A to Z Travel Guide to Udon Thani
Over the past year or so, Beyond the Mango Juice has put more time and effort into promoting Udon Thani as a tourist-friendly city. This site now has various hotel and restaurants reviews, information on Udon Thani nightlife, and write-ups of some the best tourist attractions in the city and surrounding province. I thought it would be a good idea to further add to those efforts with an A to Z travel guide to Udon Thani.
Click on any of the photos to enlarge.
Udon Thani International Airport is on the outskirts of the city and about a 15-minute taxi ride from the city centre. There are regular flights to and from Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi International Airport and Don Mueang each day. Thai Air, Nok Air and Air Asia fly daily to Udon Thani, and flight duration is about one hour.
Udon Thani’s central bus station is only a two-minute walk from the city’s main nightlife area and its many hotels, restaurants and bars. Bus routes connect to most major cities, and both standard and VIP coaches are available. Buses leave for Udon Thani from Bangkok’s Morchit bus station regularly throughout the day. The journey is about 560 kilometres and takes around eight hours.
Central Plaza Shopping Mall
Shopping in Udon Thani went upmarket this year when Central Plaza opened its doors to the public. The newly built plaza has fashion stores, sportswear, restaurants, electronics, banking and much more. Entertainment and activities include Major Cineplex, Major Bowl and a kid’s Fun Planet. An ice rink is now under construction as well. Central Plaza has parking facilities for 2,000 cars and 2,000 motorcycles.
Daytime in Udon Thani
Udon Thani isn’t a vibrant tourist city, but anyone on a short stay in the city can find enough attractions to keep them busy and satisfied. Ban Na Kha Silk village, Udorn Sunshine Orchid Farm, Nong Prajak Park and Udon Thani Provincial Museum are all places worth visiting. UNESCO World Heritage site Ban Chiang and Phu Prabat Historical Park are places of great interest for those prepared to travel out of the city.
The city is blessed with many fine foreign and Thai restaurants catering for a variety of tastes. Restaurants in Udon Thani are spread all around the city, and any hotel booking should afford a choice of restaurants not too far away. There are also budget Thai suki hot-pot restaurants and western-style all-you-can-eat buffets as well.
Udon Thani is well equipped to deal with foreign money and traveller’s cheques. Udon Thani’s airport, Central Plaza shopping mall, major banks and some big superstores have money changing facilities, and many ATM’ s(cashpoint) take foreign bank and credit cards.
Getting around the city is easy and quite cheap. Songthaews (small buses), samlors (picture opposite), pedal-driven rickshaws and taxis are all available in Udon Thani. As always it’s advisable to negotiate your fare before boarding, and in general, the prices are very reasonable. Car hire is available at the airport and hotels will provide details of car rental companies. You can rent motorcycles too.
Udon Thani has a big choice of hotels and apartments to suit high-flying business executives down to cash-conscious backpackers. Udon’s top hotel is the 4-Star Centara Hotel, but apartment rooms in the city can be booked for under 300 baht (US$10). The impressive-looking Pannarai Hotel (pictured right) has room rates starting at 1,200 baht.
Intergames Park is the venue for horse racing in Udon Thani. The races are held every Saturday and entrance to the racecourse is free. Bets can be placed via the racecourse Tote kiosks, and the action starts at midday with ten races on the card. There is a sizeable well-attended grandstand and behind it rows of food and drink stalls with seating. Horse racing in Udon Thani is fast, furious and fun.
If you’re in Udon Thani, then you really should try some local snacks like deep-fried Jing Leed (crickets), Non-Mai (worms) and Isaan’s speciality insect snack Maeng Da (beetles). Udon Thani’s Centrepoint night market has stacks of Isaan snacks as well as lots of traditional Thai and western food stalls. You can even grab a kebab at Udon’s buzzing Centrepoint night market or try a plate of Isaan’s fiery papaya salad Som Tum.
Fast-food fans will be delighted to know KFC and McDonald’s are alive and well in Udon Thani. Starbucks, Mister Donut and ice cream franchise Swensen’s are other significant brand names tourists will be happy to see and Thai outlet The Pizza Company will delight fast food fanatics begging for a bite of pepperoni.
If your hotel doesn’t have a swimming pool or fitness gym, ask about one that does. The Napalai Hotel (pictured right) has both, and non-residents can use the facilities for a minimal charge. Other leisure activities in Udon Thani include ten pin bowling at Central Plaza, and Nong Prajak Park has an evening group fitness class, a jogging and cycling track, and Thai massage.
Udon Thani Provincial Museum exhibits the history, archaeology, geology and culture of Udon Thani. The artefacts on view inside the two-storey museum include items from Ban Chiang and Phu Prabat Historical Park. Entrance to the museum is free although donations are welcomed.
Night Markets in Udon Thani
Udon Thani has two huge night markets either side of its railway station stretching a combined length of over one kilometre. Centrepoint market sits one side and the fashionable UD Town on the other. Centrepoint market is a mass of bric-à-brac, clothing, food stalls and small bars. UD Town matches all that and more with designer shops and restaurants added to its mix. Both markets regularly feature live music and have giant TV screens for the top sports action. The night markets are busy every night of the week, even more so on weekends, and if you are visiting Udon Thani, they are NOT to be missed.
Udon Thani is a red shirt political stronghold, but sports lovers might be more interested in the orange shirts of Udon Thani FC. They play in Thai football’s North-East Division One and have just finished their 2012 season just outside the play-offs. Home games are at the Institute of Physical Education which is not too far from Udon Thani airport.
Nightlife in Udon Thani is perfect for any traveller who loves to party. The city’s main nightlife area has a host of bars and restaurants with Nutty Park and Day & Night’s multi-bar complex’s being big favourites for those with an eye for pretty bar girls. Late night music bars Mr Tong’s, Croc’s Club and Model 59 Bar are very popular too. The Irish Clock bar in Sampantamit Road has live music twice a week, Indian curry nights and Irish stout Guinness on tap.
Quality of life in Udon Thani for tourists is as good as they want to make it. There are high standard hotels, fine wine restaurants and designer shops, what more does an affluent traveller need. The city may sit in a vast rural region of the country, but your mosquito net and battery torch will not be required. Udon Thani has quality at a price far cheaper than Thailand’s popular hallmarked tourist resorts.
A first or second class ticket on an overnight sleeper train can be booked from Bangkok to Udon Thani for fares of approximately 1,100 and 700 baht. The journey by rail takes around 10-11 hours and is a delightful way to travel despite it being a little slow. Second class non-sleeper trains also travel each day, and Udon Thani connects by rail to Nongkhai, Khon Kaen, Nakhon Ratchasima, Ayutthaya and Saraburi.
Ban Na Kha Silk Village is 15 kilometres outside of the city and is a well-known tourist attraction. The village has a large market selling locally made quality silk, and cotton khit-style weaved fabrics and next to it is Wat Ban Na Kha Thevi and its big Golden Buddha. You can kill two attractive birds with one stone by visiting Ban Na Kha and buy quality silk, and khit-style weaved garments while you are there.
Udorn Sunshine Orchid Farm
One of the city’s most popular and publicised tourist attractions is Udorn Sunshine Orchid Farm. Udorn nursery developed the world’s first orchid perfume Miss Udorn Sunshine scent, and the farm has many varieties of hybrid Vanda orchids on display as well as their famous Dancing Plants which boogie to music. Perfumes and herbal Dancing Tea are sold from the farm shop.
Udon Thani is a perfect base camp for anyone planning a visa or day trip to Laos via Nong Khai’s Thai–Lao Friendship Bridge which spans the Mekong River. Nong Khai is a 50-kilometre straight highway drive from the city, and Udon’s wide-range of hotels, lively nightlife and excellent shopping facilities make it an ideal place for a few days stay. Udon Thani airport is an obvious plus point too for marking the city as your home base for any planned trip to Laos.
Udon Thani and the surrounding area has its fair share of temples (Wats). Wat Pa Baan That, former home of much-loved Thai forest meditation monk Ajahn Maha Bua is not too far from the city limits, and Wat Ban Na Kha Thevi (pictured right) is another temple worth making the short journey to the silk market (Ban Na Kha Silk Village) there makes the trip a double hit. Wat Phothisomphon, Wat Thipphayaratnimit and Wat Pa Ban Kho are other temples which attract considerable interest.
I’m sure you will not need any extra help during your stay in Udon Thani but if you do, here are some useful telephone numbers;
Tourist Police 1155
Yanks and Brits
Americans, British, German, Danish and Australians are a part of the western mixture which form Udon Thani’s large expat community. Udon Thani’s value-for-money living standards, excellent facilities and varied social life make it an ideal place for expats to settle. If you visit Udon Thani and need local knowledge and know-how, then the city’s expats are always willing to offer advice and help. Their extensive presence is also the ultimate stamp of approval on the quality of life in Udon Thani.
Sleep easy and wake up in Udon Thani to discover a five-star city which I’m sure will give you a very pleasant and enjoyable stay.
I haven’t much enjoyed my few trips to Udon, it’s usually been windy and dusty, but you are a very persuasive advocate, Martyn. I hope the A-Z doesn’t mean we’ve read the last of Udon, though, because I do enjoy reading about it. I must say I was wondering how you were going to make it through to Z, but your usual verbal skill triumphed.
Lawrence – I’ve got more to come about Udon, and even more after my Christmas trip.
I’ve never noticed it being windy, apart from when I’m sat in the back of a samlor. Dusty?….no to that as well.
I got stuck on a few letters, Y was the hardest one. X and Z were sorted long before that one.