In a nutshell
Udon Thani is the capital of the namesake province in the Northeast of Thailand and one of the biggest cities in the country.
Why go to Udon Thani
Located 550 km away from Bangkok and just 70 km from the Laos border, Udon Thani, or Udon as it is more commonly called, is an important transportation hub for all the Isaan region.
Despite it’s young age – before 1890 the area the city occupies now was completely deserted – the population of Udon Thani has been growing very fast, especially during and after the Vietnam War when the Thai and Us army built a military base in town. After the war many expats decided to settle down there and as a result of that nowadays Udon Thani has one of the largest expats communities in Thailand, as well as the highest presence of the Vietnamese people in the country. Add quite a populous Chinese community, too, and you will have a vibrant, lively and multicultural city with all the facilities you can expect from a place with a strong Western presence – i.e. English-speaking drivers and staff in restaurants, cheap and good accommodation, shopping opportunities and unlimited transportation options.
Funny enough for such a new city, Udon Thani is known also for archaeological sites scattered around the province where one of the first human civilizations of the Bronze Era lived, roughly 5000 years ago. And while all the most interesting things to do and things to see require a ride from the centre of the city, they will definitely add beautiful touch to your trip to one of the busiest cities in the Isaan region.
When to go to Udon Thani
The best time to visit Udon Thani is the dry and cool months between November and February. March and especially April might be really hot while from May till October the rainy season pours its waters down Isaan. The most frequent and heavy storms happen in August. Nevertheless visiting Udon Thani even during the rainy season is not a big problem and some occasional thunderstorms will just cool down the temperature and give you a chance for a better sleep.
Where to stay in Udon Thani
Udon Thani has plenty of choice when it comes to accommodation, from cheap backpackers’ solutions and simple guesthouses, to luxury hotels and private pool villas.
Most travellers choose to stay on Soi Sampantamit (Farang street) which is conveniently located close to the train and the old bus stations and is packed with guesthouses, hotels, restaurants (lots of western food available) and bars. On the downside of it is that it can be quite chaotic and noisy. For a more relaxed and authentic experience there are many more options all around town and you can rely on the multiple transportation choices to move around.
Where to eat in Udon Thani
With so many markets and street vendors you will be able to taste cheap and authentic Thai food all day (and night) long. The local Isaan specialties are a must, but traditional Thai food is ubiquitous, too. The city is full of restaurants with many of them offering delicious food in nice open-air gardens. Vietnamese food forms an important part of the local culinary scene. Around Soi Sampantamit you’ll find every possible option if you’re missing food from home.
How to get around Udon Thani
If you stick around the foreigners’ area you will hardly need any form of transportation. To move around town anyway, there are tuk-tuk and motorbike taxies everywhere; fares might vary quite a lot and your negotiation ability will make the difference since drivers will always try to charge tourists more than locals. Expect to pay THB50/THB100 for a motorbike ride almost everywhere in town. If they ask you more than that pretend to walk away and the price will immediately drop down.
There are efficient and extremely cheap public buses, but it can be complicated to understand where they go and stop if you don’t speak Thai. Your hotel might help you with indication and if you dare to give it a try you will save quite a lot of money.
How to and from Udon Thani
The International airport is located a few km south of Udon Thani. To get to the city centre take a shared minivan for THB60 per person, a private taxi (it will be cheaper if you’re travelling as a group of three) or songthaew number 15 (THB30).
If you’re heading to Vientiane in Laos, there are 4 direct daily buses from the airport to Nong Khai and they will drop you 500 hundreds meters before the border for THB150
There are two main bus stations in town; the old one (Bus Terminal 1) is located in the city centre close to the hotels and guesthouses. The new one (Bus Terminal 2) is out of town and a tuk-tuk ride to the city centre will cost you around THB150. If not indicated otherwise all the prices and schedules are referred to buses leaving to/from Terminal 1.
Buses from Bangkok to Udon Thani leave from Morchit bus terminal every hour from 6.30am to 10.45pm. A VIP ticket will cost you THB500, and the overnight VIP24 – THB700; the trip normally takes betweem 8 and 10 hours.
Buses to/from Chiang Mai arrive and depart from Terminal 2 only with several options throughout the day. Tickets are THB700 and the journey is 12 hours. Alternatively there are overnight buses (5.45pm, 6.45pm, 8.45pm) leaving from Central Plaza, 5 minutes walking from Terminal 1.
A VIP overnight bus to/from Kanchanaburi is THB700 and it takes 12 hours.
If you’re heading to Laos, direct buses to/from Vientiane depart almost every hour but note that these buses pass the border quite fast without waiting for those passengers who need to get their Lao visa on arrival. So if you miss your bus at the Lao side of the border, you will need to wait for the next one or find another transport – and pay extra. The ticket is THB100 and the trip takes three hours.
A more secure option if you don’t have your Lao visa is to take a bus to Nong Khai; departures are frequent and tickets cost THB50. Some of the buses to Nong Khai will drop you at the Friendship Bridge at the border, others – at Nong Khai bus station where you can hop onto the international bus to Vientiane. Another option is to get a tuk-tuk to the bridge for THB80 and get a taxi or bus 14 to Vientiane city centre (20 km) after you’ve crossed the bridge.
Some of the other common destinations from Bus Terminal 1 are Chiang Rai, Khon Kaen, Khorat, Phuket, Rayong and Ubon Ratchatani.
Udon Thani train station is centrally located close to the Bus Terminal 1 so taking a train is a good alternative to the bus.
From/to Bangkok Hua Lamphong train station there are 4 daily trains to Udon. Tickets range from the third class at THB200 to the best sleepers at THB1500. The train takes 12 hours to complete the journey with stop in Khorat (Nakhon Ratchasima) and Khon Kaen.
Is Udon Thani a safe place to visit?
Udon Thani is a safe city to visit with friendly locals who can usually speak a basic English and help you if you need. There are many hospitals with high standards ready to handle any emergency in case you need it.