Moon over Mekong

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In 1991 Billy and Akaisha Kaderli retired at the age of 38. Now, into their 3rd decade of this financially independent lifestyle, they invite you to take advantage of their wisdom and experience.




Billy and Akaisha Kaderli

Concerns about flying PB Air quickly faded when we saw the fifty seat jet sitting on the tarmac. This flight was to take us across Thailand to Nakhon Phanom, a small town on the Mekong River bordering Laos. 

The corporate style jet  touched  down  in  a little  over one hour, 17 Kilometers from town. After paying a small price for a taxi, we settled into our guest house, a stone’s throw from the river. 


It is from here that we started our journey south, following this ancient waterway, stopping at known trade routes, natural wonders, and temples, ending at the eastern most point in Thailand, Khong Chiam.

Few foreign tourists pass through this area as is evidenced by the lack of English spoken and menus only in Thai. We asked while visiting a local school, when the last time they had seen “people like us.” Three years ago was their answer.


This fact proved interesting, as our command of the Thai language is poor at best. Last night at dinner when we asked for a beer, they brought us two milkshakes, but at least we received the food we ordered. 

Nakhom Phanom, according to local tradition, is the oldest city in Thailand (said to be more than 2,000 years old), and was visited by the Buddha. We expected to find a city filled with charm, rich in custom and heritage. Instead, we discovered an uninspiring, gray, almost faceless industrial metropolis. 

Ho Chi Minh's House in Ban Na Jok is a point of interest here, although many tourists do not know this attraction exists. Only five kilometers from the city center, in 1923,  Ho  Chi  Minh  and 200 soldiers went underground for six years. Living with the Isan villagers, they planned Vietnam’s liberation from the French colonialists. He earned his income by growing betel nuts, rice and vegetables.

Many of the locals who are refugees from Vietnam were hesitant to admit they were Vietnamese, for there was great negative sentiment against them by the Thais. However their presence was considerable, as evidenced by the Vietnamese writing on the town clock. It wasn’t until recently that the governments of Vietnam and Thailand openly discussed the historical significance of this area.

As the leader of the Vietnamese nationalist movement for nearly three decades, Ho was one of the prime movers of the post-World War II anti-colonial movement in Asia, and one of the most influential communist leaders of the 20th century. Founder of the Indochina Communist Party (1930) and its successor, the Viet-Minh (1941), he was president from 1945 to 1969 of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam). 

He is still very well respected in this region of Thailand where many of the people are descendents of refugees. Local sentiment has also relaxed, and now to say one is Vietnamese no longer brings damaging consequences. 

Next stop, an international trade route through three countries!


The map showed a bridge connecting Laos to Thailand here. Not so. Only a sign was placed marking the future site! 


Our trip south to Mukdahan, 56 Baht on an air-con bus, took two hours through many farming villages along the Mekong. Having learned of the "proposed bridge," we spoke with the engineer in charge of the project. He assured us that in two years this crossing would be completed. 


We did notice many new buildings on the Thai side of the border, and the new pier was fantastic, but looking across to Laos we could not see any progress. Once this connection is completed, both the topography of this city, as well as the economics will be altered. Goods from Vietnam and Laos will have easy access for delivery to Thailand, and to the larger city of Bangkok to the south. However, for now, river ferries will have to suffice.

One of the reasons for stopping here was the Indochine market. There were lots of goods at decent prices, plus many unusual fabrics. Both solid colors and hand painted silks of Thailand were offered, as well as exquisitely hand painted fabrics from Vietnam. Purses simulating 18 karat gold with diamonds were more than eye catching and it took discipline not to purchase one, merely to own it!


Something not to be missed in this area of Thailand, is the large fish caught from the Mekong River. They call them giant catfish, and are seen everywhere in the food market. So for dinner we ordered Pla Kratiem Prik Thai, Fried River Fish, with garlic and pepper. Succulent!

That evening, we couldn't overlook the opportunity to wander through the night market where there were the usual CD stores, clothes, and all kinds of food items for sale. Some we recognized, and others well, the origins were questionable. However, the made to order banana chocolate pancake was irresistible for dessert, and perfect for a finish to our meal.


The next morning while strolling, we could see a large tower in the distance. Although not mentioned or advertised anywhere, we discovered the Mukdahan Tower, about two kilometers from town. This monument is 213 feet high and was built in 1996, in honor of the King of Thailand's 50th Anniversary of accession to the throne. 


Taking the elevator to the top, we could see 360 degree views of the city, and the flowing Mekong River. The vista was quite impressive, showing rice fields, dirt paths and highways, hills, plains and the neighboring country of Laos. In fact, we could see the "future site" of the bridge! 

The stem of the tower served as a place to collect and display historic items and antiques of Mukdahan Province. There were the traditional costumes of the eight tribes of Thailand, as well as old coins,

paper money, and tools used by the villagers. Some photos taken many decades ago showed that little has changed over the years. 

The deep pearl shaped top of the tower is a Buddhist shrine, with numerous sacred images made from silver. Many Thais pay respect here, and the scent of flowers and incense was calming. 

Well worth the ten Baht entry fee, the tower should not be omitted if you’re in the area. 

As luck would have it that evening, the immense full moon rising over Laos and the Mekong was both elegant and timeless. We could not help but spend time on the pier contemplating tomorrow’s travel as we prepared to leave for the natural wonders of Khong Chiam.


Wedged between the Moon and Mekong Rivers, Khong Chiam is where the sun rises first on Siam, the eastern-most point of Thailand.

With all of its natural beauty, this community is located in one of the more underprivileged areas of Thailand. You won’t find internet, hot showers, or fine restaurants here. The people do not have much materially compared to others, but they are rich with tradition and smiles. The innocence and naivete here is difficult to put into words. The sense is that most things have not changed for decades,  perhaps  longer.  We  were  warmly  welcomed everywhere. They invited us to join them and share their food on more than one occasion.


The further south we traveled, language seemed to be more of an issue. In Khong Chiam the tourists were mostly Thais, and not for-eigners, so our accent was met with complete confusion.

Our speaking of words for common everyday meals, was returned with puzzlement and blank stares.  Fortunately,  the  word  for  fish  is easy to pronounce (pla), and is in abundance here from the Mekong. That with some fresh vegetables, rice and a beer, and we were all set. As is typical of undeveloped areas, there didn’t seem to be much currency in circulation and even popular restaurants had a hard time breaking larger bills.


We rented a boat and driver to take us to the Two Colored River, the confluence of the Mekong and Moon Rivers.  When these two rivers collide, the  different  amounts of suspended sand and silt in the waters cause this reaction, creating the two different colors.


The river trip was relaxing, a little hyped in our opinion, but the landscape in this area is awesome. The story goes that during the rainy season, these rivers surge, deepen, and the waterworn island we were standing on would easily be sub-merged eight feet. Excellent for the fishermen, but navigating these waters by boat could be challenging with the many hidden islands.

Hiring a tuk tuk for half a day to take us to Pha Taem Caves, and the Sao Chaliang mushroom rocks was ten bucks which included a tip for good service.


From the town center, we motored for an hour in the open air through wooded areas viewing small collections of homes on stilts, and a village here and there.

Reminiscent of the Midwest in autumn, the landscape seemed familiar, yet it was a world away. Crossing a bridge, we saw a herd of long horned water buffalo lounging in the river below, along with the Thai women who were guiding their way home.

Not far from here, our driver stopped at Sao Chaliang. The collection of mushroom rocks created from millions of years of differing erosion rates of the sandstone was dis-tinctive. Why they haven’t yet fallen over was a mystery. After seeing these formations while touring around, we started to notice them more and more in the general area.


Finally arriving at the Pha Taem Caves, we passed through a visitor center with no charge, and received a map with directions for a two hour walk. Then we descended steeply down the side of the cliff, on a well marked but narrow, trail. Coming upon the prehistoric cave paintings, our eyes widened.


We have never seen anything like this before; a rare sight indeed. Sharply defined, still retaining the color of animal blood and dirt from the surrounding area, were more than 300 images, thousands of years old. Animals, geometrical designs and palm prints, though basic, contained artistic merit, easily appreciated.

Opposite the paintings, throughout the entire hike, you could see dramatic views of Laos and the Mekong River valley through towering groves of bamboo.

Our trip to Eastern Thailand allowed us to experience Thailand as it has been for centuries, raw and unspoiled from tourism. The ancient waterway of the Mekong and viewing timeworn international trade routes, studded with sculptured natural and man made marvels, both captivated us and filled our minds with wonder.

Sa wa dee from Isan, Thailand!

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About the Authors

Billy and Akaisha Kaderli are recognized retirement experts and internationally published authors on topics of finance, medical tourism and world travel. With the wealth of information they share on their award winning website, they have been helping people achieve their own retirement dreams since 1991. They wrote the popular books, The Adventurer’s Guide to Early Retirement and Your Retirement Dream IS Possible available on their website bookstore or on

Retire Early Lifestyle appeals to a different kind of person – the person who prizes their independence, values their time, and who doesn’t want to mindlessly follow the crowd.

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