On my last trip to Phitsanulok I saw buses bound for Udon Thani . The reverse would have to be true, wouldn't it? If you aren't in a hurry, there are more local-style buses that follow the Mekong River upstream from Nong Khai along Route 211 (I think), passing through some pretty great little towns on the way to Loei. If you've got the time, a few of those towns are worth an overnight. Then from Loei you could make your way to Phitsanulok and on to Sukhothai .
I'm afraid I can't help with travel time or frequency of buses, but I've always been surprised at how good the road conditions are in Thailand. I drove Route 211 on a scooter not that long ago and road conditions were great - and that's the back route, not the main Udon Thani to Phitsanulok route.
Not that you asked, but I love Nong Khai and Sukhothai too. When are you going?
BTW, I just saw this trip report for Nong Khai to Sukhothai. It's linked below or you can click:
Hi there thought I'd add mine from a few years ago, pretty similar but yes doable a long day with some beautiful scenery up around Loei.
Hope that helps
I've done that trip 5 times. Three times by bus and twice on my bike. I've always gone east to west, never the other way around. Also, I've always followed the Mekong and, like Exacto, highly recommend it if you've got the time.
There are (or, at least, were) three buses making the journey between Nong Khai and Loie each day, with the first leaving at around 7:30-8:00 am. It's one of those green buses with doors and windows that don't close, and that is always full of friendly and curious local folks. The bus will make stops in nearly all the villages along the way so you can hop off anywhere you want.
These buses go along #211 as far as Pak Chom and then, rather than continue another 45 km along one of the most beautiful stretches of the Mekong in the entire country to Chiang Khan, it goes south on #2108 through some remote, gorgeous, hilly countryside to a small village called Ban That. From here the bus will turn left and head south on #201 to Loei where it terminates. Then, as Exacto stated, you can get on the bus to Phitsanulok. The bus is almost always full and unless you battle your way to the front, you may end up standing for half, or more, of the trip.
The road conditions/surfaces for the entire way are usually excellent and are quickly fixed if ruined by flooding.
While at the bus station in Loei, try the grilled sticky rice on a stick. It's fantastic!
Sukhothai is another 45-60 minutes by bus from Phitsanulok.
That's the long, more time-consuming but highly rewarding way to get there.
If you decide to make the trip from Nong Khai to Sukhothai in one go, you'll be traveling for about 9-10 hours. Going via Udon would be quicker.
If you do go that way, recommend stopping in Sangkhom at Buoy Bungalow for a few days, rent a motorbike and explore the area. Also Chiang Khan, despite finding its way onto the Thai Tourist Trail, is worth checking out. Lovely little spot.
Old Sukhothai is 12 km from the new city of Sukhothai. Both have their advantages. Old Sukhothai has a great guesthouse called Old City Guest House where you can get a massive room right across the street from the historical park for B300. In the new city there is a huge number of places to choose from. The new city also has a decent night market, and a great, lazy, laidback atmosphere.
"I've done that trip 5 times. Three times by bus and twice on my bike."
I'd say between Tilapia's advice and swag's trip report, you're covered.
Like Tilapia says, if you do wind up taking the slower route along the river, consider an overnight in Sangkhom at Buoy. They've got huts, some with private bath, high up on a little peninsula overlooking the Mekong River. You can laze about for a few hours in a hammock right on your porch. Great home-cooked food and an honor bar for a beer or three. It is a charming little town.
Thanks for the advice folks- super detailed, just what I was looking for. I won't be doing this trip until July (and then only maybe). My mom is coming for another visit to the Far East, but I've told her I'm more excited to show her around SE Asia than do another trip around China with her. She wants to see some living Buddhism and some ruins so I thought a trip that included Luang Prabang and Sukhothai would be just the thing. She is okay with the heat, she still runs most days, nearer to 60 than 50 at this point but quite adventurous - the trip doesn't sound like it'll be too much wear on her, though I imagine the buses we had in Yunnan were much better, the roads couldn't be any worse.
Thanks again - I'll be bookmarking this thread for latter inspection.
Sounds like a great trip. Given your travel companion, you might consider breaking up the trip with a stopover. Loei is not a bad choice. Phitsanulok could be a good spot too. After a long day, you could relax in P-lok with a nice dinner on one of the riverboat restaurants. Great fish. Then the next morning you could visit the large, very popular Buddhist temple in Phitsanulok that I think your Mom might enjoy. When I visited, it seemed to be a more modern take on Buddhism. There were lots of Thai and other asian tourists/pilgrims there. After that you can continue to Sukhothai, which you'll both love. Have fun.