Udon Thani (อุดรธานี, also Udorn Thanee) is the provincial capital of Udon Thani Province in the north-eastern Isaan region of Thailand. Often referred to as simply Udon (อุดร), the city should not be confused with its near-twin Ubon (Ubon Ratchathani) to the south.
Udon was a U.S. air base during the Vietnam War and grew rapidly at that time. After several decades of snoozing, Udon's tourism industry has been given by the dual boost of the archeaological site at Ban Chiang and the new bridge to Laos from nearby Nong Khai.
Udon Thani International Airport (UTH) serves only flights to Bangkok and Chiang Mai, Bangkok and Loei but as of January 2005 the Bangkok route is quite competitive: you have choice of THAI, Air Asia, Nok for this brief 50-minute hop, a total of eleven flights per day. THAI's rack rates are closer to 2300 baht, but Air Asia will fly you for 700 baht and Nok air will fly you for 1250 if you book well in advance. For no obvious reason other than perhaps anticipation of even more demand, a brand new terminal was open on Feb 06.
There are four daily buses direct to the Friendship Bridge in Nong Khai from the airport, roughly synchronized with flight arrivals. Buy tickets (150 baht) at the taxi desk. Note that these buses will drop you off into a pit of tuk-tuks, which will try to convince you that you need their services at 20 baht a shot; unless you have baggage, you can ignore them and just walk out to the road, from where you can see the Thai checkpoint less than 500 metres away.
Buses from Bangkok, an 8-hour ride, arrive at the BKS station to the north of the city. There are departures at least once per hour to Nong Khai (20 baht, 1 hour, non-aircon 3rd class) on the Lao border, and four express buses a day direct to Vientiane (80 baht, air-con 1st class).
Buses from Nong Khai may drop you off north of the city. Follow the locals and hop on the waiting #6 songthaew for the ride to the bus station, or be left at the tender mercies of the tuk-tuk mafia.
Navigation around Udon Thani is made easier by three large roundabouts in the central roads - a clocktower, a fountain (although no water present) and a statue. It's also possible to orientate yourself with Robinsons or Nong-Prajack park. Street names are next to useless.
Udon Thani has one of Thailand's largest samlor (three-wheeled bicycle taxi) fleets, although as elsewhere they are slowly succumbing to the pressure of internal combustion.
Tuk-tuks, the noxious vanquishers of the samlor, prowl the streets on the lookout for farangs to rip off.
Udon Thani has a bus-like network of numbered songthaews; cost is 7 baht per trip.
Udon has a variety of sights although most visitors make a beeline for Laos or the bronze age excavations east of Udorn at Ban Chiang. Within Udon you have the Udon Sunshine Orchid Farm which is famous for a variety of orchids, orchid derived perfumes, and plants that "dance to music".
15 km north of Udon along Route 2 is the village of Ban Nakha, famous for selling home woven silk and cotton garments. It is somewhat commercialized but a walk back from the highway into the village can net some great bargains on silks and cottons.
60 km north-west of Udon near the Amphoe of Ban Phue is PraBuddhabat National Park, a marvelous ridgeline with numerous sandstone edifices several thousand years old. Bronze age cave paintings are also within the park.
40 km south-west of Udon is the Pu Foi Lom Eco-Park located high on a ridgeline. Numerous trails and rainy season water falls are within the park. South of Udon is a large wetlands area/lake called Khumpawapi. In the October time frame traditional dragon boat races are held on the lake. Within Khumpahawapi is a city park with a large troupe of monkeys that have been living there for over a hundred years.
Within the city a large recreational area call Nong Prajack Park is the primary site for locals to exercise and chill out. Consisting of a large lake/reservoir with several small islands, it features pleasant grass areas and activities such as nightly aerobics (to Thai pop music) and feeding bread crumbs to the fish. For the more active, it's also popular for jogging around the outsite of the lake.
- Several large markets to visit.
- Chareonsri Center is Udon Thani's biggest and fanciest shopping mall, featuring five floors of shopping, including a large Robinson's department store and a TOPS Supermarket.
Further out east from the centre is a Makro store, cheap for bulk purchases) and a Big C shopping complex (both groceries and assorted goods) with much cheaper pricing than Robinsons.
On the ring road east-side are several large home improvement stores; Home Mart, Global House, and Tool Pro. Also on the east-side ring road is the new Bo Bei Clothing Market.
On the ring road north-side is a Tesco Lotus superstore.
Within the city itself are numerous 7-11's as well as many mini-marts with western snacks and goods.
Eat & Drink
- Chareonsri Center. All your favorite farang and Thai restaurant chains on the 1st floor, and a large food court on the 3rd.
- A range of buffet restaurants have opened in Udon Thani, allowing Korean-style cook it yourself BBQ in a raised dish over a charcoal burner in the centre. Around the outside of the dish, water is placed allowing vegetables to be boiled. An all you can eat buffet ranges from 39 baht to 89 baht.
Inexpensive accommodation can be found around town, including hotels for as little as 160 baht per night, or apartments for rent by the month for 1800 baht/month.
- Grand Chareonsri, located in the shopping centre, is the main hotel used by foreigners - but not the most affordable.
- Gecko Villa, out of town, offers a spacious country house and private pool.
- Vientiane, the capital of Laos, is about one and a half hours away across the Mekong. Express Air conditioned busses leave the Udorn Central bus station three times daily for Vientiane. Bus Fare one way as of 10/2005 is about $2. A visa on arrival for Laos at the Friendship Bridge costs $30 for 15 days (two passport photos also required).
- The Ban Chiang archeaological dig is a UNESCO World Heritage site about 35 kilometers east of Udon. Both busses and inter-village songthaews will drop you off at the Ban Chiang turn-off.
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