Discover rich culture, ancient history and natural beauty on a road trip through the north east region
It’s no secret that Thailand is one of Asia’s most popular destinations – with beautiful beaches, legendary hospitality, gastronomic delights and vibrant nightlife the Land of Smiles has it all. You’ve sunbathed on pristine palm-fringed beaches, danced at the Full Moon party and eaten your body weight in Pad Thai – what’s next? If you want to discover what else the country has to offer, get ready for the road trip of a lifetime.
If you’re looking for rich cultural experiences, scintillating sporting action and stunning natural scenery, then start planning your adventure to Isan: Thailand’s largest region in the north east of the country.
A one-hour flight will whisk you from the capital Bangkok to Buriram Airport: the perfect base to start your exploration. For starters, you could join 50,000 spectators on October 6 to watch the daring escapades of the world’s top motorcycle racers in the 2019 Buriram Moto GP at the Chang International Circuit. Last year 400 million fans tuned in to watch Marc Marquez race to his seventh win of the season, while making history as the first MotoGP rider to win in Thailand.
From Buriram you are perfectly placed to hop over to Nakhon Ratchasima, also known as Korat. Nakhon Ratchasima has a rich and distinctive culture, with unique folk songs known as ‘Pleng Korat’, special twists on popular dishes such as Som Tam Korat (papaya salad Korat-style) and an abundance of sights for visitors to enjoy.
This is ideal for history buffs, as the Phimai Historical Park boasts ancient Khmer temples that rival those of Angkor Wat – in fact, the site marks the end of the 225 kilometre Ancient Khmer Highway that linked these two great cities thousands of years ago. Visitors can marvel at the Khmer architecture and soak up the history – without battling the crowds present at its more famous counterpart.
• Phimai Historical Park
Everyone knows about the ancient Khmer temples of Angkor Wat – but few people have discovered Phimai, the ancient site that was just as important to the Khmer empire. The classic sandstone architecture is a wonder to behold, with Buddhist and Hindu iconography throughout – and best of all, virtually no crowds to ruin your experience.
• Khao Yai National Park
This UNESCO World Heritage site is widely regarded as the best national park in Thailand, with breathtaking scenery and diverse wildlife. Get your photo at the magnificent Haew Su Wat waterfall and see if you can spot native animals from elephants to gibbons.
• Dan Kwian Pottery Village
The residents of Dan Kwian are known throughout Thailand for their unique style of pottery, with its rough texture and rust-like colour. Wander through the village watching the master craftsmen at work over the kilns, and admire the ceramics ranging from tiny figurines to enormous jars and statues.
Continue along Route 226 to Surin – a province that has been shaped by various powerful kingdoms throughout history, from the ancient Khmer Empire through to the Lao Kingdom Lan Xang and finally the Thai kingdom of Ayutthaya, each leaving legacies in the form of magnificent temple complexes such as Prasat Sikhoraphum and cultural quirks.
Animal lovers should also head east to this province to get up close and personal to Thailand’s majestic national beast. The Surin Elephant Park is a sanctuary for these gentle giants, with volunteering projects that let visitors feed, bathe and get to know both elephants and their mahouts. Each November there is also a special festival called the Surin Elephant Round-up, with colourful parades, an elephant buffet, tug-of-war battles and even elephant football matches.
• Phanom Sawai Forest Park
Strap on your hiking boots and get ready to rove through the four kilometres of nature trails crisscrossed over an ancient volcano. The beautiful park is home to Buddha statues, ponds filled with koi carp, waterfalls and nature.
• Ban Tha Sawang Silk Weaving Village
This tiny village rose to fame in 2003 when the local weavers were selected to produce golden brocade silk fabrics for the international delegates attending the APEC conference. The vibrant silks are meticulously handcrafted on giant traditional looms that require multiple artisans. It’s a fascinating insight to craftsmanship – and the ideal place to pick up a unique souvenir or gift.
• Surin Ban Ta Klang Elephant Village
Residents of Ban Ta Klang have been working with elephants for centuries, and today it is one of the largest elephant homes in the whole of Thailand. Here you’ll find a training area, a museum and get the opportunity to feed, bathe and play with the gentle giants. Each November there is also a special festival called the Surin Elephant Round-up, with colourful parades, an elephant buffet, tug-of-war battles and even elephant football matches.
Still feeling adventurous? Head a little further east to Sisaket province and make your way to the top of Pha Mo E Dang for spectacular sunrise views that stretch over neighbouring Cambodia. A short stairway will also reveal a 1000-year-old bas relief carved into the cliffside, another treasure of the region’s rich cultural and historical legacy.
Bordering Cambodia, Sisaket is also blessed with the heritage from ancient Khmer civilisations. It’s a beautiful region with multiple parks to explore and plenty of hot, spicy Isan cuisine to devour.
• Wang Yai Waterfall
Located within the Phanom Dong Ran Wildlife Preserve is the beautiful Wang Yai Waterfall. Spend the afternoon swimming in the shallows or sunbathing on the surrounding stone terraces while the region’s abundant butterflies dart around.
• Khao Phra Wihan National Park
This sprawling park combines beauty and history. Hike to the edge of the cliff at Pha Mo E Dang for spectacular sunrise views that stretch over Cambodia. A short stairway also reveals a 1000-year-old bas relief carved into the cliffside.
• Wat Lara Kuad – Beer bottle temple
This complex of three Buddhist temples is made from old glass bottles. An exemplary and quirky display of recycling, everything from the roof to the figurines glisten with multicoloured glass mosaics, with plenty of beer bottles proudly embedded in concrete. The temple first started using discarded bottles in 1984 to decorate the monks’ shelters. This attracted more people to donate more bottles to build other buildings such as a pagoda and ceremony hall.