Nakhon Ratchasima, better known as Korat, is the wondrous door to Isan, the Lao-speaking north-east, at the Korat Plateau’s western edge. The name Nakhon Ratchasima is both used for the city and the province of which it is the capital, and the shorter name, Korat, comes from an older name the town used to be called many years ago.
Historically, it used to mark the boundary between Lao and Siamese territory. Korat is one of the major cities of Isan and is frequently referred to as one of the “Big Four of Isan.”
Prior to the 14th century, the area of Nakhon Ratchasima was under the Khmer empire. King Narai of Ayutthaya ordered a new city to be built on the site to serve as a stronghold on Ayutthaya’s northeastern frontier. After that, Nakhon Ratchasima was mentioned in Siamese legal documents and chronicles as a “second-class” city of the Ayutthaya Kingdom.
Today, with a population of just over 780,000, you’ll find a host of shopping malls, a large sports stadium, a zoo, a multitude of fascinating and diverse temples, museums, and a lot more. There is a reason why Korat is one of the four most important cities of Isan. Being the gateway to beautiful Isan makes Korat a passers-by city, but at the same time, it has a lot to offer.
Khorat is a mere three to four-hour drive from Bangkok in a northeastern direction, making it an easy-to-reach destination. The ride to Korat is refreshing and inspiring, leaving behind Bangkok’s hard concrete jungle and heading out to the extensive farmlands, green fields, and great open spaces.
Halfway into the journey, you’ll come across the Khao Yai National Park, one of the most popular National Parks in all of Thailand, and the first encounter with the many cultural and entertainment spots the province has to offer. In Nakhon Ratchasima, you’ll find the Kao Yai Floating Market and historical sites such as the Korat City Pillar, the Korat City Gates, the Korat Fossil Museum, the Petrified Wood Museum, and the vast Nakhon Ratchasima Zoo (Also known as the Korat Zoo). You can spend an entire day at the Zoo or even a couple of days and nights in comfortable chalets the Zoo has to offer. Booking a Chalet is excellent in that it allows you to spend time alongside tigers, camels, marine life, lizards, and many other animal species from all over the world. Within the Korat Zoo, there is a one-of-a-kind Lagoon and Water Park allowing you to cool down from the heat, and this venue is well suited for children of all ages.
Other culturally enriching places to visit include the Phimai Historical Park, where you can take a time machine to the past and witness ruins from as early as the 11th century. Phimai is the largest Khmer ruins complex in Thailand and comprises an inner moated city, 565 by 1030 metres built in the 11th to 12th century with further additions in the 13th.
An extraordinary feature of the sanctuary is its architectural design and geographic placement. During the two annual crossings of the equator by the Sun, the Temple spectacularly displays the sunrise. As the sun rises, the light beams from the East’s entrance door straight through the fifteen doors to the sanctuary doorway’s western end. Visitors to this day crowd the outside square to witness the amazing event.
The Angkor-style architecture of these historical gems inspired numerous important structures, cities, and buildings in Thailand during later years. Just north of the Phimai Historical Park, and not to be missed, is the Phimai National Museum that houses Khmer artifacts and works of art from excavations, not only from Phimai but also from other Khmer ruins in southern Isan. This complex is the most outstanding example of Khmer architecture in Thailand.
Another essential site to visit in the area is the Thao Suranaree Monument and the Wat Sala Loi. The former represents a true testament of willpower and determination as well as the influence of one sole individual. During an invasion of Korat in the early 1800s, the wife of an inefficient general took it upon herself to take control and lead the residents of Korat to defend their city. They were victorious, and the King of that era awarded Khunying Mo the honourable title of Thao Suranaree. The monument is worth visiting due to the historical importance and can be found in Korat City near the Chumphon Gate. Wat Sala Loi is a temple constructed by Thao Suranaree and her husband, the general, in the 1820s. The site hosts a plaster statue of the powerful heroine alone with clay statues depicting Buddha’s life. This Temple is Khun Thao Suranaree’s final resting place and where her ashes have remained. Other important temples are the Wat Phayap Temple, found in the city centre of Korat, but with a slight surprise the moment you enter. The interior of this Temple has been made to look like a cave. If you find yourself wandering around in the city, pop in here for a quick look around. The Temple won’t be found amongst the lists of top tourist attractions in the area, but the locals regard it as a very spiritual and peaceful building. Another temple constructed during the early centuries is Prasat Phanom Wan. Initially, it was dedicated to the Hindu God Shiva and meant as a Hindu site, but it has become a place of Buddhist prayer over the decades.
The Maha Viravong National Museum is another must-see. It was created around the art collection of an important Monk from the area and contains cultural pieces from historic sites. You will find Buddha images from different timeframes and also pottery pieces from far gone eras. The museum is relatively small but pumped full of rich Thai history and interesting visuals.
Finally, the Wat Dhammachakra Sema Ram, also known as Wat Phra Non, which means ‘Sleeping Buddha,’ concludes the must-visit cultural and historical sites. Many travellers have seen the impressive reclining Buddha in Bangkok, but this similar sandstone sculpture is the very first one of its kind, therefore, making it the oldest one in Thailand. The piece dates back to the BC era, and unbelievably it hasn’t been treated to be preserved.
For those interested in the functioning of cities, the Lamtakhong Dam is a must-see. Its construction started in the 1970s to irrigate the surrounding farmlands. After some years, it also became the water storage facility of The Lamtakhong Power Plant, which was a very first for Thailand. The dam is a relaxing spot to break away from the hustle and bustle of everyday city life.
For nature lovers and enthusiasts, the Flora Park is ideal. This park is for those who want to drown themselves in a massive selection of plants and flowers while enjoying the aroma and the unique aesthetics nature has to offer. One can relax with a drink at the coffee shop or buy some souvenirs for family and friends back home from the gift shop. If you happen to be there around March, you must not miss the Flower Festival.
Accommodation in Korat is a no-brainer. It is effortless to find everything from very cheap apartment rentals to surprisingly low-priced 5-star hotels. The people are quite unique too, speaking a dialect known as Thai-Korat, which is far different from the Isan-Thai spoken in other more North Easterly provinces.
In conclusion, if you haven’t been, Korat is a must-see. It is a culturally and historically enriching province worth going to to truly comprehend Thai tradition, Thai culture, and Thai history, which in turn helps gain a deeper knowledge and understanding of the land of smiles today.