Nakorn Panom – Lao – Vietnam
Beauty of the Far East
Story & Photos by Chaton Chokpattara
If you are planning to head east, there is no ASEAN route more popular than Nakorn Panom – Lao – Vietnam route. This new “Gate to ASEAN” has been taken by millions of travelers since the 3rd Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge 3 opened in 2011 and provided a better logistic solution between the 3 countries.
This promising route is full of opportunities and natural resources along its path, but what makes it unique is its distance. With only 367 kilometers long, the route requires less than a day drive from Nakorn Panom (Thailand) to Thakhek (Lao), Nam Pao border crossing (Lao), Vinh (Vietnam), Ha Tinh (Vietnam), and Dong Hoi (Vietnam), while the return trip to Thailand can be taken on the same route or through Mukdahan border crossing.
Forget bumpy dirt roads in the past; the roads are now safer and smoother, and if you hold an ASEAN passport, you won’t need a visa to cross the borders. The road from Nakorn Panom to Lao cuts through green hills and acres after acres of lush plantations and paddies. The first highlight of the trip lies within Hin Nam No Protected Area where the Central lndochina Limestone meets the Annamite Mountain Chain. Countless limestone peaks line themselves up across Lao to Vietnam and it’s impossible not to stop for some amazing panoramas along the way.
Crossing from Lao into Vietnam, our destinations are 3 central Vietnam cities – Vinh, Ha Tinh, and Dong Hoi. Vinh and Ha Tinh are located in Nghe An province while Dong Hoi is located in Quang Binh province which is known as a backpacker paradise with beautiful sparkling seas on Vietnam east coast.
The city of Vinh, the capital of Nghe An province, is dubbed as “the gate to southern Vietnam” and it is home to one of the most important monument of Vietnam’s history, “Ho Chi Minh Square”. It’s impossible to miss this historic square as an 18 meter tall statue of Ho Chi Minh stands majestically in front of the park. Vinh is the birthplace of this Vietnam hero who won Vietnam its independence from the French, and if you take a short drive out of town to Hoang Tru village, you can visit his childhood home as well.
Just 16 kilometers east of the city center, Cua Lo Beach is widely recognized as the most beautiful beach in central Vietnam with serene sands, coconut groves, and chilling restaurants. Not far from the beach lies Huong Tich Temple, one of the most important temples in Vinh, but the path to the temple might be quite difficult as you need to cross a lake, hike 2 kilometers through a forest path, and ride as cable car 500 meters up the hill, but the experience will truly be worth it.
Driving south, we’ll reach our second last destination, Ha Tinh. This beautiful port city boasts colonial architecture with roof homes and gothic style church tower. Dong Loc Road Junction holds historic significance of Vietnam modern history because this is where Viet Minh soldiers hold off the Americans. The junction was bombed by American bombers again and again and the legend of 10 brave female soldiers.
The road along the eastern coast of Vietnam leads us to Dong Hoi, Vietnam’s new industrial zone and deep-water port. Despite its modern development, small fisherman wharfs and lively fish markets are still the way of life here. Every time a fishing boat pulls in, you’ll see a circus of merchants flocking in to get their fresh prawns, shells, and fishes. Dong Hoi makes the perfect base for exploring Phong Nha Cave, one of the bigfgest caves with underground river in the world which is already approved as UNESCO World Heritage site. A boat ride is required to get you inside and discover thousands of unbelievable stalagmites and stalactites.
To fully enjoy the trip across eastern ASEAN and experience the best it has to offer, you should at least plan for a 4-5 day trip!