July 14, 2014 00:00 By Panyaporn Saithong The Nation
Old 'GI City' now a major hub in Northeast
From being known as a “GI City” due to the US Airforce base that was once there, Udon Thani has transformed from a simple peaceful town into a leading hub in the Northeast, buzzing with businesses catering to investors, locals, and traders from neighbouring provinces and nearby Laos. As urbanised as any other major Thai city, Udon is flooded with brand-name goods and malls and people there, especially teenagers, have leisure choices equal to those of their peers in Bangkok.
A 17-year-old high school student, “Pop”, said that rapid development had vastly improved Udon. “If I want to go eat, shop and do things it is very convenient,” she said. “We can just hop on motorbikes and go to malls without asking to be driven there by our parents.”
The pressure on the wallets of the youngsters, however, balances out this convenience.
“Now we have plenty of choices but we don’t have enough money to buy them,” complained Pop. “We have to spend carefully as the earnings of our parents and the money they give to us remains the same. Sometimes we just hang out in malls without buying anything.”
Aum, a graduate from Udon Thani Rajabhat University, said that more people are spending their leisure time clubbing or watching football matches and drinking at pubs.
As he prefers shopping, he admitted that his personal expenses are high because he buys tempting, and often unnecessary, things. He claimed that crime has become more of an issue as people were robbing and stealing in order to get the things they want. Heavy traffic has also become a problem as more locals take to their vehicles to get places. The roads are also packed with visitors from nearby provinces and from Laos. Fortunately the jams only occur at certain periods of day and cannot be compared to the ones in Bangkok.
“Udon Thani used to be a peaceful place and people were not so selfish,” said Aum. “The appearance of all these malls and condos have changed that. People feel pressure to dress more fashionably and spend more money at malls such as Central Plaza and UD Town, which are both beautifully decorated and offer brand-name goods.”
Aum’s fellow-student Thanyalak Woranoi, 24, said the city has become a real hub for entertainment. The two main malls often host events and there are many restaurants where she and her friends can go and split the bill. “Before our choices were limited to Nong Prachak and parks where we eat picnic-style or ride bicycles together,” she said.
Although Udon Thani is now more urbanised, people are still kind and welcoming, hence many visitors from Laos liked to visit and make large purchases, she said.
A Laotian tourist, identified only as Noi, said she liked to shop at air-conditioned Udon Thani malls because of the large selection of products.
In addition to shopping, Udon Thani is a favourite destination for Laotians seeking medical treatment due to its profusion of trustworthy private hospitals.
Meanwhile, those with money to spare can also take advantage of the many services from Udon Thani International Airport, including flights to Phuket, Koh Samui or even South Korea.