Photo: Street food Phetchaburi Soi 10, Bangkok.

Southeast Asia forum

In the search for something different

Posted by norbit on 18/10/2010 at 09:22

Hi all,

Long time reader, first time contributor, so go easy on me!

First of all I must start with the obligatory compliment regarding the website – it’s great and already proven a valuable source of information. Picardin? Never head of the stuff until Travelfish.

After years of saving, my girlfriend and I finally depart Australia early January and arrive SEA with no plans and alot of time. We expect to be travelling for around 12 – 18 months (SW China, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Borneo) and when the money finally runs out, we plan to return to a place we both loved and find employment. As my partner is a fully qualified teacher she will have no problems, but with me being an accountant (don’t hold that against me) I’m a little concerned about the language barrier, but that’s something we will worry about after all our travels.

Anyway, the reason for my post centres around this... after both already being to SEA previously and have done most of the banana pancake backpacker trail, this time we are after something different. Different memorable locations off the tourist track and different ways to spend our time away. So, I thought I’d try and draw from the wealth of knowledge by contributors on this site and ask, what are some of your ‘different’ experiences in SEA...?

#1 norbit has been a member since 21/8/2010. Posts: 16

Posted by MADMAC on 18/10/2010 at 10:30

I've advised this before for those who want "something different". I recommend moving up the Mekong river on the Thai side, starting in Ubon Ratchathani. You can take either the train, plane or bus (I recommend train) to Ubon. I'm not much of a fan of this town, but you can rest up there for one night. From there, I would take the bus to Khemerat.
This is a lovely little town situated right on the Mekong. They have a nice resort there over-looking the river. You can eat cheaply, get a massage and relax. I doubt you will see any tourists, and there are only a couple of expats living there.
From here you can catch a bus to Don Tan - about an hour by bus, perhaps a touch more, to the north. I don't recommend stopping in Chanuman. It's a real backwater and not much to do there. Don Tan sits about one kilometer off the river, but it also is a pleasant, slow little town. Food and accomodation are cheap there too. Both of these towns will give you a good feel for local life in Thailand (or at least Issan).
From Don Tan you head north about 45 minutes to Mukdahan. This is where I live, and I love this town. It's a small city with a wide range of hotels sitting just opposite Savankhet, Laos. It has plenty of decent nightlife (I strongly recommend Norees, just south of the tower as you enter town from Don Tan - best band I've ever heard in Thailand. Plays folk music and does it very, very well.), good restaraunts (Na Bop, on the Mekong, is a perenial favorite), and a nice atmosphere to it. You can rent scooters at the "Good Mook Cafe", near the old immigration office just north of the indochina market. The market itself is a huge draw for Thai tourists, but it doesn't have much that would interest a westerner, other than some clothes and faked old artifacts (none of which are really old). Still, it's worth a look and is on a very nice river front setting.
From Muk you can take the bus north again, to That Phanom . Wat That Phanom has the oldest Chedi in Thailand and it's a beautiful temple. Again, a major attraction for Thai tourists and I've been there several times. The temple is some 1,500 years old. That Phanom is pretty small, but it's pleasant. The riverside restaraunts are great for atmosphere - not so much for food unfortunately (I don't know anyone who's ever had a good meal there, strangely enough).
From That Phanom, you can head north to Nakhon Phanom. This is a great little city. Over 200 years old, it has a large Vietnamese population and a lot of charm. Ho Chi Minh lived in a small house in this town, now converted to a museum, for about three years. The old Air America airfield is also located here. It has some good nightlife and some great dining. Plenty of accomodation in the 500 - 1,000 baht range, depending on what you are looking for.
From That Phanom you can head north again to the "Ampur" towns along the river. I can't tell you much about them, although there is a good trip report on Tha Uthen here on travelfish. At this point, you are WAY off the beaten path. Not even any Thai tourists. I have been meaning on taking a ride this way with my chopper, but haven't gotten to it yet, so I can't offer any specifics. There is a waterfall up there somewhere, but unfortunately I can't tell you exactly where. I heard the water is actually clear!!!
From there you just keep following the river to Nong Khai. There is lots here on travelfish Nong Khai. This is a good point to cross into Laos and head for Vientiane. After exploring the Laos capital (and again, plenty of writeups on that), a detour to Laung Prabang would seem to be in order before heading south again. If it were me, I would then go back down the Mekong to Tha Khek, Savanakhet, Pakse and 4,000 Islands area, allowing you to compare and contrast the two places quite nicely. All those places have write ups right here on travelfish, so you can see what those places have to offer.
Anyway, that's my two cents, for what they're worth.

#2 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
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Posted by norbit on 18/10/2010 at 14:49

hey madmac,

thanks for that. exactly what i was after. i recall reading your suggestion re: Ubon and the mekong on a previous post, but not in that much detail. Obviously Vientiane, LP, 4000 islands area, pakse etc will all be visited, but the those different trips that are not often spoken of were the main reason for my original post (which you generously answered)

i appreciate that half the adventure is finding these places out for yourself - which we plan to do - but it doesnt hurt to get a few more abstract suggestions.

FYI, as at 6:16pm AEST, with the strong aussie dollar, your 2 cents is worth approximately 0.589 baht


#3 norbit has been a member since 21/8/2010. Posts: 16

Posted by sayadian on 18/10/2010 at 14:55

I mean to do this trip in January.The missus is off to Ubon for a week so I'll tag along and continue on to Amnat Charoen and Khemmarat.Do you know if there is a single bus to Khemmerat or will I have to change at AC? Like you, I don't like Ubon much so I'm hoping to get out when the train arrives at 2:00p.m.(We're travelling on the diesel car as I can't abide Thai sleepers)Maybe you have an idea of afternoon buses? Looking at Nakhon Phanom up stream on the map there doesn't seem to be much in the way of large towns so I'm wondering if most of this will have to be done by songthaew rather than bus?Making it a lot slower.Anyway I'm going to try to do as much as I can before getting back to meet her in Bangkok.

#4 sayadian has been a member since 15/1/2008. Posts: 1,557
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Posted by MADMAC on 18/10/2010 at 16:00

I forgot to add that once you leave the "Banana pancake trail" and move into the countryside, English will not get you far. Most people here literally speak no English at all. So, you will need a decent Thai / Laos phrase book. Lao will get you by here fine if you want to economize.

I heard there is a bus that runs from NKP to Nong Khai. It transits along the 212 on the river. You could get off at any point up there, and then catch the next one the following day.

#5 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
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Posted by sayadian on 18/10/2010 at 22:11

Brilliant. Thanks Mac.
As you say there isn't a lot of English spoken up there and that is another reason I'm going; to improve my spoken Thai.I know they speak Isan Lao dialect but they have to learn Thai in school so I expect that I'll be doing most communication through the younger people.What I've heard about Lao is that the spoken version is not a million miles away from spoken Thai.
Saying that when I went to South Laos with the wife last year she,fluent in Isan Lao, spent all the time talking to everyone in Thai because apparently they watch Thai tv all the time.

#6 sayadian has been a member since 15/1/2008. Posts: 1,557
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Posted by MADMAC on 18/10/2010 at 23:36

You won't have any problem. While Lao is the conversational language here, I've yet to meet anyone who can't speak Thai. I just tell them I don't speak Lao, please speak Thai and problem solved.

#7 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
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Posted by neosho on 19/10/2010 at 07:30

You have to speak the sounds better out here also. I tell them the same thing as you Madmac, although I'm picking up more Issan all the time. I'm glad people don't care for Ubon. :) , and I agree it's just a big, sprawling, provencial city. The Candle Festival in July is well worth a look though. Beautiful artwork in wax.
Norbit...Keep in mind that most Thai's are terrible at giving directions to somewhere. :) My experience anyway.

#8 neosho has been a member since 13/8/2008. Posts: 386

Posted by MADMAC on 19/10/2010 at 09:33

I've noticed that when you live in a place, you begin to see it's charm in ways that people passing through just won't. I think that's a universal truth. In the same way that people passing through will see charming elements that residents take for granted. I'm sure Ubon has a charm to it that I just miss because I don't live there.
I am also glad we don't have tons of anglos running around here. If we did, I'd stop being special. And I like being special.

#9 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
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