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Nakhon Ratchasima

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Nakhon Ratchasima (นครราชสีมา), usually referred to as Korat, is the largest city in the Isaan region of Thailand. Its proximity to Bangkok and Issan make it a good stopping-off point for travellers who are heading into Issan. It has excellent transport links to the rest of the country and beyond. Highway 2 (Bangkok to Nong Khai) runs through the city as does the northeast railway line which splits in the east of the city: one line runs up to Nong Khai and the other, to Ubon Ratchathani. And there are buses which run to just about every city in the northern, northeastern and eastern regions. You can even get buses to Vientiane in Laos and to the Cambodian border at Aranyaprathet.


The city itself has a population of around 150,000 (Nai Muang district), but the entire urban sprawl of the Nakhon Ratchasima metroplitan area (Muang Nakhon Ratchasima) has a population of approaching half a million. Despite the size of the city, it is not a favoured holiday destination for the average foreign traveller. Instead, visitors are more likely to base themselves in the city as they visit nearby tourist destinations such as Khao Yai national park, Phimai and Phanom Rung.

History

The modern-day city can trace its roots back to the late seventeenth century when King Narai of Ayutthaya ordered the construction of the city to protect the Ayutthaya Kingdom's northeastern frontier from Laotian or Khmer attack. It was just such a Laotian attack that was defeated by local heroine Thao Suranaree in 1826. She, and her army, are credited with freeing the city from King Anouvong's Laotian forces. These exploits have lifted 'Yamo' to almost god-like status in Korat. Her statue, in the centre of the city on Ratchadamnoen Road, is the most visited attraction in the city. The city continued to grow, helped by the arrival of the railway in the early twentieth century, and, today, is a typical Thai mix of chaos, pollution and tradition.

Climate

Climate Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
- - - - - - - - - - - -
Mean(°C) 23.3 26.2 28.3 29.3 28.6 28.4 27.9 27.6 26.9 26.2 24.6 22.8
- - - - - - - - - - - -
Precipitation (cm) 0.5 2.1 4.2 6.6 15.2 10.5 12.2 12.8 24.4 15.2 3.1 0.4
- - - - - - - - - - - -
- - - - - - - - - - - -
Source: World Meteorological Organization

[1]


Korat is classified as having the three tropical seasons of hot, rainy and cool (or sometimes dry). But the seasons overlap considerably, and the rainy and hot seasons occur almost simultaneously whilst the cool/dry season is quite short. Basically, it's very dry and relatively cool (although daytime temperatures will still often exceed 30 degrees C) in November, December and January. March, April, May and June are the four hottest months but there can be heavy rains during this time - particularly in May. The temperatures decrease slightly month by month as the area moves into the rainy season. August, September and October are the wettest months but tropical storms may be experienced any time between March and October. The downpours quite literally end as October ends: the rainfall in November is five-times lower than that of October.

The city - with its traffic and concrete - will be a little hotter than the rest of the province. And days in April and May can be unbearably hot amidst the urban jungle. Conversely, it can be surprisingly cool between November and January. Think you don't need long sleeves in Thailand? Think again. It's not unusual for temperatures at night in the city to drop below fifteen degrees celsius in the cool season, whilst out in the rural areas, single-digit temperatures aren't unknown.

Orientation

The main road into the city is Highway 2 (Mittraphap Road) which originates in Saraburi and terminates in Nong Khai. The Mall, Tesco Lotus and several hotels are situated next to it. Shortly after The Mall, it bears left, goes past the main bus station and onto Khon Kaen. To the north of the city it joins up with the bypass also known - somewhat confusingly - as Highway 2.

The road network within the city is, for the most part, an American-style grid system. Therefore, once you are familiar with the place, it is easy to find your way around. But if you are new in town it can be a nightmare as every road looks the same. This is particularly the case in the moated historic centre of the city.

The moat encloses the original city - almost a perfect rectangle, one and a half kms by one km - and consists of seven main roads that run east to west: Phonsaen, Yommarat, Atsadang, Chomphon, Mahat Thai, Supphasit and Kamheng-Songkhram, and six main roads that run north to south: Chumphon (not to be confused with Chomphon), Jagkree, Manat, Pratchak, Kudan and Phonlan. The English spelling of Thai words is an inexact science so don't be surprised to see variations on these spellings in different guide books, on maps and on street signs. For example, Jagkree is sometimes spelled Chakrii; Phonsaen can be Polsan; Chomphon can be Jompol; Supphasit may have no h; Atsadang may have double s and no t; Pratchak may have no t, and so on. To add to your confusion, the names of Jagkree Road and Pratchak Road change south of their intersections with Chomphon Road: to Watchara Sarit Road and Chai Narong Road respectively.


The obvious geographical reference point for travellers is the statue of Thao Suranaree (or Yamo). Every tuk-tuk, motorbike taxi, songtaew and taxi driver will understand "Yamo" so you shouldn't have any problem getting there. She stands between Chumphon and Ratchadamnoen Roads. Both of these are one-way streets and from Ratchadamnoen you can catch songtaews to just about every part of the city. Ratchadamnoen ends where it meets Highway 224. Turn left onto Highway 224 and it becomes Highway 2 (Mittraphap) after about a kilometre. Turn right, and the 224 takes you east and then south towards Dan Kwian pottery village and Chok Chai. At Chok Chai (30 kms south of the city) the 224 crosses Highway 24 which goes to Buriram, Surin and Ubon Ratchathani.

Three main roads lead off Ratchadamnoen: Chomsurangyat, Pho Klang and Suranaree. These are busy two-way thoroughfares and all three converge a kilometre and a half west of Yamo to form Mukmontri Road which leads back to Highway 2.

Get in

By car

There are three routes to take from Bangkok to Nakhon Ratchasima.

By bus

Assuming you are in Bangkok, just head to Morchit Northern/Northeastern Bus Terminal. No need to consult a timetable: buses leave Bangkok for Korat several times an hour 24 hours a day. Go to the top floor of the terminal building and buy your ticket at window 49, 50, 51 or 52.

Window 49 - Ratchasima Tour. Most buses travel direct to Korat but some stop in Pak Chong.
Window 50 - Suranaree Air. Direct only. No night service
Windows 51 and 52 - Air Korat Pattana. Window 51 for buses to the 'old' bus station and window 52 for buses to the 'new' (main) bus station

After you have purchased your ticket the vendor will point to a number on the ticket. This is the bay you must go to to catch your bus. Overhead signs will guide you there - just like following a gate number at an airport.

As of February 2010, the price was 198 baht, one-way from Bangkok to Nakhon Ratchasima. That is for a direct bus. The buses follow 'First Route' described above.

Other cities which run buses direct to Korat include Chiang Mai, Pattaya, Chonburi, Chantaburi, Rayong, Lopburi, Nakhon Sawan, Hua Hin and just about every provincial capital in Issan. If you are coming from Cambodia, there are buses from the Poipet/Aranyaprathet border crossing. And, if you're entering from Laos, there are a couple of buses a day between Korat and Vientiane (launched in December 2009). If you're entering from Laos at the Savannakhet border crossing then you can get a bus direct from Mukdahan to Korat.

Once you've arrived at the bus station (it will be the larger, 'new' bus station on Highway 2 you'll arrive at unless you bought your ticket from window 51 at Morchit, see above) all the usual Thai means of transport are available for you to get to where you want to go. Tuk-tuks, motorcycle taxis and meter taxis (see Get around) are in abundance in the bus station. To get a songthaew back towards the city centre then you will have to either walk out of the bus station and cross Highway 2 to catch one going back in the direction of Yamo (in all likelihood, route number 7 or 20) or hang around in the bus station for a number 15 (see 'By Songthaew' in 'Get Around').

By train

Trains leave from Bangkok Railway Station (Huamlamphong) daily and can take anything from four to six hours depending on what type of train you catch. Twelve trains a day leave Bangkok for Korat. The times are 5:45, 6:40, 10:05, 11:40, 15:20, 18:30, 18:55, 20:00, 20:30, 21:50, 22:25 and 23:40. Fares are very reasonable for the 264 km journey. Third class is fifty baht, second class is 115 baht and first class is 230 baht.

There are two stations in Nakhon Ratchasima. The main station is on Mukmontri Road about two kms from the city centre. Tuk-tuks and motorcycle taxis at the front of the station will take you to the Yamo area for around sixty and forty baht respectively.

The other station - Thanon Chira - is more centrally located. It is just to the south of the previously described old city (see 'Orientation'). Tickets from Bangkok are just a couple of baht extra to go to Thanon Chira instead of the main station, and if you're heading for the city centre it is well worth getting off here.

By plane

Happy Air will operate a new service starting on August 20th 2010. Bangkok to Chiang Mai via Nakhon Ratchasima will operate on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays with a planned departure time in Korat of 9:00AM. Chaing Mai to Bangkok via Nakhon Ratchasima departs Korat for the capital at 1PM on the same days. Flights to Chiang Rai operate at the same times but on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Korat to Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai is ฿2,900 one way. Korat to Bangkok is ฿1,200.

Get around

By tuk-tuk

The three-wheeled buzzboxes are plentiful in the city. They congregate in large numbers outside shopping centres, department stores, the two bus stations and train station. And individuals will be dotted along all the busy roads.

Happily, the reputation that tuk-tuk drivers have for ripping off tourists in places like Phuket and Pattaya does not generally apply in Korat. The fare from the main bus station to Yamo/city centre is sixty baht. Agree on this price before you get in. Fares typically go up in multiples of twenty and start at forty baht.

Remember, this isn't a tourist city so your driver will not speak English. He (it's always a man) may know the names of some hotels and will understand "Yamo", but that's about it. This is a prime example of where a smattering of Thai can go a long way.


By motorbike taxi

Wherever you find tuk-tuks you will find motorbike taxis. Their fares are generally two-thirds to three-quarters those of tuk-tuks (i.e a sixty baht tuk-tuk fare will be forty baht on a motorbike etc). Some riders even put up a list of fares as if to prove that they don't just make up prices. You're certainly a long way from tourist rip-off territory here.

Safety is obviously a concern for a lot of travellers when it comes to motorcycle taxis. Only you can decide if you want to risk it or not but the rider should at least provide a helmet.


By taxi

Meter-taxis are a fairly new introduction to the Korat roads. They are blue and yellow in colour and scarce in number. If you are lucky enough to see one for hire on the street then you can hail it as you would a Bangkok taxi. It is thirty baht for the first kilometre and four baht a kilometre after that. You can call for one (044342255) but if you do that then the meter won't be used but a fixed fee will be charged for your journey. Furthermore, you can't book one in advance as you can with a minicab. You just have to call when you want one and hope that one is available. It should be added that the operator doesn't speak English so get your hotel receptionist to call.

They do congregate at the main bus station and if you catch one from here then the meter should be used. Again, don't expect the driver to speak English.


By cycle rickshaw (samlor)

The traditional pedal-powered 'samlor' (literally, 'three wheels') is a large tricycle with room for - at a squeeze - two passengers who sit on a covered, padded seat behind the rider. These days there are far more tuk-tuks and motorcycle taxis than samlors but you can still find them dotted along most major roads. They come into their own during the Yamo festival (end of March/start of April) when Ratchadamnoen Road is closed and pedestrianized every evening and samlors are the only form of transport allowed. You'll notice that all samlor operators are elderly men so don't get them to take you halfway across the city! A kilometre or so is a more appropriate distance and it will only cost you twenty baht.

By songtaew

Songtaews (sometimes songthaews) are the most popular type of public transportation. A songtaew is a pick-up truck which has been converted into a small short-hop bus. Passengers step into the back of the truck and sit on parallel benches. When you want to get off just press the buzzer and hand your fare through the passenger window to the driver.

You can get on one anywhere by hailing it from the side of the road although there are official bus stops complete with signs displaying which number songtaew(s) stop there. They usually only stop when a passenger presses the buzzer or when a pedestrian hails one but there are a few locations where they will always stop such as The Mall, Klang Plaza and Big C.

Each songtaew follows a fixed route (a different system to that which is used in Chiang Mai, for example) and there are around twenty different routes which cover most roads in the city. The vehicles come in a variety of colours and numbers - each denoting a different route. Most have their route number prominently displayed on a board above the window. Some start as early as 5 am and run as late as 11 pm but generally speaking it is rare to see one before 7 am and very rare to see one much after 9 pm.

For the newcomer, using songtaews can seem quite daunting as nearly all the destinations are written in Thai (on the front and side of the vehicle) and you need to know that the songtaew you are getting on hasn't just stopped at the place where you want to go. For example, you might be waiting outside the front of The Mall wanting to go to the zoo. Along comes a songtaew with 'Korat Zoo' written on the side. You understandably jump on the back of the vehicle, however, in that situation, the songtaew is coming from the zoo and is heading into the centre of the city.

Most songtaews go back the way they came, so it is usually pretty straight forward getting back to where you departed from: just cross the road and get one going back the other way.

For the benefit of the traveller, it seems unnecessary to describe every route (you're unlikely to go day-tripping to the Suranaree Industrial Zone - incidentally, it's a number 5, white with luminous orange stripe if you do need to go there!) but there are a few routes which will be of use to the visitor. To save on complication, all routes described are based on someone catching a songtaew from Ratchadamnoen Road/in front of Yamo (unless stated otherwise).

Number 1. To get to the main train station, catch a number one heading west on Suranaree Road (just off Ratchadamnoen/rear of Mae Kim Heng market). Catch one outside the station to bring you into the city.
Number 2 (or Number 11). These go to the 'old' bus station.
Number 4. Catch one of these from the Thanon Chira train station (see above) to the city centre/Yamo area.
Number 6. Usually white with a red and yellow stripe, number sixes are the most common songthaews in the city. They vary in their ultimate destination but all stop at The Mall and Lotus.
Number 7. Very important for the traveller. Number sevens go to the main bus station (bok kor sor mai). They also stop opposite Big C before they reach the bus station.
Number 15. Catch one of these new purple and white songthaews at the main bus station to get to the city centre (Yamo area). Wait near the main exit of the bus station for one. They also go to the main bus station from the city centre; the same goes for the Number 10 (white with red and yellow stripe).
Number 4129. These call at The Mall and Lotus on the same route as a number 6 but they go all the way to the zoo. The number is only displayed in small characters on the sides of the vehicle but they are all white with a yellow and blue stripe along the sides. Most now say Korat Zoo in English on the bodywork (see photo).

The current fare is eight baht for a single journey (that's right, 8 baht!) but particularly long journeys - from Yamo to the zoo, for example - will be a little more.

See

Do

Best place to start your walk is at the northern end (Highway 224) at the 'Yamo Entrance' (see main photo at the top of this article). You will pass a short section of moat - Wat Phayap is on your left - and then come to the start of the pedestrianized area. Here, a raised water course follows the line of the long-gone moat and city wall. As you continue your walk you will pass the 'Light and Sound Performance Building' (see 'See') on your left and, near to that, a reconstructed section of the city wall complete with explanatory plaque in English. Further up the Municipal Area you will come to an amphitheatre and, beyond, the statue of Yamo and the Chomphon Gate. Beyond here, the moat recommences.

Festivals and events

Buy

Nakhon Ratchasima has the usual Thai mix of modern department stores, malls and supermarkets; large covered day markets; night markets and smaller street markets. The aforementioned dept stores, malls and supermarkets are all easily reached by public transport. Some of the markets may take a bit more finding but are always well worth the effort. The sights, sounds and smells in a Thai market can make your head spin but they are a 'must do' if you've never experienced them before. All the modern malls are open seven days a week. Most small, independent shops are open at least six days a week and often seven. Remember, this isn't Pattaya or Bangkok, though. Most small shops close at eight at the latest and roads which are busy, shopping thoroughfares by day can be almost deserted by 9pm. But don't despair; there are always the night markets!

Department Stores, Shopping Centres and Supermarkets

The ground floor is mainly taken up by mobile phone shops. The first and second floors are occupied by shops selling computers and related accessories. There is a Hot Pot restaurant in the basement/lower-ground floor. For a 21st century high-tech superstore, it's actually quite dated and tired inside with cracked and missing floor tiles; tatty, chipped walls and lots of vacant shops. In fact, the empty shops and completely unused third floor tell you that Koratians are doing their tech' shopping elsewhere these days. Indeed, everything that I.T sells can be found in much nicer surroundings at The Mall or Klang Plaza Chomsurang.

Markets

Eat

Budget

Never let it be said that you can't eat on a budget in Korat. The cheaper restaurants usually open during the day and can generally be divided into two groups: those which sell pre-cooked khao man gai, kwitiyao and khao moo daeng (boiled chicken & rice, noodle soup and red pork with rice), and those which have a menu and sell khao pad, pad Thai (fried rice, fried noodles) and so on. In the case of the former, you will see the cooked chickens and strips of red meat in a cabinet in front of the restaurant, and they usually just sell the aforementioned three meals. ฿25 is the going rate for one meal but you can push the boat out and pay ฿30 for a larger portion! The other type of restaurant will be able to prepare any Thai meal (within reason) and, again, ฿25 is usually the starting price. Pad krapao moo (spicy minced pork cooked with basil) and khanom chin (fresh rice noodles served with a spicy sauce and vegetables) are particularly popular in Korat. As is pad mee Korat a local, spicier variation on pad Thai. The budget restaurants listed below, therefore, offer something a little different to the khao man gai and kwitiyao eateries which abound on nearly every street.

Drink

They have all kinds of drinks.

Sleep

This guide uses the following price ranges for a standard double room:
Budget Under ฿500
Mid-range ฿500-฿1500
Splurge Over ฿1500

Budget

How low can you go? Budget hotels in Korat start at less than ฿200, but it's fair to say you get what you pay for. These hotels will be devoid of any facilities and usually just consist of a reception desk with a flight of stairs leading to the rooms above. At less than ฿200, the room won't have air-con or hot water. It will be very dated, poorly decorated and probably uncleaned. They have a reputation for being 'short time hotels' but the fact that two have recently closed down - the Potong Hotel on Ratchadamnoen Rd and the Ratchasima Hotel on Chomphon Rd - suggests that the days of ฿200-a-night dumps may be numbered: they won't be missed.

If you must, the Srisura on Suranaree Road, the Chomphon on Pho Klang Road, the Cathay on Ratchadamnoen Rd and the Sri Chomphon on Chomphon Road are city-centre examples of such places.

The budget hotels listed below are a rung or two above those described above. These hotels have air-con, TV, a restaurant and so on

Mid-range

Splurge

Contact

Internet cafés are plentiful and typically charge around ฿10/hour or ฿25 for three hours.

Get out

Related Information




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A list of contributors is available at the original article on Wikitravel. Additional modifications may have been made by users at TRAVEL.COM [2].

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