Many western tourists to Thailand only see Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Pattaya. A pity, because Korat, Thailand’s second largest city is the gem of Thailand’s north-east, with tons of things to see and do for tourists and residents alike. Korat is very popular with Thais, but not so popular with western tourists. If you’re looking for somewhere that embodies the ‘real Thailand’ don’t look any further than Korat. With Khmer ruins a cool night bazaar, some excellent museums, and even boat races – Korat has something for everyone. Korat is also known as Nakhon Ratchasima and is known as the gateway to the region of Isaan.
Phimai – Phimai, near Korat, is one of Thailand’s most popular Khmer ruins and an interesting thing to see in the Korat area. Built even before Angkor Wat, more than a thousand years ago, Phimai is a temple complex that was partially restored by the Thai government in recent years. It’s a National Park, so well taken care of, and is a must-see for history buffs or anyone interested in ancient Buddhist statues. Don’t forget to stay into the evening as, many nights when it begins to go dark, Phimai has incredible light and sound shows over the ruins, plus a delicious buffet.
Phimai National Museum – About 45 minutes from Korat, the Phimai National Museum is one of the largest open-air museums in the north east of Thailand. Showcasing exhibits on amazing archaeological finds dug up in the surrounding area – ancient Khmer stone carvings, old Buddha statues, huge clay pots, even a ancient reconstructed village – Phimai National Museum shouldn’t be missed. Open every day with an admission fee of only 30 baht (around $1).
Ban Prasat Open Site Museum – Ban Prasat, near Korat, is seriously one of the coolest things I’ve seen in Thailand. What was originally an archaeological dig has been converted into a phenomenal open-air museum. With archaeological finds from 3,000 years ago, and more than 50 human skeletons being excavated here, Ban Prasat is an astonishing place for anyone interested in archaeology. Looking at the pottery, old bangles and other jewelry, old tools, beads and bowls, you can almost imagine how these ancient people lived. Ban Prasat archaeological site has even blossomed into its own little village, with food stalls, restaurants, shops and more. Ban Prasat is about a 25 minute drive from Korat just off Highway 2.
Petrified Wood Museum – I’m a sucker for museums and usually see every one I come across but this one is truly unique. An entire museum dedicated to petrified wood (basically it looks like different kinds of stone or marble). The museum is a lot larger than you would expect with two large exhibit buildings, an auditorium, research buildings and even a fossil excavation pit. Particularly don’t miss the building with all the dinosaurs and fossilized mammals. Korat’s Petrified Wood Museum is one of only seven in the world and this is one of the biggest. It’s also the only one in Asia, so that alone makes it worth seeing.
Khao Yai National Park – Korat is on the outskirts of Khao Yai National Park, one of Thailand’s largest national parks and is a must-see. I was at Khao Yai three months ago, and have to say it was one of the most enjoyable vacations I’ve been on in Thailand. It’s 2,000 square kilometers of jungle, mountains, hills, virgin forests and enormous field going as far as the eye can see. With the deepest vibrant colors and hot tropical heat, Khao Yai is a great place for the true adventurer. Also look out for elephants, buffalo and monkeys – Khao Yai has all of these and more. You can even take a night safari, and be driven around in an open-air truck to see some of Khao Yai’s famous animals.
Korat Night Bazaar – Not as big as Chiang Mai’s Night Bazaar, the Korat Night Bazaar is still fun to see. It’s a big outdoor market, which opens every night around 5pm and closes at 9pm. Running along the length of Mahadthai Road in Korat, this night bazaar is, in some respects, more interesting than Chiang Mai’s as it’s crowded with locals and very few tourists. It also sells local products you’re not going to see in other areas of Thailand. And don’t miss the food – unbelievably good!
Korat is located about three hours drive north east of Bangkok and has many excellent hotels and guest houses if you want to spend a couple of days there. With restaurants, cafes, coffee shops, book stores, shopping malls, entertainment facilities, as well as all the other fun things I mentioned, Korat is a great place for a few days vacation. Every November, there are even boat races in the Korat area. In fact, there’s plenty of things to see and do, plus it’ll give you a great feel for the ‘real’ Thailand.