Prior to the Thais’ rise to supremacy in the 13th century, much of the region was dominated by the Khmer, whose vast empire was centred on Angkor in present-dat Cambodia. The cultural legacy of this influence can be seen at a number of well-preserved Khmer monuments, notably in the Northeast, which are the finenest examples of their kind found outside Cambodia.
Known in Thai as I-San (pronounced “Ee-Saan”), the Northeast comprises nineteen provinces and is distinct in landscape, history and folk culture. Adding vibrant lite and colour to the entire area are a people who speak their own melodious dialect, have their own delicious highly-spiced cuisine, and possess a truly hospitable and fun-loving nature.
Bordered to the north and east by the Mekong River and Laos, and to the south by Cambodia, I-San is the largest of the country’s five major topographical regions, and is largely a semi- arid plateau with forested mountains in the northwest. Amid the latter are some lovely national parks. The plateau supports rice cultivation. Although the region contains four of Thailand’s most populous cities — Khon Kaen, Ubon Ratchathani, Nakhon Ratchasima (Khorat) and Udon Thani — it covers about one-third of the country’s land mass, and thus appears sparsely populated and intensely rural.
Fascinating not only for its rural traditions, I-San is also a region of great historical interest. As seen today in the prehistoric site of Ban Chiang and in several finely preserved ancient Khmer temples, northeastern Thailand boasts a rich past unparalleled elsewhere in the country.