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Northeast Thailand

Famous hospitality and ancient Khmer monuments

At a glance

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The northeast region of Thailand, also known as I-san, is often ignored by backpackers and travellers to Thailand -- many of whom seem to write it off as dusty, flat and boring -- they couldn't be more off-the-mark. I-san is a traditional yet wildly colourful and interesting region of Thailand which is well worth allowing some time to explore.

While it lacks the top-shelf attractions of pristine beaches (though you can swim in the Mekong!) and hill-tribe trekking, the appeal of the northeast is far more subtle. As with the entire country, the people are very friendly and the food in particular is terrific, but there is something more elusive to I-san that drags visitors back over and over again.

Perhaps it's something to do with the Mekong River -- the riverside provincial towns of Nong Khai, Nakhon Phanom and Mukdahan all have scenic river frontage, good eating and a relaxed feel to them, as do the outlying towns that dot the river's length.

Many a hidden-away spot dots the river's bank, some of them -- That Phanom and Sangkhom, to name but two -- are outstanding destinations in their own right. Journey out this way to savour a slower (though hotter) lifestyle, where you can really get to know the guesthouse owners and actually learn something about the country you're travelling in.

Away from the river there are ancient Khmer ruins dotted throughout the south of the region -- Phimai and Phanom Rung are the best known, but ruins dot the entire region -- and not just from the Khmer period as the ruins at Ban Chiang attest.

If ruins are your thing, then look to base yourself in Buriram, Si Saket or Nakhon Ratchasima. These sites are a perfect primer before a trip to Cambodia to see the crown jewels of Angkor Wat.

If you prefer to get into the wild, then Khao Yai National Park is the regions best. That said there are plenty of other parks on offer, including Pha Taem National Park which, overlooking the Mekong River and Laos, features ancient graffiti and Roadrunner styled stone outcrops.

Or maybe its the unusual hodge-podge of festivals, from the totally mental Rocket Festival in Yasothon, the slightly mental Phi Ta Khon in Loei and the pachyderm parades at the Elephant Round-up in Surin.

Lastly, the region boasts two major transportation hubs -- Udon Thani to the north and Ubon Ratchathani in the east. Both have airports and road and rail connections to Bangkok. The latter also has some exquisite northeastern food -- be sure to try the duck larb.

Spend a week, a month, a year exploring the northeast and rest assured you'll be spending longer there next time around.

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Northeast Thailand

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