Long overlooked for Bangkok and Phuket, home of the Prasat Hin Phimai archaeological ruins and Khao Yai National Park, the Isaan Region is slowly emerging as a promising destination for travelers. With our 7-day suggested itinerary, you would have a real taste of this charming city and you will be introduced to its best attractions. You can absolutely make any changes you like, to adapt the tour to your preferences. Enjoy Isaan!
Things to consider before traveling to Isaan:
Language – Thai is the official language of Thailand. In Bangkok and other main tourist destinations, some Thai can speak English, especially the young people. Although English is taught in schools, it is not widely used by the locals. It is recommended to learn some Thai if you are heading towards rural areas where you can expect that a lot of people cannot speak any English.
Currency exchange – The official currency used in Thailand is the Thai baht (TBH). ATMs can be found in Airport, most tourist centers and shopping malls across the country. Exchanging money in Isaan is easy and follows the same standard to elsewhere in Southeast Asia. It’s also good to know that some establishments accept US dollars but do not count on it as your only payment method. International credit cards are widely accepted, though small businesses, especially stores and restaurants may not accept them.
Safety and security – There is currently no nationwide security advisory in effect for Thailand. Check your country’s travel advisory website to get the most up-to-date information for your personal safety abroad. Avoid non-essential travel to Thailand-Myanmar border, especially the provinces of Tak and Mae Hong Son, and the Muslim-majority southernmost provinces of Thailand, like the provinces of Yala, Songkhla, Pattani and Narathiwat. If you need general travel advice, then you may contact the Tourist Authority of Thailand at 1672 (press 9 for English).
Where to stay – The Isaan Region has a wide range of accommodation options, with something for every level of comfort and budget. If you’ve been to Thailand once before, and would like to experience authentic local life, then we suggest staying in one of the locally run home-stays and guest houses. Not only that home-stays are great value for money, it’s also the best way to learn the local cultures and customs.
Getting to Isaan – The Isaan Region is located in the northeastern region of Thailand. Udon Thani Airport (UTH) is the main airport in the region, which is located approximately 450 km from Bangkok. There are domestic flights to and from Bangkok (Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang) and Chiang Mai. From Bangkok you can also get to Isaan by day and night buses. Depending on the bus class (VIP, 1st class or 2nd class), you can expect to pay between 18 and 30 USD each-way. If you want to experience the local trains, you may try one of the two main lines of the State Railway of Thailand. For more information, you may visit their official website (http://www.thairailways.com/road-route.northeast.html).
Getting around – Getting around Isaan is very easy. Transportation options include small minivans (tuk-tuks), local buses (songthaew), motorbike sidecar taxis (săhm·lór) and rental cars. Getting to the national parks and ancient ruins requires tuk-tuk or rental cars, so it will be cheaper if you share the costs with fellow travelers. If you want to learn more about getting around in Isaan, try to use Couchsurfing and seek other travelers’ suggestions. There are also plenty of expats living in Isaan, so they can probably show you around when you arrive.
Detailed day by day itinerary: Off the beaten path in Isaan, Thailand
Day 1: Udon Thani
Since you only have 7 days in the Isaan Region, it can be tough to whittle down the must-sees. Assuming you are coming from Bangkok’s Hua Lamphong Station, take a train to Udon Thani Railway Station in Mak Khaeng. Udon Thani is one of the four major cities of the Isaan region. It is popular among travelers who wish to go to Vientiane, Laos for a visa run or those who wish to see the ancient capital of Luang Prabang, Laos.
From the train station, take a local bus or a tuk-tuk to get to your chosen accommodation. Rest and settle in before you start the tour. Depending on your time of arrival, you can either take it easy and soak up the atmosphere in Udon Thani or you can begin your tour of its famous attractions.
Where to stay in Udon Thani:
The best way to get an introduction to Udon Thani is to check out the Ban Chiang Archeological Site. This is a relevant and educational stop to create basic understanding of Northeastern Thailand’s human settlement during prehistoric times. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992, the village and burial site of Ban Chiang houses thousands pf artifacts from human skeletons to pottery.
Sticking with the history theme, it is best to squeeze in a trip to Phu Phra Bat Historical Park. This is a great opportunity to enhance your cultural experience in the Isaan Region and to learn about the multi-layered trail of Hindu and Buddhist arts in and around these stunning and bizarre rock formations.
Day 2: Udon Thani
On day 2, visit Phu Foi Lom Eco Park, an eco-tourism tourist destination located 40 kilometers southwest of the city center. Part of the Pan Don Pa Ko National Reserved Park, Phu Foi Lom offers numerous trails ideal for hiking and overnight camping. For nature lovers, rare flora and fauna can be spotted here as well. If you don’t want to travel far from the city, Nong Prajak Park is a great alternative. This popular recreational area is famous for its big lake surrounded by flower gardens and its famous giant inflatable rubber ducky. This is the perfect place to observe and to interact with the locals.
If your travel date is between December and the end of February, then you’re lucky just to be in time for the Red Lotus Sea. Hire and hop into a pontoon boat to the lake’s center and be surrounded by a sea of hot pink lotus flowers.
Another must visit in Udon Thani is the Rock Spa and Salt Fields in BanDung. You might be wondering where does salt come from? The Isaac Region is in a land-locked state so it’s not possibly from the sea, right? Well in Ban Dung, they managed to excavate salt from an underground source of salt water. Do not miss to drop by the rock spa to face of foot massages with their home made scrubs and masks made from mineral rich salt.
Day 3: Nong Khai
For your final day in Udon Thani, get a one last whirl through the city to take in other attractions that you might have missed. You may also dedicate this day with a whole day trip of Nong Khai, which is a border town on the bank of the Mekong River, located within earshot of Vientiane, Laos. Some of the attractions worth visit in the city are Sala Keoku, Sadet Market, Wat Pho Chai and Phra That Chedi.
Day 4: Khon Kaen
Travel to your chosen accommodation in Khon Kaen where you will be staying for one nights before your adventure in the four beautiful National Parks in Chaiyaphum. If you’re on a tight schedule, we recommend arranging a car rental to take you directly to your hotel. For budget-conscious travelers, buses and trains are available. Regular buses depart from Udon Thani to Khon Kaen’s Bor Kor Sao Gao Bus Terminal several times per hour. Travel time is approximately 2 hours and one way bus fare is between 80 to 100 baht (about 3 USD). If you want something refreshingly traditional or if you would like to see the countryside, then taking a train is a great choice. Travel time is approximately 2 to 3 hours and one way fare is about 25 to 30 baht (less than 1 USD).
Where to stay in Khon Kaen:
To get acquainted to Khon Kaen, visit the Day or the Night Markets, which are the best places in the city to to snap up a bargain. You can find almost everything inside the market, from Jewelry, clothing, household goods, traditional Thai clothing and tons of knock off designer clothing. Don’t forget to haggle to get the best bang for your buck. Aside from shopping, the local markets are also a food destination.
Day 5: Khon Kaen
On day 5, wander through Khon Kaen’s main historical sites like the Phra That Kham Kaen, which is located at grounds of Wat Chetiyaphum, Tambon Ban Kham. This golden Laotian style chedi is said to be built before the founding of Khon Kaen, thus, it is highly revered among the locals.
Another temple you should not miss is the Wat Nong Wang, which is considered as the most famous temple in Khon Kaen. It consists of 9 floors with murals and mosaic depicting the culture and history of Buddhism. The temple is a great vantage point to see the Bung Kaen Nakhon Lake (Khon Kaen’s lake) and the 360 degree view of the city.
In the afternoon, visit the remaining temples in the city like the Wat Thung Setthi. This temple is also popular because of its unique architecture and design. Instead of the usual red and gold accents, the temple is colored with blue and gold. The reflecting pond with water lilies also adds stunning effects on the temple.
Check out from your accommodation in Khon Kaen and take a bus to Chaiyaphum. The night bus leaves at 5 PM from Khon Kaen Bus Terminal. Travel time is approximately 3 hours and one way bus fare is about 100 baht (about 3 USD). Upon arrival, enjoy dinner at one of the restaurants in the city and check into your preferred accommodation. Make sure to arrange your tours prior to Day 6 so you can depart very early in the morning.
Where to stay in Chaiyaphum:
Day 6: Chaiyaphum
On day 6, after having a filling breakfast, set out early in the morning for the Phu Laen Kha National Park, known as the Stonehenge of Thailand. This national park is dotted by dense jungles, grassy hillside and plenty of huge, bizarre boulders. Enjoying the view of the countryside from the slabs of rocks protruded from the mountain itself and the sunrise views are the main attractions in the national park. The opportunity for incredible photographs is endless during the trip, so frequent stops are recommended for visitors to enjoy the landscape.
Day 7: Chaiyaphum
On day 7, begin early with a day trip to Tat Ton National Park. Located in the Laen Kha Mountain Range, the national park is home to many majestic waterfalls; Namtok Tat Ton being the best of them all. The park is also home to Chaopho Tat Ton Pu Duang, a shrine dedicated to Pu Huang, a highly respected Khmer. Head back to your hotel in the afternoon, then to the bus station in time for your bus back to Bangkok, or you may opt to continue traveling independently in Chaiyaphum, or extend your stay in the Isaac Region.
This is the end of our 7-day suggested itinerary to Isaan. If you are on the lookout for new destinations and new experiences in Thailand and would like to avoid the swarms of tourists, then this itinerary might help you. Visit these cultural hot spots and beach destinations before the hordes get there! Enjoy Isaan!
Have you been to Isaan or anywhere else in Thailand? Do you have any tips or suggestions to share? Let’s chat down below!
Featured image: Curcuma sessilis Gage or Curcuma sessilis Blossoming in the rain forest at Pa Hin Ngam National Park. Chaiyaphum Province, Thailand (Smile Fight / Shutterstock.com)