Maha Sarakham (มหาสารคาม, also spelt Mahasarakham) is a city in Isaan.
Maha Sarakham means "city of great education" and is aptly named considering it hosts seven institutions of higher learning, such as the Mahasarakham University, Mahasarakham Vocational College, and Mahasarakham Technical College. Hence, it is called the Takasila of Isaan (Takasila was a learning centre of India in ancient times). Maha Sarakham is actually the Buddhist centre of Isaan, as many Buddhist archaeological artefacts are found here, which include a relic of Lord Buddha in Na Dun district. Such evidence leads to the theory that this place once was the location of an ancient kingdom dating back to 1,500 years ago. Thus, a pagoda is built there to mark the glory days of Buddhism and to serve as a venue for important rites of Buddhism.
Because the city is primarily a college and university town, costs for food and housing are quite low. A large part of the resident population are teachers and staff of the many schools in the city. As expected, the population also grows and shrinks with the annual academic calendar cycles of semesters and summer breaks as students flow into and out of the city and its environs. Mahasarakham University alone boasts nearly 50,000 students, recently surpassing the student population of Khon Kaen, a nearby much larger city with Khon Kaen University. Literally hundreds of dormitories are scattered throughout the city and its environs.
Maha Sarakham's central location is a convenient base from which to explore Thailand's nearby neighbors of Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam. Directly east is Friendship Bridge Two, spanning the Mekong River at Mukdahan, where one can cross a narrow section of Laos and be in Hue, Vietnam by the end of the day. One can also travel south to Si Saket where it is now easy to cross over into Cambodia, relatively close to Siem Reap and the famed Angkor Archaeological Park. Four hours north, at Nong Khai, one can cross the original Friendship Bridge into Laos, from which point it's just 22 km to the capital city of Vientiane.
Maha Sarakham is also at the very geographic center of Isaan, making it a convenient base from which to explore all of Isaan. Most sightseeing destinations in Isaan are no more than a three to four hour bus ride in nearly every direction from the city. This includes the Mekong River communities to the north and east (Nong Khai, Nakhon Phanom, etc.) and the famous ancient Isaan temple ruins to the south and southeast (Phanom Rung, Khao Phra Vihan, etc.). Nakhon Ratchasima (Khorat), three hours to the southwest, is the gateway to the spectacular Khao Yai National Park which showcases Southeast Asian flora and fauna, where elephants and tigers roam free.
First class / VIP bus service is available to/from Bangkok direct to Maha Sarakham. There are about 8 buses daily. Overnight buses to Bangkok leave Maha Sarakham between 20:30 and 22:30. As of August 2010, fare is about 400 baht.
In Bangkok, buses leave from Morchit Northeastern Bus Terminal and in Maha Sarakham, about one block south of the SermThai shopping plaza.
Regular bus service from several nearby cities is also available daily. Banner signs at the bus station are printed in Thai and English. You may either purchase a ticket before you get on the bus, or just pay in Baht after you get on the bus.
The last bus out of town is often at 18:00 or 19:00, so inquire before you stay too long.
Public transportation in the city is limited to songthaews, motorcycle taxis, and tuk-tuks. The dark blue songthaews leave from the central bus station and travel north on Hwy 213 to Thakhongyang and Mahasarakham University about eight km west and north of downtown. The drivers will stop anywhere along the way when the passengers signal with a buzzer. Cost is about 10 baht, and pay on exiting the songthaew.
Mahasarakham University has a modern campus just north of town about 8 km on Hwy 213. The university has an outdoor museum built in traditional Isaan style as well as a small zoo. The university's older campus near downtown has The Museum of Northeastern Culture.
A beautiful park, Wang Ma Cha ("Fish Sanctuary") is about five km northeast of downtown. A great place to relax at the many gazebos on the lake, feed the huge catfish, and wander through the little zoo. It is suggested to have a tuk-tuk driver who knows the park, to take you there, and then pay him waiting time for the duration of your stay at the park to ensure return transportation.
About 90 minutes south of Mahasarakham is a quite large chedi "Prathat Na Dune" which houses a relic of Buddha. The surrounding large park is a great place for a picnic in the shade of the many trees which are part of the grounds. A nearby replica of an ancient Isaan village gives you a feel for the cultural roots of the area. You will see exhibits which show the silk-making process as well as ancient farm implements.
Cinema: SermThai Plaza and Center Point Mall
Bowling: Center Point Mall
Karaoke: SermThai, and Best Buddy in Thakhonyang
Computer Games: Throughout the city but mostly concentrated in the Rahjahbaht Unversity area and Thakhonyang village (near Mahasarakham University, Kamriang Campus).
Pottery Village: About 5 km southeast of downtown toward Roi-Et
Silk Village: About 10 km southwest of downtown toward Borabue
Museum of Northeastern Culture, Mahasarakham University, downtown campus
1. Mahasarakham University Its faculties include Humanities, Accounting, Engineering, Biological Sciences, Public Health, Pharmacy, Politics and Governance and others. The university maintains two campuses; one downtown, and a newer one about eight kilometers north of the city. The university is especially known for its strong English department which has spawned several national student champions in speech competition in recent years. Nearly 30 instructors are from abroad and the school is host to several hundred international students, mostly from China. (2009)
2. Mahasarakham Rajabhat University (primarily a teacher's college)
3. Mahasarakham Vocational College
4. Mahasarakham Nursing College
5. Mahasarakham Sports College (international film star and martial arts expert "Tony Jaa" of the Thai movies Ong Baak and Tom Yung Goong received his college training here).
6. Mahasrakham Technical College
7. Mahasarakham Agricultural College
There is a modern shopping center ("Sermthai") on the main street between the bus station and the Taksila Hotel. Here you will find the obligatory KFC restaurant, Swensons, a four-plex cinema (almost always Thai only, no English subtitles as well. Even for western movies.), several banks as well as excellent street food vendors.
An even newer shopping center can be found about 5 km north of town on Hwy 213. It is a Big C department store surrounded by many smaller shops and restaurants.
There is a market.
The Living Room Restaurant is located about three km north of downtown on Hwy 213. It is in the Takasila 2 Apartment complex (not to be confused with Takasila Hotel downtown). It is a lunch and dinner, air-conditioned restaurant with authentic Thai, American, and Italian cuisine. The "American BBQ ribs" and Italian pizzas are authentic and delicious. Prices are reasonable and the atmosphere is definitively western. T: +66 43 742 752.
Cheap local food can be found everywhere.
There are many bars around the surrounding universities and colleges.
There are about 8 direct buses to Bangkok which leave each day about one block south of the SermThai shopping plaza. Tour class and VIP class available.
Provincial buses serve the nearby cities of Khon Kaen and Roi Et, from where you can connect by bus or train to other destinations. See above "Get In" section for more details.