The soft warm breeze gently brushes against your body, the hypnotic sound of ocean waves put you in a trance while a cold and bright cocktail quenches your thirst and desire for relaxation. This is Thailand, and many come down to the Southern beaches to take advantage of the warm tropical weather and paradise-like environment. But there’s more. Many come to Thailand from Bangkok, one of the hubs of the region. From there, perhaps a trip up north to Chiang Mai froms part of your Thai itinerary. But many forget that there’s a whole other region in Thailand. We’ll take you to the less-visited, almost forgotten but still fascination northeast section called Isaan.
What’s the benefit of traveling to Isaan? What you get are these: anonymity, lush nature, interesting temples, a hot pot of cultures (due to its border sharing with Cambodia and Laos) and some of the zingiest and zestiest food in the country. That somtum and accompanying larb you had while in Bangkok or elsewhere in the country; that it pure Isaan food.
Have you noticed the weird dialect of Thai spoken by some folks in Bangkok or even at your beach resort hotel? If you have already picked up on some Thai, you may have noticed this. That is the Isaan language, similar to Laos with influences from the Thai language. So, before you make your way up, brush up on some Isaan. You’ll definitely receive your fair share of smiles and acknowledgement.
- Khao Yai National Park:
If you are in Bangkok, you will be happy to know that it does not take long to get to Isaan. The edge of the region is a short two and a half hour drive from the capital. In fact, if you love nature and would like to experience a piece of pristine Thai wildlife, you might as well take that car trip to….Khao Yai National Park. This is Thailand’s first national park, the country’s second largest and a UNESCO Heritage Site. If you are going to Isaan, you should be included in your trip. Why? Well, not only is it the gateway to the region, it is a beautiful place with a rich diversity of plant and animal life. And just so you know, Khao means mountain, so the weather is much cooler up here than in Bangkok, despite the close proximity.
You cannot miss out on Korat (also known as Nakhon Ratchasima), mainly because it will most likely be your base and starting point for the remainder of your time in the region. Some will come here first and then make their way to the national park.
Did you know there’s an Angkor Wat in Thailand? Well, it does not match up in terms of size, but in architectural resemblance, it is strikingly similar. This is Phimai Temple, part of the Phimai Historical Park, and many base their travel to the temple and historical city from Nakhno Ratchasima.
Not far from this small 30,000 or so populated town lies Phanom Rung Historical Park. This is another Khmer temple, set on the rim of an extinct volcano at 1,320 feet above sea level. Now that’s interesting. The restoration work is amazing and we could very well see this temple making the grade as a UNESCO Heritage Site soon.
- Ubon Ratchathani:
Perhaps this is the proto-typical Isaan province you are looking for. We’ll call it Ubon. There’s not so much to see and do here, but that is exactly its selling point; regular laid back Isaan lifestyle and scenes. The Laos border and the Mekong River is just east, perhaps the relaxing atmosphere is coming from there?
- Nong Khai
Looking for the weird and unusual? Nong Khai may just be the last place you’re looking but in fact it exists here. The main draw in Nong Khai is Sala Keoku, a park containing massive sculptures depicting Buddhist and Hindu mythologies. The structures are highly unusual and is renowned to make the fantasy nature of these mythologies even more extravagant than it really is. This is also your gateway to Vientiane, Laos which is right across the Mekong.
If you love nature, check Loei out! Well, a lot of Isaan is nature haven, but Loei boasts both quantity and quality. The city itself is surrounded by mountain ranges which are usually covered in fog. Even though the province can experience warm weather during the March-May hot season, this is also one of the few places in Thailand in which you can truly experience freezing weather in December. So, if you miss the cold, step on out and bask.
Interested in Isaan? As mentioned before, very few people make their way up here; meaning Isaan is practically yours.
Explore a vast open area, filled with ancient temples, unique flora, fauna and intriguing culture with Exotissimo’s Isaan Insight tour. Your pioneering sense and spirit will be rewarded with experiences to sites that even many Thais do not know exist.
For more on the country, see our Thailand tours.
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