I-san , the Northeast of Thailand

 North East of Thailand , towards the Mighty Mekong


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The Khmer empire left its influence in the Northeast of Thailand. A typical Khmer lion guarding the back entrance to the temple. Note its massive size when comparing it with a person. Amazing. Phanong Rung Park, Surin province, I-san. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

The northeast is the largest of Thailand’s main topographical regions covering around one third of the country’s land mass. The area comprises a semi-arid plateau with forested mountains in the north west, where national parks such as Phu Luang and Phu Kradung contain the last remnants of what once was a lush -forest cover.

Otherwise,Thailand’s Northeast is intensely rural where farmers struggle to cultivate rice, tapioca, jute and other cash crops with a scattering of large towns as Khon kaen, Ubon Ratchathani, Nakhon Ratchasima ( Khorat) and Udon Thai, serving as commercial centers. With strong cultural affinities with neighboring Laos and Cambodia , the region is rimmed and defined by the Mekong River.

Known in Thai as I-san, the North East is the least changed part of Thailand. The people speak their own melodious dialect, have their own distinctively spiced cuisine, and retain a hospitable and fun-loving nature. The economy is based almost entirely on agriculture and the majority of north-easterners follow agrarian lifestyles rooted in tradition and dictated by the annual seasonal cycle.


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Common view in this agricultural area, a track left in the fields while the peasants have their lunch. Nakhon Ratchasima province, Khorat. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

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A mat is hanging under this shed, waiting for the peasant to come back rom the fields for a deserved rest and food. Nakhon Ratchasima province, Khorat. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

Local culture – music, folk dances, festivals and legends- is better preserved in the North East than anywhere else in Thailand. Rural traditions are manifest in numerous annual festivals, colouful and boisterous affairs which punctuate an otherwise hard agricultural cycle.

Among the most spectacular events is the Bang Fai ( Rocket) Festival, or the Elephant Round Up held in Surin.  If you are interested in reading more about these festivals, please go to our page : Thai Holidays and Festivals.


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Ghosts Festival, Loei, I-sarn. Photo Credit: Margot Weinmann

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Tai Dam villagers dancing during a local celebration, Loei, I-sarn. Photo Credit: Margot Weinmann

Band-Loei province

Band o music waiting its turn to participate of the celebrations. Loei, I-sarn. Photo Credit: Margot Weinmann

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Elephant Round Up:  During the battle representation, an army enters the battle field. Surin. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

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Elephant Round Up: the baby elephants just robe the function…Surin. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

I-san is also significant as the location of several sites attesting to the early history of what is now Thailand. Archeological discoveries at Ban Chiang in the 1970s produced evidence of a Bronze Age civilization that flourished over 5,000 years ago. This predate sites in China and Mesopotamia as the earliest evidence of an agrarian-bronze making culture. Also, prehistoric rock paintings can be seen on the cliffs at Pha Taem in Ubon Ratchasim province.

Moving into the era of recorded history, the North-east possess the finest examples of ancient Khmer temples to be seen outside Cambodia. The best known ruins are the 12th- century temple complexes of Phimai and Prasat Phanom Rung. The architecture of the latter is considerably enhanced by a dominant hill-top location commanding panoramic views of the surrounding countryside.


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Prasat Phanong Rung is a Khmer temple complex set on the rim an extent volcano at 402 metres of elevation, in Buriram province, I-san region.. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

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From the temple, due to its altitude, one can see all surroundings areas. Impressive at sunset. Prasat Phanon Rung Temple, Buriram province, I-san. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

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Khmer architecture in Prasat Phanon Rung Temple, Buriran province, I-san region. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

Historical, topographic and cultural interest are combined in the towns that border the Mekong river, from Nong Khai in the north down to Mukdahan. The most noteworthy monument is Phra That Phanom, the North-east’s most sacred shrine located in the small town of the same name, while virtually all the Mekong towns have temples of historic and architectural interest.



As we have said, the content of this page is the result of our research plus some comments of our own. We gathered and  put together interesting information that we thought it would be of help, o You can  find all this information and more, reading:

  • Insight Guides- Southeast Asia, by Discovery Channel
  • This is Thailand, by John Hoskin, Gerald Cubitt

Or visiting these websites: 

We just hope that you have enjoyed reading this page, and that we have been helpful. If you have any comments, please, lets know. In this way, we would be able to keep linking Pattaya together

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