Where in The World is Uttaradit? – By Dan.
This is a question I had to answer about one hundred times during the years I lived in Uttaradit Province, and still need to explain sometimes now that I’ve moved away. And it’s not just foreigners who ask – Thai people have certainly heard of the province but most aren’t quite sure where it is exactly. Some don’t even know it’s in the North! To set the record straight once and for all, here is the basic information you’ve always wanted to know (!?) about Uttaradit.
Location and History
As regionalism builds in Thailand, it seems to have become important to define which region your province is in. Uttaradit doesn’t share a lot of Lanna cultural history with Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, its Northern neighbours, but in terms of language and Lao influence, it’s still a Northern province. Uttaradit borders Phitsanulok to the south, Sukhothai to the west, Laos to the east, and both Phrae and Nan to the north. The Nan river runs through the province from the north to the southwest, and the provincial capital Meuang Uttaradit is situated on its banks. The river was dammed by the Sirikit Dam in 1963 creating a vast reservoir north of the city.
The Uttaradit area grew up as an independent state which alternately was brought under control by and rebelled against Sukhothai as a developing empire. The area was also involved with trade and political influence with western Laos and pockets of language still reflect this contact. When Ayutthaya came to dominate central Thailand, the Uttaradit area was brought under the control of that empire and the main town at that time was Phichai. Phichai also tried to shake off Ayutthaya’s imperial yoke but the rebellion was crushed and forced relocations were put into place to discourage further grumblings.
Phraya Phichai Dap Hak Monument
When Ayutthaya fell to the Burmese, Uttaradit fought against the invading armies. The hero of Uttaradit is Phraya Phichai Daphak (Lord Phichai of the Broken Sword) who raised armies against the Burmese and reputedly fought until his sword broke.
During the Rattanakosin period, the provincial capital was moved to its current location as a port on the Nan river, and was given the name Uttarait which means ‘port of the north’. The province is mountainous to both the west and east and this allowed small, isolated pockets of villages to develop their own dialects and cultures alongside the main developments of the region.
Language and Culture
In the city of Uttaradit, the typical dialect spoken is standard Thai (thai glang) in contrst to Northern Dialect or kammeuang which is normally spoken in more northern provinces. This seems to lead people to associate Uttaradit with central Thailand, and in fact the first Thai empire was based in Sukhothai only a hundred kilometres or so to the southwest of Uttaradit city. However in the outlying districts several dialects have developed which seem to be equal mixes of Lao and Northern Thai. In the villages, people tend to eat sticky rice rather than plain rice as well as dishes like nam phrik ong (pork and tomato chilli dip) which are characteristically Northern.
Because of the relative isolation of earlier settlement patterns, dialects spoken across the province are often not mutually intelligible, so people tend to gravitate to standard Thai to communicate clearly.
The province of Uttaradit is well known for 3 fruits; pineapples, the Laplae durian (a smaller, sweeter variety), and langsat the provincial fruit. Langsat is a small round fruit which grows in clusters. It has a yellow-brown peel and the sweet/tart fruit inside is colourless and segmented. The province holds an annual Langsat Festival to celebrate this important commodity after harvest time in November. These days, long-gong trees, whose similar fruits have less sticky peels, are grafted to old langsat root stock, producing a new variety known as the lang-gong.
Although food in most of Uttaradit shares many traits with Northern and Central Thai cuisines, there are a few major exceptions, especially in Laplae district. This fruit-growing district to the west of Uttaradit city has its own lore and mysterious history, with many claiming it was a thickly wooded area that was inhabited by settlers from Laos who were fleeing local persecution. Whatever the reason, Laplae developed its own unique cooking style which resulted in 2 main foods not found elsewhere in Thailand. Laplae people use a steamer (a cloth stretched tightly over a pot of boiling water) seen elsewhere in Thailand only for steamed coconut treats to produce 2 products, kao phan and kao kap. Both are made by pouring a thin batter of fermented rice flour and sesame seeds onto the steamer in the shape of a circle.
Kao kap is poured very thin and flavoured with salt, sugar, shrimp, or herbs (especially phak chi farang) and steamed briefly, after which the thin sheets are rolled out onto grass sheets (the same type that people use to thatch their roofs) and left to dry in the sun. It turns either crispy or flexible, depending on the type. Laplae people eat the crispy type like potato chips, usually with a spicy dip. The flexible type of kao kap is used to roll up vermicelli noodles (mii phun) or sticky rice and whatever dishes are eaten with it.
Kao phan phak is made with a thicker batter so that it steams to a softer, noodle-like consistency. Often an egg is cracked on top and steamed, and then vegetables and glass noodles are added and the noodle is folded up with these inside. The dish is steamed and essentially bland, so kao phan phak restaurants offer a wide variety of condiments on the table and small bowls to mix up your own sauce according to personal taste while you wait.
Though now seen in Uttaradit city and sometimes in neighbouring districts, both of these foods are unique to Laplae district and rarely seen outside of the province.
The city of Uttardit itself is worth a mention as the seat of the province. The city proper has a population of 40+ thousand people with more around the city district. It hosts a Rajabhat university URU) which attracts students from Nan, Phrae, and Sukhothai so that the total university population is about 6,000 and this creates a busier atmosphere when university is in session. As a small city, Uttaradit has been wholly eclipsed by Phitsanuloke just 1 hour away, and therefore seems unlikely to grow much into the future. It boasts a mid-sized Tesco Lotus store, a small department store (Friday), a few chain restaurants like Pizza Company and KFC, and one discotheque, the infamous Crystal Palm under the Seeharaj Hotel.
The city has a little nightlife including some small pubs like Rong Nom, Hawng Thaew, and Grandfather where students and an older set relax. The plus side is that, like everything else in Uttaradit, these small shops are cheap, serving food and drink that would go for almost double in Korat.
Uttaradit carries a proud tradition of muay thai, and boxing is very popular in surrounding towns and in the city especially at the annual Langsat Festival. As has become typical in the North, Uttaradit also hosts an annual long-boat racing festival where teams of up to 40 rowers race for the title.
All in all, Uttaradit is a quiet city which may be the perfect for anyone tire of big city life but not ready to head to the village just yet.
Uttaradit isn’t on the tourist map, but this can be a good thing. A visit to the province will give you a real Thai experience, but be ready to speak Thai or phasaa meu (hand language) if you want to head up for a visit. One great idea is to visit Sri Satchanalai, the beautiful ruined city in Sukhothai province, for the day then take a bus up to Uttaradit less than an hour away. There are a couple of hidden gems here if you have time to discover them.
Baw Lek Nam Phii – Located in Baan Nam Phii, the iron (lek) from these mines (baw) was allegedly reserved for forging swords for Thai kings. The high quality iron is still forged today and you can have an interesting look at local blacksmithing which is done around the mine sites, though most of this uses rebar from construction sites. This site is 40 km southeast of the city and you can look for a sawngthaew going there or else drive yourself.
Baw Lek Nam Phii
Phu Soi Dao National Park – This mountain is east of the city on the way to Laos and is a stunning place to visit in the dry season when the weather is cool. It’s also a fairly quiet park so if you’re looking for peace you might find it here all by yourself. You start from the nam tok (waterfall) at the park office and the climb isn’t very strenuous and is certainly worth the 4-5 hours usually needed to summit. You can rent a tent or bring you won to camp near the waterfall, but it’s certainly nicer to wake up in a tent at the top.
Phu Soi Dao National Park
Wat Phrathaen Sila-At – Yes it’s a temple! It was established in the Sukhothai period but the real interest here is the Wat Phrathaen Festival which is held for about a week every year usually in January. The date changes annually and is chosen by monks at a time considered to be lucky, so it’s hard to find out when the festival is going to be. However if you can make it there it’s definitely worth it. Just like a regular temple fair, (ngan wat), this festival has rides, games, and food in abundance. At the temple itself traditional dance shows are performed and various merit-making and divination ceremonies are performed which are all pretty strange. The special feature of the fair though is the local products on sale, especially jungle products that are increasingly hard to find elsewhere in Thailand like herbal medicines, strange foods, wood products, forest honey, and more. The temple is just west of the city in Laplae, so Laplae foods and very Lao-looking weaving products are on sale as well. Everything is very cheap and the atmosphere makes for quite a nice evening in the cool season.
Coin Tossing for luck at Wat Phra Thaen
So that Uttaradit in a nutshell. It’s not the most exciting place. It doesn’t have a beach or a wild bar strip, but it does have a certain small provincial city charm and also some really unique features, something hard to find in Thailand these days. As a quiet place to live or pass through for a short visit, Uttaradit can be enjoyable and certainly it can show you about un-touristed Thailand.-
This post is also available in: French