On the vast Northeastern Plateau. Sakon Nakhon and Nakhon Phanom are two provinces in Upper Northeast that are rich in natural attractions. archeological sites. and fascinating folk culture. The route around the two provinces is also an extension of the trip to Khon Kaen and Kalasin. and could be an add-on to the tour of the Upper Northeast. You can either travel from Bangkok on Highway No.1 to Saraburi. followed by Highway No.2 to Khon Kaen and cross the Phuphan Mountain Range by Highways 209 and 213 to Sakon Nakhon. a distance of 647 kilometers. in about 8-9 hours. or from Khon Kaen. with a distance of just 205 kilometers in less than 3 hours.
Sakon Nakhon is located at the foothill of Phuphan Mountain Range to the north. Geological studies showed that the elevation that formed the Phuphan Range 135 million years ago divided the Northeastern Plateau into Karat Basin and Sakon Nakhon Basin, a vast fertile flatland tied with rice fields. A peaceful and well-content place, Sakon Nakhon has a vast water source, Nong Han as its symbol and a source of natural wealth, making it a cradle of civilization since ancient times.
We start with simple but delicious breakfast of coffee, pan egg, bread and milk at Mit Upatham Shop (for lunch or dinner, you should try Phon Yang Kham Steak, a delicacy of Sakon Nakhon compared well with imported premium beef from Australia or Japan at the recommended Mum Cham Chan Shop) before heading to Phra That Choeng Chum, one of the most significant holy relics of the Northeast, at Wat Phra That Choeng Chum Worawihan at the end of Charoen Muang Road within the municipality area. The pagoda of the holy relic is in brick and stucco, on a square base, 24 meters in height, with the top made of pure gold, said to enclose four footprints of the Lord Buddha, but without records of its construction. Nearby is the temple hall housing Luang Pho Ong Saen, a highly revered Buddha image.
There are two other pagodas of holy relics in Sakon Nakhon, Phra That Dum, and Phra That Narai Cheng Weng. From Wat Phra That Choeng Chum, take the rural road towards the sports complex of the province for about 5 kilometers . to Wat Phra That Dum. The pagoda was built in the 10111-11111 centuries A.D. in Khmer Bapuan style, as a single-top laterite stupa without a corresponding base. Distinctive are the four lintels on all directions, the finest is in the north, featuring God Narai Sleeping on His Underwater Naga Throne. Wat Narai Cheng Wang lies about 5 kilometers from the city area, using Sakon Nakhon·Udon Thani route, turning left at Ban That to the temple 400 meters further. The pagoda is similar to that of Phra That Dum, differing in the lintel featuring Lord Krishna Killing a Lion. A legend links the shrine to Phra That Phu Phek in Phanna Nikhom District, said to have been built at the same time in a contest, Phra That Phu Phek built by a male, and Phra That Narai Cheng Weng by a female.
Natural attractions are mostly along Phu Phan Mountain Range, starting with Phu Phan National Park, covering almost all of the range, It was an insurgent stronghold in the past, developed as a major attraction of the province. A 4-wheel drive vehicle such as Fortuna or Vigo should be used, as the route is a serpentine mountain road, especially the Ping Ngu B e n d at kilometer 14 on Highway 213, in hairpin sharp bend, with the Largest Kilometer Mark in Thailand as a popular photographing site. On the way at kilometer 13, the route takes past Phu Phan Ratchaniwet Palace on the right.
The visitor is allowed when the royal family is not in residence. The palace is surrounded by flowering plants and rich forests, and in the back, a field of insect-devouring wildflowers that come out after the rain such as Ousita and Soi Suwanna in the Lentibulariaceae family.and Kradum Ngoen, Eriocaulon henry annum. The Phu Phan National Park is at kilometer 25, with rich mixed species deciduous forest, and a nature study trail. The lookout site for sunset is at Pha Nang Moen, with a pleasant rock garden at Lan Sao Ae, where the colorful wildflowers can be observed around October, and the Natural Stone Bridge, known as Thang Phi Phan, with the stone formation as the curving bridge and a large hole in the middle.
Also, on Phu Phan Mountain Range is Phu Pha Yon National Park, formerly known as Huai Huat National Park, with Huai Huat Reservoir and Pha Phueng Waterfall, a small fall cascading into the reservoir. The rock garden and the line viewpoint of the garden is full of insect-devouring wildflowers. For adventure seekers, trekking trails lead to various interesting sites such as Kaeng Pho Waterfall, Giant Makha Mong- Afzelia xylocarpia Roxb. and Pha Phaya Tao Ngoi, or to the camping site to watch the sea of fog at Phu Ko, with prior permission obtained and with guides provided by the park for safety. Those interested in archeology should visit the Three-Thousand Year Sculptures of Phu Pha Yo at the cliff of Phu Pha Yo, as stone carvings in various shapes and forms, as trees, animals, humans and geometric forms. The carvings are estimated to be between 3,000-4,000 years old. The path is difficult, reached by a 4-wheel drive car or a pick – up truck only, starting from Tao Ngoi District, along the route to Ban Si Wicha for about 6 kilometers, turning left along dirt road to the foothill, with steps leading up to the site, taking about 20 minutes to climb.
From Tao Ngoi District, you can use Highway 2287 over the Phu Phan Mountain Range to Dong Luang District, linked to Na Kae and That Phanom Districts of Nakhon Phanom Province. The route triVerses the jungle of Phu Phan, with only Phra That Phu Kamphra as an attraction on the way. Na Kae was the starting point of armed struggle of the Communist Party of Thailand that lasted 25 years. It is now covered with rice fields that turn gold in winter before harvest.
That Phanom District is situated on the Mekong, opposite to Kam Muan and Savannakhet Provinces of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, with romantic Mekong atmosphere, tempting and inviting. There are good guesthouses in the area. Recommended is Krisda Aim Khong Hotel and Resort. On Mondays and Thursdays, an open Thai-Lao bazaar is put up along the river embankment.
The true highlight of a visit to Nakhon Phanom, however, is to pay respect to Phra That Phanom in the heart of the city, considered the most important pagoda of holy relics in the Northeast. The holy relic, that of the breastbone of the Lord Buddha. is enshrined at Wat Phra That Phanom Woramahawihan, built around the 6th-the 8th centuries A.D. The pagoda is in stylized lotus shape 53.60 meters in height, with golden royal umbrellas on top. The present structure was reconstructed after the pagoda tumbled down in 1975 in a heavy rainstorm. The best time to visit the shrine is at dawn and at dusk when the pagoda is lit up in glittering gold against the deep blue sky.
From That Phanom District, Highway 212 leads along the Mekong River. On the way, you can visit Phra That Renu Nakhon in Renu Nakhon District, just before reaching the city. Nakhon Phanom has interesting temples and attractions, all along the Mekong. Significant temples worth visiting are Wat Ophat Si Bua Ban, housing Phra Tieo and Phra Thiam, two revered Buddha images, Wat Sithep Pradittharam with line murals in the prayer hall, Wat Mahathat the site of Phra That Nakhon, another important holy relic of the province, and Wat Pho Si, with Phra Thong an ancient Buddha image of the Lan Chang style.
On the Mekong River in front of the city, a large sand dune appears each year at low ebb, reflecting the morning sun as gold dune, named Hat Sai Thong Si Khotrabun, a famous Unseen Thailand site of the Northeast Those who fall in love with the Mekong can stay overnight in Nakhon Phanom, with such Unseen Paradise accommodation as Nakhon Phanom River View or the Menam Khong Grand View. You can also shop at Indochina Market, visit Ban Na Chok, a temporary home of President Ho Chi Minh when he sought refuge in Thailand, and Phra That Tha Uthen in Tha Uthen District before turning back to Sakon Nakhon on Highway 22, with Wat Phra That Mahachai to visit on the way.