Bangkok to Ubon Ratchathani
This tour takes you from Bangkok to Ubon Ratchathani across the southern part of Isan. 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 explore several Khmer ruins, including Phanom Rung and Muang Tam, two of the biggest and best in Thailand, and then go walk and swim in a river with elephants. Amongst the many handicraft villages are 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, and also swing east for one day to see some wonderful Mekong River scenery at Pha Taem National Park.
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.
Make the most of your trip with our special add-on activities before, during, or after your tour.
Visit a gong-making village.
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
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
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. We'll finish the day by taking a look at Surin's unique city pillar shrine, with its interesting modern-Khmer design using elements taken directly from Phanom Rung, and a hectic fresh market.
Overnight in Surin or elephant village
Ban Ta Klang is home to the Kui (aka Suai) people, Thailand's legendary elephant handlers, and about 150 elephants live side-by-side with them at their homes in the village. We will spend the morning getting up close and personal with elephants by walking with them to the Mun River where we can jump in to help the mahouts bathe them. We'll then visit the elephant museum, tour an elephant poo paper making facility (Yes, you read that right!), and see the elephant cemetery. We will say good bye to our pachyderm friends by feeding them some fresh fruits or vegetables. Surin province is just as renowned for its handicrafts as it is for its elephants and after we bid farewell to them, we will visit a workshop to see Khmer-style silver beads and other products being made by hand. 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.
Overnight in Surin
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
This is the most beautiful day of the trip. In the morning we'll stop at a roadside workshop where gongs, drums, and bells are made by hand. Then we hop in a boat for some lovely mountain mountain and river scenery at a spot known as the Two-Colour River, due to the merger of the differently shaded Mekong and Mun rivers. Then we will go to Pha Taem National Park to see its long, dramatic namesake cliff with brilliant river views from above and several sets of 3000-year-old rock paintings below, as well as some bizarre rock formations. Leaving the Mekong behind we finish the day at a beautiful and interesting cave shrine with a rainy-season waterfall flowing over the front.
Overnight in Ubon Ratchathani
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.
Explore ancient Khmer ruins.
Prices valid until 31 March 2020
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.
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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.
Visit beautiful Buddhist sites.
Romyen Garden Place
Romyen Garden Place
Baan Bong Pha Om
Socool Grand Hotel
Ban Nong Ta Gai village homestay
Surin Majestic Hotel
Ban Nong Bua village homestay
Surin Majestic Hotel
Baan Chang Ton
Isan Explorer is a family-run Khon Kaen, Thailand-based tour company offering tours in Northeastern Thailand, known as Isan (sometimes spelled Isaan, Issan, Isarn, Esan, E-San, Esaan, E-Saan, Esarn, and E-sarn). We offer pre-designed and custom Thailand tours for individuals and groups and cater for travelers on any budget, from luxury to backpacker. We embrace slow travel and all our tours focus on culture and/or nature.
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