Discover Thailand’s Roi Et
One of the wonders of the unexplored Isan region
Roi Et is a lesser-visited province in the Isan (Northeast) region of Thailand. Isan is Thailand’s least-explored region when it comes to tourism. While locals are used to seeing ex-pats around the province, foreign tourists are few and far between. It’s a terrific place to escape the masses and discover somewhere different on your travels around Thailand.
The provincial capital – also called Roi Et – has a long history; it is one of the oldest cities in Northeast Thailand. The name translates to One Hundred and One, though the reasons for the name are unclear. Some people say that the number stems from the fact that eleven gates once surrounded the city and, at that time, the number 11 was written as 101 (ten plus one).
The province has a unique identity, and there are many historical, religious, and cultural attractions to discover. Although I didn’t visit any due to time constraints, there are also natural attractions like waterfalls and reservoirs dotted around the province.
I spent a couple of days exploring Roi Et, and, having relatively low expectations, was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed my time here. The way of life is relaxed, people are super friendly and helpful, and the attractions I visited were fascinating and beautiful!
The city is built around a large and scenic artificial lake and is easy to explore on foot. Because of limited time, I chose to charter a taxi to facilitate my sightseeing of places farther afield. Armed with a list of places I wanted to see, I set off with the cheerful driver and his wife in tow. Travelling in air-conditioned comfort and convenience was, I have to say, very nice!
My first port of call was Phra Maha Chedi Chai Mongkol, some 95 kilometres from Roi Et city center. The drive took around an hour and a half, and I alternated between watching the scenes outside pass by the window and napping.
The car park is a walk from the chedi, but you can admire the views from the hill as you follow the sloping path up to the entrance.
The complex is, in short, spectacular! One of the biggest pagodas in Thailand, it is impressive in size, using the number 101 for its dimensions—it’s 101 meters long, tall, and wide. An ornate wall surrounds the complex, with several striking gateways. Passing through the entrance gate and walking down a naga-flanked staircase brings you into sublime landscaped grounds. Fountains, statues of the Lord Buddha and mythical creatures, and well-maintained flower beds surround the soaring chedi. The chedi itself is a sight to behold, with cream and golden hues, decorative details, and eight smaller pagodas surrounding it.
Entering the chedi offers even more visual wonder; there are five levels, each different from the last. There are golden pillars set with gleaming, jewel-like stones, ornate ceilings and staircases, detailed paintings, numerous statues, shrines, chandeliers, stained glass, and many more aesthetic touches. Statues include those of the Lord Buddha in various postures and esteemed monks. There’s a small museum about the temple on the fourth level, and the fifth floor is home to relics of the Lord Buddha. You can also step outside to admire sweeping views of the pastoral surroundings from the high vantage point.
Of the hundreds of religious sites I’ve visited around Thailand, this was definitely one of my favourites!
With a fascination for things a bit different from the norm, I was delighted to learn that there were two quirky temples close to Roi Et city.
The large Wat Pa Non Sawan certainly satisfied my love for the unusual! Like something from fantasy land, the complex was created from the imagination of the previous abbot. He wanted to make a spiritual and mystical place where people could feel at peace yet also question things. There are huge and colourful statues and carvings, of creatures both real and imagined.
The first things you’ll spot as you approach the temple are gigantic statues of dinosaurs around a pond—not what you’d typically expect from a place of worship! A little further on, huge dragons arch up to stare into each other’s eyes at the entrance, their stretching, scaly tails creating a wall on either side of a pathway lined with fascinating statues. Don’t miss the statue of an open mouth that creates a small chamber; inside, you’ll see a serene scene of a golden reclining Buddha surrounded by flowers and figures praying.
There’s a tall and colourful pagoda with scenes of the Lord Buddha’s life, but the most striking feature is the enormous, cavernous mouth that forms the entrance to the interior of the pagoda. A shrine sits atop a giant tortoise’s back, and other features include a large squid, a statue of Ganesha, colourful peacock statues, characters from Chinese mythology, and more.
Behind the pagoda, a tower of skulls marks the entrance to a hell garden, a place where people can graphically see gruesome fates that await them in the afterlife if they fail to follow a righteous path.
Wat Pa Thewapithak also offers plenty of bizarre sights. Creepy images stand throughout secluded and overgrown woodland, with ferocious-looking beasts, ghouls, skeletal figures, witches, bloodied bodies, and statues that look like they would be better suited to a horror movie. Some are animated, too. Around the courtyard, small huts contain scenes depicting the struggles of life in rural Thailand.
These three religious complexes were definitely among the highlights of my trip to Roi Et!
Back in the city center, I also enjoyed visiting the royal-class temple of Wat Burapha Phiram – home to Thailand’s largest standing Buddha statue – strolling around the pretty Somdet Phra Srinakharin Park, and wandering around the interesting island on Phalanchai Lake.
SEE – Photos & Videos
GO – Getting There
Daily flights connect Roi Et and Bangkok. You can also take a bus to Roi Et from Bangkok (500 km / 310 miles). There are several daily services, including sleeper buses at night. Local buses and minivans also connect Roi Et with nearby provinces.
Within Roi Et, local buses and vans operate on regular routes between the major towns, passing through many smaller villages. Tuk-tuks are also available for shorter journeys—they are easy to find in the city center.
If your time in Roi Et is limited, but you want to hit as many sights as possible, chartering a taxi for a day could really help you to maximize your time. You can arrange a private vehicle at the central provincial bus station, and you should expect to pay up to 1,500 THB for a day’s sightseeing, depending on the places you want to visit, distances, waiting times, and your negotiation skills.
Do – Activities & Attractions
If you’re feeling active, make use of the free-to-use gym equipment at Phalanchai Lake. Alternatively, take a seat on a bench and soak up the views, or rent a paddleboat to take to the waters.
Relax at the sandy beach at the edges of Bueang Kluea, an expansive salt-water lake.
Visit the picturesque cliff of Pha Nam Yoi and go walking in the surrounding forests to spot wildlife like deer, wild boar, and birds.
Hike the trails at Tham Pha Nam Thip and spot creatures such as monkeys, deer, foxes, birds, and squirrels.
Learn more about Isan culture at the Roi Et National Museum.
Stay – Accommodation
The Amber Mansion – Located in the heart of Roi Et city, the Amber Mansion has double and twin rooms, all en suite and with a clothes rail and free Wi-Fi. Double rooms also have a balcony. Daily housekeeping services keep everywhere spick and span, and there is free onsite parking. It’s a top budget accommodation within easy reach of the city center.
The Rice Hotel – The Rice Hotel is a great mid-range accommodation in Roi Et. Close to the city center, the hotel has spacious double and twin rooms, all with a private bathroom, balcony, fridge, TV, telephone, free Wi-Fi, and wardrobe. Breakfast is included in the room rates. The lobby area is a comfortable place to sit and hang out, and the hotel has a large carpark.
Mae On Village Resort – Located a short distance from the city center and set in beautiful natural surroundings, Mae On Village Resort has a charming rural ambiance. The onsite restaurant serves tasty Thai meals, and room service is available. Breakfast is included in the price. The cute chalets sleep two or three and have a private bathroom, small terrace/balcony, TV, and kettle. Some also have a separate seating area.
Eat – Restaurants
There are plenty of restaurants in Roi Et city center, and you’ll find lots of small, Thai-style eateries spread throughout the wider area. Add to that the abundance of food carts and markets, and you’ll never be too far from somewhere to eat!
Some restaurants serve a variety of popular Thai dishes, such as khao man gai (a comforting dish of chicken and broth over rice), tom tam gung (a sour and spicy soup with shrimp), and fried rice with various meats and vegetables, while others focus on local delicacies from the Isan region. You’ll also find eateries that serve just one type of meal, such as early-opening restaurants that serve khao tom (rice soup), a popular breakfast dish.
While you will have no difficulties finding jasmine rice – which is a favorite staple food throughout Thailand – Isan is also a great place to try khao niew, sticky rice. Local specialities include som tam (a spicy papaya salad that is now popular throughout the country), nam toke (grilled meat with a tangy sauce containing fish sauce, lime juice, and spices), larb (a cold meat salad), sai crok (Isan sausage), and tom saep (a hot and sour clear soup).
Time – Seasonality & Schedules
November to February is the cool season in Central, Northern, and Northeastern Thailand. This is generally the most comfortable time to explore these regions. However, it’s possible to visit Roi Et all through the year; just be prepared for high temperatures in the hot season and heavy rains during the wet season.
The Phra Maha Chedi Chai Mongkol is open each day from 6 am until 5 pm. Wat Pa Non Sawan and Wat Pa Thewapithak open daily from 8 am to 5 pm. Wat Burapha Phiram is open every day from 8.30am until 4.30pm. Roi Et National Museum opens from 9 am until 4 pm from Wednesday to Sunday.
Safety – Possible risks
Please Note: Travel inherently comes with an element of risk (just like crossing the road does). You are putting yourself in elements that are unfamiliar and foreign to your usual lifestyle and with that, become more susceptible to fall victim those who try to play off those unfamiliar to their local scams. There are also potential dangers in the environments to which you may not be accustomed to.
Please take extra care in travelling, ensure that you have adequate medical insurance (accidents seem to happen when you least expect them), and have let a trusted colleague, family member or friend know your whereabouts and activities.
Where Sidewalks End travel advises you to travel at your own risk, and to be extra aware of your surroundings (without letting it spoiling your time).
Pay – How much does it cost?
Costs are often lower in Roi Et than in touristy parts of Thailand, and you can expect to get great deals on accommodation and meals. Many temples and other attractions have no admission fees, though small donations are really appreciated. Where admission fees are charged, they are typically nominal. For example, there was a 20 THB entry fee for Phra Maha Chedi Chai Mongkol at the time of visiting. It is cheap to use local transport.
Responsible Travel – Best Practices
Remember that Roi Et isn’t a widely visited province, and take plenty of patience! Keep calm in the face of communication difficulties and transportation issues. As with anywhere in Thailand, do dress respectfully to visit temples; cover your shoulders and to the knees and don’t wear torn or see-through clothing. If you see piles of shoes outside an establishment or attraction, remove yours too.
Reality Check – Be Aware
Roi Et sees relatively few independent foreign travelers, and the province isn’t really geared up for tourism.
Using local transport to travel around the province can be slow and confusing, and you’ll likely need to take tuk-tuks or motorbike taxis to complete your journey. Be sure to arrange a pickup too for when you’ve finished, as securing return transport from more remote locations can be difficult.
English isn’t widely spoken, and it can be challenging to find materials written in English, such as menus and information at attractions.
Traveling around Isan won’t be as hassle-free as exploring Thailand’s more popular tourist destinations, but it does offer great opportunities to head away from the tried-and-trodden track, immerse yourself in local Thai life, and see a side of the country that is overlooked by many. Plus, Roi Et has some really cool sights!
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Have you ever been to a city that had a really unique historical or cultural feature? Where was it and what made it so unique?
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