Dusit would be better known in the luxury, international travel markets these days, but the brand has always had a long homegrown history in Thailand, where it has added a bit of prestige to many of Thailand’s lesser known cityscapes. And we experienced this first-hand recently on our travels through Isaan when we stayed at the rather up-scale Dusit Princess Hotel in Korat (or Nakhon Ratchasima for long). A hotel which would be four-star on an international scale, but five-star and beyond, locally. It’s almost unrivaled in the region. So we are in Isaan, a region relatively untouched in Thailand, due to its expansive size, lacking tourist infrastructure, and hard-to-find English speakers. Which I feel works to its advantage, at least for the more adventurous of travelers, in seeking out and escaping the traditional tourist trails. And Korat city is the main entry to the region, The Gateway to Isaan even, where the Dusit Princess serves as a convenient, comfortable, and rather swank base for travel further in the region. Because, from this point on, the luxuries of the big cities are few and far between. But the real kicker is that luxury is affordable to the average tourist in Isaan, and at the Dusit Princess we make the most of them.
Last Stop Comforts
From Korat onwards there will be a very steep curve into rural life, and the next closest city, Buriram, is near 125km away. But we in fact spend half the year between the two, based in a rural village surrounded by little but rice fields. So our visits to Korat are not so much about culture, or rural life, or Isaan, but for the comforts of western life which are pretty much void in the ricefields. And while we aren’t exactly slumming it these rural regions, there are just some things which are hard to come by in Isaan. For example a swimming pool, an international buffet breakfast, a cocktail bar, a proper aromatherapy spa massage. But what I find is that even the little things make a difference, like the grapes in the fruit basket, baked beans and hash browns at breakfast, knives and forks, air-conditioning, not waking at sunrise to screaming chickens. The contrasts between rural life and our stay at the Dusit Princess are seemingly endless. But, having lived on rural, home cooked food through the past months, we are always most excited for the food, and the diversity in cuisine, and a good burger and steak. And ultimately, at the Dusit Princess, this would be fine dining in the region.
Malls, Markets and Isaan Bites
However the main reason for this visit to Korat, was for the malls, and while I really do not like shopping, I occasionally find myself desperate for clothes which have not been bought at a rural night market. And these days Korat’s malls are pretty much on par with their central Bangkok equivalent’s, yet the biggest is still to come in the massive Central Plaza opening just down from the Dusit Princess this year (now open: September 2017). And this is just the newest addition to an increasingly expanding and exciting area of night markets, open-air food courts and entertainment which surround the hotel. The main attraction would have to be “Night Ban Koh”, a night market which sits near next door to the Dusit Princess. Which is then joined by more open-air food courts, beer bars and barbecues at RN Yard and Big Box. And it really is these night markets and food courts that I love about Isaan, the relaxed nightlife, and of course there are plenties of local Isaan foods to be found with rural style restaurants set along the passing river canal. It really is just an exciting area to be in Korat.
Highlights of Korat
So I did take in some sight-seeing highlights on this visit with a stroll to Wat Sala Loi (Floating Pavillion Temple), which was the last of the city centre attractions for me to tick off my to-do list (I’ve been to Korat a few times). This temple is home to the relics, and was first built by, the revered local heroine Yaa Mo (Granny Mo) who is an iconic figure in Korat city. In fact most of Korat’s city centre attractions are centred around Yaa Mo, and her victorious rebellion against invading Laotians, where all sorts of shrines and monuments are dotted through the central city square. But many of the region’s revered attractions are otherwise out-of-town, including Wat Ban Rai (about an hour out) which for me is the must-visit attraction in the region. Wat Ban Rai, also known as the Elephant Temple, due to it being built as a massive elephant, boasts some seriously detailed architecture as well as interiors set to educate traditional Buddhist teachings through contemporary painting, sculptures, and art. There are also some stunning views from the top floors of the temple.
The Ancient Khmer Highway
But the main draw to the region would be the Phimai Historical Park, which is part of a two hundred and twenty-five-kilometre roadway built by the ancient Angkor Empire. This is known as the Ancient Khmer Highway and it leads through from neighbouring Cambodia, and includes the more famous temples of Angkor Wat in Cambodia, before it crosses to traverse the Thai borders south to Phanom Rung and Mueang Tham Temples. Then, further again, we reach Phimai which sits just sixty kilometres out from Korat. And while Phimai is technically the end of the ancient Khmer highway, it is more the beginning for those travelling out from Bangkok. Anyway, Korat is the perfect base to start this journey, and it is possible to reach Phanomrung from the city, although it will take roughly 2 hours there, and 2 hours back. It’s a long day trip. And while the Dusit Princess does not offer set tours themselves, they are happy to source reputable taxi drivers, and ensure they don’t rip you off.