Upcountry Isaan

Our Overland Journey through Thailand's historic Rice Belt

Thais call anywhere outside a big city "upcountry," regardless of which direction it is in. However, nowhere in Thailand is more upcountry than Isaan, Thailand's vast wild west in the Northeast. People and culture here are heavily influenced by both Laos and Cambodia, and many of these country folk speak dialects of Lao and Khmer. All of these influences have melded into a distinct Isaan culture, with its own music, cuisine and traditions. Many Isaan people move to Bangkok to work at least part of the year--driving taxis, doing manual labor and selling some of the best street food in the city. During the rainy season some even bring their elephants. If you have not yet journeyed through Isaan you have not yet seen one of the most fascinating, beautiful and culturally-rich regions in Thailand. If you think you have seen it all, you need to take a trip through Upcountry Isaan.

Day One: The Road to Khorat

Depart from Bangkok this morning by road for the northeastern provinces of Isaan. En route to Nakhon Ratchasima, popularly known as Khorat . Here you will visit the Phi Mai temple complex , the most important Khmer temple in Thailand, which marks one end of an ancient highway from Angkor.

Since it  is comparable in size to Angkor Wat, Phimai must have been an important city in the Khmer empire. Most buildings are from the late 11th to the late 12th century, built in the Baphuon, Bayon and Angkor Wat style. However, even though the Khmer at that time were Hindu, Phimai was built as a Buddhist temple, as Buddhism in the Khorat area dated back to the 7th century.

class="textfont"> You will pay a visit to Phimai Museum, which houses collections of archaeological artifacts  found nearby that show the cultural prosperity of the region during the time of the Khmer.  Overnight at Khorat Princess Hotel.

Day Two: Khmer Treasures

Continue this morning to Ban Dan Kwian where you witness the traditional techniques of crafting earthenware. Then, make a stop at Phanom Rung Historical Park to explore some of the most impressive Khmer ruins in the region.

Prasat Hin Phanom Rung (Phanom Rung Stone Castle) is a Khmer temple complex set on the rim of an extinct volcano at 1,320 feet above sea level, in Buriram province. It was built of sandstone and laterite in the 10th through 13th centuries. Dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva, the temple symbolizes Mount Kailash, his heavenly dwelling.

Close by is Prasat Hin Mueang Tam, a “must-see” temple which dates to the late 10th and early 11th centuries. The temple is orientated towards the east, with a central sanctuary, two libraries and ponds.

Early this afternoon we will drive to Buachet District in Surin Province, approximately about two hours away. Buachet is a farming hamlet close to the border with Cambodia. Located in a rustic neighborhood, beautiful Samorn Villa  is the ideal place to experience rural Thailand. In the cool of  late afternoon we will take a walk or ride a bicycle to a local market. If you like you can join in the preparation of dinner. Samorn Villa's gardens are packed with fresh fruit, vegetables and herbs. Two nights at Samorn Villa.

Day Three: Archaeology or Elephants?

You have two options today. If  you cannot decide which you like best, add an extra night and do both!

First Option: Not too early this morning you will visit Prasat Si Khoraphum, about an hour drive from Buachet. This Khmer era prasat consists of five prang (richly carved spires) on a laterite base, all facing east. The main and larger prang is in the center, with the four smaller prang at each corner. All are built from sandstone and laterite. One carving depicting Dances of Shiva is considered the most beautiful one among those found in Thailand and Cambodia. Three sides of the temple are surrounded by a moat. Continue to Surin Elephant Village, located in Ban Ta Klang. The villagers are descendants of the Suay or Kuay Ethnic group, who have a long history elephant husbandry. Unlike northern Thailand where elephant is kept for labour, Ta Klang people consider elephants as friends who can share the same house. You also visit the village of Ban Tha Sawang, where artisans produce some of Thailand's most magnificent silk brocade fabrics.

Alternative Option: This option is for people who love elephants and do not mind getting a bit dirty. Morning drive to Baan Tha Klang Village in Surin Province, where you can volunteer to help mahouts and their elephants. Surin Province has one of Thailand's larget elephant populations. Many elephant owners in Thailand struggle to make a living with their elephants and sadly must resort to taking their elephants to the streets of large cities to beg. Taking care of an elephant is an extremely demanding task that the mahouts undertake thanklessly day in, day out. Volunteers provide invaluable help, building shelters, digging irrigation canals and planting elephant food, but most importantly, create opportunities for elephants to get free of chains to behave naturally.

Day Four: Check Out Ubon

Depart this morning for Ubon Ratchathani . One of today's highlights is the National Museum, where the rich history of Thailand is on display in a series of incredible exhibits. Continue to Pha Taem Historical Park to view pre-historic cave paintings depicting the daily scenes of early humans. Later, you board a local boat at Khong Jiam for a leisurely cruise along Mekong River before visiting Kaeng Tana, a rocky cataract that straddles the Moon River, forming breathtaking waterfalls. Overnight in Khong Jiam at the Tohsang Resort.

Day Five: Gateway to Laos

Enjoy a leisurely morning if your schedule allows. You can return to Bangkok by air or rail, or continue across Thailand's border with to Pakse, where you can enjoy a two-night cruise of the Mekong on a luxurious floating hotel, and a day or two in the lush, cool highlands of the Bolaven Plateau .

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Includes: :
transportation throughout with private car, driver and guide, hotel accommodation throughout (including taxes, service and daily breakfast), all meals at Samorn Villa,  activities as shown, entrance fees to places mentioned, boat trip. Not included: airfare, other meals, beverages, gratuities, features not specifically mentioned in the itinerary, or items of a purely personal nature.

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