Nakhon Phanom is one of 4 places where a Thai-Laos Friendship Bridge has been built — the other 3 locations being in Nong Khai, Mukdahan, and Chiang Rai province. A 5th Thai-Laos Friendship Bridge (Beung Kan – Bolikhamxai) is set to open later in 2024, and a 6th bridge (Ubon Ratchathani – Salavan) has plans to open by late 2025.
All of the Thai-Laos Friendship Bridges are highway bridges that span the Mekong River to link the two Southeast Asian countries. The goal of the bridges has been to facilitate increased trade, tourism, and diplomatic ties between Thailand and the communist country of Laos, which has lived in relative isolation since becoming the most bombed country in the world during the Vietnam War (even though Laos was officially a neutral country during the conflict).
The Third Thai-Laos Friendship Bridge in Nakhon Phanom is formally known as Saphan Mittraphap 3 (Nakhon Phanom – Khammouane). The Thai word “saphan” (สะพาน) means bridge and “mittraphap” (มิตรภาพ) means “friendship” — however, mittraphap is much less commonly heard spoken compared to the Thai word for friend: phêuan (เพื่อน). The bridge was built in 2011 and is regularly used by Nakhon Phanom residents and people who live in neighboring provinces such as Sakon Nakhon.
The Friendship Bridge is located about 8 km outside of Nakhon Phanom city in the village of Ban Hom (บ้านห้อม). The highway bridge stretches about 780 meters across the Mekong River to the Laos province of Khammouane.
If you are planning a day trip into Laos from Thai provinces like Sakon Nakhon, Kalasin, or Maha Sarakham, the Third Friendship Bridge in Nakhon Phanom is your best bet for a quiet and relaxing escape into nature.
The Laos limestone mountains and karsts are gorgeous, and the waters are beautifully clear (due to lack of pollution). You can while away the day in a charming river hut, eating Laos food, drinking refreshments, and taking walks in the forest.
Backpackers also enjoy the rock climbing opportunities, as there are some 272 vertical & overhanging sport routes in the hilly area that surrounds the Laos town of Thakhek. There are also limestone caves which you can climb in.
If you are a motorcycle rider with a sense of adventure, you definitely want to choose the Nakhon Phanom Friendship Bridge (3) as your entrance point, because the famous Thakhek Loop is one of the most amazing Laos journeys you can take by motorbike. Plan for about 4 days if you want to complete the loop, as the journey is around 220 miles (350 km).
The Thai-Laos Friendship Bridge in Mukdahan is a good choice if you’re more interested in nightlife, bars, and restaurants (but without the Western tourist crowds). This Friendship Bridge links travelers to the Laos town of Savannakhet, which is a fun place to visit for a weekend excursion from Sakon Nakhon, Nakhon Phanom, or Kalasin.
Of course, the most highly traveled Friendship Bridge in Thailand is the one that connects Nong Khai with the Laos capital of Vientiane. This is certainly worth visiting for its history and cultural attractions, including Pha That Luang (a gold-covered stupa), Patuxai (Victory Gate), and the Wat Si Saket temple. But do expect Vientiane to be overflowing with Western tourists.
The Fourth Thai-Laos Friendship Bridge (Chiang Khong to Ban Houayxay) is located in the Northern province of Chiang Rai, rather than Northeast Thailand. So, it is 12+ hours from the other Friendship Bridges, and isn’t really in competition with them for tourists. This bridge is taken by residents and tourists in the Northern provinces of Thailand, such as Chiang Mai, Mae Hong Son, Nan, Pai, Phrae and Chiang Rai. One of the main attractions on the Laos side of this bridge is the Nam Nern Night Safari. This is a 24-hour wildlife spotting tour (by boat) through the Nam Et-Phou Louey National Park.
If you are taking a day trip from Thailand to Laos via the Nakhon Phanom Friendship Bridge (3) for a day trip, you should expect to budget a minimum of 2,500 baht ($70 USD). The same goes if you are entering Laos from one of the other friendship bridges. It will run you about 1,700 baht for the Laos Visa, with Picture + the Thai Entrance/Exit stamps. Then you’ll have the bus fare to pay (about 100 baht); taxi or van service on the other side (prices vary); and food/drink bills — eating and drinking in Laos restaurants or bars is usually very cheap.
Thais can take a day trip into Laos more cheaply, as they don’t have to pay for a Laos visa. If they enter with their passport, a Thai can enter Laos for free for 30 days. If a Thai person doesn’t have their passport, they can get a border pass that costs only 30 baht (instead of the 1,400 baht for a Laos Tourist Visa).
No, foreign tourists cannot take a boat into Laos from Nakhon Phanom. You used to be able to take a 30 minute long-tail boat ride into Laos from neighboring Mukdahan, but this is no longer an option. All foreigners must now use the bridges. However, Thais can cross the Mekong into Laos from Nakhon Phanom and other locations by boat (instead of the Friendship Bridge).
No, you can’t walk across the Nakhon Phanom Friendship Bridge, or any of the other road bridges linking Thailand with Laos. Tourists sometimes are allowed to walk partway onto the bridge to take photographs, but this is usually done by Thai tourists. If you are a foreign tourist, it would help to have some Thai language skills to convince officials that you aren’t going to try to walk the bridge but only want to go a little way to take photographs. Having some Thai language skills is especially helpful at the Nakhon Phanom bridge, as the Thai officials working there see far fewer Western tourists than at the other bridges.
After your excursion into Laos from Nakhon Phanom, we would highly recommend staying the night at one of the city’s hotels on the Mekong. All of these hotels and resorts are quite lovely, and you’ll enjoy the beautiful views of the Laos limestone hills across the river. There are also a number of Nakhon Phanom temples on the riverfront that are well worth visiting.