The Isaan are located in the arid tropics of northeast Thailand. Soil
quality is poor and population density is high. Reforestation programs
bulldoze many acres of forest which was formerly public. This land is
planted with eucalyptus trees in order to get quick profit, which makes it
useless for most other things. This limits the land available, as well as
wood. The result is destroyed forests.
The Isaan are a hard working, good natured people of Laotian decent.
They are in the process of acculturation to the predominate Central Thai
culture, but they continue to form a distinct cultural group as evidenced by
their own language, eating habits and their distinct social class.
The Isaan farmers have often fought with the Thai government. In the past
these farmers would get punished for such fighting, but more recently the
government has shown more toleration. In any case, governmental concessions
seem far away.
Products / Crafts
The production of silk weaving and baskets involves a deep set division
of the sexes. Traditionally, men have done the basket weaving, and women
have made the clothes. The introduction of industrialized clothing has
changed the demand for traditional methods, and women have shifted to
growing lucrative cash crops. Yet they continue to weave with new time
saving methods of production. This gives them the satisfaction of providing
things for the family as well as selling at the market. Plastics have been
introduced, but have bamboo continues to be used both because it is
plentiful, and because it has a traditional appeal.
Celebrations / Recreation
The Thai new year, called "Songkran, " is the most notable festival. It
occurs during the hot season. In the Lao tradition, it is supposed to be a
time to visit elders and bless them with a sprinkling, but for young people,
the three day celebration has become a time to douse others with buckets of
water and then smear talcum on their faces. Another celebration is "Bun Bang
Fai," which combines elements of animism and Buddhism. The two day festival
involves merrymaking and firing off rockets into the sky in order to bring
"Maw Lom" music is indigenous to Lao/Isaan culture. It is traditional
music which uses a bamboo instrument, the "kaen," and incorporates Isaan
forms. This music has been modernized and made into an electrical,
fast-paced version called "Maw Lom Sing." It is considered the ultimate in
popular Isaan music.
Khon Kaen lies in the geographical heart of Thailand's sprawling
northeast plateau, an are known among Thai as I-San. Khon Kaen was
established in 1783 and is a major regional development center and
university city. The provincial capital is 449 kilometers northeast of
Bangkok. The province covers an area of 10,886 square kilometers, parts of
which contain national and forest parks.
Festivals & Events
Dok Khoon Siang Khaen Flower Festival
April 12-15 Bueng Kaen Nakhon, Khon Kaen
This festival coincides with Songkran (the traditional Thai New Year) and is
staged at Bung Kaen Nakhon. Featuring colorful floral processions, major
festival activities include religious rites and merit-making and I-San folk
music. Dancing and entertainment.
November 29-December 10, Khon Kaen City Hall, Khon Kaen
Staged annually in front of Government Houses, this promotes silk weaving
and silk worm culture. Pook Sieo, an I-San tradition promoting close
friendship between people of similar ages, is also celebrated during this
Bung Kaen Nakorn
This popular lakeside recreation center in the southern part of the city
is well-known for its many footstalls selling popular local specialties,
particularly som tam (spicy raw papaya salad) and kai yang (barbecued
Some 50 kilometres. northwest of the provincial capital, this scenic dam
is the largest multi-purpose dam in I-San, generating electricity for eight
neighboring provinces. A reservoir-side restaurant and opportunities for
boat trips make the dam a popular weekend destination.
Khon Kaen National Museum
The museum contains a large collection of artifact, particularly from
the Northeast, including those discovered at major archaeological sites such
as Ban Chiang, where the world's first Bronze Age civilization was believed
to have flourished more than 5,000 years ago.
This ancient Chumpae site,85 kilometres from the Khon Kaen, is believed
to have been inhabited from prehistoric times until at least the 10th
century AD. Human skeletons and 3,000-year-old bronze tools have been
discovered in the area.
Phra That Kham Kaen
This is a 19-metre high at Wat Jediyaphum about 30 kilometres northeast
of Khon Kaen town. The legend has it that two revered monks on their way to
Nakhon Phanom provice spent the night at the site of present temple where
they observed the dead tamarund tree. They told the villagers to build a
Chedi over the 'Kham Kaen' (hardwood log). The province derives its name
form this chedi
Koo Puay Noi
This Khmer complex, 76 kilometres from the provincial in Puay Noi
district, is the largest Khmer complex in Khon Kaen. Three brick pagodas, a
laterite palace and beautifully carved doors are of particular interest.
Wat Udom Khonkha Kiri Khet
is an elegant hill-top temple in Mancha Khiri district. It is know for
its ornate gold coloured roof and beautifully decorated doors. The temple is
67 kilometres from town on Highway 2149, has a display of the belongings of
Luang Poo Pharng ,a monk revered by I-San people.
Phu Kao-Phu Phan Kham National Park
The 320 square-kilometre area covers part of Ubonrat district and
extends into the neighbouring province of Udon Thani. Deciduous and
evergreen forests offer ample trekking opportunities. The park may be
reached by following the route from Khon Kaen to Ubolrat Dam to Non Sang.
Pha Nok Khao
This impressive outcropping of strangely shaped rocks is 125 kilometres
west of the provincial capital along Highway 201 in a mountainous area
extending into Loei province. The Nam Pong River and Loei's Phu Kradung, a
scenic national park, can be seen from this vantage point.
Phu Wieng Park
This area, some 60 kilometres northwest of the provincial capital, along
Route 2038, contains a number of important archaeological sites with
evidence of I-San's earliest inhabitants seen from prehistoric rock
painting. Fossil remains of a herbivorous and carnivorous dinosaur may be
seen at park headquarters at Hua Phu Chon Reservoir.
Tham Pha Puang Forest Park
Some 120 kilometres from the provincial capital on the Khon Kaen-Chumpae
highway, a large and interesting cave can be reached by walking up the hill
from the parking area. Lush forests grace the area.
Surin is a province located in the south of the Isan region, roughly 450
km from Bangkok. It is a major silk weaving area, but is also famous for its
annual elephant roundup. The residents are a cultural mixture of Lao,
Central Thai, Khmer and Suay peoples, resulting in an interesting blend of
dialects and customs. The famous elephant roundup occurs in the third week
of November and is performed by the local Suay people. The Suay have for
centuries been experts in this field, since the days that domesticated
elephants were very much in demand. The show highlights the work carried out
by these massive beasts and includes tricks performed by the elephant and
his mahout. As is usual in the northeastern region, there are plenty of
ruins from the Khmer period of the 11th and 12th centuries to be found
scattered around the province.
Ban Buthom Located 14 kilometers from the province on the Highway 226 (Surin-Sikhorapum
route), the village produces rattan baskets of various types. Basketry shops
line both sides of the road.
Located at Amphoe Sikhoraphum about 35 kilometers from Surin. It is
composed of five prang (pagoda, with the principal structure) measuring 32
meters high. Beautiful designs are engraved onto the columns. It is believed
that the site had been renovated once during the
Ban Khwao Sinarin and Ban Chok Located on Highway 214 (Surin-Chom Phra
Route) with a 4 kilometers right turn between Km.14-15, the villages produce
and put on sale assorted silver ornaments such as belts, necklaces,
bracelets, rings, earrings, and watches. A large number of silverware shops
line both sides of the road.
Prasat Hin Chom Phra
A small stone castle in Amphoe Chom Phra about 28 kilometers from Surin
town, probably used to be an idol temple built by the Khmer. Today a large
Buddha image is enshrined in front of the structure.
Many elephants can be found at Ban Ta Klang, Tambon Krapho, Amphoe Tha
Tum. The villagers here earn their living by farming and weaving, they also
keep elephants as pets. The elephants here are treated like family and have
been trained well by their mahouts.
Prasat Hin Ban Phluang
Situated at Amphoe Prasat, is a little over thirty kilometers from Surin
proper. Although comparatively small in size, it is nevertheless beautiful
and recently renovated.
Surin Elephant Show
Held in the third weekend of November. Internationally famous, this
annual event brings crowds of visitors to the provincial capital of Surin,
where over 100 trained elephants are assembled. Among the spectacular
features are wild elephant hunts, tugs of war, demonstrations of log hauling
skills, and a parade of elephants oufitted for medieval
The province of Si Sa Ket is located in the south of the Isan region,
bordering with Cambodia. It wa once an integral part of the Khmer Empire
that once ruled over the region: which can be noted in the vast number of
ruins of Khmer style temples that can be found scattered around the
Si Sa Ket became a city in 1759, during the Ayutthaya period. Although there
is little of significance in Si Sa Ket, it is one of the best places for
travelling to the many Khmer ruins scattered around the southern Isan
Princess Mother's Park
The park is situated about 1 km from the centre of town, along Kasikam
Rd. It is located in the grounds of Si Saket Agricultural College. It was
built to honour the Princess' Mother on her 80th birthday.
Prasat Hin Wat Sa Kampang Yai
This sandstone temple was built on a slope at the edge of Ban Sa Kampang,
about 2 km from the centre. The structure was believed to have been built
around the 10th century when the area was under control of the Khmers, under
King Suriyaworaram. The main entrance gate in inscribed with Khmer
lettering, while the walls have many carved scenes.
Further east past Sisaket stands Preah Vihear possibly the most beautiful
and the least accessible major Khmer temple. It is legally in Cambodia yet
accessible only from Thailand. For unknown reasons the Franco-Siamese treaty
of 1907 left the temple on the Cambodian side of the boarder. The ongoing
dispute between Thailand and Cambodia over ownership was officially settled
at the International Court of justice in the Hague in 1962. The verdict
favoured Cambodia, and many Thais still feel that this decision is unjust.
Its strategic position has given it military importance in recent history
and has intermittently been used as a Cambodian military post. Its difficult
access made it the last place in the country to fall to the Khmer Rouge in
1975. Lon Noi troops and the families held on here for days after the fall
of Phnom Penh in 1975. Ironically its brief recapture in 1998 was the last
victory by the residual Khmer Rouge.
Preah Vihear has no equal in its natural site. Its builders were able take
full advantage of this when recreating the microcosm of the Hindu universe,
to enter the temple is to experience the decent from mount Meru. A trip the
Khmer temples in the Northeast allow visitor to see the remains of the great
empire without having to cross the boarder into Cambodia.
How to go to the Isaan
Don Muang Domestic Airport is the center of planes to Northeast.
6 San Luang Road, Bangkok 10100 tel: (662) 280-0060.
The northeastern provinces that can be reached by plane are Nakhon
Ratchasima, Buriram [closest to Surin], Sakon Nakhon, Khon Kaen, Udon Thani
and Ubon Ratchathani.
Air conditioned coaches and non-air conditioned buses regularly leave
from Bangkok's Northeastern Bus Terminal on Kamphaeng Phet Road throughout
the day. Telephone (02) 271-0101-5 (non-air-cond) or (02)
279-4484-7(air-cond) for further details.
The northeastern provinces that can be reached by train are Nakhon
Ratchasima, Buriram, Surin, Si Saket, Khon Kaen, Udon Thani, Nong Khai and
Trains leave Bangkok's Hualampong Railway Station throughout the day.
Tel. (02) 224-7788, 223-3762 or 225-0300 for ticket.