Isan Trails South Express Tour

closeup of kala on a stone lintel
four women working on a giat loom

Duration
5 Days

Start/Finish
Bangkok to Ubon Ratchathani

Highlights
• Visiting a Buddha making factory
• Evocative Khmer ruins of Phanom Rung, Muang Tam, and Sikhoraphum
• Seeing how silk is made
• Seeing pottery made using ancient methods
• Seeing what’s for dinner in a jungle market

Description
This tour crosses the southern section of Isan from Bangkok to Ubon Ratchathani. It begins in Nakhon Ratchasima (aka Khorat) province with stops including a massive fruit market, a beautiful cave shrine, a Khmer-era stone quarry, and ancient rock paintings. After seeing some historic and holy sites in Khorat city, including the old city gate, we will learn how Dan Kwian pottery, Khorat noodles, and brass Buddha images are made. We’ll then explore several Khmer ruins, including Phanom Rung and Muang Tam, two of the biggest and best in Thailand, and many handicraft villages, including one weaving Isan’s famous mut-mee silk and another making clay water pots without a potter’s wheel. At the end we’ll explore in and around the pleasant, historic city of Ubon Ratchathani, home to some beautiful temples. This tour is almost identical to our full Isan Trails South tour, but it does not visit elephants or the Mekong River.

About Elephant Tourism
Elephant tourism is rightly controversial, though we worked with the renowned Save Elephant Foundation to ensure that our tours are not only responsible, but actually beneficial to the elephants involved. Click here to read how.

Add-Ons
Make the most of your trip with our special add-on activities before, during, or after your tour.

wooden library on stilts in a pond

Day 1 – Khorat
After departing Bangkok early to beat the morning traffic jam, we’ll sample some exotic flavors in a giant fruit market. Then we explore a small but beautiful cave with a natural skylight and climb up above it to see a giant boulder balanced precariously on the edge of a cliff. After watching huge Buddha images emerge from blocks of sandstone at a stone carving workshop we’ll see ancient cave paintings in a forest full of gorgeous rock formations and visit an abandoned quarry used by the Khmer to build some of the area’s ancient temples. Finally we’ll see a waterwheel (still used by local farmers) made of bamboo before rolling into Khorat city.

Overnight in Khorat

Day 2 – Khorat City & Dan Kwian
Though it’s a bustling modern city, the moat and fortifications in Khorat (aka Nakhon Ratchasima) are reminders of its long history. We start the day at Wat Pa-Yap temple, which has a shrine encrusted with stalactites, stalagmites, and other beautiful rocks rescued from a cave that was destroyed during the excavation of a quarry. We’ll then see the war-reenactment dioramas in the Suranari Hall museum and join the faithful at the very holy Thao Suranari Memorial. Both spots honor a woman who, according to legend, devised and led a prisoner rebellion against the invading Lao army (One version says that the women seduced the soldiers and then the men launched a surprise attack.) in 1826, thus saving the city. Performers do a local folk dance throughout the day to thank “Grandma Mo” for wishes people think she has answered. Then we’ll see a wide variety of merit-making methods at lovely Wat Salaloi, supposedly founded by Thao Suranari and her husband. After a quick stop to see the statues at a fortune teller’s shrine we’ll visit Dan Kwian pottery village, the source of the ceramic tiles that cover many of the Wat Salaloi’s buildings. Dan Kwian has been producing pottery for hundreds of years and some of the rough, rust colored original products are still made, along with a great variety of vibrant modern designs. We’ll visit one of the seemingly timeless workshops with its giant wood-fired kilns and hit a few stores to see the finished products. The day’s final two stops are a family that makes noodles in their backyard and a workshop that forges large brass Buddha images.

Overnight in Nang Rong

Day 3 – Phanom Rung & Muang Tam
Today we’ll visit two of Thailand’s biggest and best Khmer ruins, Phanom Rung and Muang Tam, plus a few others that are rarely visited. Crowning an extinct volcano with views all the way off to Cambodia and reached by a grand promenade, Phanom Rung is a brilliantly restored temple built mostly in the 12th century. The artistic detail is as beautiful as the entire structure is grand and it will impress you even if you’ve already visited Cambodia’s Angkor Wat. Down below Phanom Rung is Muang Tam, a smaller but also impressive and excellently restored ruin that retains some wonderful carvings. Being on flat ground, it follows a more typical layout (the same as Angkor Wat) and the complex is surrounded by four lotus-filled pools. Between the two temples is little Prasat Kuti Reusi Khok Mueang, and we’ll also pop into the mysterious Prasat Ban Phluang which has some incredible stone carving. We will almost surely have these last two ancient sites all to ourselves, but even the two well-known ones are rarely crowded. The most expensive silk fabric in Thailand, popular with the royal family, of course, is made in Ban Tha Sawang village. The exquisite brocade cloth (called paa yok tawng) from here uses threads coated in gold and silver and is woven on a two-story-tall loom worked by four women simultaneously. We’ll finish the day walking through Surin’s hectic fresh market.

Overnight in Surin

Day 4 – Ubon Ratchathani & Si Saket
We spend the morning in a handicraft village, learning how to weave rattan baskets, and a pair of Khmer ruins, Prasat Sikhoraphum and Prasat Sra Kampaeng Yai, the former is home to what is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful lintels ever carved by the Khmer empire. After lunch we’ll visit two more handicraft villages to see Isan’s famous mut-mee silk weaving and also the ancient style of pottery where women hand-make perfectly round clay water containers and cooking pots with the paddle and anvil method rather than a potter’s wheel. We’ll also go shopping in a jungle market to see (and sample, if you dare) a fascinating variety of foods that you surely will not find at your supermarket back home such as scorpions, buffalo skin, and eels.

Overnight in Ubon Ratchathani

Day 5 – Ubon Ratchathani City
Ubon Ratchathani city has a host of historic temples, but none compare to Wat Thung Sri Meuang, which has both wonderful mural paintings and a restored scripture library standing on stilts in the middle of a pond; the best way to keep termites away. We’ll examine historic Buddhist art and artifacts at the beautiful Wat Si Ubon Rattanaram Museum and then sample a variety of freshly cooked local snack foods. We’ll also take a look at one of the giant “candle parade” floats the city is famous for. After lunch we head to the countryside, starting at Ban Pa-Ao to visit the last community in Thailand that still makes brass and bronze bowls and bells with a version of lost wax casting the uses molds made from long strings of wax. Then it’s the rarely visited Wat Si Nuan Saeng Sawang Arom; a real treat for art lovers. Finally, we head to Wat Phra That Nong Bua temple’s impressive 55-meter (180 feet) tall square stupa, which follows the design of the Mahabodhi stupa in Bodhgaya, India; site of the Buddha’s enlightenment. After this we will deliver you to the train station, airport, or a hotel in Ubon Ratchathani.

If our itinerary doesn’t fit your exact needs and desires, please let us know. With advance notice we can usually modify things.

Prices valid until April 2022.

Group Size 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9+
Price Per Person 21,600 10,950 8,400 6,350 5,200 4,350 4,050 3,600 Ask

Price Includes
All sightseeing and activities as specified in the itinerary with English-speaking local guides, entrance fees, transportation in an air-conditioned vehicle, hotel transfers, accommodation, breakfast at deluxe-level accommodation and village homestays, dinner at village homestays, snacks and cold water in the vehicle, accident insurance, taxes, and pre-departure travel consultation.

Price Does Not Include
Return transportation to Bangkok, meals and drinks other than what is specified above, travel and medical insurance, personal expenses (such as laundry, souvenirs, snacks, etc.), tips/gratuities, visa fees (Thai visas are free or not required for most international visitors.), and any additional expenses incurred due to airline schedule changes, natural disasters, political actions, or other factors beyond our control.

Booking/Cancellation Policies
• For tours longer than one day, a non-refundable deposit of 30% is required as soon as possible after making your reservation.
• The full payment is due before the tour begins. This can be done after you arrive in Thailand, as long as you have access to sufficient funds before you depart on your tour.
• International payments are best done by bank transfer, and the cheapest, fastest, and easiest way is with TransferWise. Credit/debit cards can be used through TransferWise or other online wire transfer services. For people inside Thailand, we accept payment via cash (Thai baht, US dollars, British pounds, and euros), ATM transfer, and counter deposit to Siam Commercial Bank.
• If local taxes and/or fuel prices increase significantly, we reserve the right to add comparable surcharges.

Click here to read our full tour Terms & Conditions.

woman making pottery with a paddle

This is the accommodation that we normally use for this tour. Of course, if any place is fully booked during your travel dates, we will have to substitute a similar property. If this happens, we will let you know right away.

Click here to see a general description of our accommodation levels.

Day 1 – Khorat
Budget: Romyen Garden Place
Deluxe: Kantary Hotel
Homestay: Romyen Garden Place

Day 2 – Nang Rong
Budget: Baan Bong Pha Om
Deluxe: Socool Grand Hotel
Homestay: Ban Nong Ta Gai village homestay

Day 3 – Surin
Budget: Maneerote Hotel
Deluxe: Surin Majestic Hotel
Homestay: Baan Chang Ton

Day 4 – Ubon Ratchathani
Budget: Phadaeng Hotel
Deluxe: Tohsang Hotel
Homestay: Phadaeng Hotel