Home to Som Tum, which has been listed among the World’s most delicious food by CNN Go for many years, Thailand’s Northeast features beautiful northern highlands and gorgeous plateaus. The region is also where the renowned Jasmine rice is grown and exported the world over.
The most scenic districts lie along the mighty Mekong River, separating Thailand from Laos. These include Amphoe Chiang Khan of Loei Province, Tha Sadet Market in Nong Khai Province, Indochina Market in Mukdahan Province, and Sam Pan Bok Grand Canyon in Ubon Ratchathani Province.
If you prefer to go off the beaten path, the Northeast remains the least visited region as far as tourism goes. Culturally the region, (known as Isan), is full of local traditions and is still unspoiled by the tourism boom, but the travel industry has helped put smaller provinces in the region on the international tourism map.
How To Get There
Main cities in the region, including Khon Kaen, Udon Thani, Ubon Ratchathani, now have an airport to accommodate flights from Bangkok in a little over an hour. Apart from the three cities, THAI also flies to Nakhon Phanom while the local airline Nok Air operates flights to Udon Thani, Khon Kaen, Buriram, Sakon Nakhon and Loei.
With Khao Yai gaining popularity as a weekend getaway among Bangkokians and a preferred destination among travelers nationwide, Nakhon Ratchasima emerges as one of the region’s most visited cities. The country’s first national park lies largely in this gateway to Isan (though it shares parts of Saraburi, Prachinburi and Nakhon Nayok too). Like most of its neighboring provinces, Khorat (as the city is called locally) is known for its crafts like fine silk, and its famous zoo, with shows and an upbeat waterpark for family fun.
With a few direct flights operated by Nok Air and Air Asia, Loei has much to offer and is worth visiting for many reasons. The charming Chiang Khan community by the Mekong River has drawn local and international visitors, while Phu Kradueng National Park is capable of challenging self-endurance, testing climbers during the trekking season from October to the end of May. The province is known for cool weather all year round.
One of the busiest cities in the Northeast, Khon Kaen also draws visitors to its Phu Wiang National Park, where a great number of dinosaur fossils and dinosaur footprints were found. Meanwhile, Ubonrat Dam has long been a favorite spot among locals.
The province is known for its prehistoric sites, including Ban Chiang and Phu Phra Bat Historical Park. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Ban Chiang is an archaeological location where remains of prehistoric human settlements have been found, inhabited probably from about 1500 BC until about 300 AD. The latter features prehistoric rock paintings, Dvaravati era temples and Khmer rock carvings.
Another Udon Thani attraction, the storied Red Lotus Lake fills with red and pink water lilies during the cooler season. Many tales have been told about the origins of the lake, including an epic love story where Prince Phadaeng, wanting to avenge the death of his love, Nang Ai, goes to battle- but an army of serpents floods the area, creating the lake, formally known as Nong Han Lake.
The Buddhist temple, Wat Pa Phu Kon is a popular destination for Buddhists around the world. The temple features a 65 foot Buddha statue that was carved from Italian white marble, and a stunning bright blue roof.
The country’s third most populated province has a long history, with the 3,000-year-old cliff painting at the national park of Pha Taem as proof of its lengthy history. The Mekong riverside communities also attract visitors regularly. Ubon Ratchathani’s candle festival is one of the biggest and most popular in the region.
Like Ubon Ratchathani, Nong Khai prides itself on being one of the best locations to enjoy the scenic view of the Mekong River banks. The province is also a gateway to Vientiane, with the first Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge opened in April 1994.
Impressive Khmer sanctuaries showing the Khmer empire once ruled most of mainland Southeast Asia can be found in Isan, with the awe-inspiring Phanom Rung and Muang Tum complexes being two of the most popular tourist spots in Buriram province. The former has architecture reminiscent of Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Thanks to the Thai Football League boom dating back to the 2010s, Chang Arena, the home stadium of the local Buriram United football team, has become a tourist spot in its own right.