The public space along the Mekong in the town of Nakhon Phanom was quite bright. It was illuminated by the yellow light of street lamps and colourful decorative lights to celebrate Christmas and the New Year. The ambience highly contrasted with the other side of the river, a quiet scene of the reserved forest of the Phou Hin Poun National Protected Area in Khammouane Province in Laos.
Thanks to the natural beauty of the limestone mountains in the neighbouring country, the view was one of the reasons that drew me back to the northeastern province during the cold season.
“I wish I had a home along the river so that I can see the scenic landscape every day,” I told my barista while waiting for my espresso in her coffee shop located on the river bank. She smiled proudly.
The beauty of nature was shining especially when the sky turned orange and the yellow hue brushed the green limestone mountains during twilight. The cold breeze touched my cheeks. I saw a group of tourists about to board a double-deck boat. They wore life jackets on top of their sweaters. They would have dinner while the boat cruised the Mekong River.
“We call it a romantic dinner,” said a staff member of Mekong Paradise Cruise, which operates the boat. She recommended me to book the service because of the limited number of guests during the Covid-19 pandemic.
I did not take the cruise this time. I would like to keep it for my next return. For this visit, I explored attractions along the river. My first stop was Lan Phanom Naga, the spot where the seven-headed naga sculpture known as Phaya Sri Sattanakaraj was built overlooking the Mekong.
The statue is made of 9 tonnes of bronze and reaches a height of 16.2m. I joined locals to pay respect to the mythical serpent, which looked elegant in gold colour. Under the statue is an exhibition room showing records when the statue was created in 2016.
There are many choices of coffee shop located on the other side of the road opposite the Phaya Sri Sattanakaraj statue. Some of them are on the second floor of shophouses that would be a good spot for seeing the view of the river.
A short walk from the naga statue, I reached Wat Okat, an old temple. It houses one of the most revered Buddha images of the province. I went directly to its prayer hall to pay respect to the twin-seated Buddha images called Phra Tiu and Phra Thiam. Locals believe that Phra Tiu was built by the ruler of Sri Kottabun Kingdom in 695AD to bless the kingdom.
The duplicated version was sculptured after a big incident that burnt down the temple. But Phra Tiu survived the fire and the image was later found floating in the Mekong River. The ruler donated 30 baht of gold to coat the Buddha image and also placed the identical sculpture nearby. Every year on the Full Moon day of the sixth lunar month, the temple hosts a bathing ceremony for the two images. But the temple does not use the two ancient sculptures. The duplicated versions of Phra Tiu and Phra Thiam were crafted to be used for the ceremony. For this year, the ceremony will be organised on April 26.
Another stop along the Mekong River that is worth a visit is the old Governor’s Residence, which was renovated into a museum in 2006. The building was built in a colonial style and survived aerial bombing during the Indochina War.
Last but not least, I made a stop at St Anna Nong Saeng Catholic Church or St Anna Church for short. The church is quite peaceful and welcomes anyone to see its grand structure.
Before leaving the province, I visited Phra That Phanom, the old and handsome stupa in That Phanom district, about a one-hour drive from the city. People say you can’t get to the province without a visit to the temple to worship the Buddha relics. And if you make an effort to visit the temple seven times, you will become luk phrathat, meaning you will be blessed.
Although I liked all places that I visited, the place I liked the most was a long walkway along the bank of the Mekong River. In fact, when you are in the town, the best thing to do is to spend your time sitting next to the bank of the river, doing nothing but enjoying the scenery of the limestone mountains.
Phra That Phanom is located in That Phanom district, about a one-hour drive from the city. It is open daily from 5am to 9pm. For more information, visit watthat.com or its Facebook page at facebook.com/watthat or call 087-220-9497 and 094-543-5888.
The Museum of the Nakhon Phanom Provincial Governor’s Residence is open from Wednesday to Sunday from 9am to 5pm. It is closed on Monday and Tuesday, the long holidays during the New Year and Songkran. The admission is free.
The Ho Chi Minh Memorial, his temporary house and the Thai-Vietnamese Friendship Museum are open daily from 9am to 5pm. The admission is free. Call the Tourism Authority of Thailand’s Nakhon Phanom Office at 042-513-490/1 and the office of the Tourism and Sports Department of Nakhon Phanom at 042-516-6337 for more details.
A dinner cruise is offered by Mekong Paradise Cruise. The fee is 200 baht per person excluding food and drinks. The service starts at 5.30pm and ends around 7.30pm. For more details, visit facebook.com/MekongParadiseCruise or call 085-4962-456 and 083-9858-456.