shielding the Buddha on his journey to enlightenment.
Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge
The Thai-Lao Friendship bridge is about 15-20 minutes outside central Nakhon Phanom. You can either take Tuk-Tuk, motorbike, or even rent a bike from your hotel or local bike shop to get there. Unfortunately, unless you are crossing over to Laos, you can’t really get on the bridge to take a picture.
This temple is one of the most famous in all of Thailand. Devout Buddhists regularly make a pilgrimage to this site. It is said that the breast bone of the Buddha is held at this hallowed site.
The temple is about an hour outside the city. If you have a motorbike, then you can ride there, but another option is to catch a minibus from the bus station. It only costs 40 baht one way and will take about 45-60 minutes.
During the day, you can visit the famous indoor market at NKP town. This place is a classic indo-china market filled with all sorts of local products as well as cheap nonsense. If you really explore the place, you can find some great clothes for cheap.
If you’ve been in Thailand for any length of time, then you will understand the importance of 7-11. In Nakhon Phanom, they have a 3-story 7-11 fully equipped with a cafe and rooftop patio. It is a true shrine to the importance of 7-11 and their toastie goodness.
Winter Festival is a Christmas celebration held from December 23 to January 2. The entire river, bike path, and downtown are decked out with trees, lights, and hanging stars.
They set up a huge set of outdoor grills for vendors and erect several stages for live performances. The best part is the bike path extending over the river is turned into a tunnel of Christmas lights!
Issan is famous for its Indigo products. You can find them all over Thailand, but the North East is where the stuff is made. Chertram is a small family run shop selling quality clothes for a fraction of the cost you will pay in Bangkok or Chiang Mai.
Food and Drink
Street food at Walking Street
The best place to get authentic Issan street food is Walking Street. You can get pork kebabs, Som Tam (spicy papaya salad), deep-fried bananas, coconut pancakes, fresh salted fish, cooked bugs, deep fried springs rolls, and much, much more.
The food is great and cheap (roughly 30-40 baht to get enough for a meal). I definitely recommend the Som Tam because the northeast is famous for it, but be warned, it is spicy.
If street food isn’t your thing, but you still want to try Issan food, then I recommend the Ohio. It is just off Walking Street. It is definitely more expensive (100-300 baht a plate), but it’s a good way to try local Thai cuisine if you aren’t feeling as adventurous.
Le Landmark Cafe
This place is our favorite coffee shop in the city. It’s got great juice, coffee, and cake. It is situated in the middle of downtown, facing the Naga. It’s a great place to rest in some A/C while exploring the city.
While being driven through the city with a local, they pointed out this bar as the spot to go if you want to have a good time. And having lived in the city for a while, they weren’t joking.
Their outdoor patio overlooks the river and inside they have a live band most nights. It is situated in the middle of Walking Street, so if you are looking for the nightlife of NKP, then check this place out.
By far the best place to get good western food in Nakhon Phanom. It’s a little more expensive, but it’s the best place to get a steak in town. They also have great fries and an epic view of the river.
To find it, go to the West end of Walking Street (the side near the amphitheater, where the long section of concrete steps starts along the river.) Once you enter the Walking Street, where they block off traffic, look for a large sign that says “STEAK” in English. Turn left into the hallway and you will find a small patio overlooking the river. This is the spot to get some good steak.
*Tip: Most of these places are cash only. Very few places will take credit cards in Nakhon Phanom. So be sure to keep cash on hand.
By far the most common way to get around the North East is by bus. There is a central bus station in Nakhon Phanom, and you can get a ticket to NKP from other major NE cities, such as Udon Thani, Sakhon Nakhon, and Mukdahan. The price will be between 200-300 baht. You can also travel to Nakhon Phanom directly from Bangkok or Chiang Mai via VIP bus for about 700 baht.
You can also book a flight to Nakhon Phanom from Bangkok. There are usually two flights in the morning and two in the evening. The only airlines operating are Nok Air and Air Asia. An average flight costs about $15-$20 and takes an hour.
If you have a car, you can drive here from anywhere in the North East, or even from Bangkok (11 hours).
Where to go next?
Udon Thani is only a 3-hour bus ride. In Udon, you can see the famous Red Lotus Sea, which is one of the secret wonders of NE Thailand. The ticket costs 150 baht. It also puts you only an hour away from Vientiane in Laos.
Mukdahan: Only an hour South, Mukdahan is another fun city along the Mekong. From there you could cross over to see Savannakhet, but be sure to not miss the GIANT Buddha in the hills above Mukdahan. The ticket from NKP is only 80 baht.
Bangkok or Chiang Mai: If you are looking to get out of the North East, then you can catch a VIP bus to Chiang Mai or a flight to Bangkok. Both of these cities will offer you great access to tourist activities and Western comforts.