As far as Isan (Northeastern Thailand) towns go, Roi Et is an exceptionally attractive one. It’s name translates literally as One Hundred One, though this is a corruption of an antiquated way of writing 11, as the old city was said to have 11 city gates, each leading to one of its satellite cities.
The town is built around an artificial lake, the center island of which is a well-kept public park. A walking Buddha stands over the island.
There are not an abundance of hotels in the center of town. Most lie to the north of the outer moat.
Hotel 99 is the only real budget option. 250 THB (US$7) per night gets you an A/C room with cable tv, a large bed, and a heated shower. The walls sure could have used a cleaning, as dead bugs and smears thereof were all over. Its convenient location at the center of town might make up for its lack of cleanliness.
Just inside the city moat on the eastern side is the Roi Et City Hotel. This large building doesn’t have stellar reviews, but apparently is the only semblance of upscale in the area.
There are a few areas around town where groupings of street food can be found, including to the east of Roi Et Plaza and near the Thai Nightlife street. Otherwise, they are pretty scattered throughout the somewhat large town.
The night market also opens late in the afternoon, slowly overtaking the other venues. Inside are lots of fruits, vegetables, Isan sausages, ready to eat soups (with nowhere to eat them) and even fully deep-fried rats.
I didn’t care to try that last one.
One-Oh-One Pizza is where I found myself very often. The owners, Aun and Paul, and their staff, were fantastically friendly and it seems to be reflected in their constant stream of regular local foreigners who made this their hangout. The restaurant faces out into the lake with a great view of the park, gazebos, and walking Buddha. Thai food items start around 50 THB (US$1.50), sandwiches 80 THB (US$2.50), and pizza 130 THB (US$4). The restaurant provides rentals for motorbikes and owner Paul is a great source of info on the surrounding ruins. Great wifi connection too.
Next door to One-Oh-One is Ristorante Dal Perucino, an Italian restaurant with a selection of pastas the scope of which I would never have expected in a small Isan town. Most dishes are about 130 THB (US$4).
Richi Indian Restaurant is run by a friendly family and provides something different from most other places in the town. Most dishes are between 100 to 200 THB (US$3-6).
Just outside the eastern moat is White Elephant, a German restaurant run by a fantastic cook. Most of the German dishes are 150 to 250 THB (US$5-7), but the portion and quality was fantastic. The Thai dishes are comparably quite expensive, though.
Other than a few scattered Thai Karaoke bars and open-air venues scattered around the outskirts, not a lot is open for nightlife in the city. One-Oh-One Pizza stays open until around midnight most nights, and that tends to be the sole place you’ll find foreigners.
About 3 blocks west is a street full of Thai nightlife. These places range from simple sit down street bars to large open-air venues with projector screens for sports games and live music on stages. Most of these shut down around midnight as well.
Phalanchai Lake, the central lake and its park are the first thing you’ll notice and what truly sets Roi Et apart from other Isan towns. Two walking bridges connect to it on the north and west side and a parking lot and shrine connect it to the mainland on the south side. Jogging paths, exercise areas, playgrounds, and shaded lounging areas all run throughout the park. A spot on the eastern shore even has swan pedal boats to take out onto the lake.
On the southwest side of the lake is the Roi Et Aquarium. There isn’t a lot to see here and it can easily all be seen in 10 minutes. But, it does have a nice glass tunnel through its main tank. With free admission, even for foreigners, it’s worth checking out.
The Roi Et National Museum is certainly worth a look if you have any interest in the local history. With a nice collection of Dvaravati artifacts and items from the local Angkorian Khmer ruins, it then goes into more recent history of rural Thai lifestyles on the top floor. Only some of the displays are in English. The 100 baht (US$3) admission isn’t too bad.
Visible over much of the town is the standing Buddha of Wat Burapapiram. At 59 meters tall, this is the tallest Buddha in Thailand and one of the tallest in the world. Up close, it looks quite strange having a 5 story building built into his rear end.
One of the more curious relics in the town is at Wat Neua on the NW side of town. Although this temple was also in the process of building its own obscenely large sitting Buddha, that’s not the reason to visit. It takes a bit of looking around, but on the far side is a small square-based stupa inside inner courtyard. This is originally a Dvaravati stupa, and although it has likely been restored or rebuilt throughout its life, it’s over 1000 years old.
Leaving Roi Et
The bus station is about 1.5 km from the central lake. From here, buses go to most other Isan capital towns and several buses back to Bangkok. A VIP bus leaves from Roi Et to Bangkok at 9:30 every night and costs 668 THB (US$19).
To get anywhere else, you’ll need to go to either Khon Kaen or Nakhon Ratchasima (Khorat).