If you’d like to explore Thailand away from the main tourist trail, head to the north-east region. Known as Isaan, this corner of the country is a fascinating place to travel. Famous for its spicy food, friendly people, and historic sites, the north-east of Thailand offers visitors an insight into ‘Unseen Thailand’.
Between the 9th to 15th centuries, the Khmer Empire extended from Cambodia into what is now north-east Thailand. Travelling around Isaan you can see the impressive remains of ancient Khmer temples at various locations. One of the most impressive is Phanom Rung in Buriram. The city of Buriram is also a sporting hub playing host to the best supported soccer club in Thailand, Buriram FC. Motor racing fans can also enjoy the thrill of high-octane racing at the Chang International Circuit.
Khon Kaen province is located in the heart of Isaan and while there may not be as many obvious tourist attractions compared to other areas of the country, Khon Kaen city is a convenient stopover if you are exploring more of north-east Thailand.
The mountainous province of Loei is home to some beautiful natural attractions including Phu Kradueng National Park. The charming riverside town of Chiang Khan is popular with Thai travellers and the nearby Chiang Khan Skywalk allows visitors to enjoy wonderful views over the Mekong River. Loei is also famous for the exuberant Phi Ta Khon Ghost Festival (usually held in June). With its roots in Buddhist folklore, the event has developed into one of the most lively of all Thai festivals.
Nakhon Ratchasima (Korat)
Nakhon Ratchasima (aka Korat) is the largest province in Isaan and a fascinating area to explore. Highlights include the magnificent Khmer ruins at Phimai Historical Park as well as Thailand’s oldest National Park, Khao Yai. The vast park at Khao Yai is a haven for wildlife and one of the few locations in Thailand where you can still see elephants in the wild.
Separated from Laos by the Mekong River, Nong Khai is a lovely province to visit. Base yourself in the charming riverside town of Nong Khai and experience wonderful views and a relaxed ambience.
Ubon Ratchathani is another Isaan province which is home to some splendid natural attractions including Pha Taem National Park and the quirky rock formations at Sam Phan Bok. And in the provincial capital, the annual Ubon Ratchathani Candle Festival (usually in July) is one of the highlights of the Thai festival calendar with spectacular parades and amazing giant waxwork figures.
Udon Thani is home to a diverse range of attractions including one of the most remarkable archaeological sites in Asia, Ban Chiang. To the south-east of Udon Thani city, the gorgeous Talay Bua Daeng (Red Lotus Sea) is a spectacular spot in the cool season months with countless water lilies covering the lake.