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"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."  Doug Knell, Doug's Republic

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

Biking to 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.

Ban Chiang Ban Chiang Udonthani countryside
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 town

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 hot spots.

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.


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