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In a nutshell

Wander the sleepy streets, catch a songthaew to low key outlying attractions, explore an eclectic mix of food and stroll along the majestic Mekong at dusk. Travellers looking for an offbeat and "authentic" Isaan experience might find Mukdahan to be an unexpected highlight.

Nestled along a wide stretch of the Mekong River directly across from Savannakhet in Laos, the small provincial capital city of Mukdahan offers all we could hope for in a quick visit to northeastern Thailand. You'll find friendly locals, a relaxed atmosphere with just the right number of lively night spots, historic but little-known temples, spicy Isaan food, colourful markets, sweeping Mekong scenery and even a couple of outlying national parks that are worth a visit. If coming from Laos, you could not ask for a more pleasant introduction to Thailand than this.

Despite having so much to offer, most travellers still use Mukdahan solely as an overnight transit point before heading over to Laos or further into Thailand, but the city is well worth a couple of days if you've got the time. Mukdahan lacks the tourist-oriented cafes and travel shops found in more popular destinations, but the welcoming locals make up for that.

Although it still doesn't have the busy feel of larger Isaan cities like Khon Kaen or Ubon Ratchathani, Mukdahan continues to grow and prosper after the 2007 opening of the Second Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge and the bridge border crossing that came with it. With around 50,000 people calling the city home, Mukdahan is relaxed but not too sleepy. It offers a pleasant balance of old school Isaan charm and modern facilities.

Thanks to its location across the river from Laos and only 240 kilometres from the Vietnam border (not too far from Hue, Da Nang and Hoi An), Muk is also something of a common ground in Indochina -- expect to see cars with yellow Lao license plates cruising the streets and to find almost as many restaurants serving Vietnamese food as Thai. Historically, the area was home to several small tribes that have, for the most part, since assimilated into greater northeastern Thai culture. History and anthropology buffs will enjoy the well put together display on Mukdahan's past at Mukdahan Tower.

Crossing the border
The border crossing with Laos via the Friendship Bridge 2 can be reached by local bus from Mukdahan bus station for 45 baht, a fare that gets you all the way to Savannakhet's bus station. You can also take a tuk tuk to the bridge for around 100 baht depending on your bartering skills, but be warned that you'll still need to pay the 45 baht for the bus to take you across the bridge itself as it's no longer possible to walk. If you have your own transport, long-term parking is available right at the border for 100 baht per day for cars and 40 baht per day for motorbikes.

The crossing is open 06:00 to 22:00 daily and it's usually quiet compared to other crossings in the region. Occasionally you'll get stuck behind a busload of Thais heading to the casino on the Lao side, but even then, wait times are scarcely longer than 20 minutes at either Thai or Lao immigration.

After passing through Thai immigration, you'll need to get on the bus, cross the bridge, then get off to pass Lao immigration. If you don't already have a Lao visa, most nationalities can obtain a visa on arrival for around 1,500 baht; we say "around" because Laos charges Canadians, for example, a slightly higher visa rate than Americans or Australians. Whatever the actual cost, it's wise to bring plenty of change so you'll have the exact amount. Application forms are available at the border so all you need is one passport size photo.

Once through Lao immigration, you can re-board the bus for the ride to the bus station in Savannakhet or pay a tuk tuk 100 to 200 baht -- again dependent on your bartering skills -- for a ride to the accommodation of your choice. Tuk tuks are happy to accept Thai baht or US dollars, but be warned that they usually try to push travellers into staying at hotels that offer them commissions.

The above process is, more or less, reversed in its entirety if coming from Laos and most nationalities will be stamped into Thailand for 15 days visa-free if they don't already have a Thai visa.

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The best way to approach Mukdahan is with the same laid back attitude that most of the locals have. With fiery Lao-Issan food often served on river view terraces, Vietnamese fresh rolls and noodle soups, a handful of northern Thai restaurants and even some well-done Western fare, it's a fun town for foodies. Be sure to hit the night market for the most variety in one place.

Though travellers with limited time will understandably pass through Muk in a single day, those on longer trips might find the sleepy city to be the perfect place to dig in and save a little cash. Cheap, comfy rooms can be scored, and it's a fine place to let yourself be captured by Isaan's subtle charm.

Mukdahan offers just enough to do in the surrounding are to keep you busy for a few days. Once you've explored the town itself, take day trips to see the giant mushroom-like rock formations at Mukdahan National Park, and one of Thailand's most revered chedis at That Phanom.

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Text and/or map last updated on 30th October, 2013.

Last reviewed by:
Usually found exploring Bangkok's side streets or south Thailand's islands, David Luekens is an American freelance writer & photographer who finds everyday life in Asia to be extraordinary. You can follow his travails here.

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Mukdahan - Bangkok, Morchit ฿559 – ฿673 9h 5m – 10h 20m
  •   Bus Express XL 18:00
  •   Bus VIP 32 08:45, 20:00, 20:15
  •   Bus Express XL 19:00, 21:05
  •   Bus VIP 32 08:30, 20:30, 21:00
  •   Bus VIP24 24 21:15
Mukdahan - Bangkok, Sun Bus Vibhavadi Soi 17 ฿652 9h 45m
  •   Bus VIP 32 20:00
Mukdahan, Nikhom Kham Soi - Bangkok, Morchit ฿539 – ฿673 8h 40m – 9h 50m
  •   Bus Express XL 18:30
  •   Bus VIP 32 09:15, 20:45
  •   Bus Express XL 19:00, 21:05
  •   Bus VIP 32 08:30, 21:00
Mukdahan - Phetchabun, Lom Kao ฿446 7h 15m
  •   Bus Express XL 15:45, 17:00
  •   Bus Express XL 00:45, 23:15
Mukdahan - Sukhothai ฿615 9h 20m
  •   Bus Express XL 15:45, 17:00
  •   Bus Express XL 20:10, 21:40
Mukdahan - Sukhothai, Ban Dan Lan Hoi ฿689 9h 40m
  •   Bus Express XL 15:45, 17:00
Mukdahan - Tak ฿689 10h 20m
  •   Bus Express XL 15:45, 17:00
  •   Bus Express XL 18:55, 20:25
Mukdahan - Tak, Mae Sot ฿795 11h 45m
  •   Bus Express XL 15:45, 17:00
  •   Bus Express XL 17:00, 18:30

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