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Exploring Isaan Region: The Heartland of Thailand (2024)

Over the last few years, Thailand’s Isaan Region is slowly emerged as a popular tourist destination. Thailand travellers have many favourite destinations, and if you have explored them all, then add Isaan Region to your itinerary next. Come, let’s learn more about it.

Isaan Region is the northeastern region of Thailand, characterized by its rural landscape and unique cultural experiences. Home to the Khao Yai National Park and Prasat Hin Phimai archaeological ruins, this part of Thailand is less touristy, though it is starting to gain attention. The unique culture, dialect, and cuisine of this rural landscape sets it apart from all the popular touristy sides of Thailand. The locals, aka Isaan people, have their distinct language, traditional festivals, folk music, and dance. The cuisine of Isaan is renowned for its spicy and flavorful dishes. Want to learn more? Join us and dive into the Ultimate Guide to the Isaan Region of Thailand.

Isaan Region: Exploring the Heartland of Thailand

Continue reading till the end to get the most out of this guide:

Isaan Region: Location and How to Reach

The Isaan region is located in northeastern Thailand. It encompasses 20 provinces, including Nakhon Ratchasima, Udon Thani, Khon Kaen, and others.

To reach Isaan Region, here’s a general overview:

  • Isaan region has several airports, with Udon Thani International Airport (UTH) and Khon Kaen Airport (KKC) being two major among them. Flights to these airports from Bangkok or other major cities of Thailand are regularly available.
  • Train services connect Bangkok with major cities in Isaan, including Nakhon Ratchasima and Khon Kaen. The train journey offers scenic views and is a popular choice for travellers.
  • Buses from Bangkok and other regions regularly connect to Isaan. The bus network is extensive, and you can find both standard and VIP buses offering various levels of comfort.
  • If you prefer to drive, you can rent a car and take the highways connecting Bangkok to Isaan. The journey provides an opportunity to explore the countryside.

Isaan Region: Notable Cities and Towns

Some of the notable cities and towns in the Isaan Region of Thailand include the following:

  1. Khon Kaen:It is a major economic and educational hub and also the capital of Khon Kaen Province. Boasting an urban atmosphere with cultural attractions and modern amenities, Khon Kaen attracts tourism. The city is also home to Khon Kaen University thus have a very youthful vibe.
  2. Udon Thani:This popular city in the Isaan Region is known for housing archaeological sites and the archaeological wonders of Ban Chiang. It also acts as a base for Wat Pa Ban Tad, a forest monastery and as a gateway to Laos.
  3. Nakhon Ratchasima (Korat): Also known as Korat, it is one of the largest cities in Isaan known for its rich historical and cultural heritage. The city is popular for the Prasat Hin Phimai (Phimai Historical Park) and its architecture.
  4. Buriram:Home to the ancient Khmer temple Prasat Hin Khao Phanom Rung, Buriram is gaining popularity amongst tourists. The city also boasts modern sports facilities, including the Chang International Circuit and Chang Arena.
  5. Sakon Nakhon:The city is known for its tranquil setting, especially the regions around Nong Han Lake. The serene landscapes and historical sites of Sakon Nakhon attract domestic and international tourists. One of the highlights of the city is Wat Phra That Choeng Chum, with its iconic golden stupa.
  6. Roi Et:Known for its traditional Thai architecture and cultural festivals, Roi Et is a hit amongst tourists. The town is characterized by its large, picturesque lake and the towering Phra Maha Chedi Chai Mongkol.
  7. Surin:The annual Elephant Festival celebrated in Surin has a deep connection between humans and elephants. Anyone looking to learn the cultural significance of these majestic gains must visit this place.
  8. Loei:Known for its cooler climate and scenic mountainous landscapes, it is a popular destination for trekking and nature enthusiasts.

Isaan Region in Thailand: A 5-Day Itinerary

Day 1: Udon Thani Arrival and Cultural Exploration


  • Arrive in Udon Thani, the northern gateway to Isaan.
  • Explore the city centre, visit local markets, and interact with the friendly locals.


  • Head north to Nong Khai and enjoy the scenic views along the Mekong River.
  • Visit the Red Lotus Sea (Talay Bua Daeng) for a serene experience.


  • Return to Udon Thani and explore the city’s nightlife or relax at a local restaurant.

Day 2: Ubon Ratchathani Candle Festival and City Tour


  • Fly or travel to Ubon Ratchathani, known for its annual Candle Festival.
  • Visit local temples and immerse yourself in the city’s culture.


  • Attend the Ubon Ratchathani Candle Festival and witness the parade of giant wax sculptures.
  • Explore the city centre and enjoy the local cuisine.


  • Participate in the festivities and experience the lively atmosphere.

Day 3: Sam Phan Bok and Mukdahan


  • Travel north along the Mekong to Sam Phan Bok, the “Grand Canyon of Thailand.”
  • Explore the unique rock formations and enjoy the natural beauty.


  • Continue to Mukdahan and visit Wat Roi Phra Puttabat Phu Manarom.
  • Explore the riverside community and enjoy the local atmosphere.


  • Experience the tranquillity of Nakhon Phanom and visit Wat That Phanom.

Day 4: Roi Et and Khao Yai National Park


  • Head west to Roi Et to explore the quirky observation tower and Wat Burapha Phiram.
  • Visit Phra Maha Chedi Chai Mongkol, the tallest standing Buddha in Thailand.


  • Drive towards Khao Yai National Park, a lush wonderland of waterfalls and wildlife.
  • Explore the park, take a nature walk, and enjoy the scenery.


  • Relax in the park or nearby accommodation, perhaps a local guesthouse.

Day 5: Prasat Hin Phimai and Departure


  • Travel to Phimai and explore the archaeological wonders of Prasat Hin Phimai.
  • Learn about the historical significance of the Khmer ruins.


  • Head to Phanom Rung, the grand 12th-century Khmer temple complex on top of an extinct volcano.
  • Explore the temple grounds and learn about its astronomical alignments.


  • Return to your starting point (Udon Thani or Ubon Ratchathani) for departure.

This itinerary covers a mix of cultural experiences, festivals, natural wonders, and historical sites, providing a well-rounded exploration of the Isaan Region in Thailand. You can adjust the schedule based on festival dates and your preferences.

Isaan Region: Local Cuisine and Dining Experience

The Isaan region of Thailand is popular for its flavourful cuisine, and here’s an introduction to the same:

  1. Som Tam (Green Papaya Salad): This refreshing and spicy green papaya salad is a must-try and, in fact, the first dish to go with. The spicy salad is made by mixing shredded green papaya, cherry tomatoes, and peanuts with a dressing of lime, chilli, and fish sauce.
  2. Larb (Minced Meat Salad): This popular Isaan non-vegetarian salad dish is extremely flavorful and aromatic. It is made with minced pork or chicken meat (often pork or chicken), mixed with herbs, and seasoned with lime juice and fish sauce.
  3. Sticky Rice (Khao Niew): This famous sticky rice dish is a staple in Isaan cuisine. It is often accompanied by grilled meat and is served in small bamboo baskets.
  4. Grilled Meats: Grilled meats are quite popular in Isaan and Moo Ping and Gai Yang are amongst them. These flavorful marinated meat items carry a rich blend of spices and herbs and are perfectly grilled.
  5. Laap Isaan: This regional variation in Isaan is made with minced meat mixed with roasted rice powder, chilli, herbs, and lime juice.
  6. Nam Tok (Waterfall Beef Salad): This beef salad is unique in Isaan and is a must-try. The salad is made by mixing sliced, thin-grilled or boiled beef, toasted rice powder, herbs, and a dressing of chilli and lime.
  7. Sai Krok Isaan (Isaan Sausage): These local sausages (grilled) are prepared with fermented pork, rice, garlic, and herbs and are served along with fresh vegetables and dipping sauces.
  8. Pla Ra (Fermented Fish): This pungent fermented fish sauce has an acquired taste and is used to enhance the flavour of many Isaan dishes.
  9. Khanom Jeen Nam Ya (Rice Noodles with Fish Curry): This comfort meal is often enjoyed for breakfast. The dish features rice noodles served with a flavorful fish-based curry sauce

If you are curious about Isaan food, explore local markets in Isaan, such as Saveone Market in Nakhon Ratchasima. The vibrant street food scene here will surely send you into a gastronomical tip.

Dining Tips in Isaan:

  • When trying Isaan cuisine, feel free to request a milder version. However, if you are accustomed to high spice levels, don’t be afraid to embrace the spiciness of Isaan cuisine.
  • Try to dine at local street stalls and family-run eateries to get an authentic taste of Isaan’s culinary traditions.
  • Isaan cuisine pairs well with local beverages like Thai iced tea or fresh coconut water.

Isaan Region: Tips for Responsible Travel

  • Isaan Region in Thailand is known for its rich cultural heritage, and the locals are serious about it. On your visit to Isaan, respect local customs, traditions, and religious practices.
  • Dress modestly when visiting temples and other sacred places.
  • The larger portion of your spending in Isaan stays within the community; thus, choose to spend on local shops, restaurants, accommodations and other businesses.
  • Isaan Region is undisturbed from the touristy world; thus, be cautious about your plastic footprints.
  • Water can be scarce in certain areas, so use it wisely.
  • Consider engaging in community-based tourism activities and involve locals for a wholesome experience.
  • Isaan is home to diverse wildlife. When you enjoy trekking or visiting national parks, maintain a safe distance from animals and their habitats.
  • When attending local festivals, be respectful of the traditions and customs associated with them.
  • Learn a few basic Thai phrases or try indulging with locals to catch some Isaan language; this will help you foster positive interactions.
  • Since the Isaan Region sees fewer tourists to other parts of Thailand, you may not need to pre-book transportation and accommodations. Just showing up to guesthouses is generally fine, and there are quite a few options to choose from.
  • Isaan is best explored with your transportation; thus, consider booking a car or bike. However, if you are skeptical about the routes, take rentals with a driver.
  • For cost-cutting, consider sharing tuk-tuk or car hire costs with fellow travellers.
  • National parks in Isaan are remote and often far from cities. Since organizing day tours can be challenging, make sure you plan well ahead. Also, when visiting a national park either hire a guide or a local driver for being safe and not losing your way.
  • English may not be widely spoken in Isaan; thus, either use hand gestures or download the Thai language pack on your Google Translate app.
  • Compared to other parts of Thailand, Isaan is a budget-friendly destination with immense bargaining opportunities.

That’s all. We wish you a memorable trip to the Isaan Region in Thailand.

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