When you think of Thailand, the first things that pop out of your mind is City of Bangkok, the wonderful beaches of Phuket and the international resort of Pattaya City. Few tourists truly know Thailand’s best kept secret – the Isan or Issan.
Isan or the Northeast Thailand is the largest region in the country. The name itself aptly denotes how Thais think of this region – ‘isan’ meaning ‘vast’. Although only a few hundred kilometers from Bangkok, this region showcases very distinct flavors that are somewhat incomparable to the westernized regions of the rest of the country. To the tourist’s eyes, there is nothing much in Isan to be seen. But look deeper and you will understand exactly why the Thais consider this their best-kept secret.
If there is a region in Thailand that retains all of its distinct oriental Thai flavor, it is Isan. The region, by large, provides a peek to what is truly Thailand, unblemished by the influences of the west. This, indeed, is as genuine as it gets.
Who should go to Isan?
Isan is not for all tourists. Those who are looking for some nighttime action, those who enjoy getting stuck in traffic jams, those who love bathing under the sun, those who love shopping for souvenirs are better off not spending a few days in Isan. However, those people who love to see authentic Thai culture, ancient Khmer ruins, and the history of the Thais as a people would do well to visit these parts.
It is in Isan that the Khmer kingdom has left its legacy as evidenced by the ancient ruins of Khao Phra Viharn, Pimai, Muang Tam and Phanom Rung. Close students of prehistoric South East Asia would enjoy visiting the northeastern province of Udon Thani where the Ban Chiang can be found. Archaeologists will also be pleased to know that the region has shown in recent years a few signs that Jurassic parks have thrived here some hundred million years ago. For those who are just looking around, you’d be pleased to know that since 2002, a visitor center showcasing historical evidence unearthed in Buriram province as well as exhibits of historical and folk arts has been operating.
Where to go in Isan?
Apart from what has been mentioned already, other places in Isan that are worth visiting are:
In Loei province, the Phu Kradueng National Park. For backpackers, campers and hikers, this national park offers just the perfect mountain to see. Every year, tens of thousands of tourists flock to the national park to climb up the ancient historic trail of the Amphoe Phu Kradueng.
In Nakorn Ratchisima or Korat. The gateway to the vast region of Isan has managed to look and feel very much like the real Thailand. The city itself doesn’t showcase many points of interest but a few notable places that are worth the visit include the Pak Thing Chai village and the Dan Kwian village, Korat Zoo, the Korat Royal Thai Air Force Base, the Tao Surantee Monument, and His Majesty the King’s 80th Birthday Anniversary, 5th December 2007 Sports Complex which was used for the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2007 Southeast Asian Games.