Udon Thani is the capital of Udon Thani Province in Northeast Thailand. It is one of the “big four of Isan” alongside Nakhon Ratchasima, Ubon Ratchathani, and Khon Kaen.
I visited Udon Thani as part of a railway infrastructure tour of Isaan. Udon Thani is currently served by the Northeast Line from Bangkok to Nong Khai. There are some new services on the way that will make UT more accessible.
[Udon Thani Railway Station.]
There is a plan to run a shuttle service from Udon Thani to Vientiane at the new Vientiane South station (Khamsavath). At the moment there is a shuttle train from Nong Khai to Thanaleng (on the other side of the border), so this new service will be a useful international railway service.
Udon Thani is 60 km south of Nong Khai and the border with Laos. Even though Vientiane has a population of close to 1 million, people from Vientiane come to Udon Thani to shop and party.
Udon Thani will also benefit from the future high-speed railway from Bangkok to Nong Khai. This will put UT within easy reach of Bangkok, and connect to services in Laos and China.
I arrived in Udon Thani the slow way, by getting an old bus from Nakhon Phanom to Nong Khai, and then a minivan.
I was not familiar with Udon Thani, so I just picked what looked like a busy area on the map near the train station. It turned out that I booked a hotel on the main bar street of Udon Thani, Samphan Thamit Alley.
There were a lot of retired western men on this street (over 50 being the retirement age for foreigners here) and it was always 5 o’clock somewhere whenever I walked down the street. That description could also be me, though I am some way off from retirement, and I am a publican’s worst customer.
This was an abrupt change of pace from my previous stops in Mukdahan and Nakhon Phanom, where the only foreigners were most likely school teachers or the random guy who married an Isaan lady and moved there.
Also nearby is Central Plaza, which is a mall brand that can be found in major cities of Thailand. The minivans from Nong Khai stop here, so it was convenient to be near here.
The landmark of the city is the City Pillar Shrine, so I made my way towards that as my target for walking.
This is near the lake of Nong Prajak Park, which is a scenic area to walk around.
For some reason, the only thing I could tell you about Udon were these big yellow ducks. They somehow became the face of the city and I would see them on social media or perhaps in an inflight magazine, I don’t recall. Either way, here they are.
The ducks are near the Udon Thani Museum.
The good thing about Udon is that the station is in a walkable area of the city. This does have the affect though of creating an “other side of the tracks” feeling behind the station. I was lured across the tracks by the Udon Thani Thai-Chinese Cultural Center.
Next to the Thai-Chinese Cultural Center is the Nong Bua Public Park. In a city that doesn’t have a major river, this is another great body of water to walk around.
There is a Vietnamese community living in Udon Thani, as I noticed throughout my travels in Khon Kaen, Mukdahan, and Nakhon Phanom. I didn’t see any Vietnamese restaurants here, but there is now a plan to create a Vietnam Town area. This article reports around 15,000 people of Vietnamese origin living in Udon Thani.
I read on some sites that claimed that Udon Thani has one of the highest population of western expats outside of Bangkok, but I can’t find any stats to back that up.
I was there when the Bangkok Hospital was finishing an extension. This is a popular hospital for foreigners, so that gives some indication of the expat population base.
[Bangkok Hospital extension.]
The popularity of Udon Thani with western expats can be traced back to the Vietnam War, as there was a large US airbase here (Udorn Royal Thai Air Force Base). Udon made the news when an old US military base was suspected of being a secret US prison.
With the future train from China on the way, Udon Thani (and Nong Khai) will become the land gateway for visitors from China. Udon Thani is surprisingly international for an inland city.
Another bonus of being near the train station was the night market.
[It got busier, I just eat early.]
If you eat meat and love spice, then you cannot visit an Isan city without having grilled chicken, sticky rice, and a spicy papaya salad that can melt a hole through the back of your head.
The UD Town Food Center is also a good food area. This is Thailand, so “Food Center” is not like the sad food courts of my Australian shopping mall experiences.
[UD Town Food Center.]
I had run out of allotted calories to consume, otherwise, I would have tried this street ramen.
I enjoyed pretending I was in Japan by stepping into this cafe.
I liked how at the train station there is a noticeboard listing how much a tuk-tuk ride is for the main points in the city. No haggling!
[Udon Thani Tuk Tuk prices.]
The airport is also close to the city, which is how I got back to Bangkok. It felt absurd to take a short flight, but my alternative was to spend all day on the train. The high-speed rail should make most of these flights redundant.
[Bangkok airlift at Udon Thani Airport.]
I always like visiting provincial capitals, and I go knowing I may not end up there again. As for Udon Thani, it looks like I will be back again once the new rail connection to Vientiane opens up.
Udon Thani wrapped up my tour of Northeast Thailand. After a stop in Bangkok, my next destination was the beach.