Last Update: April 2020
In the know destinations – Thailand
I can’t even begin to count the number of times that I’ve visited Thailand. Some visits were just short beach holidays or passing through on my way to other destinations. Several, longer visits involved extensive travel for months on my way to nowhere, just exploring this wonderful country.
Although the list of highlights in Thailand seems endless, there are still many places like Nakhon Ratchasima that are not yet overrun by tourists, but certainly worth discovering. Interesting cities oozing with local culture. Small laidback riverine towns and spectacular nature reserves. Not exactly hidden gems, but without the usual crowds, only visited by the few travelers in the know.
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Nakhon Ratchasima (Korat)
What if you traveled to a large city in Thailand where hardly anyone speaks English? All signage is in Thai script, as are all the menu’s in the grubby looking eateries. Even pointing out dishes is hard, because you just can’t make out what’s on the plates. Arranging transport seems near impossible as any communication with the songthaew drivers ends up in a babel of misunderstanding.
Nowhere to get any decent morning coffee and where can I buy water? Is this a guesthouse, so why is there’s never anyone at the reception desk? Everyone is staring at me, but they’re not smiling. Why is this man yelling at me, am I showing too much skin?
There, I just summed up what Nakhon Ratchasima, often referred to as ‘Korat’ in Thailand’s Isan, can be like. Of course I’m exaggerating, it’s not half as bad, but a visit to Korat is definitely a big step out of your comfort zone.
It’s different from the Thailand we know, less convenient and very confusing. So, isn’t this exactly why we travel? To get out there into the unknown? To explore, discover and to learn? Let’s go, you’re going to be fine and it’s going to be great!
Reasons (not) to visit Nakhon Ratchasima
Reasons to visit Nakhon Ratchasima
Off the beaten path in Thailand
Close to highlights, such as Khao Yai and Phimai
Great stop when you’re traveling through Isan
Reasons not to visit Nakhon Ratchasima
No real tourism infrastructure
Chaotic city atmosphere
The city lacks grand sites
How to get to Nakhon Ratchasima
Korat is a regional transport hub so it’s easy to reach from all directions by bus or train. From Bangkok by minivan 3h, bus 4h, train 4h25m. From Nong Khai by train 6h10m, (transfer at Udon Thani).
For bus/ferry/train schedules and tickets within Thailand I always use the transport planning tool below from 12Go.com to book online. Especially during high season and public holidays it makes sense to book ahead to secure your seat(s). The tool is incredibly easy to use, just fill out your place of departure, your destination and travel date. It will show the complete schedule and ticket price of all related transport. Make your choice and book instantly.
To travel out of Korat, head for bus station 2, North of the city center. Bus services that are not available online can be booked here directly. The railway station is West of the city center. From here onward travel is possible anywhere into the Isan region, passing through Khon Kaen and Udon Thani, before crossing the border into Laos.
There are many tuk-tuks in Korat, but I’m a little lost with regards to their rates. Last time I was in Korat (2019) their quotes were through the roof. If someone knows the actual situation, please drop me a line.
Taxi’s are all metered, as is the regulation, but will probably not use them so you need to agree on the price before you get in. The usual price to go from the bus terminal or train station to the Ya Mo monument in the center should be around THB100.
Or if you dare, hop on the back of a motorbike taxi. Again, you will have to bargain, but expect THB50-60 for rides from the bus terminal 2 and the train station to the center (Ya Mo monument).
In addition, there are songthaews driving regular fixed routes for THB10. However, their system is difficult to understand. Unless you speak and read Thai I wouldn’t use them. There is a great chance of misunderstandings and you might end up at the wrong place. If you have a data plan on your phone you can also use a taxi app. This is definitely the most convenient transport in Korat and cheaper than a regular taxi. Grab is the better taxi app in Thailand.
Things to see/do in Nakhon Ratchasima
There is a reason why Korat isn’t a tourist destination and it’s simply because the list of things to do in town is limited. However, if you’re not pressed for time just give it a chance to linger in the city for one or two days to enjoy the unique atmosphere and wonderful people.
Wat Phra Narai Maharat is a beautiful temple within the moated old city. There are two entrances. The first one at Chom Phon road and the second one is at Assadang road. What makes this temple special is the sandstone statue of Vishnu along with smaller images of Brahma, Shiva and Ganesha that were discovered here. The wooden temple is situated on a miniature Island in a small pond with large monitor lizards swimming about. I’m not sure about opening hours, but if you show up in the daytime you should be ok. Entrance is free.
Wat Ban Rai is a bit further out (50km North West of Korat), but it is spectacular and well worth the trip. It holds the ‘Hor Thep Wittayakom’ an elephant-like ceramic shrine in the center of a pond. The shrine is Asia’s largest ceramic mosaic shrine with more than 20 million pieces of mosaic. Busses to Dan Khun Thot village leave from bus terminal 1 in Korat every hour. In the village hop on a motorbike taxi for the last 10km (THB150). The return will be cheaper (THB100). Opening hours are from 8am to 5pm and entrance is free.
Prasat Hin Phanom Wan is an 11th Century Khmer temple just 18 km North East of Korat. While it’s not as impressive as Phimai or Phanom Rung it is definitely worth seeing and usually void of other visitors. Entrance is free and a round trip taxi ride will cost you around RHB400-500.
More things to do
Ya Mo statue: Local heroine “Thao Suranaree” led her army to rid the city of Laotion forces in 1826. She is worshiped by the people of Korat and far beyond as “Ya Mo” (grandmother Mo). At the base of the statue’s pedestal is a small shrine where Thai offer flowers, burn candles and incense to honor her.
The statue is located in a small memorial park West of the moated old city and can be visited for free. Treat her with respect, because again, she is worshiped by the locals. I saw tourists trying to climb the pedestal for selfies. It made me cringe and the Thai reacted very agitated, to put it mildly.
Shopping: In 2000, Korat entered the modern era with the opening of “The Mall” (1242/2 Mittraphap road). Since then, several other malls have opened, of which “Terminal 21” (99 Mittraphap road) and “Central Plaza” (990/998 Mittraphap road) probably are the most interesting.
Multiple Day Trips
Khao Yai National Park is not too far away (85km). You can go there on a day trip, or if Korat is your base, a multiple day trip. Jungle hiking, waterfall spotting, camping and maybe see some of the wildlife. The entry fee is THB400 for foreigners.
Phimai Historical Park is even more close (60km), although I really do recommend to stay at least one night there. The park has one of the largest, ancient Khmer temples in Thailand and it’s restored into perfect condition. What’s more, it’s in the middle of Phimai town, which is a pleasure to discover as well. Entry fee is THB100 for foreigners.
Always make sure to travel with the right travel insurance. One that also covers your medical care abroad and includes evacuations and repatriation. You’re a million miles away from professional healthcare, just saying.
I use World Nomads, because they cover a range of adventure activities and even your motor bike rental adventures (if you follow the rules). You can buy cover online, even if you’re already in the middle of your trip.
Where to stay in Nakhon Ratchasima
There is plenty accommodation to find in Nakhon Ratchasima, especially in the budget and lower mid-range section. These are my recommendations
Dirt Cheap = up to THB500
Value for money guesthouse close to restaurants, markets and shopping. Free use of bicycles. Lovely staff that speak good English. Spacious rooms with wifi and aircon. You are not going to find anything better in Nakhon Ratchasima for this price.
Budget = from THB500 to THB1000
Situated in an excellent location within the old city, Urban Bamboo offers modern, boutique style rooms. A nice touch are the free to use bicycles and the Asian style breakfast is included. Good wifi, friendly staff and the place is clean! Be advised though, the building has 5 floors and there is no elevator.
Mid Range = from THB1000 to THB2500
Wow, Korat is really stepping up its accommodation game! Leosor is a modern, almost new, medium sized, no-nonsense hotel. Spacious rooms, Asian breakfast included and located near the train station with easy access to multiple bars and restaurants. They often have great discount deals on Agoda. Wifi could use some improvement, but last time they were working on it.
Aisana Hotel Korat
Mid Range = from THB1000 to THB2500
Excellent modern hotel close to the city center and the railway station of Nakon Ratchasima. This hotel boasts all modern amenities and includes breakfast. I did not stay in this hotel myself, but on two occasions I was told by trustworthy sources that the service here is outstanding and they would stay here again.
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Where to eat in Nakhon Ratchasima
The bulk of eateries in Korat is made up of small Thai canteen style restaurants. Most don’t have English menu’s and the staff rarely speaks English. Give them a smile and be patient. Expect a lot of nervous giggling from the staff, but usually they will go out of their way to help you. Korat also has a few (Western style) restaurants catering to foreigners. Here are a few of my recommendations:
Laeb Som Pith (169 Jant road off Thanon Mittraphap). This local favorite is also famous with outside Thai visitors. It’s the place to go for authentic Isan food. The ‘koh moo yang’ (honey glazed grilled pork neck) is one of the reasons for their fame. Tender and succulent meat served with a spicy dip and sticky rice. Also, the large selection of papaya salads adds to the myth.
17 Brothers (100/3 off Mukkamontri road). Another canteen style Thai eatery with lot’s of local Isan dishes. Service is a bit slow, but some of the staff speak English and can help you order.
Chez Andy (#5 Manat road, corner San-Prasit road). A Swiss restaurant in the middle of Korat, does that work? Oh yes it does! Andy serves high quality Swiss/Italian dishes and even the Thai style dishes are better than at most ‘real’ Thai eateries. Expect schnitzel, Australian beef, thin crust pizzas and even cheese fondue. But remember, quality comes with a price.
Mingter Vegetarian Restaurant (698 Rajadamnern road, next to Ya Mo statue). Very good and local vegetarian dishes not often found in Thailand. Also serves as a health food minimarket.
I saved the best for last, Mae Kim Heng Market (Pho Klang Road, 100 West from Ya Mo statue). Large indoor market with fresh produce and prepared dishes. Get your Thai breakfast here, steaming hot doughnuts or grilled chicken over rice. The market spills out from Pho Klang road to Suranaree road with more grilled chicken and fruit stalls.
More delicious street food at Wat Boon Night Bazar (Chomphon road in the Eastern part of old town).
The Save One Night Market (1485/1 Mittraphap road, 500m West of the crossing with Road 304). Huge night market (6pm-10pm) with entertainment and everything for sale. The market also has a large and good food section.