Udon Thani, or Udon for short, is an important regional hub that connects northeastern Thailand with the rest of the country as well as neighbouring Laos. Once a far-flung, sleepy provincial town, Udon sprang into action when the Thai and US governments built a joint-force military base there during the Vietnam War, bringing a large influx of GIs and Vietnamese immigrants to the city, thus creating a multi-culturally diverse base which lasts until today.
Besides its military past, Udon is home to one of the world’s earliest bronze-age civilizations, at Ban Chiang. Archaeological evidence – earthenware pottery and bronze fragments – unearthed here suggest that the prehistoric settlements existed between 2100BC and 200AD. Other ancient structures and artifacts are also found inside Phu Phra Baht Historical Park. Here, rising amidst a vast sandstone mountain are peculiar rock formations, as well as dinosaur foot prints, cave paintings and Buddhist structures.
Udon is approximately 560km from Bangkok. The urban centre, Udon City, is home to a large concentration of expats, some of whom settled down here after the war. Udon’s dining and nightlife scene is, therefore, culturally diverse and offers good choices.
What to Do in Udon Thani
Besides being a major transport hub in the northeast, Udon is also home to the well-known archaeological site at Ban Chiang (55km from the city), where prehistoric settlements and earthenware pottery dating between 2100BC and 200AD were unearthed. Equally fascinating is Phu Phra Baht Historical Park (67km from the city), with sandstone caves, caverns, prehistoric cave paintings and peculiar-shaped rocks dotting its beautiful landscape. Phu Foi Lom Eco Park (40km southwest of the city) is ideal for hiking and overnight camping.
Inside the city area, Nong Prajak Park is a pleasant recreational space for relaxing, jogging and picnicking. Udon Thani Provincial Museum, housed inside a historic building that once was the royal residence of Queen Rampai Panni (King Rama VII’s princess consort), is a must-visit, for its architectural heritage and collection of exhibits.
Udon Thani Hotels - Where to Stay in Udon Thani
Hotels in the city centre are mostly modest and inexpensive, although the interior décor may feel a little outdated. The lack of international chain hotels is made up for by the presence of reputable local chain like Centara and efficiently run mid-size hotels.
Udon Thani Restaurants
Udon has plenty of restaurants, and the choice ranges from northeastern Thai fare to a diverse range of international cuisine. Many are open-air, garden-restaurant style, in shady pockets of trees. These usually serve local Isan and typical Thai dishes, including northeastern-style hot pots (jim joom). Rabeang Pochana (Saphakit Janya Rd, near Prajak Lake) is highly recommended.
For tasty western food, head to the area surrounding Charoensri Complex (Prajak Rd.) – check out Mojo’s Bar and Bella Italia. Good Everything (Pho Niyom Rd.) near Prajak Lake offers set lunches, pastas, steaks and homemade cakes with fresh coffee and juices. Another menu not to miss while in Udon is Vietnamese pork sausage or ‘naem neaung’.
Udon Thani Nightlife
Udon has a lively nightlife scene. Most bars and pubs that cater to foreign expats and visitors are concentrated around Charoensri Complex. Check out Aussie Pub & Restaurant (Teekatananon Rd.) for pub grub and beer from the land down under, or nearby The Irish Clock (Sampantamit Rd.) for draught Guinness and Kilkenny beer. Mr Tong’s (Prajak Rd.) hosts DJ parties and serves a large selection of western and Thai dishes along with local beers.
Closer to the train station, Centre Point and Lum Udon Night Markets are the two places you will be able to taste some fried insects (an Isan specialty) as well as a diverse range of street-side snacks. Centre Point features live concerts on weekends. For those looking for a little company, Adulyadet Road, out from Watthana Road, which runs from the centre has many karaoke bars.
Udon Thani Shopping
Like other provincial towns in Thailand, Udon has its own specialty handicrafts and snacks worth checking out. It’s particularly known for hand-woven silk, ‘kid’ (raised, diamond-shaped pattern brocade) textile, pottery and Vietnamese sausage ‘naem neaug’. Na Kha village is where to buy silk and ‘kid’ garments. You can watch the craftswomen at work and see all the different ‘kid’ patterns being created. Charoensri Shopping complex in the city centre is where you can escape the day’s heat while shopping for clothes, electronic gadgets, or local souvenirs.
Udon Thani Activities
Most of the places for outdoor activities are located outside the city centre, and Udon has a handful of them to keep you entertained. Huay Luang, a large reservoir west of the city centre, is an ideal place to go rafting, fishing, or cruising. For overnight camping, waterfall hiking or a picnic, journey out to Phu Foi Lom Eco Park, home to a large diversity of wildlife and forest. A bit farther out, at the area bordering Nong Bua Lamphu and Loei, is Erawan Cave, housed inside an imposing limestone outcrop. To get to the cave, you have to climb up some 100 steps. You can also catch the view of the surrounding countryside from the summit.
Getting Around Udon Thani
An important gateway to Laos as well as Thailand’s northeast, Udon is easily reached by air, rail and car. Thai Airways as well as budget airlines Nok Air and Air Asia operate daily flights from Bangkok to Udon Thani Airport. Several rail lines leave Bangkok’s Hua Lamphong Station, whereas air-conditioned buses leave from Bangkok’s Northeastern Bus Terminal (Mo Chit) also on a daily basis. The bus ride takes about 8-9 hours.
Once in Udon City, the most popular mode of transport is the tuk-tuk (motorised three-wheeler) and song teaow (passenger-carrying converted pickup truck). Tuk-tuks can be a bit tricky, since there’s no set rate per trip – you have to rely on your negotiation skills or end up paying a lot more than necessary. Song-teaows may be a better option. Metered taxis are also available.
An important gateway to Laos as well as Thailand’s northeast, Udon is easily reached by air, rail and car. Thai Airways as well as budget airlines Nok Air and Air Asia operate daily flights from Bangkok to Udon Thani Airport. Several rail lines leave Bangkok's Hua Lamphong Station, whereas air-conditioned buses leave from Bangkok’s Northeastern Bus Terminal (Mo Chit) also on a daily basis. The bus ride takes about 8-9 hours.