Thailand is amazing. My travels to Thailand are more than amazing. They have been truly extraordinary. When planning a Northeast Thailand trip never forget that nowhere in the world can you find a country that has almost everything to pamper you as a tourist. People are friendly and helpful, even if you do not speak their language.
I thought to myself I should seek out a more adventurous route this time. Something that most tourists may not think about if they are first-timers to this extraordinary country.
When I told my friends I am going to visit the northeastern provinces, most of them just responded with a facial expression of disbelief. “Why on earth do you want to go to that region?” This is the usual thought that goes through their mind. “Why not Bangkok?” That will give you everything from food, shopping, massage, relaxation, and entertainment. But to me, that is the usual place people think about when it comes to Thailand.
If you just go to Bangkok, you have not seen Thailand. With this in mind, I set out to explore the lives of the northeastern (also known as Isaan or Isan) people. I am sure my exploration will allow me to understand Thailand better along with its food, history, culture, and heritage.
This is how I like my travels, an educational adventure, exploration, and relaxation. It opens up our minds and changes our perspectives of the world. It may also change the way we live our lives. It opens up our acceptance of diversity and change.
In this way, we will truly learn. Traveling is not just about sightseeing. It is about understanding the deeper aspects of the country and its people and, ultimately ourselves. It is a journey to the unknown, within and without.
My friends asked me, “How long is your trip, and what are the places you are going to visit?” Yes, these are two important questions any travelers will have to ask. Also, may I add, “What is the budget?“ I looked at the northeastern map and, Khon Kaen Thailand is huge! Due to my limited time, I decided to carve out a major route that takes 15 days on a low to medium budget.
Where To Go? Northeast Thailand Trip
Actually, there are two major routes for anyone looking into this part of the country. The first option is to take it from the bottom — from Korat, the gateway to the northeast — and up through the middle (e.g. Khon Kaen) to the top (Nongkhai).
The other route is to take it from Korat, travel to the extreme East (Ubon Ratchathani), and work yourself up from there to the top. I chose the first option, and the plan is to visit these five cities and towns, namely:
Nakhon Ratchasima (Korat)
This is the gateway to the northeastern provinces. If you go by bus from Bangkok, it takes only about 3.5 hours to Korat. Not too bad. The place is not too big and is only moderately busy with enough attractions to captivate any travelers. The population is about 150,000 people. A cute city, commonly known as Korat, a well-accepted nickname.
This is taken usually as a stop-over. A quiet town, yet you will experience all the northeastern flavors of the Isan people. This town is about 2.5 hours bus ride from Korat.
A big city. It is the commerce and political center of the northeast. It is also famed for its nightlife. There is a saying that if you have not experienced the nightlife in Khon Kaen, you have not visited Khon Kaen. From Chaiyaphum, you can reach this busy city in about 2.5 hours by bus.
Here is another Isaan town located at the tip of the northeast. It is just beside the Mekong River and looks over the Mekong River… Go across the Friendship Bridge, and you will be in Laos — this is a common route taken by many foreigners to go to Vientiane for the purpose of getting their passports stamped and extending their stay in Thailand when they return.
It may be a small town, one may say, but the food and atmosphere are magnetic to anyone looking for calm and relaxation. Nongkhai also gained its fame from dragon fireballs which can be observed annually from the Mekong River just after the Rains retreat is over for the monks. The bus ride from Khon Kaen to Nongkhai takes just under 3 hours.
A city in its own right. It is very near to Nongkhai. If you take a bus from Nongkhai, it only takes approximately 45 minutes to reach this city. It is quite busy and has a population of about 1.7 million people.
The world-famous archeological site, Ban Chiang (UNESCO world heritage site since 1992) is located in this province. From Udon Thani, my recommendation is that you take a flight back to Bangkok unless you have more time to cover other areas in this region.
I crafted a two weeks journey for the above route, each place staying for about 2-3 nights. You can always start your journey from Bangkok and end it in Bangkok. In this way, you can still have the opportunity to spend the balance of your time doing some last-minute crazy shopping and entertainment.
Here is the summary of the 14 night/15 days journey:
Bangkok –> Nakhon Ratchasima (2 nights) –> Chaiyaphum (1 night) –> Khon Kaen (3 nights) –> Nongkhai (3 nights) –> Udon Thani (3 nights) –> Bangkok (2 nights)
Oh yes, it is nice to bear in mind that the best time to travel to this region is at the end of the year, or at the beginning of a new year in January. The cool weather will welcome you, and you would have to avoid the hot and rainy seasons. This is an important consideration as it will make your trip pleasant, and augment your enjoyment.
What to Pack – Northeast Thailand Trip
If you’ve never been backpacking before, it can be difficult to decide what exactly to pack. Although you have no doubt packed for holidays before, packing for backpacking needs a slightly different approach, as what you bring has to cater to your needs for a long period of time and yet be easily unpacked, repacked, and carted around from destination to destination.
Creating a packing list can be a very subjective matter, and you will hear conflicting statements on what is essential to bring and what can be left at home. For what it’s worth, here’s what I would pack (as a guy) for a two-month trip to Thailand.
Lightweight, quick-drying, moisture-wicking fabrics are the way to go for the tropical heat of Thailand, so leave your thick denim jeans at home. Laundry services out there are ten-a-penny and are cheap as you like – you can get a kilogram of washing laundered, dried, and folded for as little as 60 – 100 Baht – so be ruthless with your clothes packing: bring less and wash more. For Thailand I would generally bring the following in the way of clothes:
- 4 t-shirts
- 4 pairs of boxers
- 2 pairs of socks
- 1 pair of trousers (thin material, not jeans)
- 1 pair of swimming shorts (to double up as normal shorts)
- 1 long-sleeved shirt
- 1 wide-brimmed hat to keep the sun off your noggin
This tiny selection will cover you for the beach, the city, at temples (you need to cover your arms, legs, and feet completely to enter), and for most activities, you decide to undertake.
The best option is to bring one pair of comfy open-toed footwear (such as flip-flops, thongs, jandals, or whatever you may know them by) as well as a sturdier pair of closed shoes (such as trainers/sneakers with a good grip) for when you need to look a bit smarter or are undertaking an activity that requires some exertion.
To save your feet from blisters you might want to look into more high-tech sandals that provide more support, such as those made by Teva or Merrell, rather than just going with a cheap pair of rubber flip-flops.
A small washbag or washkit is essential to bring; ideally, one you can hang up in the shower. Pack it with your toothbrush and a comb, but other than that, consider leaving it empty until you arrive at the other end in Thailand. Thailand is home to dozens of branches of international chains of chemists! So take advantage of the cheaper prices of products in Thailand and buy your stuff there instead.
Things you’ll want to buy in Thailand will be: travel size shampoo, travel size shower gel or soap, deodorant, toothpaste, mosquito repellent (look for one with 30% DEET), sunblock, aftersun, a pot of tiger balm (to treat bites, scrapes, burns and pretty much anything else – it’s magical stuff), condoms (good news – they sell Durex in Thailand).
Travel towels are small, thin, and ultra-absorbent pieces of material. They feel a bit odd at first when compared with your nice fluffy towels from back home, but as a space-saver, in the pack, they are a godsend. They also dry much, much quicker in the Thai heat than a traditional fluffy towel does.
I travel with an old iPod (which helps eat into long bus journeys) and a cheap point-and-shoot Canon camera. Traveling with an expensive SLR camera and collection of lenses is just asking for trouble, as is bringing a laptop, video camera, or anything else expensive and/or fragile.
Keeping it simple means fewer headaches. Don’t forget to also pack the relevant leads/chargers for your camera/music player and an electrical adapter that will cater to the plugs in Thailand. You shouldn’t need a voltage converter; most chargers can handle the full range of voltages you will find abroad.
First Aid Kit
Thailand has first-class medical care on tap in the big cities, so you needn’t go overboard with sterile syringes and the like unless you are really considering going massively off the beaten track, which is unlikely for a first visit.
Instead, prepare a small package with paracetamol (for hangovers/sunstroke), anti-septic cream (you need to be judicious at treating any simple little scrapes and cuts as they can go septic pretty quickly in tropical heat), anti-diarrhea tablets (not a cure in themselves for gut rot, but good for ‘blocking you up’ temporarily if you need to travel), rehydration sachets (for maintaining the electrolytic balance after diarrhea), travel sickness tablets (for those winding bus journeys), plasters (for cuts/scrapes) and any other medications, such as antimalarials or regular prescriptions you take.
As with your washkit contents, you can leave the purchase of your First Aid Kit items until you reach Thailand and stock up at a branch of Watson’s or Boots.
Sleeping Bag Liner
If you are planning to stay in guesthouses and hostels, you do not need to bring a sleeping bag with you to Thailand; leave it at home. What I would suggest you bring, however, is a sleeping bag liner.
Available in cotton and more luxurious silk, they are extremely handy at keeping a layer between you and any dodgy guesthouse mattresses you may find yourself laying your head-on. I rarely use mine – perhaps only two or three times per trip – but every time I do I am glad to have it with me.
A small travel umbrella tucked away in your pack will keep you dry from Thailand’s monsoon should you decide to visit during that season, or for any storms or showers out of season too for that matter. It’s much more preferable to a Goretex jacket, which is bulky to pack.
That’s all I have about traveling a Northeast Thailand Trip for now but if you’re interested in learning more about Traveling Thailand and Thailand Nightlife, please visit our blog PattayaRaw.com for more info and Travel guides!