Uttaradit literally means “Port of the North”. Its pretty much as far as you’re likely to get a boat, with the mountains beginning just north of here. As such, Uttaradit was a strategic commercial centre, inasmuch as caravans that engaged in the mountain traffic began their journeys from here after unloading goods from the river port. The railway link to Uttaradit was completed in April 1909, and it was an historic event to have the city a mere day’s train ride to Bangkok (rather than many days up a meandering river, or a bumpy road). Building for the railway stopped there for a couple of years before undertaking the technically far more complex task of piercing the Northern Highlands.
Its still a small city – about 30,000 people – but is an important regional centre for agriculture. Like a few towns in Thailand, its known for its fruits.
Uttaradit is particularly known for its Durian. For the uninitiated, the durian smells like a sweetened, fermented armpit, and tastes like that combined with raw onion. It thoroughly offends each of my 5 senses. But its an acquired taste, and I know plenty of sane people who have acquired the heck out of it. If you’ve never experienced it before, or could never follow through with it, the two new varieties of durian that Uttaradit is famous for are good to get you started – they apparently have a less offensive odour. The best time to try it is during the Durian festival held at the beginning of June in nearby Laplae District.
Uttaradit is also famous for its Langsat – a lesser known fruit that resembles a fig from the outside, and the inside fruit looks like a lychee. They taste kind of like a sweet grapefruit, and are reputedly delicious. They have a Langsat festival in Uttaradit in the middle to end of September.
If you see any Langsat being sold on the platform, do yourself a favour. Bringing durian on board is probably illegal, or is at least quite inconsiderate to your neighbours.
So, whats with the dinosaurs?
If you look carefully, you might suddenly see dinosaurs appear alongside the tracks as you’re coming into Uttaradit. From what we can gather, a mysterious dinosaur bone was found in Uttaradit that is believed to be of the Naga Dragon – a mythical beast that is believed to have existed in the region of Indochina, and stretching all the way to Nagaland in India.
Often described as the Thai equivalent to Scotland’s Loch Ness Monster, the tale of the Naga is widely celebrated in northeastern Thailand. Every November, thousands of Thais gather on the banks of the Mekong river in Nong Khai province to watch the Naga shoot mysterious “fireballs” into the sky. The event also brings annual heated debates over the source of the fireballs, which skeptics says are incendiary bullets fired from rifles on the other side of the river.
According to Supot Jermsawasdipong, director of the Department of Mineral Resources, the Naga “fossil” is likely an elephant molar.