When I got an unexpected five days off in a row due to a holiday, I took the chance to visit a part of Thailand that I haven’t seen yet. Despite living here for over a year, I’ve seen a very small amount of this country. I decided to take a spontaneous trip to Udon Thani located in the Isaan region. Isaan is to the north-east of Bangkok and is the region that borders the south of Laos and the west of Cambodia. I’ve been wanting to spend some time in Isaan so let’s go!
How to get to Udon Thani
Udon Thani has a bus station, a railway station and an airport.
I caught a bus from Mo Chit bus station in Bangkok. The ticket was 434 baht and I left at 9:30pm. If you are planning to go during a major holiday such as Songkran or Loy Krathong, I would recommend buying your ticket in advance however, I did not need to this trip. It took 8 hours and I was able to sleep a bit on the bus. The bus station in Udon Thani is kind of in the middle of the town and I chose to stay at one of the many hostels within walking distance.
If you read my post about trains in Bangkok, you will already be familiar with Hua Lamphong train station and you can catch a train from here to Udon Thani. I will guess that it would cost between 600-700 baht and most of the trains are also night trains to Udon. Taking the train will be about the same amount of time and the train station in Udon Thani is located not too far from the bus station, with many hostel options nearby.
I personally do not recommend taking a plane due to how close it is to Bangkok. Flights are around 650-1,300 baht a ticket. A plane would be very useful however, if you are down in the south like in Krabi or Phuket and wanting to head to Udon quickly. You can find tickets as low as 1,200 baht.
What to do in Udon Thani
For being such a small town, there is a lot of interesting things to do in and around Udon Thani. Many people like so stop here on their way up to Laos since it is so close to the border. While here, why not explore the city?
Visit the famous Red Lotus Sea
One of the main reasons I wanted to go to Udon Thani is because I heard rumours of a lake filled with these stunning red/pink flowers. The rumours are true and I was really excited that I was able to visit just before the end of the season, which lasts from November to the end of February.
I booked a tour from my hostel as that just seemed the easiest. If you so please, you can make your way to Nong Han Lake and hire a boat there yourself for 150-300 baht. My hostel was only charging 500 baht which included the 1 hour drive there and back. We were picked up around 8 am and back by 11:30 am.
Once we got to the lake, we were split up into two boats and were off. So, we were driving for about 20 minutes and saw pretty much nothing. I kept thinking in my head, “Damn, did I get played? Is this for real? Where are the flowers? I’m hungry.” After 20 more minutes of driving, we saw it. Just pink water. From a distance it was beautiful but also kind of creepy as typically, you don’t want to see red in the water. As we drove closer we spotted the more defined shapes of the flowers and the many more boats that drove out ahead of us. Great.
These drivers were pros though and all parked strategically as to point out to open, water free of any other boats. Obviously we took a bunch of nice photos. I was also able to flaunt my Thai skills and ask the driver to wait a bit longer so that everyone could get their desired shots. He gladly obliged.
Wander around Chao Pu-Ya Shrine and the Thai-Chinese Cultural Centre
On my first day in Udon, I took a walk around and found a Chinese Shrine, garden and centre with a giant koi pond. Honestly, I loved it here because it was so peaceful and calming, exactly what I was looking for when I chose to come to Udon Thani.
To get here is roughly a 15 min walk from the bus station or central mall and it is highly worth a visit. Admission into the centre is free for both Thai Nationals and Foreigners and it is open from 9am to 7pm. The Thai-Chinese Cultural Centre was built to help preserve the art and culture of the many Thai-Chinese people that reside in Udon Thani.
As you make your way towards Nong Bua Lake, you will see a Chinese Pagoda immersed in the lake. Next to it is the colourful Chao Pu-Ya Shrine. Thai temples are beautiful with all their intricate details but you can really recognise a Chinese-influenced temple by the array of bold hues that coat its exterior.
Cycle around Nong Prajak Park
After enjoying the morning at Red Lotus Sea, we decided to grab some bicycles and head to Nong Prajak Park to see the giant yellow ducks.
You read that right. The lake featured in the park is the home of a large inflatable duck family and happens to be the pride of Udon Thani. The strangest thing about it is that nobody really knows why they are there.
Besides this, this park is a popular attraction of Udon Thani especially with locals looking to gain a little solace amongst the greenery or work out in the fitness area. I even remember biking past two playgrounds (one being dinosaur themed) and lots of areas to stop and have a picnic.
Stroll around the Night Market and enjoy the Isaan Dishes
As someone who is obsessed with night markets, I had to see what the fuss was about when my hostel boasted about the large market that took place nearby every night. It was huge, covering a few blocks right outside the train station and reaching down to UD Town shopping & dining area.
What surprised me the most was that this markets vendors mainly sold food. A lot of the dishes had either fish or some kind of meat in it, which was a bit difficult for me but there are some key local items you should try (especially if your diet doesn’t restrict you).
- Som Tam – also known as Papaya Salad; is made from thinly cutting unripe papaya and then adding a mixture of spices, vegetables, and sauces. Although you can find Som Tam everywhere in Thailand, it is classified as an Isaan dish and most likely a result of Laos influence on the region.
- Laab – this is a really popular meal that I saw everywhere in Udon. It’s most commonly made with minced pork (Laab Moo) and is often very spicy.
- Plaa Pao – yet another staple at the market, just a giant grilled tilapia ready to be feast on. They are (as well as most of the food here) served with sticky rice, cabbage, and raw green beans.
- Kai Yang (pronounced Gai Yang) – another dish influenced by Laos, it translates to grilled chicken. You won’t mistake this for anything else as it is literally a whole chicken, skewered and grilled before your eyes.
Where to stay in Udon Thani
As I mentioned above, the train and bus station are in a nice central location and surrounded by many hotel and hostel options.
I personally stayed at UdonBackpackers and really loved it. The dorms were clean, showers were warm, WiFi was fast and the staff were really friendly and helpful without trying to force any upsells.
Other things to do in and around Udon Thani
Due to this being a last minute trip that I hadn’t budgeted for, time or money wise, there were a few things that I would have liked to do but was unable to.
Phu Phra Baht Historical National Park
This park consist of many unusual boulders and rock formations believed to once be covered and formed under water. The gravity defying structures are what attract visitors to this site but here you can also see cave paintings as well as a small shrine, influenced by their Laos neighbours.
Wat Pha Phukon
My host actually gave me travel directions via local bus to get here and I was seriously tempted but I was really not keen on a 3 hour trip there and back. If I was more comfortable driving a scooter, that’s the way I would have gone to visit this breathtaking teal-roofed temple.
Located about and hour away from Udon Thani, this is a unique museum and UNESCO Heritage Site. It is actually the site of an ancient village that had a large number of pottery pieces excavated from its ruins. These artifacts are now on display at the Ban Chiang Museum, which you can enter for only 150 baht.
A short drive from the museum is the stunning white, Lotus-shaped temple, Phuttha Utthayan Wat Pa Dong Rai. This temple is very new with construction just finished earlier this year and depicts many colourful images within its walls.
Despite missing out on a few things that I wanted to do, I had such a great time escaping from Bangkok’s smoggy February. Udon Thani is only one of the many small cities that you can get to while living in Bangkok and a wonderful place to enjoy some of Thailands culture.