Darkest Isan (where decent thais fear to tread), Part Eight
This sleepy little provincial town was once part of the Lan Xang Kingdom of Lao and later a picturesque retreat for French colonists. A mix of the old and new, or perhaps I should say old and new money as the affluent architecture of the past is joined by affluent architecture of the present.
The immaculate modern foreshore gives uninterrupted kilometre after kilometre of the most stunning views of the Mekong I’ve seen on either side of the river. The city of mountains is actually quite mountainless, sue the TAT not me, but has stunning views of the great limestone mountain range in Lao.
Nakhon Phanom retains much it’s French/Lao/Old Thai/Vietnamese culture today and barely feels like you are in Thailand, let alone Isan. A foreign tourist in this town is about as rare as cheap accommodation, the locals are both friendly and often tongued tied when they meet you. They may also be made of sterner stuff than other Thai as every second restaurant in town seems to be a steak house, no wussy vegetables or rice for them, just red meat.
There is surprisingly much to do in this town which doesn’t seem to have yet grasped the notion of entrance fees. When you have finally prised yourself away from the Mekong view and the stunning panorama of Lao mountains, there’s the former governor’s teak mansion, completely deserted and open to anyone who wanders in. The prison museum and park on the former site now has been turned into a waxworks warning all naughty Thais to reform. The TAT office is worth a visit, just to get to go inside the huge French colonial mansion that houses it, they were completely stunned to have a tourist and they don’t have a word of English but can still give you a great map of the town and province.
The centre of major fighting during the Vietnam War fortunately the stunning French colonial and traditional Thai architecture has survived and the highlight of any trip must be cycling north and losing yourself in the maze of side streets off the Mekong bank road where you are in a different world and era of French mansions, traditional Thai wooden buildings, modern villas all blending seamlessly. The town has quite miraculously avoided the Thai generic ugly concrete bloc syndrome, only around the major roads in the south does it succumb to this. My favourite place on my whole trip to Isan.