Isaan (อีสาน; also Isan, Isarn and even Esarn), Thailand's northeast region, is an often overlooked part of the country. There's no coastline, so there are no beaches to draw in sunseekers. Isaan, however, is a multicultural area where Laos, Cambodia and Thailand meet, and has a rich history. Isaan is mainly an agricultural region.
The great Mekong Valley, the national parks of Loei, Ban Chiang, Nong Khai, Wat Phra That Phanom, etc.
Also known as the Chi River Basin, the highway from Bangkok ends here in Khon Kaen.
Centred around the bustling Nakhon Ratchasima, the Mun River Basin is home to Khao Yai National Park and the beautiful Khmer architecture of Phanom Rung and Phimai.
There are 20 provinces in Isaan.
- Amnat Charoen — Small province in the southeastern Isaan
- Bueng Kan — The newest province in Thailand and Isaan region, separated from Nong Khai in 2011
- Buriram — most famous for ancient Phanom Rung temple
- Khon Kaen — The center point of Isaan region, Mittraphap Road (Route 2) passes the edge of the town centre
- Loei — known for its numerous high hills, mountains and is one of Thailand's vineyards
- Maha Sarakham — University town
- Mukdahan — next to Mekong river, Second Thai–Lao Friendship Bridge is located here
- Nakhon Phanom — border town with Laos along the Mekong
- Nakhon Ratchasima (Korat) — the chaotic main city of Isaan, gateway from central Thailand
- Nongbua Lamphu
- Nong Khai — gateway to Vientiane and beautiful Mekong Valley surroundings
- Roi Et — home to the tallest standing Buddha image of the world, Phra Phuttha Rattana Mongkhon
- Sakon Nakhon
- Si Saket
- Surin — known for its annual elephant parade and Khmer temples
- Ubon Ratchathani — almost always shortened to simply "Ubon", gateway to Cambodia-Laos border
- Udon Thani — also known as "Udon", best known for the archaeological site Ban Chiang
Other destinations 
- Khao Yai National Park — Thailand's first national park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site
- Phanom Rung Historical Park — beautiful Khmer temples and one of the top attractions in Isaan
- Phimai Historical Park — one of the most important Khmer architecture in Thailand
Isaan is a wonderful part of Thailand to visit if you became tired of Khao San Road, one temple after another, or the tropical beaches. The relative isolation and underdevelopment of the area means that Isaan is a good place to get a little off the beaten track and encounter Thailand's agricultural roots and natural scenery.
While the national language Thai is used in schools and thus well-understood, the local Isaan language, which is a dialect of Lao, is predominant. Khmer is also widely spoken in areas near the Cambodian border. Although the person you meet in the market might speak little or no English, it's more likely than not that they are already bilingual or multilingual.
Get in 
By plane 
By bus 
Frequent bus services go everywhere.
By train 
Get around 
Depending on where you're coming from and where you want to get to, buses, minibuses, songthaews, motorbikes, and bicycles are all good ways to get around.
The train system is also a good way to get around, however the number of locations served is limited.
There are many attractions in Isaan:
- The surreal statues of Sala Kaew Ku, Nong Khai
- The temple inside the mountain at Chiang Khan
- The temple of beer bottles in Si Saket
- The beautiful Khmer temples in the Phanom Rung Historical Park
- Phimai Historical Park has even more Khmer architecture
- Flora, fauna and waterfalls in the Khao Yai National Park
Isaan cuisine borrows heavily from Lao cuisine and is distinctly different from central Thai cooking, although there has been a considerable amount of cross-pollination. Perhaps the best-known Isaan dish is som tam (or tam mak hung in Lao/Isaan), a spicy salad prepared from unripe papayas. While Thais prepare this with dried shrimp, in Isaan the preferred style is with preserved crab (puu) or mudfish, an acquired taste. Other characteristic dishes include roast chicken (kai yaang), sticky rice (khao niaw) and a wide variety of cold meat, mint and lemon juice "salads" known as larb.
A word of warning: Isaan food is known even among Thais for being fiery hot!
The main drink in Isaan is a wonderful spirit which combines orange juice with chilli peppers and rum. It is a must for all visitors.
Stay safe 
Parts of the Cambodian border, mainly near Preah Vihear, could be violent as there is tension between Thai and Khmer soldiers.
Go next 
- Phitsanulok - a gateway to Northern Thailand
- Preah Vihear - magnificent Khmer temple in Cambodia, easy to reach from Isaan and no visa required
- Vientiane - the once sleepy capital of Laos, becoming more and more discovered