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The North-East of Thailand

The North-East of Thailand (Isaan)

rice-fieldBordered by Laos and Cambodia on three sides, the tableland of north-east Thailand-known as Isaan, after the Hindu god of death and the northeast-comprises a third of the country's land area and is home to nearly a third of its population. This is the least-visited region of the kingdom, and the poorest: over 70% of Isaan villagers earn less than the regional minimum wage of 200 Baht a day. Farming is the livelihood of virtually all northeasterners, despite appallingly infertile soil (the friable sandstone contains few nutrients and retains little water) and long periods of drought punctuated by downpours and intermittent bouts of flooding. In the 1960s, government schemes to introduce hardier crops set in motion a debt cycle that has forced farmers into monocultural cash-cropping to repay their loans for fertilizers, seeds and machinery.

isaan-foodFor many families, there's only one way of the treadmill: each January and February, Bangkok-bound trains and buses are crammed with northeasterners leaving in search of seasonal or short-term work; of the 20 million who live in Isaan, an average of two million seasonal economic refugees leave the area every year and the northeasterners now make up the majority of the capital's lowest-paid workforce. Most northeasterners speak direct that's more comprehensible to residents of Vientiane than Bangkok and Isaan's historic allegiances have tied it more closely to Lao and Cambodia than to Thailand. Between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries, the all-powerful Khmers covered the northeast in magnificent stone temple complexes, the remains of which constitute the region's most satisfying tourist attractions.

vietnam-warDuring subsequent centuries the territories along the Mekong River changed hands numerous times, until the present border with Laos was set at the end of World War II. In the 1950s and 1960s, Communist insurgents played on the northeast's traditional ties with Laos; a movement to align Isaan with the Marxists of Laos gathered some force and the Communist Party of Thailand, gaining sympathy among poverty-stricken northeastern farmers, established bases in the region. At about the same time, major US air bases for the Vietnam War were set up in Khorat, Ubon Ratchathani and Udon Thani, fuelling a sex industry that has plagued the region ever since. When the American military moved out, northeastern women turned to the tourist-orientated Bangkok flesh trade instead, and nowadays the majority of prostitutes in the capital come from Isaan.

waterfallThese cities, like Isaan's other major population centres, are chaotic, exhausting places, with precious little going for them apart from accommodation and onward transport. For tourists, Isaan's prime sights are its Khmer ruins, and the trails through Khao Yai National Park. Four huge northern festivals also draw massive crowds: in May, Yasothon is the focus for the bawdy rocket festival; in the end of June or beginning of July sees the equally raucous rain-making festival of Phi Ta Kon in Dan Sai near Loei; in July, Ubon Ratchathani hosts the extravagant candle festival; while the flamboyant, though inevitably touristy “elephant-round-up” is staged in Surin in November.

mekong-riverIsaan's only mountain rage of any significance divides the uninspiring town of Loei from the Central plains and offers some still walking, awesome scenery and the possibility of spotting unusual bird and flowers in the national parks that spread across its heights. Due north of Loei, the Mekong River begins its leisurely course around Isaan with a lush stretch where a sprinkling of guest houses has opened up the river countryside to travellers. Marking the eastern end of this upper stretch, the border town of Nong Khai is surrounded by possibly the most outlandish temples in Thailand. The grandest and most important religious site in the northeast, however, is Wat Phra That Phanom, way downstream beyond Nakhon Phanom, a town which affords some of the finest Isaan vistas.

surinThe other big draw for travellers are Isaan's four border crossings into Laos, at each of which you can now get a Lao Visa on arrival. The most popular of these is at Nong Khai, a route that provides easy road access to the Lao capital, Vientiane; the others are Nakhon Phanom, Mukdahan and Chong Mek. You can get a Lao visa in advance from the consulate issuing visas for Vietnam. It is now also possoble to travel overland between Isaan and Cambodia through two different border crossings: via the Thai town of Kap Choeng, in Surin province, to O'Smach, which has transport to Anlong Veng and then on to Siem Reap; and via Sa Ngam is the Phusing district of Si Saket province to Choam in Anlong Veng.

rot-tak-takMany travellers approach Isaan from the north, either travelling directly from Chiang Mai to Loei, or going via Phitsanulok, in the northern reaches of the central plians, to Khon Kaen, but you can also take direct buses to Khorat from the east-coast towns of Pattaya, Rayong and Chathaburi. All major northeastern centres have direct bus services from Bangkok. Two rail lines cut through Isaan, providing useful connections with Bangkok, Don Muang Airport and Ayutthaya. Thai Airways operates regular flights between Bangkok and the major northeastern cities. All major towns and cities in Isaan are connected by public transport, as are many of the larger villages, but compared to many other regions of the country, northeastern roads are fairly traffic-free, so renting your own vehicle is also a good option.

homestaySouthern Isaan more or less follows one of two branches of the northeastern rail line as it makes a beeline towards the eastern border, skirting the edge of Khao Yai National Park before entering Isaan proper to like the major provincial capitals of Khorat, Surin and Ubon Ratchathani. The rail line is handy enough for entering the region, but once here it's as well to follow a route that takes in smaller towns and villages wherever possible, which means switching to buses and songthaews. It is in these smaller places that you'll learn most about Isaan life, particularly if you head for the exceptionally welcoming guest houses in Surin, Nang Rong, Phimai and Kong Chiam. For even more of an immersion into a rural community, consider booking yourself onto the home-stay programme in the village of Ban Prasat.

khao-phra-viharnEven if your time is limited, you shouldn't leave this part of Isaan without visiting at least one set of Khmer ruin: Prasat Hin Phimai is the most accessible of the region's top three sites, but it's well worth making the effort to visit either Prasat Hin Khao Phanom Rung or Khao Phra Viharn as well, both of which occupy spectacular hilltop locations. Relics of an even earlier age, prehistoric cliff paintings also draw a few tourists eastwards to the town of Kong Chiam, which is prettily set between the Mekong and Mun rivers and is well worth a visit in its own right. Nearby Chong Mek is best known as a legal entry point into Laos, but is also the site of an enjoyable Thai-Lao border market.

(2 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

Public Transportation in Ubon Ratchathani

transportEven though there are no traditional taxis in Ubon Ratchathani, public transportation is plentiful. You can get most anywhere you want or need to go in Ubon with one form of public transportation or another. Of course it's easier when you have your own transportation and know where you are going. But tourists and visitors don't always have that luxury. Public transportation is convenient as you don't need to worry about parking or fighting the traffic. Most public transportation in Ubon is reasonably priced and fairly safe as well.

(2 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

The Land of Buddhism and Civilization

temple-in-ubonIn the similar fashion to the Chao Phraya's division of Bangkok and Thon Buri, the Mun River flows between Amphoe Muang and Warin Chamrap, with the Seri Pracha Thippatai Bridge to connect people on both sides of the river. The old city of Warin Charap is railway hub with the old commercial quarter and lots of old buildings with Thai, Chinese, Lao and Vietnamese styles.

(3 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

About Ubon Ratchathani

candleUbon Ratchathani is the easternmost province in Thailand. There is a sign posted on the Mekong River stating that from this point you can be first in Thailand to view the sunrise. Ubon is one of seventeen provinces that make up the Northeastern or Isaan Region of Thailand. The people here are the grassroots of the country. The service and agricultural industries thrive because of Isaan.

(3 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

Getting to Ubon Ratchathani

getting_to_ubonOne of the great things about Ubon Ratchathani is the variety of ways available to travel to and from Ubon. I love travelling around Thailand and love to see different life in each part of Thailand. The combination of being in Isaan and having access to multiple modes of transportation is the perfect situation. Travel to, and around in Thailand by planes, trains and automobiles and buses too.

(2 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

Place to stay in Ubon Ratchathani

accommodation-in-ubonAre you looking for a hotel in Ubon Ratchathani? You will be pleasantly surprised to discover there is a wide selection of hotels to choose from in the city. It should not be too difficult to find a hotel in Ubon that satisfies your needs for budget, location, facilities and comfort. There are vintage hotels and new modern contemporary styles. Here you will find hotels that have a nightly rate of 400-1000 Thai Baht or more per night. The rooms available are standard, deluxe, superior and a variety of suites. I am sure you will find Ubon Ratchathani hotels will fill your needs.

Poll

Where do you like to go in Thailand?

Chiang Mai - 19.1%
Sukhothai - 4%
Ayutthaya - 3%
Pattaya - 30.2%
Hua Hin - 13.1%
Koh Samui - 9.5%
Koh Phi Phi - 4.5%
Phuket - 16.6%

Total votes: 199
The voting for this poll has ended on: 31 Dec 2011 - 00:00

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