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Isan, Thailand

Article and photography by Steve Gillick

Next time in Thailand, head northeast to Isan for a unique experience in a region influenced by the mingling of cultures from Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, characterized by big cities, fascinating small villages, fantastic markets, Khmer ruins, gorgeous temples, ultra-friendly people and fresh, delicious food.

We did a circle route by van, starting with the ‘market’ train at Prapong that travels to the Kabinburi Market, a photographer’s paradise showcasing incredible edibles from rats, crickets, fish and crab to rambutan, mangoes and cilantro.

In Nahkon Ratchasima, the 12th century Khmer Temple known as Prasat Hin Pimai, was considered to be the model for Angkor Wat. Nearby, learn about silk weaving in Bang Song Village, feed the hundreds of turtles in Ban Kok to honour the protective village spirits, and chat with the grass mat weavers in the village of Koo Kaew.

At Wat Sirisutho, known as the gateway to the underwater world, follow the serpent bridge to the colourful Naga temple and then visit the Ban Chiang Archeological Site for ruins and pottery dating back to 2000 BC.

Continuing on to Nakorn Phanom, take the Mekong River ‘booze’ cruise with Laos only a stone’s throw away, and then head to Mekong Walking Street, a colourful night market with foods, crafts and music.

The adventure continues at Sam Pun Bok (3000 holes), known as Thailand’s Grand Canyon, and then wander through Pha Taem National Park in Khong Jiam, complete with cliff paintings and the unbelievable mushroom rocks at Sao Chaling. And throughout the entire region there are city and forest temples, both elaborate and simple, for spiritual regeneration.

Isan represents one of Thailand’s fastest growing economies but remains mostly undiscovered by travellers. It’s ideal for those looking for that ‘what else’ to discover on their global journeys.