If you ask anyone about Thailand, they will probably tell you about the long stretched beaches in Ko Samui, Koh Phi Phi or talk about the elephants in Chiang Mai. All lovely, but did you know that Thailand has a lot of hidden gems located in the North Eastern part?
I flew over there to find out, and ended up having one of the most amazing press trips of the year. Let me introduce Northeast Thailand, better known as Isan.
North East Thailand
How to get there
From Bangkok you can fly to Khon Kaen,one of the four major cities of Isan, Thailand. From there you can travel to all the places I’m going to highlight. Rent a van or hire a chauffeur to drive you around. The roads are good and not too busy, so a great option to the the best parts of North East Thailand. Direct flights are also available and not expensive. Thai Smile airways is your best option.
The town itself isn’t really what we came here for, but it’s surroundings is what makes this place special. From here on, you will find the real Thailand. And with real, I mean getting the true local experience. In this part of the country you will not see many tourists or backpackers. In fact, I only saw one! Here are some must sees & do’s in the area;
» Mekin Organic Farm
This wonderful farm is run by a Thai family that is growing everything from fruits, coffee, Thai whiskey and rice on their farm. They’re not using any chemicals to spray their harvest, so you can imagine the amazing flavours of the food! I was invited to plant fresh rice in the mud. If you visit this farm, you can help too and experience the life of a Thai organic farmer. Lunch on the farm is included and so tasty!
The amazing Mekin Organic Farm
» Wat Chai Sri
A tiny Isan village where you can find an ancient temple with beautiful hand painted stories. It was most likely build before 1917 and remains an important temple for the Thai history. If you decide to visit this rather unique temple, make sure you walk around the village to meet some of the locals. This is a chance to experience the real Thai culture. You will be welcomed with open arms, even if they don’t speak a word of English, it’s worth trying to communicate with them. I received a cotton bracelet which was symbolic for good health and luck, and i’m still wearing it!
Meeting the local Isan kids at Wat Chai Sri (throwing up good luck signs)
» Sila Homestay
What a colourful place! Here you can learn how to weave cotton wool around a bamboo structure which makes up a “spiders web” which is used for celebrating events. Sila Homestay is a good stop to drink some traditional Thai juice and stretch your legs, while overlooking the river.
Where to stay
Your best option is the Pullman Khon Kaen Raja Orchid Hotel in the city center. It’s large and one of the best hotels in the area. The rooms are huge and very comfortable. If you stay longer, you can enjoy the pool, fitness and spa. Book your stay here.
Roi et literally means “hundred and one” and is home to one of the tallest Buddha’s in Thailand. With an impressive 60 meters, it’s definitely worth visiting. Order a Skylab to get you around, It’s transportation similar to a TucTuc, but here the seats are turned towards each other. Roi Et worth visiting when the Bun Pha Wet festival is on, which happens once a year.
» Bun Pha Wet Festival
Amazing Thailand planned our visit at the right time, because once a year there is a festival named Bun Pha Wet. The yearly parade is one of the highlights and I was so lucky enough to join in the fun! Being the only western group of people, everyone wanted to take pictures of us, (so that’s what celebrities feel like ey?) Participants dress up in the most beautiful creations and dance as they make their way past the watching crowd. It was such an honour to be a part of this tradition! At night you can enjoy a light and sound show and free Thai rice noodle booths all over town.
Bun Pha Wet Festival
Photo by The Sand Gypsy
» Phra Maha Chedi Chai Monkol
It’s a name full, and it’s just as impressive as it sounds. I’m talking about the largest Chedi in Thailand. The Chedi is located about 80km away from town. Covered in gold, it stands 101 meters tall, 101 meters wide and was built on a plot measuring 101 Rai, which is about 40 acres. Yes 101 is a lucky number in Roi Et! You can take the elevator all the way up and walk down so you can see the impressive architecture. From the top you can see that the Chedi is located in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by trees and it feels magical. Entrance is only 20 bath.
Drone image by www.leanlivinggirl.com
The stunning Phra Maha Chedi Chai Monkol
Where to stay:
There are not many hotels to choose from, because Roi Et is not used to tourists, yet. I stayed at the Rice Hotel which is basic but good enough to rest your head. Tip: order a Thai massage from town for 400 bath and enjoy the comfort of having the massage in your room. (No happy ending included guys!)
Close to the border of Laos, you will find Ubon Ratchathani. It means Royal Lotus City and is often called Ubon for short. It’s probably the best hidden gem that Thailand has to offer, because here you will find extraordinary national parks, and there is even a canyon.
» Pha Taem National Park
If you’re into history, you are going to love this national park. You will find the “mushroom shaped rocks” that was were produced by years of erosion. But the park is also known for numerous prehistoric cave paintings that date back 3000 – 4000 years ago. I was really impressed by the well kept hand prints and drawings these people made so many years ago. The drawings feature people, animals and their use of Buk fishing. The whole area is rather special and when you walk besides the cliff, it’s pretty amazing to imagine how this area must have looked so many years ago. Entrance is 400 bath for adults and 200 bath for kids. There is a small café where you can get amazing ice-coffees and juices, and you’re probably going to need it!
Is it a mushroom? (yes, that’s me in the middle)
» Sam Phan Bok
The Grand Canyon of Thailand and a place you cannot miss while visiting this part of the country! The area consist of thousands of holes (San Phan Bok translate to 3000 holes), some filled with rainwater. I couldn’t believe this was also in Thailand! Get your camera ready, because it’s one of the most photogenic area’s you will see. Walk around to find a Mickey Mouse shaped hole. Tip: Bring an umbrella to protect you from the sun, otherwise you will burn alive! Luckily there are many food stands at the arrival point where you can buy fresh coconuts, ice-cream and water.
Heatwave! Bring an umbrella (photo by Piet Fischer)
Alien-like Sam Phan Bok, a true sight.
» Sirindhorn Wararam Phu Prao Temple
Right across the border of Laos, this beautiful temple changes completely when the sun sets and it gets dark. Come here around 5.30pm and wait for the magical moment. If you are a professional photographer, you may want to bring your tripod. Say hello to the pigs that walk around at the temple and love to be cuddled.
When the sun goes down, the tree and the floor light up
Where to stay
With no question, stay at the Thohsang Khongjiam Resort. This hotel really feels like you’re on holiday. After a day full of exploring, this place is the perfect stopover for a few days. There are villa’s available if you are with a family, but the other rooms are also good. The hotel is located so close Laos, that you can almost touch it. There is a wonderful swimming pool and the massages here are amazing. (yes, I need a massage everyday). Book your stay here.
Yes, Isan is a different kind of Thailand. It’s about the local experience. It’s adventurous and it’s unique. There remains only one question; are you ready to go off the beaten track?