There is always a reason to travel somewhere, be it a personal or official
one. For me last month it was the 8th International Thai Studies Conference
in Nakhon Phanom that got me hitting the road again.
And the road it was after I discovered that both PB Air and THAI charge
2,300b for the short flight from Bangkok. Couple that with my fare south
to Bangkok and I opted quickly for the 12 hour VIP day bus journey from
Chiangmai to Udon Thani at 550b, followed by 4 hours on a local bus for
another 120b. See more, experience more!
The conference venue was the newly built Nakhon Phanom River View, a
luxurious hotel right in front of the mighty Mekong River. Overlooking
the watery international borderline between Thailand and Laos, every room
offers you the opportunity to admire a beautiful sunrise and sunset along
the rugged limestone mountains behind the Laotion town of Tha Kaek.
Considered the hub of the upper northeast, Nakhon Phanom boasts many
city attractions along a huge developed riverside promenade with delicate
temple compounds and floating restaurants. This riverside area is particularly
popular in the hot and dry season, when river water drops to reveal unspoiled
sand, stretching almost to the Laotion side of the Mekong. Laotion influences
are seen in the Province's dialect, customs, house architecture and cuisine.
JUST LIKE THE REAL THING?
Click for larger photograph
Almost! This metal bas relief of a Mitsubishi A6M2 Zero-Sen actually
represents an aircraft of the 64th Sentai, wich was stationed here at Chiangmai.
Framed in dark Thai timber, each piece is numbered and only 1000 pieces
will ever be produced. Made by Thai craftsmen with care.
Colourful jumbo taxi drivers, typical of northeast, took me first to
the Mae Nam Kong Grand View Hotel, where the office of North by North-East
Tours is situated. Nick Ascot, the Canadian general manager, is offering
pioneering adventure tours to all important out-of-city attractions and
launching boat trips into Southern Laos as far as the Khone waterfalls.
A highlight is a caving trip in the mountains of Tha Kaek and excursions
further afield to Central Vietnam.
Other sightseeing spots are the old Ho Chi Minh House in a Vietnamese
village near Nakhon Phanom, where Uncle Ho lived for seven years in the
1920's, the Phu Thai ethnic minority of Renu Nakhon and the lotus-shaped
pagoda of Wat Phra That Phanom, located 52 km south of the provincial capital.
The 57 m high pagoda is the most revered Buddhist shrine in the whole of
Isaan, the place where the Lord Buddha's breast bone was placed sometime
in the 6th century BC. In 1975, the tower which holds the relic collapsed
into rubble after several days of heavy rain, but was reconstructed under
supervision of the His Majesty the King.
Both tourist hotels at the riverside were full due to the conference,
so I settled down in the Windsor Hotel for 400b a night in the city centre,
near an old clock tower, handicraft shops, the harbour and immigration
to Laos. Thais can cross there easily into Tha Kaek, but foreigners need
a visa from the Lao Consulate in far away Khon Kaen or the Lao Embassy
in Bangkok. There is still no visa on arrival, as at the famous Friendship
Bridge in Nong Khai. If Laos really wants to attract more tourists, this
The conference went into full swing after a welcome dinner party, organised
by the Faculty of Humanities of Ramkhamhaeng Univerity, Bangkok. Of the
21 papers, highly recommended to read are Isaan Studies, partly chaired
by well-known American Professor Charles F. Keyes, and one by Australian
anthropologist Chris Lyttleton, who drew attention to drugs and the Golden
Triangle, highlighting the cultural and social crisis in contemporary Thailand.
I returned by local bus to Udon Thani and then for only 228baht by night
back to Chiangmai, arriving here at 5.00am, still wondering how quickly
Isaan is really shaping up.
Reinhard Hohler is a long-term resident of Chiangmai and a travel
consultant on the Greater Mekong Subregion. He can be reached at e-mail: