The northeastern part of Thailand was home to ancient civilisations, and at one time ruled by the Khmer people. Some of the area’s major attractions are monuments and archaeological sites dating back centuries, and still attest to the architectural splendours of the time. Some of the most interesting sites to visit include Pha That Phanom, located in Nakhon Phanom; Prasat Hin Khao Phanom Rung, in Buri Ram; and Prasat Hin Phimai, found in Nakhon Ratchasima.
Ban Chiang village, in Udon Thani province, is another noteworthy site; this is where remains of prehistoric skeletons, tools and pottery have been unearthed, providing evidence of a Bronge Age settlement here, dating from five to seven thousands years ago.
Here are some highlghts which haven’t already been featured elsewhere on the site. We’ve listed those closest to Bangkok first.
Phanom Rung Historical Park (Buri Ram)
Prasat Hin Phanom Rung, located at the top of Phanom Rung Mount, is a walled-in enclosure, with door frames and walls bearing the intricately-carved designs of the Lopburi period – with evident Khmer influences. Inside the prasat, or castle, is a 12th-century throne hall. Many of the pediments and the lintels are carved with depictions of episodes from the Ramayana. Open: 06:00-18:00 (daily).
Khon Kaen National Museum (Khon Kaen)
This is a regional museum for north-eastern Thailand, which mounts exhibitions on area archaeological discoveries. Over the past, highlights have included displays of Ban Chiang artefacts and sculptured boundary stones from Muang Fa Daet Sung Yang, in Kalasin province. Open: 09:00-17:00 (Wed to Sun).
Prasat Hin Phimai (Nakhon Ratchasima)
Thailand’s largest sandstone sanctuary is situated in the middle of ancient Phimai city. It is rectangular in shape and measures more than 2,000ft in width and nearly 3,400ft in length. The site has been recreated using existing ruins as the basis for the reconstruction, and has been protected as a National Historic Park. Of particular interest in the preserved ruins is a stone door-lintel bearing an elaborate carving of a scene in which a divine figure, clothed in an elephant skin, and dancing on two prostrate figures, is flanked by rows of seated Buddha images in royal attire – all appearing above rows of dancing celestial beings. Open: daily, 07:30 to 18:00.
Phra That Phanom (Nakhon Phanom)
Located approximately four kilometres from the provincial capital, this momument is believed to be around 1,500 years old – although archaeologists have not been able to establish a conclusive date. It stands over 170ft tall, with its top portion made from 240 pounds of gold. An annual fair is celebrated during the full moon of the third lunar month – a time when thousands of worshippers descend on this important religious site. During the fair, a market is set up and performances are held throughout the seven days of festivities. Open: daily.
Prasat Khao Phra Wihan (Si Sa Ket)
Originally built as a Hindu temple more than a thousand years ago, this is one of the most important sites from the Angkor period. The temple grounds begin in Thailand and rise to almost 2,000ft, with the main temple sanctuary located across the Cambodia line. Closed for a long period due to border conflicts, the temple buildings are finally being restored. The stairs to the summit are steep, but the climb is well worth the effort – not only to see the beauty of the architectural detail, but also for the views from the top. Open: daily 08:00 to 17:00.
Elephant Village (Surin)
This is home to a large number of elephants that are kept as pets by local villagers. The village is called Ban Ta Klang, where the residents earn a living by farming and by their skill in weaving. As the elephants are treated as part of the family here, they are accustomed to being around humans and being trained for the shows that are held in Surin. The annual ‘Elephant Roundup’ is held during the third weekend in November, and features many of the elephants from Ban Ta Klang. Visitors come from other parts of Thailand, and from abroad, to see more than 100 trained elephants perform. Other weekend events include elephant tugs-of-war, log hauling demonstrations and a parade featuring elephants in medieval war gear. Open: daily.
Pha Taem National Park (Ubon Ratchathani)
Two steep cliffs, known as Pha Mon and Pha Taem, preside over the Mekong River around three kilometres from Sao Chaliang, providing views to Laos on the opposite side. Prehistoric paintings have been found on the cliff faces that date back three to four thousands years, and depict scenes from life at that time. In addition to fishing and farming scenes, you can see drawings of animals and people plus geometric designs. Open: daily 06.00 to 18.00.
Baan Chiang National Museum (Udon Thani)
This comprises both an indoor storehouse and an open-air museum. In the indoor storehouse you’ll find antiques and artefacts from ancient Ban Chiang culture – including tools and utensils and earthenware pots – all from four to seven thousand years old. The open museum is located in the Wat Po Si Nai compound, where the Fine Arts Department has maintained the conditions of an archaeological dig, showing the pots and other items that were found, in their position alongside skeletons of the dead. It is believed that the designs found on Ban Chiang pots are the oldest such designs in the world. Open: 08:00 to 16:00 (Wed to Sun).
Phu Kradung National Park (Loei)
Situated on a 4,400ft high plateau, which is located around 60kms from the city of Loei, this lush parkland is home to an abundance of wildlife. The elevation of the park means that it’s ideally suited to colder climate plants, which are unique to this area. The Forestry Department provides tents and bungalows for overnight accommodation, but reservations in advance need to be made. Quite a number of small bungalows are also provided by a private operator, with each bungalow accommodating two guests. Open: daily 07:00 to 14:00.