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Nakhon Phanom

"The capital of Thailand is twice as far away from here as the capital of Vietnam.  In less than five hours, one can be basking under the socialist sun and taking a crash course in Marxism."  Doug Knell, Doug's Republic

Biking out of Nong Khai and heading east, following the Mekong, I passed through only very small towns -- until I came to Nakhon Phanom.  All right, it's not as if Nakhon Phanom town is a metropolis.  The entire province of Nakhon Phanom boasts less than 700,000 people.   Nakhon Phanom just felt like it was more than a small town.  You could not compare it to a Koh Samui or a Phuket or a Chiang Mai.  In my few days here, I only encountered a handful of foreigners.  

I believe a good share of the reason this provincial capital town felt alive was its location.  In all the previous Mekong towns I'd been to in Thailand, the Lao town on the other side was some forgettable place, so forgettable you couldn't even be sure the Thais knew the name of the Lao town on the other side.  Here, the increasingly touristed Lao town of Tha Khaek, where I'd spent five days five years earlier, looked back at me from the other side.  Tha Khaek had undergone some development from its barebone state in 2005.  I briefly saw it from a boat as I did a river cruise and the waterfront had more hotels and more restaurants than I remember, although it still appeared a different world from Nakhon Phanom.

Nakhon Phanom

Am I in Nakhon Phanom or Ohio -- or both?

And then there's Vietnam, ever so close that the smell of socialism drifts to one's nostrils as if the philosophy were being stewed in the kitchen next door.  Travel agencies offer tours of three countries in three days.  Uncle Ho Chi Minh spent three years in a village, Ban Nachok, just outside Nakhon Phanom between 1928 and 1929 and that village, to this day, still has a Vietnamese cultural center, cemetery, and street signs.  There is a bet that's yet unresolved as to whether authentic Vietnamese pho soup can be found within 5 minutes walk of the cultural center.

Ho Chi Minh house Nakhon Phanom mekong hotel Nakhon Phanom
Images of Nakhon Phanom (l to r):  Ho Chi Minh's solace of socialism;  river cruises along the Mekong; 23rd century digital hotels that have USB ports in every electrical outlet

Nakhon Phanon town is small, welcoming, and easy to get around.  It ain't New York City for the eating scene, but small restaurants on streets perpendicular to the Mekong offer basic Thai dishes like pad thai, fried rice, and morning glory for prices one one can smile at.   During lunch, there's a vegetarian restaurant open to cater to those with alternative diets.

I did bike out to Uncle Ho's home.   I came across the cultural center first and mistook this as Uncle Ho's home.   Outside, school kids were learning Vietnamese from a Thai teacher of Vietnamese extraction.  A 60-yr old Thai man wearing the traditional non la Vietnamese conical hat approached me.  He was not of Vietnamese ethnicity, but spoke some Vietnamese and had taken trips there.  He also spoke some English.  This man took me by bicycle to Uncle Ho's home, looked after by the now elderly son of one of Uncle Ho's former bodyguards.  Afterwards, this Thai fellow fluent in multiple languages showed me various health regimens he employed to keep his arteries flushed of plaques.  He pounded some fresh leaves into a bucket in order to extract the ultra fresh chlorophyll and then he prescribed I stay off the spicy foods, completely forgetting that Thai food without the chilis ceases to remain Thai cuisine.  Professors at Thailand's Thammasat University have proven that if you take chilis out of Thai food, even starving cats and dogs won't touch it.

At night, I took a cruise along the Mekong.  The boat skirts the edge of the Thai side, turns around, and then hugs the Lao coast so close you could give a middle finger to a Laotian ashore and possibly instigate a major Southeast Asian conflict.

Just north of Nakhon Phanom town is the Tha Uthen district, well known in the province as the site of a temple, Wat U Then, which celebrated a century in 2011.  Thai kids from this province begin their love affair with Buddha here.



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Voltaire Brown's Don't Travel Europe

 Nakhon Phanom in Isaan in Thailand has so much shit to offer. See Wat Tha Uthen or visit the house of Ho Chi Minh of Vietnam independence fame. Or swim across the Mekong to Tha Khaek in Laos, okay?