20 Attractions in Isan, Thailand’s Largest and Least-Visited Region

20 Attractions in Isan, Thailand’s Largest and Least-Visited Region

Comprising 20 provinces, Isan in the northeastern part of Thailand is brimming with all sorts of attractions, from historical and natural to downright quirky.

Northeast Thailand, also known as Isan, is home to 20 provinces. Sharing borders with Laos and Cambodia, it is Thailand’s largest region. There are four main cities, often collectively referred to as “The Big Four”: Nakhon Ratchasima, Ubon Ratchathani, Udon Thani, and Khon Kaen. Elsewhere, however, you’ll find rural and rustic scenes.

With many visitors flocking to Southern Thailand’s beaches and islands, Northern Thailand’s mountains and jungles, and the cultural hotspots and vibrant capital in Central Thailand, Isan sees relatively few visitors. That’s a shame because the region boasts incredible historic sites and ruins, unusual natural features, wildlife-rich national parks, and more than a few quirky attractions too. There’s certainly plenty to see and do in Isan! Break away from the crowds and discover a wealth of awesome places on an Isan adventure. Here are a few highlights to whet your appetite:

1. Phu Phrabat Historical Park

Phu Phrabat Historical Park is a fascinating site in Udon Thani. Large boulders and small caverns hold small shrines, and devotees leave their mark in different ways, from flowers and incense as offerings to precariously balanced towers of stones and sticks supporting the large rocks. Peer inside openings and you may come across ancient rock art and the weathered remains of old statues. Natural mushroom-shaped rocks add to the enchantment and the views across the landscapes are stunning. There are tall markers that were erected around one thousand years ago by Mon people, showing spots that were deemed sacred. There’s a decorative chedi built in the Laotian style, a small cave tower said to have been used to imprison a princess, unusual rock formations, and much more.   

2. Red Lotus Sea

attractions in isan thailand

Image credit: georgios kaleadis

A seasonal attraction in Udon Thani, the Red Lotus Sea is at its prime in the cooler months of January and February. The large body of water is officially named Nong Han Kumphawapi Lake, but it takes its nickname from the bright flowers that cover its surface during certain times of the year. Pink lilies stretch for as far as the eye can see, and you can take a boat ride to enjoy the lovely views and ethereal atmosphere.   

3. Sala Keoku

One of Thailand’s most unusual attractions, Sala Keoku is a whimsical sculpture park in Nong Khai. Created using donated concrete and built according to the visions and religious interpretations of its founder, you’ll notice twists on Buddhism, Hinduism, and Animist beliefs as you wander through the curious grounds. There’s a large temple-like building that houses the remains of the park’s creator, Bunleua Sulilat, and you can enjoy great views across the park from the upper level. The statues are definitely eye-catching and thought-provoking.

4. Sam Phan Bok

A striking natural feature in Ubon Ratchathani Province, the full majesty of Sam Phan Bok can only be enjoyed during the dry season when the water levels have dropped in the river. The river bed features many holes, caused naturally by the flow of water. Spreading across a large area, it’s definitely an unusual sight. There are also towering cliffs, leading to the area having been nicknamed the Grand Canyon of Thailand. You can walk around the strange landscapes and then take a boat ride along the river to visit a strange rock field and admire the views from a different perspective.

5. Pha Taem National Park

Pha Taem National Park, located in Ubon Ratchathani, combines fascinating history and glorious nature. Right over in the east of the country, it is the first place in Thailand to see the sunrise each day. You can gaze across the river into Laos from several viewpoints and spot an array of flora and fauna as you follow walking trails. There are striking rock formations at Sao Cha Liang, with top-heavy stones that look like gigantic mushrooms. Fields of wildflowers change colour through the seasons and there are several cliffs adorned with prehistoric paintings. Some of the trails are a little challenging so do be sure to wear appropriate footwear and watch your step!

6. Pa Hin Ngam National Park

Pa Hin Ngam National Park is a beautiful natural attraction in Chaiyapoom. There are interesting rock formations that look like various items and creatures, including a trophy, a snake, a castle, and a penis! Beautiful views are abundant and daredevils can step out onto rocky overhangs for cool pictures high above the verdant landscapes below. (I was terrified!) The national park is famous for its fields of Siam tulips, a pretty purple-pink flower that’s part of the ginger family and known in Thai as dok krachio. The start of the rainy season (around June to August) is generally the best time to see the flowers blooming in their full glory.   

7. Phu Laen Kha National Park

Another fantastic national park in Chaiyapoom, Phu Laen Kha National Park sees few visitors. Striking and unusual rock formations can be found throughout the area, and you can explore at leisure while enjoying a peaceful and quiet ambience. The area called Mor Hin Khao is especially attractive; nicknamed the Stonehenge of Thailand, large monoliths stand to attention in a clearing. There are beautiful views and you’ll likely spot an array of wildlife too.

8. Phanom Rung Historical Park

Breathe in the history at Phanom Rung Historical Park in Buriram Province. Close to the border with Cambodia, the well-preserved (and reconstructed) site was the work of the mighty Khmer Kingdom. Perched on the rim of a now-extinct volcano, the ancient temple complex offers stunning views over the mountains and into Cambodia. Constructed as a Hindu place of worship in honour of Shiva (the destroyer of evil), the magnificent complex dates back to between the 10th and 13th centuries. Today, visitors can admire intricate carvings and detailed statues, beautiful architecture, and sweeping terraces.   

9. Wat Ban Rai

A colourful and unusual Buddhist temple, Wat Ban Rai is in Nakhon Ratchasima Province. A huge elephant-shaped building stands proudly on an artificial island, accessible along a naga-flanked walkway. The exterior walls are bedecked with vibrant mosaics, with images showing religious stories, mythological tales, and cultural norms. Huge statues add to the visual splendour. Step inside for even more beauty and follow the walkway to the top, where you’ll find golden statues of the Lord Buddha and a revered monk.

10. Khao Yai National Park

Image credit: Rushen

Khao Yai National Park spreads across several provinces, though the bulk of the park is in Nakhon Ratchasima. Thailand’s first national park, it is also one of the country’s biggest national parks. Home to interesting flora and fauna, it’s a terrific place for scenic drives, hiking, and camping. There are a number of awesome viewpoints and you can admire cascading waterfalls throughout the mountainous terrain.  

11. Phimai Historical Park

attractions in isan thailand

A historic treasure in Nakhon Ratchasima, Phimai Historical Park is often said to be a miniature version of the world-famous Angkor Wat in Cambodia. The complex at Phimai was built during the Khmer Kingdom and it is one of the biggest Khmer-era sites in Thailand. Indeed, an ancient highway once connected Phimai and Angkor. Cone-shaped towers rise above the walls, adorned with intricate carvings, and there are interesting statues, large gateways, moats, courtyards, and more.

12. Montana Farm

Montana Farm is one of several lovely attractions in Nakhon Ratchasima’s charming district of Wang Nam Khiao. While more of a place for fun than actual farming, you can still see a range of agricultural animals and equipment in the lush surroundings. There are plentiful activities, such as archery, tractor rides, camping, and go-karting, and the grounds are full of delightful features.

13. Pha Keb Tawan

Pha Keb Tawan is a cliff in Thap Lan National Park. There are good walking trails and scenic views to admire, but a highlight is buying a bag of seeds and firing them off the cliff’s edge using giant catapults. Launch your seeds into the sky and hopefully they’ll take root where they land on the forest floor.

14. Phaya Thaen Public Park

Phaya Thaen Public Park is a riverside park in Yasothon. You’ll find patches of grass, flower beds, outdoor seating, an assortment of vendors, and everything else that you’d probably expect in a public park. What makes this park really stand out, however, is its gigantic toad statue. The enormous amphibian peers out over the water, and there’s an elevator inside its belly that carries people into a viewing deck in the gaping mouth. If that wasn’t enough, there’s also a super-sized naga statue that houses a cool 3D art museum.

15. Sirindhorn Museum

Sirindhorn Museum is a top-class attraction in Kalasin Province. With a focus on geology and natural history, it houses one of Southeast Asia’s largest collections of dinosaur bones and fossils. A research and education centre as well as a place for fun discoveries, the museum takes you on a journey through time, teaching more about the earth’s makeup through the ages and the creatures that roamed the lands. There are exhibits from across the world, but the highlight (for me, at least) is the almost intact fossilised dinosaur skeleton. Discovered by chance in 1994, the astonishing find has been preserved in situ.    

16. Million Bottle Temple

Officially called Wat Pa Maha Chedi Kaew, it’s easy to see how this curious temple got its nickname of the Million Bottle Temple; it’s made almost entirely from recycled glass bottles cemented together! Brown bottles, green bottles, and clear bottles have been used to make the main buildings, walkways, and statues. The large reclining Buddha statue is particularly interesting and the fish-filled pond enhances the visual appeal. You’ll find the Million Bottle Temple in Isan’s Sisaket Province.

17. Phra Maha Chedi Chai Mongkol

attractions in isan thailand

attractions in isan thailand

Phra Maha Chedi Chai Mongkol, located in Roi Et, looks like something straight out of a fairytale. Within the outer walls, you’ll find beautiful gardens and an awe-inspiring temple. The sublime white and gold main chedi is surrounded by smaller stupas. The grounds are stunning, with fountains, towers, immaculately tended flower beds, and statues. The multi-level chedi is ornate inside too, with grand staircases, bright colours, and opulent details. Step outside at the top to soak up the views.

18. Phu Ruea National Park

Phu Ruea National Park is a lovely natural attraction in Loei. Pine trees grow on the mountaintops and poinsettia flowers spread like a red carpet in the cooler months. There are terrific views from the peak and you can learn more about Thailand’s native creatures with a stroll along an educational concrete path. There’s a small shrine atop the hill too, and you’ll come across a number of interesting rock formations. Take a brisk walk along the hiking trails to warm up in the chillier temperatures; Loei is known for being one of the coldest provinces in Thailand, and temperatures can drop rather low up the mountains in the cold season.

19. Dan Sai Folk Museum

Dan Sai Folk Museum is well worth a stop when visiting Loei. The wooden building contains costumes and masks used in the area’s annual Phi Ta Khon Festival. You can learn more about the unusual celebrations and view a range of related artefacts and pictures. There are ghoulish masks that you can try on too for some unique selfies!

20. Ban Taklang Elephant Village

The Surin Elephant Round-Up is a popular yearly event in Isan’s province of Surin. Hundreds of elephants take part in a massive street parade, ending at a large feast of fruit and vegetables. There are huge battle reenactments and shows, demonstrating the importance of the elephant in Thailand’s history. If you can’t make the three-day festival (usually held in November), Ban Taklang Elephant Village is a top place to visit throughout the year. The village is home to around 200 elephants, with many raised by individual family and kept as gigantic pets. The pachyderms are part of the family! Villagers are descended from the Kui tribe, a group known for its incredible skills in catching and training elephants. You can get up close and personal with Thailand’s national animal and see how man and beast can cohabit peacefully.

These 20 places barely scratch the surface when it comes to the world of wonder that can be found in Isan! Plan a trip for your next visit to Thailand and you surely won’t be disappointed!

About Author

Sarah W
Sarah W

Sarah W is a travelling cat-lover who enjoys exploring places that are a little bit quirky or away from headline attractions. Favourite things include delicious falafel, snuggling under a thick duvet, (badly) belting out karaoke at the top of her lungs, and, of course, her family, friends, and furry pets.


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