North-east Thailand Attractions
To the east of the Menam fluvial plain the mainly dry Khorat Plateau, with its characteristic red sandstone and slate formations, rises to an average height of 200 m (656 ft). The plateau, the western and southern edges of which are clearly defined by mountain chains (Dong Phaya Yen in the west and Phanom Dong Rak in the south) and which is 1300 m (4270 ft) above sea level at its highest point, slopes away gently eastwards in the direction of Mekong.
Late Palaeozoic and Mesozoic limestone alternates with red Mesozoic sandstone and slate. The chalky soil is porous and parts of the sandstone have become weathered to form the red soil typical of the tropics. The soil is not very fertile, which is why this region is often referred to as the "Poorhouse of Thailand". Some of the original vegetation - sparse forest, open savanna and grass steppes - still remains. During the rainy period the wide river valleys are almost completely flooded, providing favorable conditions for growing rice and jute.The River Mun flows through the Khorat Plateau on its way to join the Mekong. Dams have been built across its northern tributaries for purposes of irrigation and to produce hydroelectric power. The Mekong, 4350 km (2700 mi.) long and the 12th longest river in the world, is largely unsuitable for shipping because of its treacherous rapids.For 600 km (373 mi.) it forms the frontier between Thailand and Laos. Two completely different ideologies and forms of society come face to face here, which has frequently resulted in military conflict in the past.
Located in north-east Thailand, Buriram is home to two impressive and well-preserved temples, Prasat Phanom Rung and Prasat Muang Tam.
Prakhon ChaiPrakhon Chai, a small town about 280 km (174 mi.) north-east of Bangkok, is the starting point for visiting two important
ruined sites.Surin, famous for its grand elephant festival held in the third week of November, is also nearby. Tourist offices in Bangkok, Nakhon Ratchasima and Surin include tours in their programs.By car: from Bangkok highways 1/2/24 (about 360 km (224 mi.)).By bus: from Bangkok Northern Bus Terminal (journey time about 6 hours).By rail: nearest station at Buriram (45 km (28 mi.)) on the Bangkok-Ubon Ratchathani line.Evidence of earlier ages has only been secured and examined "for the state" during the late 20th c. During this time, Prakhon Chai has rightly proved of particular interest to Thai archeologists. However, while much still remains buried, much has also been plundered and sold abroad, including a bronze 7th/8th c. statue now in the Metropolitan Museum in New York. Even though important pieces, such as several 8th-10th c. Buddha statues, have been taken to the National Museum in Bangkok, the history of Thailand is no longer fully documented. As protection against a "cultural sell-out", trade in archeological finds is threatened with heavy punishments.
Nakhon PhanomThe provincial capital Nakhon Phanom is in the extreme north-east of Thailand on the Mekong, and hence the frontier with
Laos. On clear days the Laotian mountains beyond the town of Thakhek and the forests on the opposite bank of the river can be seen. During the Vietnam War, when there was an American base and radio interception station 12 km (7 mi.) west of the town, Nakhon Phanom was a temporary haven for many thousands of refugees. Apart from a couple of busy markets, there is nothing to see in the town itself but its good hotels, some of which were established here to cater to the Americans, are a good base for trips to places in the surrounding area. Wat Phra That Phanom is famous for its annual Phansa festival week in January which attracts a great many pilgrims and stages events such as boat races and folk dances.By car: highways 213/22 from Kalasin (98 km (61 mi.)).By bus: from Bangkok Northern Bus Terminal (727 km (452 mi.)) and Kalasin.By air: daily from Bangkok
It is thought that the collar-bone of the Buddha resides within the Wat Phra That Phanom, one of the biggest attractions in the Nakhon Phanom area.
Many of the villagers living in Tha Rae, about 10 km (6 mi.) west of Nakhon Phanom on Route 22 to Sakhon Nakhon, are Vietnamese and Roman Catholic. Tha Rae is in fact the seat of a bishopric and has a seminary where young men can train for the priesthood.
KalasinThe capital of the province of the same name, Kalasin, in north-east Thailand, makes a good base, with its hotels for anyone with a particular interest in Thai cultural and architectural history who wants to visit the well-preserved reminders of the country's rich past roundabout. The town itself has no sights of its own, apart, perhaps, from its markets and the glimpses they provide of life in the countryside.By car: Highways 209/213 from Khon Khaen (about 95 km (60 mi.)), Highway 213 from Sakhon Nakhon (110 km (68 mi.)).By bus: from Khon Khaen and Sakhon Nakhon.
The village of Ban Sems was the site of Dvaravati city of Muang Fa Daed, which thrived during the 9th to 11th C. In the surrounding area finds from as far back as the 6th C have been discovered.
Nong KhaiVisitors to Nong Khai are not attracted by its sights, such as temples and museums, but by its close proximity to the border with Laos and its main town of Vientiane (once called Viangchan). The view across the mighty Mekong, south-eastern Asia's largest river and the eighth-longest river in the world, is impressive.By car: from Udon Thani Highway 2 (53 km (33 mi.)).By rail: terminus of the Bangkok to south-west Thailand line.By bus: from Bangkok Southern Bus Terminal three times daily.Nearest airport: Udon Thani (50 km (31 mi.); bus connections).
Nong Khai Wat Kaek
Wat Kaek stands on the Thai side of the Mekong and contains a large, apparently random collection of figures. This includes a monumental statue of a meditating Buddha (notice the portrayal with a richly ornamented point on the head) and the sculpture of the four-armed Indian god Ganesha (the god of the arts), who is riding a rat.
Nong Khai - Mekong
The Mekong's water level fluctuates considerably (up to 20 m (66 ft) in the course of a year); during the rainy season it floods the fields, while during the dry season islands appear in the river bed.
Amnat CharoenAlthough of no great historical or art historical interest, the busy little town of Amnat Charoen in north-eastern Thailand - between Mukdahan and Ubon Ratchathani, about 50 km (31 mi.) from the Laos border - is the site of an important Buddhist shrine, Wat Phra Buddha Mongkol.By car: from Ubon Ratchathani (Highway 212; 75 km (47 mi.)) or Yasothon (Highway 202; 53 km (33 mi.)).By bus: from Ubon Ratchathani, Sakhon Nakhon or Surin.
Wat Phra Buddha Mongkol
Wat Phra Buddha Mongkol is situated south-west of the town, at Ban Buddha Mongkol, a small village to which the temple has given its name. Shady trees surround the wat's 16 m (52 ft)-high figure of the Buddha on its 5 m (16 ft) base. The statue, clad in a mosaic of thousands of little pieces of glass, is of recent origin.In February each year Wat Phra Buddha Mongkol is the scene of a major religious festival attracting great numbers of pilgrims from near and far.