Every year, hordes of Aussie holidaymakers make their way to Thailand.
While some need little more than a beach view, some cheap massages and an exotic cocktail or two, there’s far more to this popular destination than meets the eye.
The farther away you get from the major tourist hubs of Bangkok and Phuket, the more likely you are to discover the authentic local side of Thailand.
One of the best places to start your 'real Thailand' adventure is Isaan.
Located in the north east of the country, Isaan is made up of 20 provinces and is the country’s largest.
The Phetchabun Mountains separate Isaan from northern and central Thailand and border Laos to the north and east, where the Mekong River separates the two countries and Cambodia to the southeast.
You won’t find beaches in this landlocked region but that’s part of the appeal.
Tiny rural townships and amazing river views give way to the natural beauty of national parks like Phu Phan where the jungle like terrain features cascading waterfalls, giant rock formations and even the ruins of an ancient Khmer temple.
Venture further to Nong Khai on the southern banks of the Mekong for some 'local' Thai food. Here you'll enjoy regional specialties at the Indo-China market such as Isaan Chicken - a marinade of lemongrass, garlic, black peppercorn, fish sauce and soy sauce sets off a superlative dish.
Easily reached from Nong Khai is the Phu Phra Bat Historical Park in Udon Thani Province. Filled with mysterious looking rock formations, the park is known for its ancient Buddhist images and caves.
Believed to be around 6,000 years old, look for the well preserved prehistoric rock paintings in areas once used for shelter.
Some of the early shrines built around several rock formations are dated to between the seventh and tenth centuries.
The area's most significant shrine is Wat Phra Putthabaht Bua Bok, which houses a sandstone Buddha footprint and the location of an annual pilgrimage festival every March.
Get around Isaan
Isaan is best explored when you have your own transportation. Rent a motorbike or car to get to those off-the-beaten track attractions and be sure to have adequate travel insurance.
Published under license from Well Travelled