Most of northeastern Thailand, known as ‘Isaan’, is made up of the vast Khorat Plateau – a dry, red-dirt scrubland undulating between 200m and 300m (650–1,000ft) as far as the Mekong Valley and Laos border. Though it’s the poorest corner of the country today, a scattering of impressive ruins are vestiges of a time when the region formed part of the mighty Khmer empire. Dating from the 13th–16th centuries, the largest of these exotic ruins have been painstakingly restored, and are now in a more complete state than most of their cousins across the border in Cambodia.
Despite the presence of the Khmer shrines, tourism is far less developed in Isaan than elsewhere in Thailand and luxury hotels are thin on the ground. The few that do exist, however, are oases of great comfort and style, making travel in this backwater tract a real joy. A major silk production centre with a strong handicrafts scene, Isaan also provides a culturally fascinating stepping stone to the Si Phan Don (‘4000 Islands’) region in southern Laos, site of the Khmer’s spectacular Vat Phou temple.