"During the Vietnam War, the
Udon Thai Royal Air Force Base was located in the vicinity, and where
soldiers go, drinks and prostitutes and later, drugs and brawls, follow.
Since the war ended long ago, the soldiers have faded away and so has
the vibrant scene in drinks, prostitutes, drugs, and brawls. A
peaceful Udonthai may not be your cup of tea."
I read the book Air America recently and plenty of secret
missions during the Vietnam War era were flown out Udonthani, more than
some commercial airports I know of. That book's description of
Udonthani didn't square with the one I had when I visited for 5 nights
in November 2009.
Udonthani town contains 500,000 people, almost one in three of the
people residing in Udonthani province. A friend had done a visa
run from Bangkok to Laos, and the buses stop in the Udonthani terminal
in the center of town on the way to the Thai-Laos border another two
hours north. He said he wished he'd stopped here for a few days.
Phu Phra Bat Historical Park from Udonthani
I had to do my own visa run to Laos. What I did,
to keep costs down, was fly from Bangkok to Udonthani on Air
Asia. From the airport Udonthani, a consistent shuttle
bus plies the route to the border. From Vientiane,
Laos' capital, you can get on a bus directly to Udonthani.
I did exactly this and stayed.
Udonthani was my first real trip back to Isaan in four
years. I'd visited Khorat,
Khon Kaen, and
Nong Khai in 2005 just before
leaving for Australia. When I returned to
Thailand near the beginning of 2007, I visited Thailand's
south before settling in Hua Hin. Although I'd been
around Thailand since relocating there, none of my trips had
taken me back to Isaan.
My first mistake was booking a room in advance
here. It's not that this place was bad. At
the then asking price of USD 20/night, the place was
pleasant and quiet, but it was also several kilometers out
of town. Udonthani did not have a wealth of motorbike
rental outlets. I managed to find only one bike
for rent right around the corner from the bus station.
Had I not been able to procure a motorbike, getting to and
from my hotel would've been problematic. Even with the
bicycle, the weather was freezing that time of year at
night. Staying in town offers affordable hotel options
with wifi internet included.
Udonthani good times (l to r):
Scenic and tranquil lakes on which to get drunk on;
the king's words immortalized from his 1970's visit
to Ban Chiang historical site; hiking in Phu Phra
Bat after a very long motorbike ride from Udonthani
I found one web site praising the marvelous night life of Udonthani. There are some expats who've settled here and opened up
some bars near the bus terminal. If you're expecting a Bangkok disco scene, look elsewhere. I spoke to a Swedish expat on his second
Thai wife running
a miniature golf and tiny outdoor rockclimbing wall. He'd lived in Koh Samui but liked Udonthani precisely because it was quiet
and removed from the wild debaucherous nightlife he'd experienced there, in Phuket, in Chiang Mai, and all of Thailand's other tourist
One day I motorbiked out to the Ban Chiang
historical site, an archaeological site that was only
discovered in 1966 when an American archaeology student
living in Ban Chiang fell on his face and noticed some
buried pots exposed underneath. The accompanying
museum shows an exhibit covering how the site was unearthed
and makes a huge deal about the King of Thailand's visit to
the site on March 20, 1972, memorializing questions of the
King's like "Can the bones be dated?" Below are real
excerpts form the dialogue the King had with the official at
the Wat Pho Sri Nai excavation site.
KING: The red
painted pots were painted after firing, weren't they?
OFFICIAL: Correct, your majesty. If you look
closely, you can tell that the red paint was applied on top
of the fired surface, although some of the firing marks can
be clearly seen.
Another day, I motorbiked a fair distance out to the Phu
Phra Bat Historical Park, containing a series of unusual
rock formations. Thailand is edging to get the
historical park and the adjoining forest park World Heritage
Site status. That brings in more tourists and
leads to UN funds for maintenance, if needed. I often
thought it would be amazing if I could get my body
classified as a World Heritage Site. The UN would pay
all of my medical insurance.
Udonthani is a Thai town
through and through, ever so slowly having foreigners
realizing the local charms and lower cost of living compared
to more lively expat tourist relocation haunts like Pataya.
A glance at
a map will show you that the town lacks for nothing ---
except perhaps a beach. Parks, restaurants,
beautiful country scenery await the unlazy who get their
toned arses up here for a stay.