I-san, Thailand's northeast region, is an often-overlooked part of the country. There's no coastline, so there are no beaches to draw those seeking sand and sea. Isan, however, is a multicultural area where Laos, Cambodia and Thailand meet. Isan is mainly an agricultural region and has a rich history and magnificent natural scenery. The region consists of 20 provinces and is Thailand's largest region and takes up almost a third of Thailand’s land mass. The region is located on the Korat Plateau, bordered by Cambodia to the southeast and by the Mekong River (along the border with Laos) to the east and north. To the west it is separated from northern and central Thailand by the Phetchabun Mountains.
The vast sandstone Korat Plateau, which is about 200 m above sea level, is rich in culture and historic sites from the days when the Khmer Empire held sway over the region. In the 9th century AD, the Korat Plateau came under Cambodian control, which was to endure until the end of the 13th century. It was during this period that the region’s splendid Khmer temples were built. The magnificent stone temples at Phanom Rung and Phimai, which once stood on a road linking the plateau with the Khmer capitol of Angkor, have been evocatively restored.
To the north, at Ban Chiang, is a site that have revolutionized archeologists’ views of prehistoric Southeast Asia. The northeast is now thought to be one of the first areas in the world where rice growing, bronze making, and silk weaving were pioneered. Silk weaving has flourished again since the mid-20th century and modern-day weaving villages sell a wide range of silk and cotton goods.
With its source in the Tibetan Himalayas, the Mekong River reaches Chiang Khan in northeast Thailand. From here the river forms the border with Laos for 750 km until it flows into Cambodia. The Mekong River valley’s relatively fertile land remains one of the most beautiful, unspoiled regions in the country. Furthermore, due to its distance from Bangkok, the area has escaped widespread development.
Fascinating historical sites, many national parks and wildlife reserves, unspoiled mountain areas, distinctive sandstone formations and rural villages color the landscape. The four major cities of Isan, also known as the "big four of Isan", are Khorat, Khon Kaen, Udon Thani and Ubon Ratchathani
Destinations - Sights - Hotels
From Bangkok to Northeast Thailand (I-san) and Phitsanulok
Nakhon Ratchasima (Korat)
Better known as Korat, the province capital is the gateway to the Isan, 250 km northeast of Bangkok. The busy and lively city is known for the Thao Suranari Monument, built in memory of Khunying Mo, a woman who successfully defended Korat against an attack by an invading Lao army in 1826. Korat is an ideal starting point for discovering many interesting sights in the area
Hotels: V-One Hotel - 3 Stars (3/5) ; Sima Thani Hotel - 3.5 Stars (3.5/5) ; The Imperial Hotel & Convention Centre Korat - 4 Stars (4/4)
Khao Yai National Park
the entrance is located 100 km southwest of Korat, covering an area of 2000 km2 in the provinces of Korat, Nakhon Nayok, Saraburi and Prachinburi provinces. The best known and oldest national park in the country.
The Greenery Resort Khao Yai - 3.5 Stars (3.5/5) ; Botanica Khao Yai - 4 Stars (4/5) ; Lala Mukha Tented Resort Khao Yai - 4 Stars (4/5)
Ban Dan Kwian
15 km southeast of Korat. The village is famous for its rust-colored pottery
Phanom Rung Historical Park
100 km southeast of Korat in the province of Buriram and close to the Cambodian border. Prasat Hin Khao Phanom Rung is the most impressive and significant of the Khmer temples that can be found in Thailand. It was constructed in Angkor style during the 10th until the 13th century as a Hindu temple dedicated to Shiva. It was built on top of a hill, an extinct volcano. The main tower is made-out of pink sandstone. The complex is also called Phanom Rung stone castle.
Ban Prasat archeological site
45 km north of Korat. The site is Thailand's second archaeological site (the first is Ban Chiang) to be set up as an outdoor museum. The site was an agricultural-ceramic society 3,000 years ago in prehistoric times.
Phimai Historical Park and Phimai National Museum
Located in the small town of Phimai, 60 km north of Korat. The monumental Prasat Hin Phimai is one of Thailand’s finest and most extensively restored Khmer temple complexes. The nearby open-site museum display antiques discovered during the renovation of Prasat Phimai and other antiques gathered from various provinces in northeastern Thailand. Before leaving Phimai you can visit Thailand’s largest Banyan tree, just one km away.
Lively and versatile provincial capital. Centrally located in the I-san at 450 kilometers from Bangkok. The city has an airport and train connection with Bangkok. Known for the Laotian style Wat Nong Waen Pagoda and Bung Kaen Nakhon Lake. The town boasts the largest university in the northeast.
Hotels: Charoen Thani Hotel - 4 Stars (4/5) ; Pullman Khon Kaen Raja Orchid - 5 Stars (5/5)
Cozy provincial capital in the northern part of the I-san, 110 km north of Khon Kaen, and a good base for exploring the many attractions in the area. Nong Prachak Park is a pleasant recreational space for relaxing, jogging and picnicking. Nong Prachak Lake has an island with a plant-filled garden. The city is home to a large concentration of expats, some of whom settled down here after the war. The cities dining and nightlife scene is, therefore, culturally diverse and offers good choices. The city has an airport and train connection with Bangkok. Besides being a major transport hub in the northeast, the province of Udon Thani is also home to the archaeological site at Ban Chiang and Phu Phra Baht Historical Park.
Hotels: Charoen Hotel - 3 Stars (3/5) ; The Pannarai Hotel - 4 Stars (4/5) ; Centara Hotel & Convention Centre Udon Thani - 4 Stars (4/5)
55 km east of the city of Udon Thani. Archaeological site and museum with Bronze Age farming and burial artifacts where prehistoric settlements and earthenware pottery dating between 2100BC and 200AD were unearthed. Listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Phu Prabat Historical Nature Park
67km north-west of the city of Udon Thani. Here amidst a vast sandstone mountain in a beautiful landscape are peculiar rock formations, as well as dinosaur footprints, cave paintings and Buddhist structures.
Located 50 km north of Udon Thani city. Border town with Laos on the Mekong River. Known for the Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge, the first bridge over the Mekong between Thailand and Laos. A gateway to Vientiane, the capital of Laos. The Thasadet market bears witness to the busy trade between the two countries. Just outside the center of Nongkhai is the Sala Kaew Ku sculpture garden, a very beautiful park with a huge collection of imposing Hindu and Buddhist statues,
Mekong Villages Route
From Nongkhai to Chiang Khan, the Mekong River forms the border with Laos. The tour takes you past the villages of Si Chiang Mai, Sangkhom, Pak Chom and Chiang Khan, past beautiful temples (Wat Hin Mak Beng), forests, the Than Thip waterfall and the Mekong.
Located about 50 km north of the city of Loei on the Mekong River. A small, pleasant town that has retained its authentic character with many wooden houses, narrow streets with nice shops and picturesque restaurants. A very popular destination for Thai tourists. From Chiang Khan you can take a boat trip to the Kaeng Kut Ku rapids in the Mekong.
Hotels: Chiang Khan River Mountain Resort - 3 Stars (3/5) ; River Tree Resort - 4 Stars (4/5)
Authentic and unspoilt province on the border with Laos and the Mekong River with beautiful natural and mountain landscapes and idyllically located villages and mountain lakes. Although the province officially belongs to Isan, the climate and landscape more closely match that of Northern Thailand. The provincial capital, Loei, is a good base for exploring the beautiful area with various national parks, such as Phu Rua and Phu Kradung, the Phu Luang Wildlife Reserve. and the Huai Krathing Mountain Lake. The Mekong River forms the border with Laos between the towns of Nongkhai and Chiang Khan.
Hotels: Loei Palace Hotel - 3.5 Stars (3.5/5) ; Au Place Hotel - 3.5 Stars (3.5/5)
Huai Krathing Reservoir
Located 15 km west of Loei. At one of the most beautiful locations in the province, you can rent a private hut in the form of a covered bamboo raft to relax for an afternoon. A local sail you to a nice spot on the huge lake. Float quietly, relax, enjoy the beautiful nature that surrounds the reservoir. You can order your lunch in advance and take it with you on your bamboo raft.
90 km west of Loei. Dan Sai is also a good base for exploring the beautiful vast mountain landscape in the province. Nearby on a hill you will find the beautiful Wat Neramit temple. The town is known for the Phi Ta Khon festival (the spirit festival) which is held every year in June or July.
Hotels: Phu Pha Nam Resort & Spa - 3.5 Stars (3.5/5)
Highway 12 – from Khon Kaen to Phitsanulok
Nam Nao National Park
On the main road 12, about halfway between Khon Kaen (150 km) and Phitsanulok (145 km) is the entrance to the Nam Nao National Park, one of the best national parks in the region with good hiking trails and wildlife watching.
Khao Kho Mountain range
30 km west of Nam Nao National Park and 120 km east of Phitsanulok, Highway 12 passes through the vast mountainous Khao Kho mountain range, often referred to as the “Switzerland of Thailand”. The area is popular for its cool climate, morning mist-covered valleys, viewpoints, and various other attractions. Nearby are Thung Salaeng Luang National Park (to the east) and Phu Hin Rong Kla National Park (to the north).
Hotels: The Sense Resort Khao Kho - 3 Stars (3/5) ; The Posh Khao Kho - 4 Stars (4/5) : Grand Kokkok Khao Kho Resort - 5 Stars (5/5)
Located in a strategic location, 380 km from Bangkok, the city of Phitsanulok connects the Northeastern region with parts of Thailand's Central and Northern regions. The city has many historically interesting sights. In Wat Phra Si Rattana Mahathat you can admire the country's most beautiful Buddha statue. On the Nan River you will find the lively Night Market (bazaar).
Hotel: The Imperial Hotel & Convention Centre Phitsanulok - 3.5 Stars (3.5/5)
From Phitsanulok you can continue to Chiang Mai or go back to Bangkok