Southern Isan Tour

monk at a Khmer temple ruin
woman weaving rattan

7 Days

Khon Kaen to Khon Kaen

• Meeting monkeys
• Rare, historic Isan-style temple murals
• The incredible sculpture at Wat Pa Non Sawan
• Seeing a “Million Bottle Temple”
• Waterfalls, ancient rock paintings, and stunning views at Pha Taem National Park
• Watching people make gongs
• Seeing what’s for dinner in a jungle market
• Seeing pottery made using ancient methods
• Bathing an elephant in the river
• Evocative Khmer ruins of Sikhoraphum, Phanom Rung, and Muang Tam
• Seeing how silk is made

Although this tour features the most Khmer ruins of all our trips, it’s a very well-rounded tour with some stunning scenery, several of Thailand’s most fascinating handicraft villages, and the chance to meet some elephants. A highlight of the first day is meeting a troop of semi-tame monkeys living in a park before enjoying the pleasant city of Roi Et, home to one of the world’s tallest statues. Then we will visit two of Thailand’s most bizarre temples, one full of unusual, colorful statues and the other decorated with discarded bottles. From Ubon Ratchathani city we take a turn to the east to see some wonderful Mekong River scenery at Pha Taem National Park and then head west to visit elephants and explore several of Thailand’s best Khmer ruins, including the incredible Phanom Rung. To finish up we’ll see the old city gate and other interesting monuments in Nakhon Ratchasima city and visit a silk weaving village.

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.

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

apsara carved in sandstone

Day 1 – Maha Sarakham & Roi Et
The tour begins with visits to a village where most residents make reed mats (suea) that are used across the nation for sitting on the ground. Then we visit a park full of relatively tame monkeys who eagerly await handouts, a foundry making bronze Buddhas, and the first of several Khmer temple ruins. In Roi Et city we’ll gaze up at a 59.2-meter (194 feet) tall standing Buddha image, one of the world’s largest statues. On the city’s outskirts we’ll stop to see a batik workshop and a historic temple with original Isan-style murals, which are far different from the murals found in modern temples.

Overnight in Roi Et

Day 2 – Wat Pa Non Sawan & Ban Pa-Ao
Today’s first two stops are two of the most unusual Buddhist temples in Thailand. First up is Wat Pa Non Sawan, which features a multitude of brightly colored sculptures ranging from dragons to polar bears to gruesome scenes of the Buddhist Hell to a who’s who of Hindu and Buddhist deities. Most were built to impart messages to temple goers while others are simply meant to be fun and make people feel welcome. Next up, is a “Million Bottle Temple” where most of the buildings are decorated with old bottles. After visiting a basket-making village we’ll see a historic wooden Buddhist scriptures library (haw-dtrai) built in the middle of a pond to keep termites at bay and we’ll finish at the last village in Thailand where artisans create brass and bronze bells and bowls in the lost-wax method using thin wax strips to make the mold.

Overnight in Ubon Ratchathani

Day 3 – Khong Jiam & Pha Taem National Park
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

Day 4 – Ubon Ratchathani & Si Saket
In Ubon Ratchathani city we’ll see some historic paintings and architecture at Wat Tung Sri Muang temple, visit a Buddhist art museum, and taste some freshly made traditional Thai snacks. We then 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 and then visit a traditional pottery village where women hand make perfectly round clay cooking pots and water containers using the ancient paddle and anvil method rather than a potter’s wheel. After lunch we will visit a pair of excellent Khmer ruins, Prasat Sra Kampaeng Yai and Prasat Sikhoraphum, the later home to what is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful lintels ever carved by the Khmer empire, and then visit a rattan basket weaving village.

Overnight in Surin or elephant village

Day 5 – Elephant Village & Surin
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 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 beads and other silver 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) made 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

Day 6 – Muang Tam & Phanom Rung
Today we will visit two of Thailand’s biggest and best Khmer ruins: Phanom Rung and Muang Tam. 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. Near Khorat city, Dan Kwian village has been producing pottery for hundreds of years. The original rough, rust colored products are still made, along with a great variety of vibrant modern designs. We’ll visit a seemingly timeless workshop with its giant wood-fired kilns and hit a few stores to see the finished products.

Overnight in Khorat

Day 7 – Khorat
Nakhon Ratchasima is a bustling modern city, though its moat and city fortifications still stand as evidence of its long history. We’ll start by admiring Wat Pa-Yap, 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. Then we’ll join the devotees at the very holy Thao Suranari Memorial, built in honor of 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. Many of the lovely buildings at nearby Wat Salaloi, supposedly founded by Thao Suranari and her husband, are decorated with Dan Kwian ceramic tiles. In Ban Prasat, on the way back to Khon Kaen, we’ll see the remains of an ancient agrarian culture in three excavated burial sites displaying skeletons and pottery in situ. Then, saving one of the best sites for the end, we’ll visit a silk weaving village and see the entire process of making silk fabric, from raising the silk worms to spinning and dying the thread to the painstaking hand-weaving. Our final stop is another temple with historic Isan-style murals.

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 March 2023.

        Hotel         Level Number of Persons
Price per person, two per room (baht)
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9+
Budget 81,200 41,100 29,450 22,550 19,600 16,800 15,350 13,800 By Request
Deluxe 89,550 45,550 35,000 26,850 24,600 21,050 20,150 18,000
Homestay 81,600 41,500 30,000 23,000 20,050 17,250 15,800 14,200

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
Transportation to Khon Kaen, 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.

Buddha and many other statues at a temple

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 – Roi Et
Budget: Capital Hotel
Deluxe: Capital Hotel
Homestay: Mueang Mai Guesthouse

Day 2 – Ubon Ratchathani
Budget: Phadaeng Hotel
Deluxe: Tohsang Hotel
Homestay: Phadaeng Hotel

Day 3 – Ubon Ratchathani
Budget: Phadaeng Hotel
Deluxe: Tohsang Hotel
Homestay: Phadaeng Hotel

Day 4 – Surin
Budget: Maneerote Hotel
Deluxe: Surin Majestic Hotel
Homestay: Ban Nong Bua village homestay

Day 5 – Surin
Budget: Maneerote Hotel
Deluxe: Surin Majestic Hotel
Homestay: Ban Nong Bua village homestay

Day 6 – Khorat
Budget: Romyen Garden Place
Deluxe: Kantary Hotel
Homestay: Romyen Garden Place