MEKONG RIVER THAILAND

MEKONG RIVER THAILAND

MEKONG RIVER is one of the world's great rivers. Originating in Tibet, not far from the source of the Yangtze River, it tumbles down through the Himalayas and southern China into Southeast Asia and flows along the borders of Laos, Burma and Thailand through the heart of the Golden Triangle into Cambodia, where it flows in one direction in the wet season and the opposite direction in the dry season. It finally empties into the South China Sea at the Mekong Delta in Vietnam. Its source in Tibet as not discovered until 1994.

The Mekong River goes by many names. It is known as Lancang Jiang (Turbulent River) in China,the Mae Nam Khing in Thailand, Myanmar and Laos, Tonle Than (Great Waters) in Cambodia and Cuu Long (Nine Dragons) in Vietnam. It is also known as River of Stone, Dragon Running River, Mother River Khong, and Big Water.

The Mekong is the longest river in Southeast Asia, the 12th longest in the world and the 10th largest in terms of volume. With about half of its length in China, it flows for 4,880 kilometers (2,600 miles) and provides food and water for 60 million people and disgorges 475 billion cubic meters of water each year into the South China Sea.

The Mekong basin cover an area the size of France and Germany. More than 80 percent of the people that live in the Mekong River basis in rely on the river for agriculture or fishing. More than 41 percent of the land in the heavily populated Lower Mekong basin is used for agriculture, which accounts for 90 percent of all water use.

The Mekong River is one of the wildest rivers in he world and is surprisingly undeveloped for such a large river. There are no large cities or industrial zones along its banks. It is not dammed. Until 1994 there were note even bridges across it. For the most part the it is brown and muddy and still wild and free. The Upper Mekong features turbulent rapids, steep gorges and long section with no people. Often the only way to cross it is on cables strung between cliffs. The Lower Mekong River is calmer and more placid and incredibly wide in some places.

During spring melt and the monsoon season from May too October, the Mekong became a raging torrent, sometimes producing a flood wave that is 46 feet high. Annual floods often kill dozens of people. Floods in Cambodia and Vietnam in 2000, killed 500 people and wiped out herds, crops and orchards. At the end of the dry season in March, April and May the river level can drop as much as 40 feet in some places, exposing large rocks and sand bars, and making navigation even in small boats difficult.

The Mekong flows through some poorest countries and regions in the world. For many the countries that border it development of the river is vital to the development of the country. China wants to develop the river to help the impoverished Yunnan Province.

The Mekong River Commission (MBC) is an organization with representatives from Cambodia, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam committed to water utilization, basin development and environmental protection. Myanmar and China are not members just observers.

A good book on the river is Mekong by Edward AA. Gargan (Knopf, 2002). Written by a former correspondent for The Times,

Route of the Mekong River in Southeast Asia: The Mekong River flows through a narrow, 200-kilometer-long gorge in southern China and along the Myanmar-Laos. From the tripoint of China, Burma (Myanmar) and Laos the river flows southwest and forms the border of Burma and Laos for about 100 kilometres (62 miles) until it arrives at the tripoint of Burma, Laos, and Thailand. This is also the point of confluence between the Ruak River (which follows the Thai-Burma border) and the Mekong. The area of this tripoint is sometimes termed the Golden Triangle, although the term also refers to the much larger area of those three countries that is notorious as a drug producing region.

As one travels south on the Mekong its become easier to navigate and higher numbers of greater varieties of boats appear. From the Golden Triangle tripoint, the Mekong turns southeast to briefly form the border of Laos with Thailand. It then turns east into the interior of Laos, flowing first east and then south for some 400 kilometres (250 mi) before meeting the border with Thailand again. Once more, it defines the Laos-Thailand border for some 850 kilometres (530 mi) as it flows first east, passing in front of the capital of Laos, Vientiane, then turns south. A second time, the river leaves the border and flows east into Laos soon passing the city of Pakse. Thereafter, it turns and runs more or less directly south, crossing into Cambodia. At Khone Falls the river cascardes over rocks and separates into several branches, divided by forested islands, before it enters Cambodia.

History of the Mekong: It is believed that Marco Polo may have set eyes on the Mekong River in the 13th century. The Portuguese Dominican missionaries Father Gaspar da Cruz was the first European to describe traveling on the Mekong River. He spent 1555 to 1557 in Cambodia. The Dutch explorer Gerrot van Wuystoof wrote about it in 1641

The French had ideas of using the Mekong to navigate through Southeast Asia into China but these dreams were dashed when an expedition led by Francis Garnier in the 1860s discovered a major obstacle, Khone Falls, in southern Laos. He suggested blasting a canal next to the canal but a short railroad was built instead (see Khone Falls, Laos) but the effort led to only minimal increases of commerce on the river.

A treaty signed in 1893 by France and Siam designated it as the border between Thailand and Laos. In World War II, a number of battles were fought in the proximity of the Mekong in China. During the Vietnam War, the river Mekong Delta in particular was the site of some bloody guerilla warfare.

Wildlife and Fishing on the Mekong River: The Mekong River is home of rare Irrawaddy river dolphins and rare pla buk, the world's largest freshwater fish, the Mekong Giant Catfish. By one count only around 100 river dolphins are eft and they are mostly in northern Cambodia. Dolphins.

Fish caught in the river are an important source of protein for an estimated 65 million people. Many of these fish rely on the natural annual flood cycle of the river to reproduce. In Laos, Thailand , Cambodia and Vietnam, fishermen catch about 1.3 million tons of fish a year, four times the yearly catch in the North Sea. One of the riche fish ground is the Siphandone, or Four Thousand Islands, area between Laos and Cambodia.

Fish stocks have been reduced by overfishing, habitat destruction and development. Large fishing operations—some fo them legal, some of them not—employ large nets and traps that can catch hundreds of thousands of fish ay a time. Some people catch fish with bed-sheet-size butterfly nets that they dip into rice paddies flooded by the river.

Mekong Giant Catfish : According to the Guinness Book of Records, the largest specimen freshwater fish ever caught was a pla buk netted in the River Ba Mee Noi, a tributary of the Mekong. The monster was reportedly 9 feet and 10¼ inches long and weighed 533½ pounds. There have also been reports of fish larger than 650 pounds.

The paa beuk takes between six years and 12 years to reach full size,

The Mekong Giant Catfish, also known as the pla buk, is seriously endangered, a victim primarily of overfishing, It is so rare now that when ever one is caught by a fishermen it is big news. The remaining members of the fish species are found mostly in Cambodia and Laos. One of its primary breeding areas, a stretch of reefs near Chuang Khong in Thailand, is currently dredged for navigation purposes.

In 1969, Thai fishermen near the Burmese border caught 69 giant catfish, In 1998 they caught one. In Thailand it has been several years since on has been caught. In Cambodia about five fish are a year. When one is caught in Cambodia conservationist often rush to the scene and buy it from the fishermen, then weigh and tag the fish and release it. The money the fishermen is often equal to a decades worth of pay.

The best place to catch paa beul is a stretch of the Mekong between northen Thailand and Laos near the Huay Xai, The fish is caught in April and May when river levels are low ad the fish migrates to Lake Tali in Yunnan Province in China to spawn. Local fishermen sacrifice a chicken and spill its blood into the river as an offer to the river spirit who protect the catfish. The fish are caught with special nets strong enough to hold them

The paa beuk is regarded as a delicacy in Thailand. The flesh is meet and is said to have a taste similar tuna and swordfish A single fish can fetch $5,000 at a market in Bangkok and ate sought after by gastronomes. Fishermen can only tale 50 or 60 a year. Efforts to breed and restock the river have e with some success.

As part of the breeding process when a male or female is caught it is kept in captivity until a fish of the opposite sex is caught The eggs are removed by massaging the female and mixed with sperm milk from a male. More than million young catfish have been produced this way and released into the Mekong.

TRANSPORTATION AND DEVELOPMENT ON THE MEKONG RIVER

Transportation on the Mekong River: The Mekong River and its tributaries provide crucial transportation links in Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. The runs for 786 kilometers between Simao in the Yunnan province of China and Luang Prabang in Laos.

Passage between Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand is blocked by Khone Falls in Laos, one of the world’s most powerful cataracts. The series of rapids and falls drops 70 feet. The river is eight miles wide at this spot.

The idea of using the Mekong River as the hub of a major transportation hub became a possibility in the 1990s when the peace was finally achieved in Cambodia and the insurgency in Laos became more manageable.

In the early 1990s there were no bridges over the Mekong River. Now there are several, in Vietnam and between Laos and Thailand.

Myanmar, Thailand, China and Laos has signed an agreement to open a navigation route along the upper reaches of the Mekong River. Under the agreement the four countries allowed commercial navigation across each other’s borders. There are plans to make an access route from southern China to the Indian Ocean via the Mekong River.

China is currently involved in dredging upper parts of the river to make them navigable. In the dry season, 150-tons can not navigate these sections. Dredging will remedy this. Dredging between Vientiane and Simao in Yunnan Province in China will make section of the river capable of handing 2,000 ton ships throughout the year except for a couple weeks in the dry season when water levels are exceptionally low. Both the Chinese and Laotian governments support the project as a means of promoting economic growth through increased trade.

Many locals oppose the dredging operations, They complain large ship creates wakes and waves that can sink smaller boast and worry that large Chinese boats will take away cargo business from smaller local boats and flood the market with cheap Chinese goods and produce. Environmentalist say the dredging damagesriver banks, destroys fish stocks and threatens endangered animals. The dredging operations involves using explosive to blast apart shallow rocks, reefs and shoals and widen channels.

Development of the Mekong River is still minimal but large amounts of water that flow into it are being siphoned off by large dams, small dams, canals and irrigation projects along it tributaries. The Mekong and its tributaries have the hydroelectric potential of all the oil in Indonesia. A large amounts of development has already by done. More than 50 dams built by the Asian Development Bank have built on the Mekong in recent decades. There are plans for many more.

China is currently involved in building large dams on the Mekong to provide electricity, control floods and provide water for irrigation. Some are being built. More than a dozen are in the planning stages. The $4 billion Xiaowan Dam is currently being built. When it is finished it will be the world’s tallest dam, over 300 meters (100 stories) high and create a reservoir 169 kilometers long. Only the Three Gorges dam will be larger.

Dams hat have already been built include the $600 million, 30-story-high Dachaishan Dam in Dachaishan Gorge, which created a 88-kilometer-long reservoir that filled up in just five days; the 35-story-high Manwan Dam, 100 kilometers south of Dali in Yunnan, with 40 foot tunnels through the mountains and a 1500 megawatt electricity generating capacity; and the Jinghong Dam.

The dams have displaced thousands of people, many of them ethnic minorities, and disrupted normal water patterns and fishing migration routes and reduced the flow of soil-enriching sediment..The Cambodian government has expressed its concern that development projects on the Mekong River could caused the Tonle Sap lake to dry up. The Tonle Sap is Southeast Asia’s largest lake and an important source of fish for Cambodians.

Its not just China that is building dams. A World Bank report was very critical of the Pak Moon dam Thailand, which was build near the Noon River; confluence with the Mekong and blocked important fish migration routes. Of the 265 species found on the Noon River before the dam was built only 96 remain. And fish catches dropped 80 percent. The $260 million Theun-Hinboun dam in the mountains of the central highlands of Laos supplies two thirds of that country’s electricity but has turned a once vibrant river into a stagnant lake and dramatically cut fish catches.

Supporters of the dam say the dams will help not hurt the people and wild life that use the river. They say the dams will increase the flow of water in dry season and reduce it I the wet season, reducing the chance of flooding and make ore water available for irrigation. Experts have also pointed out that Lower Mekong gets more water from the highlands of Laos and Vietnam than it does from China, where the dams are located.

One study found that local dams used to divert water for irrigation pose a much greater threat than the large dams. There are 20,000 local dams on the river, most them in Thailand, and they have been linked to fluctuating river levels. Others who studied the river have also said that massive numbers of people who live on the river har, the river through land degradations and water pollution, logging, erosion. . There also worried about sedimentation and salinization in the reservoir. The slay cold contaminate rice fields. sedimentation could make the dams unusable after a few decades.

The Mekong fell to record low in the dry season of 2004. River boats were stranded. In Cambodia the fish catch fell 50 percent after it declined 15 percent the previous year. Some blamed the problem on dam construction and the release of water to allow Chinese ships to navigate the river. Drought and overfishing also played a role.

NONG KHAI

NONG KHAI (across the Mekong River from Vientiane in Laos) stretches along the Mekong river. The 1,190-meter Friendship Bridge, located here, opened in 1994, connects Thailand and Laos. The history of modern Nong Khai dates back over 200 years. Initially however, this riverside area was spotted with small towns and traces of ancient places have been found in temples along the Mekong River. During the reign of King Rama III of the Rattanakosin era, Chao Anuwong, the ruler of Vientiane, staged a rebellion. King Rama III appointed Chao Phraya Ratchathewi to lead an army to attack Vientiane. The army won with the support of forces led by Thao Suwothanma (Bunma), ruler of Yasothon, and Phraya Chiangsa. The king consequently promoted Thao Suwo to be ruler of a large town to be established on the right bank of the Mekong River. The location of Ban Phai was chosen for the town called Nong Khai, which was named after a large pond that lies just to its west.

Long and narrow Nong Khai province contains the longest stretch of the Mekong River in Thailand (320 kilometers). At its widest point the province is only 50 kilometers wide. Controlled at different times by Laos, the area is suitable for agriculture and fishing. It is also a major tourist destination and the major launching point for journeys into Laos or exploring greater Isan (northeastern Thailand). Nong Khai features temples, traditional culture, a beautiful countryside, and a rural folk lifestyle, the most lively event of which centers on the Bung Fi Phaya Nak, the naga fireballs: an annual event whereby mysterious glowing balls of light rise up out of the river, believed to be sent by the naga king in honor of the lord Buddha. The naga fireball phenomenon occurs most often on Wan Awk Pansa, the full moon night of the 11th month of the lunar year that signifies the end of Buddhist rain retreat, usually in October. Mud Mee, a special style of silk that is popular with the Thai royal family, is produced in Nong Khai.

Tourist Office and Website: 16/5 Mu kilometers ontri Road , Tambon Makkheng, Amphoe Mueang, Udon Thani 41000, tel. 0 4232 5406-7, 0 4232 5408. Accommodation: As a popular tourist destination, Nong Khai has a variety of accommodation options, many of which are alongside the Mekong River and include funky, affordable, and friendly guesthouses.

Getting Around in Nong Khai: As in most rural Thai provinces there are typically songtaews that follow established routes around the provincial capital and between towns within the province. Songtaews, motorbike taxis, and a form of tuk tuk, called a “skylab” are usually available for private charter as well. Visitors can also use car rental services operated by many tour companies in town.

Sala Keoku (three kilometers from Nong Khai) is vast garden of concrete sculptures made by a Laotian artist and mystic named Boun Leua Sourirat in the late 1970s in honor of his spiritual teacher, a hermit named Keoku. Leua met Keoko after falling into a hole, where Keouku was mediating, while hiking in the mountains. He stayed for several years with the hermit, who told him about Buddha, the underworld and Hindu gods and goddesses also honored by Buddhists.

The dominate sculpture in the park is an eight-story seated Buddha. "Near the tunnel entrance," wrote author Roger Warner in Smithsonian magazine, "stood figure of souls waiting to be born. Conception was the beginning of suffering, the resumption of the cycle. From this point on within the circular courtyard, the theme was laid out explicitly with concrete arrows pointing the direction for the visitor to follow.

"There were statues of a baby, and of a boy and girl walking together in Western clothing, and farther in, of a husband and wife. Along the courtyard wall, between statues of frowning gods, were representations of a military officer, a tattooed soldier with an M-16 rifle (no doubt inspired by the war in Laos), a businesswoman, a king, lovers, skeletons embracing to show that passion isn't lasting, and so forth. It was a panorama of life's possibilities. The end, of course, was the same as the beginning: rebirth.

"My favorite sculpture group at Sala Keoku [was] an elephant striding along with a pack of dogs yipping at its feet. the dogs were shown in a variety of poses—reading books, driving convertibles, playing cards, drinking liquor, and barking, barking, barking. Quite clearly they were meant to be critics. The elephant paid no attention to them and regally continued on its way.”

Presently, Sala Keoku is under the care of the Nong Khai Buddhist Association. It is open everyday from 7.00am to 5:00pm. Contact: 10/5 Mu 5 Ban Samakki, Nong Khai - Phon Phisai Road, Tambon Hat Kham, Amphoe Mueang, Nong Khai. Sala Keoku is located three kilometers from the town of Nong Khai on the right side of the route to Phon Phisai. Admission is 10 Baht per person.

FIRST FRIENDSHIP BRIDGE BETWEEN THAILAND AND LAOS

The First Friendship (Mittaphan) bridge across the Mekong River connects the Thai city of Nong Khai with the Lao port of Tha Nalaeng. Built mostly with Australia money, it opened in 1994 and is 1,174 meters long and 19 kilometers southeast of Vientiane, the capital and main city in Laos. The bridge has two 3.5 meters (11 feet 6 in) wide road lanes, two 1.5 meters (4 feet 11 in) wide footpaths and a single 1,000 mm gauge railway line in the middle, straddling the narrow central reservation.

Opened on April 8, 1994, it was the first bridge across the lower Mekong, and the second on the full course of the Mekong. The cost was about $30 million, funded by the Australian government as development aid for Laos. The bridge was built by Australian companies as a demonstration of their ability to complete major infrastructural projects in Southeast Asia. The official name of the bridge was changed by the addition of "First" after the Second Thai–Lao Friendship Bridge further south at Savannakhet opened in January 2007. [Source: Wikipedia]

Traffic on the bridge drives on the left, as in Thailand, while traffic in Laos drives on the right. The changeover at the Lao end, just before the border post, is controlled by traffic lights. A shuttle bus service operates across the bridge, between the Lao and Thai border posts. The bridge is part of the AH12 Asian Highway Network. A metre-gauge rail track from Nong Khai station runs along the centre of the bridge. Road traffic is stopped when a train is crossing.

On March 20, 2004, an agreement between the Thai and Lao governments was signed to extend the railway to Thanaleng Railway Station in Laos, about 3.5 kilometers (2.2 miles) from the bridge. This will be the first railway link to Laos (but not the first railway, as a short portage line once existed). The Thai government agreed to finance the line through a combination of grant and loan. Construction formally began on January 19, 2007. Test trains began running on July 4, 2008. Formal inauguration occurred on March 5, 2009.

On February 22, 2006, approval of funding for the rail line from Thanaleng Railway Station to Vientiane, about 9 kilometer, was announced by the French Development Agency. In November 2010 plans to extend the service from Thanaleng to Vientiane were abandoned. A posited high-speed rail link from China to Thailand through Laos would make the extension redundant. It would also necessitate the construction of a new bridge near to the current First Friendship Bridge. In 2011, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's revised plan prioritises domestic rail expansion over the ambitious regional connectivity plan spearheaded by China. Since February 2010 the Eastern and Oriental Express crosses the Mekong via the bridge into Laos.

GETTING NONG KHAI AND LAOS

Getting to Nong Khai: As a major northern hub for travel around northeastern Thailand and neighboring Laos, Nong Khai can be reached via private car, bus, train, or airplane. There are numerous ways of getting across the border to and from Laos, including bus and train. By Car: From Bangkok, drive along Highway No.1(Phahonyothin Road), past Saraburi and switch to Highway No.2 (Mittraphap Road) passing through Nakhon Ratchasima, Khon Kaen, and Udon Thani to Nong Khai, a total distance of 615 kilometers and a 9-10 hour drive.

By Train: The State Railway of Thailand has daily train service from Bangkok to Nong Khai that takes around 10 ½ hours. For further information, contact the travel service unit, Tel. 1690, 0 2220 4334, 0 2220 4444, or visit www.railway.co.th. You can also now travel between Bangkok and Vientiane by train, as a new rail link opened in March 2009 that crosses the Friendship Bridge connecting Nong Khai to a new international rail terminal at Tha Naleng, about 13 kilometers from central Vientiane.

By Bus: The Transport Company Limited has a regular service of ordinary and air-conditioned buses from Bangkok’s Northern Bus Terminal (Mo Chit 2/Chatuchak) to Nong Khai every day. For further information, contact the Mo Chit 2 Bus Terminal, Tel. 0 2936 2852-66, or visit the website www.transport.co.th. In addition, there are private bus services that also connect Bangkok to Nong Khai: 407 Phatthana, Tel. 0 2992 3475-8, 0 4241 1261; Chan Tour Limited, Tel. 0 2618 7418, 0 4241 2195; Barami Tour, Tel. 0 2537 8249, 0 4246 0345; and Cherdchai Tour, Tel. 0 2936 0253, 0 4246 1067. rom the Nong Khai Bus Terminal, there is a bus service from Nong Khai to Loei, passing through Amphoe Tha Bo, Amphoe Si Chiang Mai and Amphoe Sangkhom in Nong Khai, and Amphoe Chiang Khan in Loei. The route runs along the Mekong River and there are guesthouses available for visitors who wish to stop along the way.

By Air: Although there are no regular commercial flights to Nong Khai, AirAsia, Nok Air, and Thai Airways all have daily service to Udon Thani, a 51 kilometers bus ride away from Nong Khai that takes about one hour. Alternately, one can fly internationally into Vientiane Airport on Laos Airlines or on Thai Airways from Chiang Mai and take a short trip to the border crossing and onto Nong Khai.

Traveling Between Vientiane, Laos and Nong Khai, Thailand: From Vientiane to Nong Khai, one can take a short bus across the border and the friendship bridge. The bus station to Nong Khai is near the Thai embassy in the east of Vientiane, opposite the Morning market on Mahosot Road. You must show your passport and visitors of many nations may enter Thailand without a visa on a visa waiver. Check with the Thai embassy if you are uncertain if you qualify.

The bus to Nong Khai services the Nong Khai Bus Station. Those who wish to go to the train station should get a tuk tuk immediately after clearing the Thai immigration checkpoint. For buses from Nong Khai to Vientiane, visitors from outside of ASEAN nations can apply for visas at the border. From the Thai Border at Nong Khai it is 22 kilometers to Vientiane. For trips in either direction, the Friendship Bridge closes at 10pm.

Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge is the first international bridge to span the Mekong. The bridge was built jointly by the governments of Australia, Thailand and Laos. It was opened in April 8, 1994. It is open everyday from 6.00am ro 10:00pm. Contact: Soi 1-2 Ban Chommani, Tambon Mi Chai, Amphoe Mueang, Nong Khai.

NAKON PHANOM

NAKON PHANOM (242 kilometers from Udon Thani, 296 kilometers from Nong Khai) contains the northeast's most oldest and revered shrine, Phra That Phanom, a towering 50-meter-high, 9th century chedi. Similar to the famous That Luang in Laos, it was built during the reign of King Narai the Great of Ayutthaya over an earlier Khmer prasat. After it collapse during a rainstorm in 1975 it was rebuilt and inaugurated in 1979 by King Bhumibol. Thai and Laotian pilgrims come to this highly venerated Buddhist shrine to make offereings and ask for blessings.

Nakhon Phanom, once the center of the ancient Sri Kotrabun Kingdom, lies along the western bank of the majestic Mekong River. The lovely setting of Nakhon Phanom town is enhanced by the rugged beauty of the jungle covered mountains that lie outside the town of Thakaek on the Laotian side of the river. King Rama I chose the name Nakhon Phanom, meaning “City of Mountains,” because of the remarkable mountains found in the province.Partly a result of its long history, Nakhon Phanom is a melting pot of diverse ethnic cultures and traditions, particularly represented by the Lao, who have lent a strong influence to the architecture, customs, and cuisine of Nakhon Phanom, including the Bai-Sri-Su-Kwan welcoming ceremony. The area around Nakhon Phanom is covered with both high hills and low-lying, forest-covered plains.

Throughout its history of Nakhon Phanom, Laotians and people from smaller ethnic minority groups migrated to the region, giving modern Nakhon Phanom a distinctive cultural fusion that is apparent in the local language, customs, and cuisine. There are also many Vietnamese living here. Visitors can appreciate this culture during the Bai-Sri-Su-Kwan ceremony or by witnessing one of the region’s folk dances, such as the Sri Kotrabun, Fon Phu Thai, Sek-Ten-Sak, and So Tung Bung, some of which are only performed on special occasions.

Tourist Office and Website: Tourism Authority of Thailand , Nakhon Phanom Office, 184/1 Suntornvijit Road. Tambon Nai Mueang, Amphoe Mueang, Nakhon Phanom 48000, Tel. +66 4251 3490-1, Fax. +66 4251 3492, E-mail Address: tatphnom@tat.or.th, Website: http://www.tourismthailand.org/nakhonphanom . Accommodation: Although not a major center for tourism, Nakhon Phanom has a variety of accommodation options ranging from budget guesthouses to midrange and more up-market lodging. Getting Around in Nakhon Phanom : There is no bus service to get around the city. The only chartered vehicles available are ‘Skylabs’, a local form of tuk tuk. The fare ranges from 10-60 baht, depending on the distance. Third Thai–Lao Friendship Bridge over the Mekong is a bridge that connects Nakhon Phanom Province in Thailand with Thakhek, Khammouane in Laos. The bridge's foundation stone was laid on March 6, 2009, and it opened for traffic on November 11, 2011. The bridge is 1423 metres long and 13 metres wide. The name "Third Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge" was previously also used to refer to the planned bridge from Chiang Khong, Thailand to Huay Xai, Laos, but this bridge is now known as the Fourth Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge. [Source: Wikipedia +]

Getting to Nakhon Phanom: As a province somewhat off the typical tourist route, Nakhon Phanom is best reached via private car or public bus. Once there, it may be easier to get around with your own car, as the there is no local bus service and the only chartered vehicles available are ‘Skylabs’, a local form of tuk tuk.

By Car: Route 1: From Bangkok, take the Bangkok-Nakhon Ratchasima route, then proceed to Ban Phai along Highway No. 2; take Highway No. 23 and Highway No. 213 to Sakhon Nakhon Province via Maha Sarakham and Kalasin Provinces and continue along Highway No. 22 to Nakhon Phanom; the total distance is 740 kilometers. Route 2: From Bangkok take Highway No. 1 (Phahonyothin Road) to Saraburi. At the main junction located at the kilometer 107 marker, turn right onto Highway No. 2 (Friendship Highway) and proceed past Nakon Ratchasima Province to Ban Phai (a district of Khon Kaen Province) and turn right onto Highway 23. Follow the route to Maha Sarakham, Kalasin, Sakon Nakhon and Nakhon Phanom Provinces; the total distance is 735 kilometers.

By Bus: Buses depart from Bangkok's Northern Bus Terminal (Mo Chit 2 Bus Terminal) to Nakhon Phanom Province every day between 6.00am and 8.00pm There are different classes of bus services provided - regular, air-conditioned and VIP with fares ranging from 360 baht to 579 baht. For more information call Transport Co. Ltd. Tel. 0 2936 2852-66. Alternatively, you can visit www.transport.co.th to find more up-to-date information on schedules and fares. To/From other neighboring provinces:

Regular bus services operate between Nong Khai and Nakhon Phanom via Sakon Nakhon; air-conditioned bus services are provided hourly from 6am to 11am Udon Thani: Regular bus and air-conditioned bus services make trips to Nakhon Phanom daily. Mukdahan: Bus services between Nakhon Phanom and Mukdahan Provinces are provided on an hourly basis from 5.00am to 5.00pm daily Kho Rat: Air-conditioned bus service between Nakhon Phanom and Khorat are provided 3 times a day.

Phra That Phanom (50 kilometers from Nakhon Phanom on Highway No. 212) is one of the most important Buddhist sites in Northeast Thailand. The 53-meters-tall, square-shaped pagoda, it believed to have been built before the 12th century with Khmer design, but over the years it was renovated to its present Laotian design. The pagoda enshrines holy relics of the Lord Buddha. In On August 11, 1975 at 7:00pm, the entire pagoda collapsed after many days of rain. A great effort was made local people to collect donations and rebuild the pagoda to its original splendor. People placed many valuables inside and placed a 110-kilogram solid gold spire on top of the pagoda. Today it is open everyday from 8:00am - 6:00pm. Contact: Amphoe That Phanom, Nakhon Phanom, Tel. 0 4251 3490-1

SECOND THAI-LAO FRIENDSHIP BRIDGE

The second Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge—the 1.6-kilometer-long Second Mekong International bridge over the Mekong River between Savannkhet in Laos and Mukdahan in Thailand----opened in 2006. Built with money from Japan’s official development assistance (ODA) program and the Sumitomo Mitsui construction (a Chinese company), the bridge cost $75 million to make. The bridge was scheduled to be completed sooner but was delayed by the Asian financial crisis. Eight construction workers died in an accident in July 2005. The bridge is the final portion of the East-West economic Corridor.

The second Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge has two traffic lanes 12 meters in width and 1,600 meters long. Officially inaugurated by Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn of Thailand and Lao Vice President Bounnhang Vorachith, it is part of the land transport development plan of the East-West economic corridor running through Vietnam, Laos, Thailand and Myanmar. Bridge construction began on March 21, 2004 and took three years to complete. The bridge is expected not only to promote overland tourism in Thailand, Laos and Vietnam, but also to facilitate trade and investment in the Mekong subregion. As of 2011 more than 5,000 vehicles used the bridge daily, generating taxes and fee revenue to the Thai government of 60,000 baht a day on average.

Kyodo reported: “The Japan Bank for International Cooperation provided 8.09 billion yen (about $80 million) in soft loans to both Thailand and Laos for the shared construction costs. Thailand borrowed 4.079 billion yen, Laos borrowed the other 4.011 billion yen. The bridge is part of the transportation initiative headed by the Asian Development Bank known as the "East-West Economic Corridor." The idea is to create transportation corridor running the entire width of mainland Southeast Asia, approximately 1,500 kilometres long, linking the Andaman Sea from Mawlamyine in eastern Myanmar to the South China Sea. [Source: Kyodo, December 20, 2006 ==]

LOEI

LOEI (near Laos, 520 kilometers north of Bangkok and 140 kilometers west of Udon Thani) is one of the most beautiful and unspoiled places in Thailand. Known for its beautiful flowers and its mountains, it isi also the coldest place in Thailand—one of the few places that has recorded freezing temperatures—and during the hot season one of its hottest too. Much of the 11,424 square kilometer province is 400 meters above sea level. Sharing a Mekong River border with Laos, Loei province is in many ways more similar to the north of Thailand than to the rest of Isan, even earning the nickname “the Mae Hong Son of the northeast.” Agriculture drives Loei’s economy, with villages primarily engaged in crops ranging from macadamia nuts, passion fruit, and Arabica coffee in the highlands to bananas, sesame, and rubber in the plains.

Loei is an up-and-coming ecotourism region surrounded by undulating mountain ranges, abundant with various kinds of flora and capped with fog enshrouded summits. The most majestic mountains are Phu Kradueng, Phu Luang and Phu Ruea. However, while Loei features numerous outdoor activities and fascinating cultural attractions, tourism is relatively new to the province and the area is greatly unspoiled. Loei has unique cultures and traditions in addition to beautiful geographical surroundings, such as the colorful Phi Ta Khon Festival. The town of Loei is not great shakes but it does its job serving as a base to explore the province.

Tourist Office and Website: Tourism Authority of Thailand , Loei Office, District Office (Old building) Charoenrat Road,Tambon Kut Pong Amphoe Mueang,Loei 42000, Tel. +66 4281 2812, Fax. +66 4281 1480, E-mail Address: tatloei@tat.or.th, Website: http://www.tourismthailand.org/loei . Accommodation: As one of the newest areas to develop ecotourism in Thailand, Loei has a wide array of accommodation options, including rural home-stays and charming guesthouses as well as more upscale resorts that are sure to please even the most refined global traveler. Getting Around in Loei: Songtaews depart from the Bus Terminal on Maliwan Road. Traveling from the center of the province to other districts and nearby provinces can be done by buses that depart from the Bus Terminal on Maliwan Road.

Getting to Loei: As a province somewhat off the typical tourist route, Loei is best reached via private car or public bus. However, it is possible to take a train or plane to nearby Udon Thani and then a bus to Loei. By Bus: The Transport Co., Ltd. provides daily buses between Bangkok and Loei including both normal buses and air-conditioned coaches. The trip takes approximately 10 hours. For further information, please contact the Bangkok Northern Bus Terminal (Mo Chit 2), Kamphaeng Phet 2 Road, Tel. 0 2936 2841-8, 0 2936 2852-66 or visit www.transport.co.th.

By Car: From Bangkok take Highway No. 1 (Phahonyothin Road), passing through Amphoe Mueang of Saraburi. Turn onto Highway No. 21 past Phetchabun, and then take Highway No. 203 through Amphoe Lom Sak and Lom Kao into Loei province. The trip takes approximately 7 to 8 hours. Otherwise, from Saraburi, take Highway No. 2 (Mittraphap Road) past Nakhon Ratchasima to Khon Kaen and turn left onto Highway No. 12 through Amphoe Chum Phae. Finally take Highway No. 201 into Loei province, a total distance of 540 kilometers.

NATIONAL PARKS NEAR LOEI

Phu Kra Dung National Park (85 kilometers from Loei) is located high up on a plateau and features beautiful forests and waterfalls as well as lovely road with outstanding views of the Mekong River. Phu Kradueng National Park is popular with Thai trekkers. The goal is to hike up to an elevation of 1,325 meters above sea level and reach Phu Kradueng, a wide plain of about 60 square kilometers. There is a cold-climate pine forest and a grass field full of wild flowers and orchids that bloom in different seasons. In addition, there are several lovely waterfalls and an observation point that is provides spectacular views during sunrise and sunset. Animals found in the park include elephant, Asiatic black bears, barking deer, white-handed gibbons, serows and maybe some tigers. The most used trail is six kilometers long and takes two to three hours and bamboo ladders to negotiate the trickiest parts. The park is open during October to May and closed during the rainy season to rejuvenate the flora and fauna. Park attractions include: Pha Nok Aen, a cliff that offers a breathtaking view of the sunrise, Pha Lom Sak, a sandstone ledge jutting into space providing a fine view of the hills and valleys and Pha Yiap Mek, where cottony clouds suggest a misty world of shadow figures.

Hours, Fees, Contact, Accommodation and Transport Info: Contact: Amphoe Phu Kradueng, Loei, Tel. 0 4287 1333 or 0 2561 4292 – 4. The park is open to visitors from 7.00am until 2.00pm daily and is closed for forest regeneration during 1 June – 30 September every year. Admission: Adult 400 baht, Child 200 baht. Facilities include accommodations and stores selling food and drinks. Call the Park at 0 4287 1333 or 0 2561 4292 – 4 (Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plants in Bangkok) or click www.dnp.go.th for more information and reservations.

Getting to Phu Kradueng National Park: By Bus: Tourists can travel by Bangkok - Loei bus. Get off at Pha Nok Khao which is a connecting point between Chum Phae – Phu Kradueng. From this point, there is a mini bus to Phu Kradueng National Park. Otherwise, tourists can take the Bangkok – Chum Phae bus. From the centre of Mueang Loei, take Highway No. 201, the Loei – Phu Kradueng route, 75 kilometers from the province and turn right into Highway No. 2019 for 8 kilometers to the park office.

Phu Ruea National Park (60 kilometers west of Amphoe Muang on Highway No. 203) covers an area of 75,525 square kilometers and has a vast pine-covered plain 1,365 meters above sea level at its summit. Due to its high elevation and cool climate visitors are drawn to the Park all year round. However, during the cool season, visitors flock to the Park to experience wintry weather. Attractions in the Park include observation points, waterfalls, rock gardens, and caves. In particular there are Pha Lon Noi, which offers a spectacular sunrise and beautiful scenery, Pha Sub Thong, a very steep cliff, Namtok Huai Phai, a 30 meter-high waterfall, and Phu Ruea Summit, which provides a fine view of Huang and Khong Rivers. In addition, there are several resorts on the slopes of Phu Ruea, as well as Chateau de Loei Winery, a huge vineyard with modern wine-making facilities. Open everyday from 6.00am - 6:00pm

Phu Luang Wildlife Sanctuary (55 kilometers from Loei) is located on a jungle plateau with a cool climate the whole year has certain areas that are open to the public. A trail leads from Lon Mon past a pine forest, a grass field, a flower field on a rock plateau, and various cliffs, for a total distance of about 6 kilometers. From Pha Lon Tae, visitors can see Phu Ho and Phu Kradueng.

Phu Luang is famous for its orchids. A variety of orchid types and families proliferate in the region. Bulbophyllum Nipondhii blooms at the beginning of winter roughly from October to December. Dendrobium infundibulum, cymbidium insigne subs p. seidenfadenii, bulbophyllum dayanum, paphiopedilum sukhakulii and other rare and charming orchids can be spotted in every season. Rhododendron stimsill and rhododendron lyi can be admired as well.

Phu Luang tableland stays cool all year. Here are diversified forests: tropical rain, hill evergreen, coniferous, shrub, dry dipterocarp, mixed deciduous forests and fields. On its table plain, there is a river and two magnificent mountains,1562-meter-high Phu Yong Phu and 1571-meter-high Phu Kwang. There is reportedly quite a bit of wildlife but there are restrictions on traveling in the area.

Hours, Fees, Contact, Accommodation and Transport Info: The park is open everyday from 6.00am - 6:00pm. Contact: Amphoe Phu Luang, Loei, Tel. 0 4280 1955, 086-2203560, 084-2800955, Website: www.dnp.go.th . It is required that visitors to Phu Luang must be accompanied by Park Officers. Advance reservations must be made at Phu Luang Tourist Office, Wang Saphung District Office, in order to arrange accommodations, food and a 3 days/ 2 nights tour. The best time for trekking is from October to May. You can download the 'Phuluang Wildlife Sanctuary' Brochure at http://thai.tourismthailand.org/fileadmin/upload_img/Home_news/phuluang.pdf Phu Luang Wildlife Sanctuary is located in Phu Luang district, Loei. From Loei, take the Loei-Phu Ruea route for 36 kilometers to Ban San Tom, and turn left continuing on for 18 kilometers to reach the sanctuary\'s headquarters.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: Tourist Authority of Thailand, Thailand Foreign Office, The Government Public Relations Department, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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