Nakhon Ratchasima | Khorat / Thailand



Nakhon Ratchasima

Nakhon Ratchasima is a province and it's capital in northeastern Thailand. It is also the biggest city in Isan. The place is alternatively called Khorat (or Korat, derived from Khmer language, Angkor Raj, what means something like royal city). The Khorat Plateau, the landscape which is widely identical with Isan, is named after it as well as the Khorat Cat (also: Si Sawat, concerning to the cat's colour).

Modern Housefront

'Housefront in Nakhon Ratchasima' by Asienreisender

That's how Thailand's cities nowadays look. It's everywhere the same appearance, more or less in the whole country. A soulless, ugly, completely dehistorized cost-efficient building style. Here it's in Khorat's old city. If city architecture says what about the psychology of a society, this here speaks volumes. Image by Asienreisender, 11/2015

Official statistics say that Nakhon Ratchasima city has around 136,000 inhabitants (2013; in the whole province live 2.57 million people) and counts as the biggest city in Isan. However, it's at least as ugly and faceless as the other Isan cities - they all look pretty similar with their egg-carton concrete buildings everywhere. It's not the cleanest place, the public infrastructure looks very neglected and for me, judged on the surface of what I saw with my own eyes, seems to be a place with more social retardation than the smaller Isan towns in the south. It's said that there is a considerable number of former refugees and migrants from Cambodia living in the province, particularly in the city.

There is a number of Westerners living here, and among them are many former US airforce staff who served at the American airbase (see below) and live here since the Vietnam War.

Nakhon Ratchasima is a more Thai city than other places in Isan with their ethnic Laotian or Khmer (in the south) majorities. It was since Ayutthaya times mostly under Siamese control, already in times when most of Isan was still more loosely connected to Siam.

Thai Steam Locomotive

'A Thai Steam Locomotive' by Asienreisender

One of the old, discarded Thai steam locomotives of the first half of the 20th century. It's a great idea to place them in front of the railway station instead of scrapping them. Image by Asienreisender, 11/2015

In Khorat splits Thailand's northeastern railway line, the Khorat track, into two directions. The southern one leads via Buriram, Surin and Si Saket to Ubon Ratchathani. The northern one leads via Khon Kaen to Nong Khai and is now further connected to Vientiane in Laos and soon will be prolongued to Kunming in Yunnan, China. The railway connection was established in Nakhon Ratchasima in 1900 already, while Surin was connected 22 years later.

The national road 2 (Thanon Mittraphap) connects the city with Bangkok in the southwest and Nong Khai in the north.

Nakhon Ratchasima has an old town of a considerable size. It's surrounded by a widely intact moat of 1.7km length and 1.5km width. At the southeastern corner is a small piece of brick-built city wall intact or rebuilt, while verymost of it is completely removed or only still visible as fundament. Three of the four city gates are rebuilt, only the western gate is still original. The French engineer who designed the fortification is believed to be the same who planned the construction of the royal Naraimaharaj Palace in Lopburi.

A Khorat Cat

'Khorat Cat' by Asienreisender

A regional peculiarity is the Khorat Cat, a very nice kind of cat with a grey/blue fur. They are very sociable and like people as well as other cats. Due to their colour they are also called 'Si Sawat'.

This female cat joined me when I had a picnic near the railway station and we shared a chicken leg. She is a very nice animal. Images and photocomposition by Asienreisender, 11/2015

There seems to be nothing remarkable to say about the local economy. Much of it is based on agriculture; silk production plays a role. The province is little touristic apart from those who go to Khao Yai National Park or Phimai, what are mostly Thai People who come on weekends from Bangkok, what is some 260km away.

There is also an important military airbase in the city, north of the main railway station. It was built by the USA and used for US air raids on Laos and Vietnam in the American Vietnam War (Second Indochina War). Since 1976, after the American withdrawal, the airport is used by the Thai airforce. There are now allegedly F16 fighters stationed. From time to time, additional to all the many nuisances of city life, the fighters fly repeatedly over the city center and create a hell of a din. By the way: do you know, how incredibly expensive these fighters are? That gives quite a contrast to all the poverty and misery down here on the ground.

Nakhon is also the base for the Thai army section of the northeast.

In the province lies the remarkable Angkorean site of Phimai and parts of Thailand's first national park, Khao Yai.

Thao Suranari Memorial at Night

'Night over Thao Suranari Memorial and West Gate' by Asienreisender

The spot around Thao Suranari Memorial and West Gate is considered the city center of Nakhon Ratchasima. There is a night market nearby, many shops along the nearby streets, fortune-tellers lean against the city wall and permanently local people appear to worship the idol of Khun Ying Mo. Image by Asienreisender, 1/2010


The History of Nakhon Ratchasima

The area what is now Khorat Province has a long history which dates back to prehistoric times. In the middle ages, the centuries between the 10th to the 14th century, the land was part of the empire of Angkor (see also: 'Phimai', what was one of the most important centers of the Khmer empire in Isan).

Khorat's Old City Gate

'Nakhon Ratchasima's Western City Gate' by Asienreisender

The western city gate, the only part of the former city wall which is still said being in the state of origin. Images and photocomposition by Asienreisender, 1/2010, 11/2015

The Nakhon Ratchasima of today is probably a city foundation of the empire of Sukothai which dates back to the early 14th century. It was meaned as a bastion against the empire of Angkor. Later, it came under the rule of the empire of Ayutthaya. Even after the fall of Angkor in 1431 CE, the Khmer were able to attack and capture Khorat in 1630 CE. The whole population was brought to Cambodia and got enslaved.

As an reaction of the vulnerability king Narai of Ayutthaya (reign 1656-88 CE) let built the city fortifications as we see it today. The construction was built under supervision of the French engineer mentioned already above. A table at the western gate suggests that the city had city walls before and Narai let undertake a thorough upgrade.

After the 'Siamese Revolution' of 1688 CE, the governor of Khorat resisted against the new king of Siam, Phetracha. It cost Siam three years to subdue the city again. Another rebellion took place in the years 1698 to 1700 under the leadership of a monk who claimed to be a brother of former king Narai.

Khorat claimed independece also after the downfall of Ayutthaya in 1767 CE. King Taksin of Thonburi conquered the place again and incorporated it into the again expanding Siam.

Old, Wooden Shophouse

'Old Wooden House in Khorat' by Asienreisender

This kind of wooden shop houses coined Thai cities in the first half of the 20th century, probably until the concrete building boom reached the provincial cities in the 1980s. Nowadays they are seldom and mostly very run down. The last remaining will soon be demolished.

Far from being beautiful, one has to say that they were already a contribution to economic efficiency. The generation of wooden buildings before this kind was made from solid wood, often hard wood of high quality which lasted centuries. Image by Asienreisender, 11/2015

More serious trouble approached in form of a Laotian army in 1826, led by king Anuvong of Vientiane who tried to overcome vassal status. Records of the time are not too clear; it came to a battle at Khorat which the Siamese won. After that they took over again the whole of Isan and the parts of Laos east of the Mekong River (see also 'The History of Isan').

Another, local version of the story is that the deputy governor's wife, Khun Ying Mo, found a way to outwit the Laotians. This woman is nowadays by many seen as a local heroine. In 1934 the new Siamese government erected a statue (see the sidebar photo above) in front of the western city gate on a raised platform. Every day, nonstop, one can see Thai People going there to worship Thao Suranari, what is the honorous name given to her by Siamese king Rama III. However, serious scholars doubt that Khun Ying Mo / Thao Suranari even existed but was an official invention to strenghten Thai national identity in the region.