Isaan, The Jewel of Thailand
Many people who visit Thailand think of only Bangkok, Phuket or Pattaya, the famous tourist destinations. If you spread yourself further afield then you will come across some of the most beautiful places you have ever seen with some of the nicest people. The Isaan region in the North-Eastern part of Thailand is a region you simply must visit to get a real perspective of life in Thailand.
Isaan borders Laos and Cambodia and has its very own culture and dialect. It is one of the poorest parts of Thailand but also one of the happiest for its people. Traditional folk dancing originates from Isaan as well as some amazing foods. There are 4 major cities in Isaan, each with its own unique aspects and differences, a visit to any one will be a great experience if you are traveling through South East Asia. Here is a summary of the “Big Four” cities in Isaan.
Udon Thani is the farthest north and considered the gateway to Laos. Often travelers from the south will stay in Udon Thani overnight before traveling through to Laos. Udon Thani is probably the biggest in terms of development in Isaan. It has retail outlets, big hotels and has an entertainment sector geared towards tourists much more than other cities in Isaan. There is quite a large foreign population in Udon Thani, made up of Expats that have settled in Thailand. Getting around is easy so take some time to explore this magnificent town.
Smaller than Udon Thani in most aspects but with it comes a sense of quaintness that Udon Thani cannot replicate. Khon Kaen is famous for its University as many students from across Thailand come to study in Khon Kaen. Like Udon Thani it also boasts a retail mall, large hotels and a good nightlife scene. The distinction with Khon Kaen is that most of the nightlife is definitely geared towards Thai’s especially with the large University population. There are some increasing numbers of bars and clubs springing up now though as the city expands and welcomes a new Expat population.
Nakhon Ratchasima holds the distinction of being the bridge between the Laos culture and the Thai’s, a real cross of Culture. It lies in the Western part of Isaan and is also known as Korat especially amongst foreigners. Nakhon Ratchasima is a growing retail centre, being so close to Cambodia makes it ideally located for imports and exports. It is a huge city in comparison with many Thai cities boasting 4 universities and being the capital of the Korat province.
Ubon Ratchathani lies in the South East corner of Isaan and is very close to both the Laos and Cambodian borders. It is arguably the most religious of the provinces and a well-known Buddhist area. Famous for its candle festival that is held every year in July on Buddhist lent so a great time to visit. There are plenty of temples around for you to experience the culture of Isaan in this amazing city. What you won’t find here are the developed areas you might find in Khon Kaen and Udon Thani.
The Isaan region is well worth a visit if you are traveling through Thailand and want a more relaxed experience than the hustle and bustle of the tourist areas. I would highly recommend a visit to any of the above cities.