Northeastern Thailand (or Isan as it is also known) including the provinces of Buriram, Nakhon Ratchasima, and Loei have several of the best places to visit in Thailand. While there are six geographical regions within Thailand to explore, the Buriram province (also known as the "city of pleasantness") is in my view quite special.
The northeast region of Thailand takes up about a third of the overall surface area of the country and covers much of the predominantly dry barren Khorat Plateau. This area is
notable for its distinctive red sandstone and slate formations. This is also one of the poorest regions of Thailand with many of it's people being engaged in farming.
Located approximately 410 kilometres northeast of Bangkok, Buriram has a population close to 1.5 million people making this one of the largest Thailand provinces. The name of Buriram was only given to this region in 1933 when the area officially became a province.
While Buriram is situated within a region known for its unique geographical features (that include dormant volcanoes), this part of Thailand is also famous due to its ancient ruins. There are approximately 143 separate ruins spread out over this district and these include the ancient Phanom Rung Temple (see image above).
This well preserved temple dates back to at least the Khmer period or about one thousand years ago. Archaeologists have also found some of the earliest evidence of rice being used as a food staple in Thailand within the northeastern region at a site in Ban Chiang.
One of the best places to visit within the Buriram province is the Phanom Rung Historical Park. While it may seem like a long way to travel from Bangkok; walking around these grand old ruins with the surrounding landscapes, admiring the exceptional craftsmanship on display really does allow the mind to imagine what life was like during this earlier period of human history within northeastern Thailand.
The best way to travel to Buriram within northeastern Thailand is by either plane, bus and train. Thai Airways and Nok Air have daily flights between Bangkok and the airport at Amphoe Satuek (which is located approximately 40 kilometres from the town).
Buses to Buriram also depart daily from Bangkok's Northern Bus Terminal (at Mo Chit on Kamphaengphet 2 Road).
The State Railway of Thailand offers a number of daily services to this province with trains departing Bangkok at the Hualamphong Station.
Phanom Rung Historical Park
Phanom Rung Historical Park is an ancient Khmer temple complex situated on the rim of an extinct volcano in northeastern Thailand. This complex of buildings which were constructed from sandstone and laterite face east towards the original Angkor capital and were built during the Khmer period between the10th and 12th centuries A.D when Cambodia was predominantly Hindu.
This is the largest sandstone Khmer monument remaining in what is now Thailand, and forms the foundation of the Historical Park. The most notable building is a large oblong shaped pagoda which has a single but intricately sculptured prang on its roof (Click here to read more).
Once are in Buriram you can take a taxi or tuk tuk to travel there. Admission to this site is free and it is open daily to the public between the hours of 9 AM to 4.30 PM.
Another unique northeastern Thailand travel destination is Loei province. This is a lovely Thai province which is located approximately 520 kilometres northeast of Bangkok, yet does not receive the quantity of tourists that perhaps other northern cities do.
However, with its surrounding mountainous landscape, that contain lush national parks and wildlife sanctuaries, fruit orchards and pretty flowers, it is still one of the best places to visit within Thailand especially for true nature lovers.
The city is said to date back to 1853 when King Mongkut (i.e. Rama IV) founded the area in order to provide governance over the growing population, although Loei didn't become a Thailand province until later, when it was established in 1907 under King Chulalongkorn (i.e. Rama V).
Thailand's cool season Loei province is probably one of the coolest
places northeastern Thailand travel destinations, with night
time temperatures apparently dropping down to zero degrees. However,
during the summer period (including the months of April and May) day
time temperatures can reach over 40 degrees which is similar
the temperatures experienced throughout Thailand's central and southern
With prominent orange and mushroom orchards operating here, and various species of flora fauna living within the Phurua National Park and Phu Luang Wildlife Sanctuary this is a travel destination for the tourist wishing to enjoy Thailand nature.
The best way to travel to Loei province is by bus. Buses for Loei depart daily from Bangkok's Northern Bus Terminal (at Mo Chit on Kamphaengphet 2 Road).
Phurua National Park
Located within the province of Loei in northeastern Thailand is the popular hiking and camping site of Phurua National Park. This beautiful National Park which borders Laos to the North, is some 120 square kilometres in size and is a mountainous region made predominantly of sandstone and granite. The highest peak within this national park is the Phurua Mountain.
Rising to 1365 metres above sea level, the summit of Phurua provides great views of the surrounding landscape which includes evergreen and pine forests, a variety of flowers, shrubs and orchids with the water catchments from the mountains feeding the Mekong and Huang Rivers.
This National Park also contains other natural features including the Huai Phai waterfall which has a drop of some 30 metres and receives its water courtesy of the Huay Phai River. Within the park a variety of species of fauna are said to reside including, barking deer, bear, monkey, squirrel, over 100 bird species, rabbits, and turtle to name several.
The Phurua National Park is located approximately 59 kilometres from Loei and is open daily to the public between the hours of 5 AM and 8 PM. The summit of Phurua is accessible by vehicle but if you choose to walk allow about 2.5 hours for the journey. Admission to the Phurua National Park costs 200 Thai baht for foreigners.
The best way to travel to the Phurua National Park is by tuk-tuk or mini bus, and you can catch daily within Loei town.
Phuluang Wildlife Sanctuary
beautiful tourist destination to be found within northeastern
Thailand is the Phuluang Wildlife Sanctuary. This reserve began
back in 1974 is but one of 57 wildlife sanctuaries that exist in
Thailand, and covers an area of approximately 900 square kilometres.
The landscape is covered by various maple and pine forests, grasslands,
rhododendrons, orchids, and various species of colorful shrubs.
Located to the south of Loei province, the Sanctuary receives its name after the tallest mountain (i.e. Phuluang Mountain), which has a peak of 1571 metres above sea level.
One of the main functions of this Sanctuary is the administration of the Elephant Rehabilitation Project, which is responsible for the care of over 100 protected Asian elephants. This important project also receives the official support from Thailand's Queen Sirikit.
In addition, the reserve also contains approximately 160 orchid species and the rare colour changing Phuluang cliff frog which was only noted at the Sanctuary in 2006. In the eastern portion of the Sanctuary at Khok Pha Taloen there is also the footprint of a dinosaur which is said to date back to approximately 120 million years ago.
There are a number of areas within the reserve which are open to the general public including a 6 kilometre walking trail (named the Phuluang Nature Study Route) that takes the observer through a series of natural environments within the Sanctuary including pine forests, rock plateaus, and grasslands.
Phuluang Wildlife Sanctuary is open daily to the public between the hours of 6 AM and 6 PM (but is closed between the months of June and September), and is located on Siphum Road, Kaeng Si Phum, Loei in northeastern Thailand.
There are a number of tuk-tuk's and mini buses in Loei town which take visitors to the Wildlife Sanctuary daily.
With a population approaching 500,000 people, Nakhon Ratchasima (also known as Khorat ) and its surrounding districts is the most populated area within northeastern Thailand. Being located on a plateau and just 260 kilometres northeast of Bangkok this province is best known for its ancient 11th century Khmer temple ruins which provide an insight into the lives of the people and culture that previously existed within this region.
While this province was previously used as a Unites States air force base during the Vietnam War it was the completion of the railway link with Bangkok back in 1890, that was the catalyst for the growth of the northeastern region of Thailand.
Although, this is not a popular tourist destination, this province has a variety of places to see including archaeological sites, national parks (i.e. the Thab Lan and Khao Yai) and other attractions including the Phimai Historical Park. It is worth a look if you plan to visit northeastern Thailand.
You can travel to Nakhon Ratchasima (i.e. Khorat) within northeastern Thailand by either train or bus. Trains depart daily from the Bangkok Hualamphong Railway Station at 9 PM and arrive in Khorat just after 2 AM.
Likewise, buses leave Bangkok's Northern Bus Terminal (at Mo Chit on Kamphaengphet 2 Road) every 15 minutes between the hours of 5 AM and 10.15 PM and arrive at the Khorat bus station located on the Mitraparp Highway.
Khao Yai National Park
The Khao Yai National Park which is located in the Nakon Ratchasima province (i.e. also known as Khorat) northeastern Thailand has gained a reputation as being Thailand's most prominent national park. Apart from being Thailand's first national park (having been opened on 17 September 1962), it is also one of the more unique Thai national parks. Khao Yai is of great significance because in 2005 it gained status as a Unesco World Heritage Site, due to the habitat which supports a variety of rare and diverse flora and fauna species.
This national park which is best accessed via the small town of Pak Chong is said to be the third largest in all of Thailand covering an area of some 2,168 square kilometres and is predominantly vegetated with evergreen forests and open grasslands. The national park is situated within the western region of the Sankamphaeng Mountain Range, with the majority of the mountains ranging in elevation between 400 metres to 1,000 metres above sea level. Although, Khao Rom which is the highest mountain reaches an elevation of some 1,351 metres above sea level (Click here to read more).
Both train and bus services stop at Pak Chong during their Bangkok to Nakhon Ratchasima route and transport is available from Pak Chong to the the Khao Yai National Park.
Phimai Historical Park
Located approximately 60 kilometres from Nakhon Ratchasima within far northeastern Thailand lies the Phimai Historical Park. The Park contains the ruins of an ancient city of Khmer (i.e. Cambodian) origins which was likely built sometime during the period of the 11th and 12th centuries, or during the reign of King Suriyavoraman.
This city or Vimayapura (as the site was first called) is completely surrounded by a moat and contains a number of Buddhist temples; as opposed to Hindu, which was the usual practice of the Khmer people. The complex of buildings were constructed in a rectangular shape measuring approximately 1,030 metres by 565 metres in size with three pagoda's/towers being the most notable structures within the inner courtyard of the complex. The outer walls of the main tower are beautifully engraved depicting episodes from the Ramayana and in particular the battle between Ravana and Rama.
Constructed primarily of white sandstone, brick and laterite which are commonly used building materials within the northeastern region of Thailand, each of the buildings at Phimai apparently served a different purpose. The main structure ( known as Prasat Him Phimai Sanctuary) is situated almost within the centre of the ancient Phimai city and is said to face almost directly towards Angkor Wat. Three ponds were also originally constructed within the city walls to provide water for the inhabitants.
This inner sanctuary is surrounded by a sandstone wall and the entire complex underwent a complete restoration project during the 1960s and the site was officially opened on the 12th of April 1989 by Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn (daughter of King Bhumibol Adulyadej).
The Park is located approximately 60 Kilometres from Khorat city and is well worth a look if you are visiting northeastern Thailand.
Phimai Historical Park is open to the public between the hours of 9 AM and 6 PM. Admission to the site is 150 baht.
If you are not visiting the park as part of a tour then the best way to travel there is by taxi from Nakhon Ratchasima.