Nakhon Ratchasima

The 'Yamo Entrance' at the junction of Ratchadamnoen Rd and Hwy 224

Nakhon Ratchasima (นครราชสีมา), usually referred to as Khorat (โคราช) or, more commonly Korat, is the largest city in the Isaan region of Thailand. Its proximity to Bangkok and Isaan make it a good jumping-off point for travellers who are heading into Isaan. It has excellent transport links to the rest of the country and beyond. Hwy 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. 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 200,000 (Nai Muang district), but the entire urban sprawl of the Nakhon Ratchasima metropolitan 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.

Understand

History

The Statue of Thao Suranaree (Yamo) with the Chomphon Gate in the background

The modern-day city traces 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 Rd, 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
 
Daily highs (°C) 31 34 36 37 35 34 34 33 32 31 30 29
Nightly lows (°C) 18 21 23 25 25 25 24 24 24 23 21 18
Precipitation (mm) 6 18 37 64 141 108 114 146 222 143 27 18

Check Nakhon Ratchasima's 7 day forecast at TMD.go.th

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 while the cool/dry season is quite short. In generally during Nov, Dec, and Jan it's very dry and relatively cool, although daytime temperatures will still often exceed 30 degrees C. Mar-Jun are the four hottest months but there can be heavy rains during this time, particularly in May. The temperatures decreases slightly each month as the area moves into the rainy season. Aug-Oct are the wettest months but tropical storms may be experienced any time between Mar-Oct. The downpours end as Oct ends: the rainfall in Nov is just 20% that of Oct.

The city, with its traffic and concrete, will be a little hotter than the rest of the province. And days in Apr and May can be unbearably hot amidst the urban jungle. Conversely, it can be surprisingly cool between Nov-Jan. It's not unusual for temperatures at night in the city to drop below fifteen degrees Celsius in the cool season, while out in the rural areas, single-digit temperatures are not unknown.

Orientation

The Statue of Thao Suranaree (Yamo), Chomphon Gate and Chumphon Road behind, and a section of the moat to the right

The main road into the city is Hwy 2 (Mittraphap Rd) which originates in Saraburi and terminates in Nong Khai. The mall, Tesco Lotus and several hotels are 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 Hwy 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 km by one km, and consists of seven main roads that run east to west: Phonsaen, Yommarat, Assadang, 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; Assadang may have a t replacing one s; Pratchak may have no t, and so on.

To add to your confusion, the names of Jagkree Rd and Pratchak Rd change south of their intersections with Chomphon Rd: to Watchara Sarit Rd and Chai Narong Rd respectively.

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

Get in

By car

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

By bus

There are two main bus stations in Korat. The new bus station ("bok kor sor mai") is the larger of the two and is just to the north of the city centre, beyond Big C on the Korat to Khon Kaen stretch of Mittraphap Rd. The old bus station ("bok kor sor gow") is within the city centre on Burin Rd between Suranaree Rd and Mittraphap.

So, assuming you are in Bangkok, just head to Mo Chit 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 40, 49, 50, 52, or 53.

Window 40 and 49 - Ratchasima Tour. Direct 24 hour service. Window 40 for the old bus station and window 49 for the new bus station.
Window 50 - Suranaree Air. Tickets for services to either station are sold at the same window. Confusingly, there are two windows #50 at Mo Chit (50 and 50ก). The one you need is on the left of the two.
Windows 52 and 53 - Air Korat Pattana. Window 52 for buses to the new bus station and window 53 for buses to the old bus station. It's been known for the vendor to just sell a ticket for the next departing service. If you really want to go to the old bus station ("bok kor sor gow") make sure you buy your ticket from the vendor at window 53 and that your ticket has the number 1 on it somewhere. This denotes the old bus station whereas a 2 denotes the new.

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

The price is 220 baht, one-way from Bangkok to Nakhon Ratchasima. The buses follow the "First Route" described above. A return ticket is available for a slightly discounted price.

Other cities which run buses direct to Korat include Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Mae Sai, Nakhon Sawan Pattaya, Chonburi, Chantaburi, Rayong, Lopburi, Hua Hin, Hat Yai, Phuket and just about every provincial capital in Isaan. 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. If you're entering from Laos at the Savannakhet border crossing then you can get a bus direct from Mukdahan to Korat. All these services terminate and originate at the new bus station. The old bus station is used for some Bangkok services and shorter local routes to places such as Pak Chong and Pak Thong Chai.

If you've arrived at the new bus station 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 at the bus station. To get a songthaew back towards the city centre take the number 15 (purple and white) which waits on the road between the two main terminal buildings at the new bus station.

Tuk-tuks and motorcycle taxis also wait at the smaller old bus station but meter taxis don't. The old bus station is walking distance from many hotels.

By train

Trains leave from Bangkok Railway Station (Hualamphong) 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 05:45, 06:40, 10:05, 11:40, 15:20, 18:30, 18:55, 20:00, 20:30, 21:50, 22:25, and 23:40. The latest timetable can be found at State Railways of Thailand or call 1690. Fares are very reasonable for the 264 km journey. The cheapest ticket on the cheapest train is around 50 baht.

There are two stations in Nakhon Ratchasima.

Trains in Thailand are always delayed, even for short commutes. Note this fact and budget more time if you need to transfer to other means of transport, e.g., planes or buses.

By plane

There are no scheduled flights to or from Nakhon Ratchasima Airport (NAK).

Get around

By tuk-tuk

These three-wheeled buzz boxes 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 60 baht. Agree on this price before you get in. Fares typically go up in multiples of 20 and start at 40 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 60 baht tuk-tuk fare will be 40 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 30 baht for the first kilometre and 4 baht a kilometre after that. You can call for one (+66 44 342255) 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 Mar/start of Apr) when Ratchadamnoen Rd 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 20 baht.

By songthaew

Songthaew Rte 4129 waits on Ratchadamnoen Rd. This one goes to Korat Zoo via The Mall

Songthaews are the most popular type of public transportation. A songthaew 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 songthaew(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 mhe mall, Klang Plaza, and Big C.

Each songthaew 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 05:00 and run as late as 23:00, but generally speaking it is rare to see one before 07:00 and very rare to see one much after 21:00.

For the newcomer, using songthaews 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 songthaew 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 songthaew with 'Korat Zoo' written on the side. You understandably jump on the back of the vehicle, however, in that situation, the songthaew is coming from the zoo and is heading into the centre of the city.

Most songthaews go back the way they came, so it is usually pretty straightforward 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 songthaew from Ratchadamnoen Rd/in front of Yamo (unless stated otherwise).

Number 1. To get to the main train station, catch a number one heading west on Suranaree Rd (just off Ratchadamnoen/rear of Mae Kim Heng market). Catch one outside the station to take you into the city.
Catch one on the corner of Chumphon and Chomphon Rd (behind the Chomphon Gate) to take you all the way down Chomphon to Wat Boon Night Bazaar. Get off just as it turns left in front of the Iyara Hotel. It also passes Night Bazaar 1 halfway down Chomphon.
Number 2 (or Number 11). These go to the 'old' bus station.
Number 4. Catch one of these from the Chira Rd 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 8 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

Locals kneel and pray in front of Yamo

Festivals and events

Do

Fans watch a Nakhon Ratchasima FC match in Sep 2009

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. All are 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 21:00. But don't despair; there are always the night markets!

Markets

Shopping centres and supermarkets

Like the base of some unfinished skyscraper, the monolithic hulk of the Klang Plaza department store dominates the central Korat skyline

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 baht is the going rate for one meal but you can push the boat out and pay 30 baht for a larger portion! The other type of restaurant will be able to prepare any Thai meal (within reason) and, again, 25 baht 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.

Sleep

This guide uses the following price ranges for a standard double room:
Budget Under 500 baht
Mid-range 500-1,500 baht
Splurge Over 1,500 baht

Budget

How low can you go? Budget hotels in Korat start at less than 200 baht, 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 baht, the room won't have air-con or hot water, are often dated and poorly decorated.

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 baht-a-night places may be numbered. The Srisura on Suranaree Rd, the Chomphon on Pho Klang Rd, the Cathay on Ratchadamnoen Rd, and the Sri Chomphon on Chomphon Rd are cheap places near the city center.

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

Connect

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

Go next

Routes through Nakhon Ratchasima

Nong Khai Phimai  N  S  Saraburi Bangkok
Bangkok Saraburi  W  E  Buriram Ubon Ratchathani
Nong Khai Phimai  N  S  Saraburi


This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Friday, July 17, 2015. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.