Udon Thani – Shake It and Wake It
Over the past six years, I’ve stayed in Udon Thani city on many occasions. Those days and nights are spread over countless trips to Thailand, and with each one, I’ve explored and found out more about a city I’ve grown to have a huge liking for and hunger to visit more often.
It’s a mellow, homely kind of city, but one that needs significant investment and promotion in terms of tourism, and so I thought I’d invest a little of my time in trying to promote it.
Here’s a short introduction and background to Udon Thani city.
Udon Thani is the capital of Udon Thani province in the north-east ( Isaan region) of Thailand. Situated 560 km from Bangkok, travelling to the city is accessible with regular air, train and bus routes. Udon is a transport centre that connects to all the major cities in Thailand. The city’s population is about 143,000 with expats contributing an estimated 2,500 plus to the figure.
The province itself is one of the most impoverished areas in Thailand with agriculture (mainly rice and sugar cane) being its primary industry along with its transport hub. The city itself is never going to creep up behind you, twist your arm, and take you on a rollercoaster ride. You need to poke it and prod it, shake it to life, and then you will be pleasantly surprised by what it has to offer.
Udon Thani hotels
The President Hotel on Amphoe Road is new, tidy, reasonably priced and only ten minutes drive from Udon Thani airport. The rooms are adequately furnished, cleaned each day and come with satellite TV and a good size bathroom. The balcony is a bonus too.
The room rate of 900 baht (US$30) includes breakfast, and all things considered, the price is not too bad for a hotel in a provincial city. The President Hotel’s breakfast spread is typical for a Thai two-star hotel. A self-service style breakfast includes omelettes, fried eggs, cereal and toast alongside many types of Thai dishes that most of us would only consider eating after midday.
The hotel has a large car parking area and if you enjoy a swim then pack your trunks or bikini because the swimming pool, pictured above, is a delightful sight on a hot and humid afternoon.
If you prefer a hotel a little more upmarket, then try the Ban Chiang Hotel (approx. 1200 baht) on Mookmontri Rd, and for those of you on a tighter budget, the Top Mansion situated on Sampantamit Road has rooms in the 400 – 500 baht range.
Out and about in Udon Thani
Where do we start? The first McDonald’s outlet has just opened in the city, and if that hasn’t put you off, then please read on.
There are lots of Thai and International restaurants in the city. Japanese, Cantonese and Western eateries add to a spicy mix of Thai restaurants, and of course the region’s very own unique blend of Isaan food. If you’re stepping off the Pattaya, Phuket and Phi Phi carousel of Thailand tourism, you’ll discover this northeastern city has a wide range of cuisine which won’t break down the door to your bank.
Udon Thani has a relaxed, gentle paced way of going about its day and it’s a city which offers a welcome break from the commercialised resorts which have such a magnetic draw to the majority of tourists visiting Thailand. Although if you’re seeking daytime attractions and scenic photo sessions, then you best not board your plane, train or bus. Disappointingly, Udon Thani pulls up short in terms of sightseeing opportunities in the city itself, but if you want shopping and nightlife, then it has a lot to offer.
Shopping in Udon Thani
Shopping in the city during the day leads most people to the Central Plaza Shopping Complex. The five-storey shopping and entertainment hub incorporates a multiplex cinema, ten pin bowling, fast food outlets, MK and Steak Sizzler restaurants and umpteen fashion boutiques.
Central Plaza has money exchanges, ATM’s, Tops Supermarket, Boots Pharmacy, Robinson’s Department Store, KFC, Pizza Hut and many other foods and retail stores. The air-conditioned mall is a welcome relief from Udon’s often hot temperatures. In a city with a shortfall of daytime entertainment, Central Plaza is where anyone in the know tends to head.
Things to do in Udon Thani
Udon Thani does have a few daytime attractions, but they’re unlikely to get your blood pressure soaring and pop beta-blockers to calm you down. Nong Prajak Park is not too far from the city centre and is an ideal place to enjoy a picnic amongst its beautifully landscaped gardens which surround a large lake. The city and its neighbouring area have many temples and the pick of these are – Wat Thipphayaratnimit, Wat Phothisomphon, Wat Ban Na Kha Thevi and Wat Matchimawat.
Travelling further afield, you can visit Udon Thani Province’s most famous tourist spot which dates back thousands of years, Ban Chiang Bronze Age archaeological site. Ban Chiang has been on the UNESCO World Heritage list since 1992 and is about 45 kilometres east of the city. The sights of Udon Thani are hardly white knuckle rollercoaster rides, but there is plenty of history and culture to view in and around the city. Udon Thani Provincial Museum on Phosi Road is one attraction for any culturally minded traveller who wishes to view the history, archaeology, geology and culture of Udon Thani Province.
Udon Thani Nightlife
Stepping off the train station platform and into the adjoining Centrepoint Night Market is not an option for a baggage laden traveller, but after checking into your hotel backtracking to the market would be an excellent idea. You can shop till you drop at Udon’s busy night market and then relax at one of the many small open-air restaurants inside this busy, bustling bazaar.
For a more spirited evening, nightlife lovers will find many lively bars within easy walking distance of the Centrepoint market. Udon Thani’s Nutty Park is in the heart of the city’s nightlife area and has a mass of western bars and bar girls. Mr Tong’s bar is next to the market and Udon Day and Night Bar Complex in Sampantamit Road and is another lively hotspot. The Charoen Hotel’s Yellow Bird night club is a popular venue for live music and is only a ten-minute walk from the main nightlife area.
Udon Thani is a little bare on day excursions, but big on shopping and markets, but a big plus is its nightlife scene which is more than a match for most of Thailand’s provincial cities. Pitch in decent standard hotels and the whole mix makes Udon Thani worth a visit for a few days at least. Udon Thani is the kind of place you may have to ‘shake, to wake it’, but when you do, you’ll discover she’s a bit of a sleeping beauty.
Martyn it actually looks quite nice and cosmopolitan.
Although I have travelled to the far North I have not been to UT. I guess the nearest I got was when I visited the Golden Triangle?
Its got 100% more bars than Prachuap, where a bar girl would be hard pressed to find a watering hole let alone a punter!
.-= Mike´s last blog ..Thai the Language of Love? =-.
Martyn, Thailand has such a lot to offer that it is going to take me years and years to see what I want to see.
After reading your post, I now want to see the Ban Chiang Bronze Age archaeological site.
(you can have the gals, I’ll take the old stuff)
And after, the Phu Phrabat Historical Park. Those rock formations are to die for.
Camera and me… here I come… eventually.
.-= Catherine´s last blog ..Interviewing Successful Thai Language Learners: Daniel T. Murphy =-.
Excellent overview of Udon Thani Martyn. One day I will make it there…although I have to admit that the new McDonalds does scare me a little. Ban Chiang sounds right up my ally though.
.-= Talen´s last blog ..World AIDS Day 2009 =-.
The swimming pool alone might make me visit! I’ve looked your town up on the map. i see that you are near Laos. Do you think there is a crossover of customs and culture from Laos?
.-= Emm´s last blog ..Liverpool: Bombed Out Church of St Luke =-.
Mike if you ever do make the Isaan region again then a stopover in Udon wouldn’t be a bad thing. There’s plenty of good restaurants around and the night market is quite a huge affair. Well worth a look.
Catherine I plan on visiting Ban Chiang myself at Christmas time. I have visited Phu Phrabat Historical Park but it was way before my blogging days and I haven’t got any photos of it so I must try and visit it this time as well. When you get round to seeing Ban Chiang try a couple of days in Udon, you’ll love the Compact and the night market as well.
Talen I’m actually going to try the McDonalds even though I’m not overly keen on them. It is housed in a new market complex just over the road from the Centrepoint market and so I’m going to check everything out. The new market has live music so I’ll have a listen and perhaps have a munch on a Big Mac or two.
Emm I have visited Laos twice before and it is a lot poorer than Thailand but yes the culture is very much the same as in the north east of Thailand. The Mekong River separates the two countries just 50 kilometres from Udon in the city of Nong Khai which is worth a visit as well.
some very cute girls in udon thani buddy nice photo you carnt beat a nice thai smile
issan and udon thani do need to be promoted more hoo don the place as a lot to offer for sure not so sure about MacDonald.s though but i guess that’s what they call progress give me burger king any-day
food and accommodation are plentiful and cheap in and around the city and as you point out with a hour drive to the border with lao udon thani makes for a great jumping of point for the north east heading to the mighty Mekong river and the road that runs adjacent can take you on some great adventures for the day our longer and if you dont drive then a bike is perfect for getting around udon thani and even down the river road where you can find a fantastic track to ride
some guys make the trip every year and seem to love it as i do also
issan and udon thani are easy to get to from bangkok and beyond if you have never been to issan give it a try regards john
.-= John´s last blog ..bus/ train/car to udon thani to nong khai =-.
John thanks for your input, I knew if I could get this past you then I would have done a half decent job. Udon really could do with some investment in a Elephant Camp or something just outside the city. A bigger project would be some kind of water park or amusement park, the city is big enough to cater for it. Udon could really take off with the right kind of project but it ain’t going to happen.
Thanks for this, Martyn. I’ve always felt Udon was not a very nice place, I think because I had only passed through it and on every occasion it was hot, windy and dusty — not a nice combination. But earlier this year I spent a couple of nights there, discovered the Centrepoint Night Market and really enjoyed it. But I still think Ubon is nicer, though there is even less going on.
Ban Chieng is really worth visiting and there is a nice little guest house looking out over the lake there.
.-= Lawrence´s last blog ..Car Tax and Passport =-.
To bring the dialogue down a notch or two, the beer garden at the night market area is a lovely spot, with good food and beer (think of Towers of Lager) amply available, with very attractive servers, ahem. I’ve stayed at the Top Mansion. More than acceptable place to stay and, as Martyn points out, cheap. But if you’re a western brand name shopper, then Top will be less than satisfactory. I think it’s great, er, cheap! And right on night life street, short walk to “Compact” centre (I love this Thai pronunciation).
To Em, less than hour’s bus ride to Lao PDR border. Do visit Vientiane (Vang Chang) for great food, lovely people and Beerlao!!!!
Good review Martyn.
.-= Siam.Rick´s last blog ..Blogging hotties live the high life =-.
Rick you seem to like the bits about Udon that I do, though the shopping complex for me means a quick visit and then leave Wilai to go it alone. The night market is great and is my favourite place to visit in the city. I’ve tried to buy a beer tower but can’t find one anywhere. It’d be ideal for the village garden, in fact perfect.
Lawrence I’m glad you enjoyed Udon and hope you’ll visit again. I have not been to Ubon but I am hopeful of perhaps taking a trip there sometime next year. I intend to do Ban Chiang at Christmas time.
Martyn, when you get to Bang Chiang, let’s see if you find out the one thing none of the information boards say, and it isn’t in any of the guide books I’ve seen. I found out by accident, of course, but maybe it should be obvious from the security around the site.
And if you come to Ubon during the cold season, let us know.
.-= Lawrence´s last blog ..Scorpion Invasion =-.
Lawrence your comment on Ban Chiang has got me intrigued. I spoke to Wilai today about going there over Christmas and she seemed very keen on the idea having never seen it herself. I won’t be making it to Ubon this time as it’s a very short trip I’m on with a mates wedding to attend in Khon Khaen as well. Hopefully I’ll get to Ubon next year.
Hi I have a quick question. my ex husband wants to take our teenage children to Udon Thani,thailand is it safe?will they come back?
John if they are in their late teens then I’d say they might not come back, purely because they’d enjoy it so much they wouldn’t want to go home. Udon Thani and Thailand in general is very safe but like anywhere in the world you still have to apply a little street savvy to certain situations. I don’t have any children myself but I’ve always said that if I had a young daughter then I think she’d be a lot safer walking around in Thailand than she would in the UK.
I am hoping to head over in December with my better half(much better) and 14 year old daughter.We will probably stay for about 5-6 days and then head south for 10 days. My Brother has been going over back and forth a few times in the last year to a ‘young one’ as we would say here and we hope to travel with him. I’ve been looking at accomodation and a couple of the villas look incredible especially the 2 gecko villas. I am trying to weigh up,the cost of the villas albeit that they are cheap compared to what we would pay anywhere else and the comfort to the possibility of getting something closer to the city with something to do for the daughter, or is there in fact anything to do for her age group around and is there anywhere in particular you might recomend. Actually any info you might have would be helpful. Thanks
Dave I have heard of the Gecko Villa but never stayed there and so I checked it out on the net. The location is certainly not good in the fact you will be a little self contained and off the beaten track. The prices are very steep although I’m sure the quality of the place would mirror that. For you, your wife and daughter you could book two decent rooms in Udon Thani city for a total of 400-1000 baht per room per night.
Udon Thani hasn’t got a lot of entertainment for kids. There are swimming pools such as the one at the Napalais Hotel which the public can use. The Central Plaza (formerly Chareonsri) Shopping Mall has a shop till you drop feel to it with a KFC and other eateries. The mall also has a cinema and ten pin bowling but very little else to impress a teenage girl. Night time and as a family there are plenty of local restaurants to dine at and of course the Centrepoint Night Market near the train station is a very impressive place. There’s also a McDonald’s just over the road. Not having children myself I’m at a loss to think of anywhere else apart from net and games cafes that might be of interest. Perhaps you should try posting to one of the Thai forums such as http://www.udonmap.com/udonthaniforum/
Thanks a mil for the info, thinking about the cost of the gecko it might be a better holiday for only the two of us and we would probably appreciate it more than the kids would. we will keep looking thanks
Dave I hope you find what you are looking for and have a great time in Udon.
As I must to work to earn my keep in Thailand, I am afraid reading is about all I will achieve in the coming months. I would one day like to explore mainland provincial towns, such as Udon, but for the time being work is taking over my life. I guess I can say I am grateful that I am at least in Thailand.
Once you’ve experienced Thailand I think you just want to go back there as soon as possible. I was there 6 years ago, and been wishing to take a longer vacation there every year since.
Land of the Smiles 🙂
Tjene thanks for your comment. I would struggle to stay away from Thailand for six months let alone six years. Hopefully you’ll get back to the Land of Smiles soon and perhaps spend some time in Udon Thani.
It seems that Udon Thani is an interesting place. Thanks to your write-up, you make me want to shake things up a bit there in Thailand. I’m so excited and I just can’t hide it!
Despite what you said about it being one of the poorer areas of Thailand, it looks very nice judging from those pictures and it certainly sounds like a nice place to visit. Thanks for the interesting read.
I need to agree with dsa because it shows in your picture that it was really a beautiful place. Well, i need to admit i like the picture of the 4 girls on top.