Last week we started our foray into Isaan from the city of Udon Thani, near the border with Laos and its capital, Vientiane. Today we will begin at Khon Kaen, located several hours south of Udon Thani and containing a slightly smaller population than its northern counterpart. Khon Kaen is also home to an airport, though it is serviced only domestically and by a handful of Thai airlines. Nevertheless, it provides an equally good jumping-off point to the rest of Isaan province.
In Khon Kaen itself there is little to do outside of touring the city’s several temples. Although it might be worth your time to stop by Khon Kaen University to see its Arts and Culture Centre, depicting work from current and former students. Additionally, Bueng Kaen Nakhon, a large lake in the city surrounded by some walking trails and scenic spots, is a perfect location for stopping and capturing that perfect Isaan selfie. Finally, if the history of the area piques your interest, take a look at the Khon Kaen National Museum to experience a trip through time in the development of this region and its culture.
Departing Khon Kaen to the northwest will bring you into contact with three national parks: Phu Kao – Phu Phan, Phu Wiang, and Nam Phong. Conversely, departing to the east and to the south leads you into a multitude of rivers, lakes, and small towns, all great places to stop and relax. Farther in this direction you will eventually arrive in the province and city of Roi Et. This is a sparsely populated area, and its namesake city only houses 34,000 people. But it is also known as a particularly scenic area of the country, showcasing much of the natural beauty that Isaan is known for.
In Roi Et, be sure to make the rounds of this province’s temples. Some of the best include Wat Pha Nam Yoi, Wat Buraphaphiram, and Wat Klang Ming Mueang.
When you have finished your tour of Roi Et, continue on to the southeast. Eventually you will arrive in Ubon Ratchathani. With a population of just over 100,000, this city sits along with Udon Thani, Khon Kaen, and Khorat as one of the “Big 4” cities in Isaan. When you’re here you’re almost in Laos, and the language is sometimes distinctly different from the Thai you hear in Bangkok. There is plenty to do in Ubon Ratchathani, from touring the province’s temples (of course) which are closer to the Khmer and Laotian styles than anywhere else in Thailand, to seeing the natural beauty of the area manifested in its lakes, forests, and rivers. Ubon Ratchathani also sports an airport with flights to Bangkok, so if you’d rather not take the long and bumpy bus ride back from here, you don’t have to.
Isaan is an enormous province – one of the largest in Thailand. And although it does not contain a very large population or many urban centres, it has more than enough attractions to make for a very long and enjoyable holiday. So come here, experience the food, the nature, the temples, the language, the culture, and the people. It’s not like Bangkok. Neither is it like Phuket, Chiang Mai, Pattaya, or any other hot spot for tourists. If you want the “real” Thailand, you can’t go wrong by visiting Isaan.