The far north east of Thailand is largely different from the Chiang Mai – Bangkok axis. It’s largely poorer with more agricultural landscape to enjoy. Udon Thani for a traveler is often a stop on the way to cross the border at Nong Khai to Laos and most would overlook this big city of the North. Many thais coming from the North East are flooding Bangkok in search of work, and they bring with them some unique (and super spicy – like Larb or laap spicy salads!) food that you can mainly find there.
Spending a week-end in Udon Thani from Bangkok can be easily done, often flights to this not touristy destination are cheap and conveniently scheduled for a maximum time there.
Our general impressions of Udon Thani
Udon Thani had an American military base, and our first surprise was that many spoke English better than in Bangkok there ! it make renting the motorcycle for our week-end easy and we could see a couple of English library there ? There must be a very small expat British / American community still living there some the few shops we saw around. There was also some very cute little coffee shops when we drove around town.
Also, it’s like half the price for everything from Bangkok. (food, hotel - our motorcycle rental cost 100 THB per day !)
Where to stay in Udon Thani
The city center is located around the shopping mall called Central Plaza. There are in this district, a traditional market and also a night market and very nice open-air night foodcourt on the week-end.
We stayed at Kavin Buri Green hostel. Which is a perfect value for money and right in the city center. Rooms are super clean – there is a tiny pool and a basic gym on the rooftop. It’s just the perfect little hotel.
Just behind it along the small street, there is a thai massage place, which is very good and affordable – and not just for tourist. They do know what they are doing! ( I did thai massage every Sunday for 4 years – you can tell the difference )
What to visit and see in Udon Thani and around
The pink lotus lake
This lake is called Nong Han Kumphawapi Lake, and is about 30-45min drive south of Udon Thani. It’s a stunning carpet of red lotus flower from December until early March and it’s best to get there before noon as the flowers tend to close with the heat.
It should cost you about 150 THB per pax for a small boat of two ( so total 300 THB) and for a bigger boat that can sit 8 persons, about 500 THB. That would be for an hour. A tour around the most flowery part of the lake takes about 45 min in total.
This is certainly a unique sight to see and one that surprisingly few international tourists know!
Phu Phrabat National Park
This will take a good 1h30 to 2h by motorcycle from Udon Thani and will kill your bump by the time you reach there. It’s a dangerous road – you will ride along trucks and cars – if you aren’t comfortable, it’s not an expedition you might want to make. Once you are out of the main road, you ride through nicer and quieter rice paddies lined road until the entrance of the national park.
This National park is home to impressive and improbable rock formations which have repurposed over time into housing, monasteries or temples! It’s very interesting to realize that an entire community was once living there.
The park is big, we did the small and big loop in a little over 3 hours. The small loop contains the main sites and has nicely laid out paths and English signs explaining the structures (highly appreciated).
You can also see some rock paintings, Buddha carvings and statues inside the main rock structures.
I was overall impressed with this park – and really think it’s a must see if you are stopping in Udon Thani.
Beware that the restaurant at the parking lot is the only one for kms around. So, if you are there around lunch, don’t spend too much time looking around – it’s also the only place where you can buy drinks if you didn’t plan before. It’s very hot and on the big loop especially, barely shaded. Plan for hats, sunglasses and loads of water. If possible, try to do this in the morning to avoid the worst of the heat.
The park is free.
Ban Chiang UNESCO archaeological site
This site is if you are interested in pottery and stone age archaeology. This is an exert of the UNESCO page about it.
Ban Chiang is considered the most important prehistoric settlement so far discovered in South-East Asia. It marks an important stage in human cultural, social and technological evolution. The site presents the earliest evidence of farming in the region and of the manufacture and use of metals.
There are a few interesting excavation sites to see. It’s worth it if you are an archaeological buff, the good thing is that English explanations are everywhere to understand the site. It’s also much less traveled. If you are into shopping, you can buy super cheap clay and red potteries there.
The ticket is 150 THB.
Udon Thani Nong Prajak Park
It’s just a regular park – but it’s good for an evening stroll. There are those giant inflated yellow ducks in the middle that make for perfect photos. All around the park are nicely done path for a run or a walk.
Ho Chi Minh memorial & historical site
Since we lived in Vietnam before and had an inkling of the life of Ho Chi Minh, we did the drive to see the small museum and the replica of the house he used to live in.
Ho Chi Minh used to live in the North of Thailand to rally the sizable community of Vietnamese settled there against the French occupation. It’s part of his history which we often don’t know about and we wanted to learn more.
This site is small and consists of two buildings, a tiny museum as well as a replica of his house where he held meetings. The biggest issue we faced on this site, is that the integrity of the museum is in Vietnamese and thai language so we didn’t understand anything !
Luckily for us, there seem to be some sort of celebration from the Vietnamese community at the same time, so one of the participants actually walked us through the museum and explained to us the larger highlights of Ho Chi Minh’s life in Thailand. We then took loads of the photos of the women wearing Ao Dai and spend some time chatting (as best as we could with broken English on both parts!).
It’s probably not worth going there if you don’t have already some basic of this Vietnamese important figure’s life as you won’t get additional knowledge and it’s a bit of a detour.
Udon thani is a very nice destination for a week-end or a long week-end. There is enough to keep you busy and entertained with highly cultural sights. We know there are also some very good hiking available around there if you wanted to extend and do more adventures. It’s well worth the stop on your journey or to get out of Bangkok and see a very different Thailand.