Dare to visit one of Thailand’s lease toured regions to discover Ban Chiang UNESCO Archaeological site, a surreal sculpture garden, and the best of Isaan food at Udon Thani.
by Dave Stamboulis
Udon Thani often gets little more than a passing glance, and it is usually from travelers en route to extend or renew their visas over the border in Laos. Udon—as it is called by locals—is just a train stop or bus transfer point on the way to crossing the Mekong. However, Udon is actually a modern bustling city, the fifth largest in Thailand, with a population of 140,000. Besides being the best spot in the area to take advantage of all the amenities offered by a big city, it is also a great base for visiting the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Ban Chiang, along with touring scenic Nong Khai and the Mekong River.
Sala Kaew Ku (●081 369 5744), also known as Wat Khaek, is in Nong Khai, just under an hour from Udon. And it’s one of the northeast’s most bizarre attractions: a surreal sculpture garden with enough symbolism and imagery to baffle any theologian, and weird enough to provide entertainment to even the most jaded traveler. This odd concrete art project was created by Boon Leua Surirat, a Laotian priest who had a vision about Buddhism and the underworld, and who fled the communist authorities in Laos to create his images across the border, in Thailand. Sala Kaew Ku contains hundreds of concrete statues and figures, some of them over 30 meters high, representing images from every major Eastern religion. Shiva, Vishnu, Brahma, Ganesh, and all the Hindu deities, as well as Buddha, human–animal hybrids, and Naga serpents are all portrayed in various representations and styles.
The Udon Thani Sunshine Orchid Farm (●Soi Kamol Watthana, Udon-Nong Samrong Road, 042 242 475, admission THB 20) is worth a look. Home to the first hybrid orchid and giving off a heavy perfume, the nursery is more noted for its “dancing” orchids, another hybrid plant whose leaves start swaying when you play music or sing to it! It’s best to go early morning or late afternoon if you want to see the plants dance.
www.thepannaraihotel.com) is Udon’s most luxurious boutique lodging, with comfortable rooms and an outdoor pool; the hotel is just minutes from downtown. The Green Gecko (●081 9180 500,
www.thaivillarent.com) is located 30 minutes out of town, in the rice fields, and is arguably the area’s most interesting accommodation, with its exclusive and private traditional Thai teak pool villa that can be rented out for getting away from it all. The villa comes complete with a personal chef and complete pampering.
Other hotels are Napalai Hotel (●572 Pracharaksa Road, 042 347 444), www.napalaihoteludon.com) and Centara Hotel & Convention Centre Udon Thani (●277/1 Prajaksillapakhom Road, 042 343 555, www.centarahotelsresorts.com/centara/cud).