Pronounced ee-san and also written as Isaan, Isarn, Esan or Esarn, the word “Isan” comes from the ancient Pali language for the word “northeast.” While the term is used to described Thailand’s entire northeastern region, discerning travellers will soon find that many different destinations, indigenous peoples, highly localised dishes and even various dialects make up the area with no two parts of Isan exactly the same.
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Discover Culture, Community & Cuisine in IsanThough people may not always make their way east, Isan’s the region’s fiery, flavourful cuisine is popular throughout Thailand. Standout Thai dishes, such as somtam (spicy green papaya salad) and laab (a type of minced meat salad stuffed with herbs and spices), have their roots in Isan. If you’ve liked eating these chilli-filled favourites before, you’ll love tasting the authentic dishes in their original home.
Throughout Isan, you can also witness some of the country’s most unique, colourful and even mysterious festivals. For example, in Loei’s Dansai district, the annual Phi Ta Khon festival, or Ghost Mask Festival, is recognised for villagers’ elaborate masks made out of sticky rice steaming baskets and carved wooden faces painted with colourful, gruesome features. Alternatively, each year in May, villages across Isan (but especially in Yasothon province), take part in the Bun Bang Fai Rocket Festival, shooting intricately decorated rockets high into the sky in hopes of cajoling the gods to bring down ample rains for the rice planting season. Another unique Isan festival, the Naga Fireball Festival, happens every October in Nong Khai province along the Mekong River. During this time, unexplained balls of fire rise from the river high into the air. Locals believe that naga, half-human and half-serpentine beings that protect the Buddha and supposedly live in the Mekong River, send up the flare at the end of Buddhist Lent to pay respect to Buddha. You’ll need to see it for yourself to believe it!
Plan a Getaway to the Best Isan Hotels and Best Hotels in Khon Kaen CityKhon Kaen offers the perfect entry point to discovering Isan’s myriad treasures. Base your travels from the comfort of an intimate Khon Kaen boutique hotel or environmentally-minded Khon Kaen eco-resort. While in town, climb to the top of the nine-storey stupa at Wat Nong Wang for a bird’s eye view of the city, stroll around Bueng Kaen Nakhon lake and grab some snacks from the evening Rim Bueng Market. While travelling around the rest of Khon Kaen province, explore the immense forests in Phu Ka-Phu Phan Kham National Park, marvel at strangely shaped rock formations at Pha Nok Khao, discover the archaeological sites at Phu Wiang, or step back in time observing the dinosaur fossils at the Phu Vieng Dinosaur Museum and national park.
Begin Your Isan Journey by Booking Isan Hotels with Secret RetreatsSecret Retreats has curated a hand-picked selection of the best Isan hotels, including Isan boutique hotels, Isan resorts and hotels in Khon Kaen city, such as charming Khon Kaen boutique hotels and Khon Kaen eco-resorts. Get in touch with the Secret Retreats concierge to start planning your own bespoke experience of discovery in northeastern Thailand complete with organised stays, unique dining experiences and off-the-beaten-path excursions.
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