It is the 4th largest city in Thailand and surrounded by one of the country’s major agricultural areas. The province borders on four other provinces and is a major transportation hub for Northeastern Thailand. Udon Thani also serves as a gateway to the D.P.R. of Laos due to its closeness to its capital, Vientiane, and there is regular border traffic both ways.
The region features mainly paddy fields, forests, and hills, the main natural attractions being the Songkhram River and the Phu Pan mountain range. The population mainly works in agriculture, and the capital serves as an agricultural market centre for the neighbouring areas. During the Vietnam War, Udon Thani housed a US airbase, and a Voice of America station has been operating in the city ever since.
Many Thais born in the province are working overseas, whereas more than 5,000 expats from the US, Australia and Europe have made Udon Thani their home. This cultural cross-fertilization has also contributed to making Udon Thani a comparatively wealthy and desirable location to live in. Over the years, Udon Thani has become a regional hub for agriculture and shopping. Tourism is also budding, and although Udon Thani is not as widely popular as the areas further south with their tourist complexes, beaches and nightlife, there are many bars and restaurants catering to European tourists, and a number of interesting sites to visit.
There are plenty of shopping areas, a number of very European outlets and large stores, a large indoor shopping mall with a Cineplex cinema, and even three Tesco subsidiaries. The city is also home to the largest open air shopping centre in Thailand, UDTOWN, which opened in 2009. Indigenous produce is also popular, particularly among the tourists; the area is e.g. famed for its Khit-style textiles. However, Udon Thani is probably best known for its archaeological marvels, spearheaded by the hamlet of Ban Chiang, where archaeologists believe to have unearthed traces of the 5,000-year old first Bronze Age civilization of the world.
Transportation to Udon Thani from other parts of Thailand is easy: several regular flights from Bangkok every day take 50 minutes to reach the city, and you can book a limousine service from the airport to the hotel; buses cover the stretch of road to or from Bangkok in about eight hours; and if you prefer to see more of the landscape and travel by train, there is an overnight express sleeper which takes about ten hours.
There are also express buses to the morning market in Vientiane, the D.P.R. Laos capital. Visitors requiring a visa for Laos are advised to get it in advance, as the bus may not wait while the application is being processed. For getting around the city itself, you can choose between tuk-tuks, bicycle taxis, regular taxis, buses, songthaews (the pickup trucks with seats in the back), or, ?f you are very brave and used to negotiating Thai traffic, a bicycle or motorbike.
The capital of the Issan province is a bit off the beaten tourist track, but, given its archeological importance as well as its function as a main traffic hub to the D-P-R. of Laos, many travellers will nevertheless find their way there.
They will not be disappointed: the thriving city and its surroundings have many attractions to offer. Probably the Ban Chiang Archaeological Site is the most unique among them: this archaeological site, which was nominated as a World Heritage Site in 1992, is considered to be of outstanding value to the world. Discovered in 1957, the red painted pottery attracted enormous publicity due to attractive red painted pottery.
Ten years later, the first scientific excavation discovered bronze grace gifts, archaeological research at the site has since revealed a fully developed Bronze Age metallurgy.
The Ban Chiang National Museum displays between 4,000 to 7,500 year old artefacts, as well as ancient Ban Chiang tools and utensils, and the open museum, the first of its kind in Thailand, provides more illustrations of Bronze Age life and culture.
The important and holy Phra Phutthabat Bua Bok site should also be part of any itinerary, and trekkers can even reach this site on foot, literally following in Buddha’s footsteps. His footprint was found here, along with images which allow for dating the site back to the 2025 Buddhist Century.
Another historic site worth visiting is the Phu Phra Bat Historical Park, which contains many ancient building and monuments out of decorated rock or stone, as well as prehistoric painting on cliff faces, bearing witness to the life of a pre-historical community which lived approximately 2,500-3,000 years ago.
But recreational activities are never far away in Thailand, and if you wish for a more relaxing experience, you can for instance charter a boat on the Huai Luang Reservoir, or go rafting, fishing or canoeing there. More water sports are available at the Than Ngam Waterfall, which lies amidst green and dense forests, and where you can swim and relax to your heart’s delight.
For a bit more of an effort, try trekking along the Phu Foi Lom routes, where you are likely to spot some rare and interesting creatures. The area promotes soft ecological tourism, please respect this and remove your bottles and tins etc. again from this beautiful nature reserve.
Shopping is a favourite recreational activity with many, and you can shop your fill of local handicrafts on the way to Ban Chiang, by dropping in at either Ban Kham, a pottery centre, or Ban Pu Lu, which is known for its painted pottery. Ban Nakha, on the other hand, is a village famous for selling home woven silk and cotton garments, wonderful gifts to take back home, for yourself or for someone you love.
Udon Thani also has several parks, an orchid farm, and, within Khumpahawapi, a city park with a large troupe of monkeys that have been living there for over a hundred years. Maybe they were originally expats too who decided to stay.