North Eastern Thailand

North Eastern Thailand

North Eastern Thailand
North Eastern Thailand
North Eastern Thailand
North Eastern Thailand

North Eastern Thailand is better known as Isan – also written as Isaan, Isarn, Issan, or Esarn. There are 19 provinces in Isan, but only a few receive interest from tourists, which is a shame as this is a great part of Thailand to relax, wander in nature and get to know the friendly and welcoming people.

Isan covers an area of 160,000 km and much of the land is given over the farms and paddy fields as agriculture is the main economic activity. The region of Isan has a strong, rich and individual culture. Examples of this can be found in the folk music, called mor lam, festivals, dress, temple architecture and general way of life.

The main regional dialect is Isan, which is actually much more similar to Lao than central Thai. Unfortunately, because the rainfall is often insufficient for crops to grow properly, Isan is the poorest region of Thailand, and many people leave the province to seek their fortunes in the bustling metropolis of Bangkok.

The average temperature range is from 30.2 C to 19.6 C. The highest temperature recorded was a sweltering 43.9 C, whilst the lowest was a freezing -1.4 C. Unlike most of Thailand, rainfall is unpredictable, but it mainly occurs during the rainy season, which takes place from May to October.

Although completely unique, Isan food has adopted elements of both Thai and Lao cuisines. Sticky rice is served with every meal and the food is much spicier than that of most of Thailand.

Popular dishes include:

som tam – extremely spicy and sour papaya salad
larb – fiery meat salad liberally laced with chilies
gai yang – grilled chicken
moo ping – pork satay sticks

Isan people are famous for their ability to eat whatever happens to be around, and lizards, snakes, frogs and fried insects such as grasshoppers, crickets, silkworms and dung beetles often form a part of their diet.

Both men and women traditionally wear sarongs; women’s sarong often have an embroidered border at the hem, whilst those of the men are chequered. Much of Thailand’s silk is produced in Isan, and the night markets at many of the small towns and villages are good places to find a bargain.

There is no major airport in Isan, but the State Railway of Thailand has two lines and both connect the region to Bangkok. This is also a good place to enter Laos via the Thanon Mitraphap (“Friendship Highway”), which was built by the United States to supply its military bases in the 1960s and 1970s. The Friendship Bridge – Saphan Mitraphap – forms the border crossing over the Mekong River on the outskirts of Nong Khai to the Laos capital of Vientiane.

Chiang Khan, Thailand

Chiang Khan, Thailand
Chiang Khan, Thailand
chiang_khan_2
Chiang Khan, Thailand

Situated in the northern part of Loei Province, Chiang Khan is the perfect postcard destination. This quaint little town is full of traditional timber houses and boasts a beautiful riverside location. This is natural location is a great place to unwind for a while or prepare to take a meditation course.

The village is easy to walk around and the many temples make good places to stop and explore. Wat Pa Klang is interesting as it is more than 100 years old, whilst Wat Mahathat is the village’s oldest temple. Also worth visiting are Wat Santi, Wat Thatkhok, Wat Si Khun Meuang and Wat Tha Khaek.

12 kilometers to the east of Chiang Khan, the monastic centre of Samnak Song Phu Pha Baen is a great place for a day trip. Here you will witness the rare and unforgettable sight of monks meditating in caves and on tree platforms.

Another great day trip is the Tai Dam village of Ban Napanard, where you can interact with the Tai Dam people and learn all about them at the Tai Dam Cultural Centre. You can even choose to stay on in one of the home-stay rooms to get a real feel of the culture and general way of life of these people, who originally migrated from Laos more than 100 years ago to live peacefully in Thailand.

For the adventurous, the opportunity to ride the rapids at Kaeng Khut Khu might prove irresistible. The rapids are located 6 kilometers from Chiang Khan. It is easy to hire a bicycle and cycle to Kaeng Khut Khu, or you can easily arrange a boat trip from Chiang Khan and enjoy a relaxing boat trip along the Mekong River.

Although valued for its peace and quiet, this little village definitely knows how to party. Those arriving during wan awk phansaa at Buddhist Rains Retreat in late October will experience an entirely different atmosphere. Chiang Khan marks the end of Buddhist lent with a week of celebrations. The boat races can get especially wild, and the giant carved wax candles are extremely beautiful. Definitely an event not to be missed.

Beung Kan, Thailand

Beung Kan, Thailand
Beung Kan, Thailand
Beung Kan, Thailand

Situated in Nong Khai Province to the northeast of Thailand, Beung Kan makes a good stopping off point on the way to Laos. This is a quieter alternative to the interesting yet sometimes overwhelming bustling city of Nong Khai. Baung Kan may be quaint, dusty and slightly sleepy, but there is still plenty here for the adventurous to see and do.

A great attraction is the temple of Wat Phu Tok. This temple features six levels of steps, which can be slightly difficult to climb in the heat of the day – it is best to visit early in the morning or late in the afternoon. However, the spectacular views over the surrounds countryside from the top more than make up for the effort. This is a absolutely enchanting place, and people are offered the opportunity to get to know it better by staying overnight in one of the dormitories.

A pleasant day trip from Beung Kan is the charming little town of Sangkhom, which looks out on the Lao island of Don Klang. This is the home of several beautiful flowing waterfalls such as Nam Tok Than Thip and Nam Tok Than Thong, which is a great place for swimming and cooling down after a hike through the countryside.

Whilst there, make sure that you check out the pretty little temple of Wat Pa Tak Sua, which is located 4 kilometers from the town and another great hiking destination. Another point of interest is Wat Silawat. Beung Kan, a great place to hire a bicycle and go exploring or go trekking to.

This peaceful village is also a good place to be lazy for a few days and just soak up the stunning scenery, fresh air and tranquility. There are a few local guesthouses where you can indulge in delicious Thai food and practice the simple art of doing nothing.

Ubon, Thailand

Ubon Ratchathani, Thailand
Ubon Ratchathani, Thailand
Ubon Ratchathani, Thailand
Ubon Ratchathani, Thailand

Ubon Ratchathani Province is located in the southeast of the Isan region of Thailand. The capital city bears the same name, but is more commonly known as Ubon. The name means Royal Land Lotus Blossom in the Thai language and refers to the exceptional natural beauty of the area.

The city, which sits on the northern bank of the Mun River, was originally founded in the late 18th century by Lao immigrants and still retains many aspects of Lao style and culture. For an insight into the rich and interesting history of this area, pay a visit to the Ubon National Museum.

Ubon Ratchathani is best loved for its stunning national parks. No visit is complete without seeing the spectacular Phu Chong Na Yoi National Park, which covers an area of 687 square kilometers, featuring stunning views from the cliffs at Pha Pheung and the huge Bak Tew Yai Waterfall.

Another area of great beauty is the Kaeng Tana National Park and don’t miss the Pha Taem National Park with its pre-historic cliff paintings showing scenes of fishing, rice farming, figures of people and animals.

There are many beautiful waterfalls in the area, and it is possible to swim in the clear waters of most. Some of the best include Nam Tok Saeng Chan, Nam Tok Thung Na Muang and the magnificent Nam Tok Soi Sawan.

It goes without saying that there are many interesting temples to explore, embodying design features of both Lao and Thai temple art. Look out for Wat Tung Si Muang, Wat Supattanaram, the rectangular chedi of Wat Phra That Nong Bua, Wat Si Ubon Rattanaram and many others.

Koh Hat Wat Tai is a small island in the Mae Nam Mun which is great for swimming and sunbathing. Another attraction in the area are the Warin Chamrap District Temples. These are two temples where people from all over the world gather to study meditation. Wat Nong Pa Phung is reserved for Thai people, while Wat Pa Nanachat is for non-Thais.

The silk weaving village of Wat Nong Bua is located 18 kilometers from the city and makes a great day trip, while many people travel to ride the Kaeng Saphue rapids or take a boat trip on the turbulent white waters.

Ubon has a large night market, which is a great place to get a cheap meal and buy some local produce.

If you are in the area during the festival of awk hansaa in July, make sure you stay for the Candle Festival, when processions of wax religious images are carried through the city on floats.

Nakhon Phanom, Thailand

Nakhon Phanom, Thailand
Nakhon Phanom, Thailand
Nakhon Phanom, Thailand
Nakhon Phanom, Thailand

The name Nakhon Phanom means ‘city of hills’ in the Thai language, and this ancient city located on the right bank of the Mekong River in Nakhon Phanom Province in northeast Thailand gets its name from the striking jungle covered mountains which surround it. Nakhon Phanom is situated 580 kilometers northeast of Bangkok, across the Mekong River from the Laotian town of Thakhek. Nakhon Phanom is well known as a place of great beauty and a gentle pace of life which immediately enchants visitors and stays with them throughout the rest of their journey.

The culture, art, music and customs of the Lao people have a strong influence on this area, and it is blended well with the elements of Thai culture as well as the faint traces of other cultures which still linger in the background.

It is well worth taking the time to explore the town’s temples, especially as many of them embrace both Thai and Lao temple design features. Wat Si Thep is a good place to start as it is covered with a collection of beautiful murals. Other interesting temples include Wat Okat Si Bua Ban, Wat Maha That and Wat Noi Pho Kham.

Located 50 kilometres from Nakhon Phanom town, Phra That Phanom is the most celebrated temple in the area and makes a good day trip. The temple features a magnificent 53 metre high five-tiered golden umbrella inlaid with a plethora of precious gems.

Just 4 kilometres west of Nakhon Phanom town, Ban Na Chok offers a rare opportunity to visit a Vietnamese community in Thailand and learn about their unique culture and traditional way of life.

There are many other appealing villages around Nakhon Phanom town that make good day trips. Hire a bicycle and head 45 kilometres north to Nam Song Si. Another great day trip is the cotton weaving village of Renu Nakhon, 52 kilometres south. Whilst there, pay a visit to the attractive Wat Phra That Renu Nakhon.

The Riverside Promenade follows the banks of the mighty Mekong River, and there are dozens of food stalls dotted along the banks from which to buy a cheap meal and watch the world go by.

Nestled in the Langka Mountain Range, the Phu Langka National Park is a great place of natural beauty and stunning vistas. There are two sparkling waterfalls to swim in and many places to enjoy a picnic in the sunshine.

Interestingly, the beach of Hat Sai Thong – Golden Sand Beach – only appears between February to April, when the river is at its lowest. If you happen to be in the area at the time, this is a good opportunity to slap on some suntan lotion and soak up some rays.

Nong Khai, Thailand

Nong Khai, Thailand
Nong Khai, Thailand
Nong Khai, Thailand
Nong Khai, Thailand

Nong Khai Province, in the very northeast of Thailand, is often referred to as the gateway to Laos as many people stop off there on their way to visiting Thailand’s northern cousin. Even if you’re not planning to cross into Laos, make sure you check out the Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge, which spans the Mekong River.

The province features stunning scenery consisting of forests, national parks, and many small towns located on the banks of the Mekong River. There are two main points of interest for visitors to Nong Khai Province; the city of Nong Khai and the quiet yet charming dusty town of Beung Kan.

Nong Khai is the capital of the Nong Khai Province and offers a wide range of things to see and do. Indeed, many people visit the city only intending to stay a day or two and end up staying for several weeks.

The main attraction of Nong Khai city is the Sala Kaew Ku Sculpture Park, which is full of massive sculptures from Buddhist and Hindu ideologies. Here you will find incredible images such as seven-headed Naga snakes and a wide range of human-animal hybrids.

Visitors should make a point of seeing Wat Pho Chai, which contains the magnificent Laos-style Luang Phra Sai. Other temples of interest include Wat Noen Phra Nao, Wat Lam Duan and Wat Tung Sawang.

During the dry season, the spire of Phra That Nong Khai appears above the waters of the Mekong River. Also appearing in the dry season is the beach of Hat Jommani, which is a good place to soak up the sun.

Nature lovers should pay a visit to the extremely beautiful Phu Wua Wildlife Reserve, while the Nong Khai Museum is a great source of local history and culture.

Nong Khai is a province that loves to party, and there are many colourful festivals to see and enjoy. Late May brings the Rocket Festival, while the full moon in October brings the Rowing Festival. This festival is famous as this is the time when fireballs mysteriously shoot from the Mekong River. The fireballs are widely believed to be breathed by a sea monster living in the river – dispute it at your peril!

Another festival worth looking out for is Anou Savari, which occurs on March 5th and is the city’s biggest street fair.

Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand

Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand
Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand
Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand
Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand

Nakhon Ratchasima Province was once part of the Khmer empire and was moved by King Narai between 1656-1688. Around 260 kilometres from Bangkok, travel to Nakhon Ratchasima is easy as it is connected with the northeastern railway line and the Nakhon Ratchasima Airport is 26km east of the city.

There are two main focal points for visitors to this province, the city of Nakhon Ratchasima and the picturesque town of Phimai.

The city of Nakhon Ratchasima is better known as Khorat or Korat. Korat is the capital of Nakhon Ratchasima Province, and there is a great deal to see and do and many opportunities to learn about the city’s interesting history.

A good place to start is the Maha Viravong National Museum, which contains good displays and countless well labeled artifacts. Another interesting site is the Thao Suranaree Monument, where you can see the revered Lady Mo statue.

A tour of the city will lead you to the city wall and unique Chumphon Gate, and don’t forget to look out for the l?k meuang (city pillar shrine).

Nakhon Ratchasima Province is famous for its pottery, and excellent examples of this can be seen decorating Wat Salaloi. Other interesting temples in this city include Wat Phra Narai Maharat and Wat Pa Salawan.

Nakhon Ratchasima is special in that it has two night bazaars, and both the Thanon Manat Night Bazaar and Wat Boon Night Bazaar and good places to do some shopping, have a cheap meal and do a little people watching.

One of the main attractions of this area is the magnificent Khao Yai National Park with its dense jungles, spectacular mountain views and famous waterfall.

Another great day trip is the Reclining Buddha Image at Wat Dhammachakra Sema Ram, just 40 kilometres south of Korat.

If you are in the area during March, make sure you time your trip to coincide with the Thao Suranari festival. Celebrated between March 22nd and April 3rd, the festival features parades, theatre and folk songs. 

Loei, Thailand

Loei, Thailand
Loei, Thailand
Loei, Thailand
Loei, Thailand

This sparsely populated province in the North-East of Thailand has a lot to offer for the independent traveler with a strong sense of adventure and a dash of curiosity. Close to the Laos border, this can be a great place to stop off for a few days and discover the spirit of Thailand.

With its low mountains, flowing waterfalls and immense areas of open, fertile land forming plains that hold the province’s main town and the River Loei, this is a place of great natural beauty and contains a wide range of both natural and cultural attractions.

The province of Loei experiences different weather conditions to much of the rest of Thailand. During the winter the temperature can drop to 0 degrees C with swirling fogs and mists, whilst in the summer it is not unusual for temperatures to exceed 0 degrees C.

There are three main areas in this richly diverse province that draw travellers: Loei city, Dan Sai and the sleepy yet picturesque and very welcoming town of Chiang Khan.

The city of Loei was formed in 1853 by king Mongkut (Rama IV) in order to better administer the accelerated population in the area. Loei city is the capital of Loei Province and there are many things for visitors to see and do.

The extremely beautiful Phu Kradung National Park is well worth exploring, and it is easy to spend an entire day there as it contains several sparkling waterfalls and Tham Yai – which literally means ‘big cave’ in Thai.

Another great day trip idea is the Phu Reua National Park, which can be combined with a visit to the nearby Tham Erawan and Wat Tham Erawan.

The Culture Center of Loei is a great place to explore at your leisure and get to grips with the local history, and you can discover the uniquely creative side of the people at the Sirindhorn Arts Centre.

The centrally located night market is a good place to pick up a bargain, engage in some colourful local banter and find a cheap and tasty meal.

If you are in Loei city at the end of January, don’t miss the Cotton Blossom Festival, where floats are decorated with cotton and there is dancing and cavorting in the streets.

Buriram, Thailand

Buriram, Thailand
buriram_4
Buriram, Thailand

Many places in Thailand are given poetic names and Buriram, which means City of Happiness, is no exception. The town of Buriram is the capital of Buriram Province in Isan and is located roughly 410 kilometers northeast of Bangkok.

Located on the northeastern railway line and with a regional airport; Buriram Airport, Buriram is easily assessable. Buriram Province is steeped in history and the beautiful backdrop makes this a good place in which to chill out for a few days and to get to know Thailand.

The Phanom Rung Historical Park, 40 kilometres south of Buriram town is situated on the summit of an erupted volcano and has spectacular views of the surrounding paddy fields. This thousand-year-old site contains one of the most important Khmer sites outside Cambodia, the magnificent Phanom Rung temple, which is also the largest Khmer monument in Thailand.

The Khmer temple at nearby Prasat Meung Tam is also well worth a visit, and there are dozens of other interesting Khmer ruins in the area such as Kuti Reusi Nong Bua Rai, Kuti Reusi Khok Meuang and Prasat Khao Praibat.

Bird enthusiasts should check out the Buriram Bird Park, and the ancient kilns at Tao Sawai ancient kilns offer an insight into the craft of pottery.

The Lower Isan Cultural Centre is a good place to visit to learn more about the rich and interesting history and people of this unique area, and the beautiful Khao Kradong Forest Park, with its enormous Buddha image crowning a hill offers spectacular views over the lush green countryside.

Buriram Province is some what cooler than most of Thailand and a great way to explore the region and pass a few days is to hire a bicycle and explore.

Khon Khen, Thailand

Khon Khen, Thailand
Khon Khen, Thailand

Nestled in the heart of Isan, Khon Kaen is the centre of Northeast. The capital of Khon Kaen Province is the city of Khon Kaen, which is a rich source of culture.

The Khon Kaen National Museum, Khon Kaen City Museum and the Art and Culture Museum are all great places to spend a couple of hours and learn about the area and its people.

To the centre of the city, the beautiful 100-hectare lake known as Beung Kaen Nakhon (Kaen Nakhon Lake) is a great spot for a picnic, whilst the nearby temples of Wat That and Wat Nong Wang Muang and definitely worth exploring.

Khon Kaen is the centre of the north-eastern silk industry, and the Sala Mai Thai silk village 55 kilometres to the west makes a great day trip. Here you will see top quality silk dyed in a wide range of colours and made into a multitude of different products, and in the traditional weaving households you can actually see the silk being skilfully woven.

Khon Kaen is a province with stunning natural beauty and it features a couple of great national parks. Phu Wiang National Park was recently made famous when dinosaur remains were unearthed there, whilst the Nam Nao National Park contains the region’s highest mountain

peak – Phu Pha Jit, which measures a colossal 1271 metres. It is possible to camp in the grounds of both national parks for just 30 baht, which makes a very cheap and picturesque option, although not so much so during the monsoon season!
Next door to the park the Phu Kiaw Wildlife Sanctuary, which is home to leopards, tigers, elephants and many other beasties.

Also not to be missed is the unusual Ban Khok Sa-Nga Cobra Village, where the local snakes are highly revered. Here you can witness the love and trust shown by the villagers to the mighty snakes as well as daily cobra shows.

Another great day trip is Prasat Peuay Noi (also know as Ku Peauy Noi), where you will see the region’s largest Khmer temple.

Khon Kaen celebrates its local skills and traditions with the Silk Fair and Phuk Siaw Festival, which last for 12 days in late November. The Phuk Siaw Festival is specially intended to preserve the unique Phuuk Siaw (friend bonding) tradition and is marked with much merry making and folk dancing.