Isan, Thailand

2 minute read

Chances are you’ve already tried food from Isan, and you might not even know it. The largest region in Thailand, which hugs the border with Laos and Cambodia in the country’s northeast, has given us such classic dishes as som tum (green papaya salad) and larb (ground meat salad), and its diaspora is spreading this sour, spicy, herbaceous cooking style far and wide. The cuisine is becoming so ubiquitous abroad, in fact, that an Isan restaurant in tiny Randolph, Vermont, called Saap, earned last year’s James Beard Award for best chef in the Northeast. Those who venture to this off-the-beaten-path region of Thailand teeming with rice fields are rewarded with national parks and Khmer temple ruins that rival Angkor Wat, and now: Michelin-recommended restaurants. This year, the company expanded its Thailand guide to include Isan, doling out 33 Bib Gourmand designations across the region to spots like Kai Yang Saeng Thai, which has been serving its herb-marinated rotisserie chicken since 1967, and Lab Nua, known for its fiery salads and rice field snail soup.

It’s not just restaurants and night markets that are drawing a new crowd of visitors though. Last year marked the 60th anniversary of Thailand’s first national park, Khao Yai, which sits largely in Isan’s Nakhon Ratchasima province and is home to elephants, gibbons, and Asian black bears. In September, the park welcomed InterContinental Khao Yai Resort, which is inspired by 19th-century train travel and features upcycled vintage railcars that now double as the hotel’s spa, tearoom, brasserie, and specialty suites. Nearby Roukh Kiri Khao Yai is a collection of a dozen minimalist villas that offer sweeping views out over this often-overlooked slice of rural paradise.

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