Between Nakhon Sawan and Luang Prabang

[This is the third and final post about my commutes between my favourite flight hub of Bangkok and my pied à terre in Luang Prabang. The others are Train no. 211 from Bangkok and (My) life in Nakhon Sawan. They’re memories of travels impossible and places unreachable in Covid-times.]

From Nakhon Sawan it’s a boring bus ride to Phitsanulok. I often passed through the city starting out as a tour leader in Thailand in the 1990’s, and enjoyed visits to the Buddha Casting Foundry with its traditional production methods. These days I don’t get into town, just stay overnight across the road from the bus terminal east of the city, where there is one of those clean and bright no-frills hotels  found in Thai provincial towns. The family that runs it is none too outgoing. But there is always a nod of recognition, or an ’it’s-been-a-while’ .

Nearby at an intersection is this sign:

Now this is a bit grand. No car or truck from Malaysia, China or Vietnam ever passes by. But Phitsanulok is a major domestic traffic hub. Straight west the road leads to the Myanmar border at Mae Sot, straight east to the Lao border at Mukdahan. Buses run south to Bangkok and north to each and all of the northern provinces.

Beyond Phitsanulok there are several possible routes to Luang Prabang, shown on the map below. I usually continue to Loei, and move on to Luang Prabang the next day. It is fastest and, well, cheapest.

But the route through Nan province also makes for interesting travel. This goes: bus from Phitsanulok to Nan; minivan to the Thai-Lao border at Moeng Nguen; a walk through no-man’s-land; finding some or other vehicle to Pakbeng on the Mekong; a boat down river to Luang Prabang.

I haven’t yet traveled the Uttaradit – Paklay stretch myself. Bucket list!

Text continues below map.

A geographical appendix

Each of these routes at some point must cross the divide between the Mekong and Chao Phraya basins. Interested in everything Mekong I try to figure out where exactly this divide runs, both by trying to work out the lie of the land while on the road, and by studying the unsurpassed Google Earth and following streams and rivers on its satellite images.

(Incidentally: how great an escape is Google Earth in times of lockdown. It allows me virtual travel, transports me to faraway places I’d rather be.)

It must be then that the Thai-Lao border follows the Mekong-Chao Phraya divide in the north of Thailand’s Nan Province, and the east of its Uttaradit Province.

The divide must run inside Thailand between the towns of Phitsanulok and Loei. But while traveling there, it is difficult to determine its course as there are several longer climbs and descends along the way. Google Earth also doesn’t provide a clear answer, so in this case the marking on the map is just an educated guess.

You may also be interested in an older post, describing my commutes from Luang Prabang to Bangkok in the opposite direction: