Words by: Caris Cruz
Nestled away in the quiet, north eastern part of Thailand is Isaan, a blushing retreat offering a wondrous sight of green pasturelands, open sky and cultural monuments. No coastline is within view, but despite the lack of beaches, Isaan distinguishes itself as a serene escape in the Land of Smiles. The off-beaten region is a perfect holiday spot for those who need a whiff of fresh air, agricultural scenery and a change of perspective on the whole.
It is a place fit for exploring, a mine embellished with hidden gems waiting to be uncovered. Isaan’s foundation is traced through the royal roots of Chenla, an ancient Cambodian monarchy. There is dignity in distinction, and to date, many of the locals exhibit traces of their rich, cultural heritage through language, food and the arts. Stepping into the rich, green soil of this north-eastern Eden offers new discoveries, cultivating history and art in one’s heart.
In rural areas, tourists may find it hard to converse with the locals, whose prevalent dialect is a coagulation of Thai and Khmer. However, one can rely on the grace and kindness of the Isaan people, usually manifested in communicative gestures, actions and smiling faces.
AWAY: Isaan occupies Thailand’s biggest region, extending its reach up to 160,580 square kilometres. The mountain range of Phetchabun and the neighbouring Khorat Plateau makes a delicious view of the land’s topography. On the other hand, the legendary Mekong River wraps itself around the north and east part of the region, while the southern part is embellished by the grand basin of the Mun River. The weather is warm and humid, like a liquid embrace from the summer sun, and this can be enjoyed all year round unless Isaan is submerged in a seasonal dose of precipitation.
Reaching this serene hideaway can be conveniently done through private car, bus, train and plane rides. Main cities such as Khon Kaen, Udon Thani and Sakon Nakhon are accessed through air from Bangkok. Plane transports are subsequently followed by mini bus services, taking tourists to their specific itineraries. By train, one can reach Isaan from Bangkok to either Ubod Ratchathani or Nong Khai main stations.
Nakhon Ratchasima is the province’s capital and is a favourable spot for travellers due to its network of transportation. Its main road, Mittraphap Rd, extends from Saraburi to Nong Khai. Inspired by the US transportation grid system, travelling from Nakhon Ratchasima is fairly convenient. A number of hotels are lodged adjacent to its stations, as well as a massive shopping center, succinctly named The Mall.
Tourists can enter Laos through Isaan gateways Nhong Kai and Nhakon Phanom, with both provinces serving up delightful views of architectural portraits as well as agricultural panoramas.
PLAY: Due to its expanded landscape, travellers can discover many things to do in Isaan. Walking is less of a chore, more of a feast for the eyes. For example, Nong Khai’s Sala Kaew Ku Sculpture Garden is a revelry of comedy and creativity, as religion-inspired stone cuts amaze onlookers in a curiously dramatic sense. Surin’s annual celebration of elephants garners the attention of tourists, wherein gentle giants amass in a day’s stretch of fun-filled activities. Phanom Rung Historical Park in Nang Rong reveals the whimsical charm of Khmer temples and is among the most visited spots in the country.
When in Isaan, visit Khao Yai National Park. This natural gem is tagged as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, also the first of its kind in Thailand. The sight of the flora and fauna induces heart-swelling admiration for Mother Earth’s beauty, allowing each onlooker to open their hearts in caring for the environment.
The perfect place for wine connoisseurs is Loei, a vast spectrum of hills; also a prominent province when it comes to wine making. Relish traditional Thai gourmet cuisine while sipping a glass of decadent liquor in Chateau de Loei, the province’s entrepreneurial darling. Guests can nibble on grape pickings, tour around the orchard and get their hands on a Chenin Blanc, the company’s well-loved wine.
Shopping in Isaan is best done in Nakhon Ratchasima, locally known as Khorat. Tourists will enjoy wandering from one shop to another, unearthing unusual commodities from vintage toys to clothes.This district also gurgles with cheap yet delicious street food. However, get ready for some zing; local delicacies are famous for their kick, elevating one’s spice tolerance to a whole new level!
STAY: Isaan’s agricultural terrain is a lovely backdrop against which is a variety of accommodations. Hotels serving all budgets are located in the midst of the earthen and green hues, offering a pleasant, restful vacation for all guests. The province does not lack in amenities; with amazing resorts scattered all over its districts.
Kirimaya Golf Resort & Spa is a five-star, luxurious hotel sheltered in the bounteous landscape of Nakhon Ratchasima. Thanks to its surroundings, guests can enjoy the crisp, fresh air as well as the rich view of its plantations. The location is conveniently adjacent to Khao Yai National Park, resplendent in rich natural jungle, waterfalls and wildlife such as Asian bears and Indochinese tigers. This deluxe accommodation offers spa and recreation facilities, along with high-end amenities laden in each room.
Isan Boutique Collection breaks away from the common view of hotel chains. Villas are scattered all across Thailand, each designed with Isaan’s aesthetics, giving guests a unique and personalised experience during their stay. Properties vary from province to province, each blending in with the landscape that particular region offers. The brand has flourished into three branches: Mekong Villa, Phunacome and Suppanniga Home.
Tohsang Khongjiam Resort in Ubon Ratchathani offers a magnificent accommodation just beside the banks of the Mekong River. The sight of the glittering waterway combined with the beautiful rural pastures imparts a feeling of peace and relaxation to every guest. Each room displays a unique aesthetic reflecting the cultures of Thai, Khmer and the Balinese nationalities. Among its best offerings: Tohsang Spa, which presents the healing experience of Thai Massage infused with the fragrance of flowers and herbs. Cafe de Khong is just within reach, a restaurant perched on a terrace; a great venue for dining with nature.