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Nakhon Ratchasima (Korat) – Gateway to Isan

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Last Update: November 2023



Nakhon Ratchasima (Korat) is not your typical tourist destination. It’s different from what travelers are normally used to in Thailand. Is it worth a visit though? Oh yes!

Actually, Thailand has quite a lot of interesting places that are not on the tourist map, but certainly worth discovering. Small laid-back riverside towns, spectacular nature reserves and cities oozing with local culture. Nakon Ratchasima is in the latter category. Maybe not exactly a hidden gem, but without the usual crowds, only visited by the few travelers in the know.


Stautue of Ya Mo - hero of Nakhon Ratchasima
Thao Suranaree – “Ya Mo”, hero of Nakhon Ratchasima


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General Info


Out of your comfort zone

What if you traveled to a large city in Thailand where hardly anyone speaks English? All signage is in Thai script, as are the menus in the local eateries. Pointing out dishes is a risk, because you just can’t make out what’s on the plates. Arranging transport is a pain as any communication with the songthaew drivers ends up in a babel of misunderstanding.

It may take some effort to find an acceptable morning coffee and you can’t help but notice that people are staring at you with surprised looks. After finally locating a decent guesthouse, the next challenge is to find someone actually manning the reception desk. Are they pointing at my shoulders? Am I showing too much skin?

There, I just summed up what Nakhon Ratchasima city can be like. I am of course exaggerating, it’s not half as bad, but a visit to Nakhon Ratchasima is definitely a step out of your comfort zone.


Thai menu
Lost in translation


It’s different from the Thailand we know, less convenient and at times confusing. So, isn’t this exactly why we travel? To get out there into the unknown? To explore, discover and to learn? So, come on let’s go, you’re going to be fine and it’s going to be great!

Isan Region

Nakhon Ratchasima is Thailand’s largest province and situated in the Isan region (Northeast Thailand). The capital is also named Nakhon Ratchasima, but lovingly shortened to “Korat” by the locals. With a population of 150,000 and even 450,000 when counting all urban areas, it’s Isan’s largest and Thailand’s 3rd largest city. The look and feel however, is that of a provincial town. Most of the time not even the major thoroughfares get busy with traffic.


Nakhon Ratchasima - Korat
Nakhon Ratchasima – Northern “Phon Saen” Gate to the old city

Being a regional trading hub for agricultural products throughout history, the town’s architecture is rough and even a bit boring. With the exception of the ancient city gates this also applies for the area within the moated Old City in the center of town.

In the more recent decades, Nakhon Ratchasima managed to attract a bunch of leading tech related investors. This resulted in a more modern style of city planning and the founding of a tech university with a lively student population. A slew of high tech office buildings and new glitzy shopping malls appeared and now adorn the Korat skyline.


Nakhon Ratchasima
Terminal 21 Shopping Mall

Nakhon Ratchasima offers an opportunity to experience the culture of “the other” Thailand. The Isan region makes up for 30% of Thailand’s territory and population and shows us that there’s more to Thailand than just Bangkok, Chiang Mai and the Islands.

Isan is also Thailand’s poorest region. People here come from a long history of harsh conditions, but still manage that iconic Thai smile. So if you’re past Bangkok, white sand beaches and you’re up for a deeper understanding of what Thailand is about, come to Isan and start with Nakhon Ratchasima.



Reasons (not) to visit Nakhon Ratchasima


Why you should visit Nakhon Ratchasima

Why to avoid Nakhon Ratchasima

  • No real tourism infrastructure

  • Frantic city atmosphere

  • The city itself lacks grand sites

  • If your aim is sunbathing on white sand beaches and swimming in a turquoise sea, this is the wrong part of Thailand



Things to do in Nakhon Ratchasima


The main reason why Nakhon Ratchasima isn’t a tourist destination is simply because the list of things to do in town is rather limited. However, if you’re not pressed for time just give it a chance to linger in the city for one or two days to enjoy the unique atmosphere and wonderful people.

Temples in Nakhon Ratchasima City

1h to 2h activity per temple

As any well respected Thai city, Nakhon Ratchasima is home to many temples. In fact, only Chiang Mai has more temples per head in Thailand. A couple of them are real beauties and not to be missed.

Wat Phra Narai Maharat

Located within the moated old city is this special temple. Special, because of the ancient Khmer statues of Vishnu, Brahma, Shiva and Ganesha that were discovered here. The wooden temple is situated on a miniature Island in a small pond with a group of huge monitor lizards swimming about.

Impressive Naga stair rails guard the entrance to the main Viharn, which has a beautiful interior with painted murals all around. The temple opens to the public everyday from 8am to 4pm and entrance is free.


Wat Phra Narai Maharat in Nakhon Ratchasima
Naga stair rails in Nakhon Ratchasima

Wat Phayap

Wat Phayap in the Northwest corner of the moated old city is known for its beautiful architecture and serene atmosphere. Special feature is of course the cave shrine, which is quite unique in the middle of a city. Well, although it’s not a real cave, it is built with real cave materials and the effect is stunning. Opens everyday from 8am to 4:30pm and there is no entrance fee.

Wat Pa Salawan

This is definitely my personal favorite temple in Nakhon Ratchasima. Not only because of the architectural style, which is different from the usual. It’s also because of the 17 acres temple grounds next to a small lake that offers a tranquil respite from the busy Korat streets. To get there you will have to travel to the Western part of town just past the railway station. Opening hours are everyday from 7am to 4pm and the entrance is free.


Wat Phayap in Nakhon Ratchasima
Wat Phayap in Nakhon Ratchasima
Wat Pa Salawan in Nakhon Ratchasima
Wat Pa Salawan in Nakhon Ratchasima

Temples in Nakhon Ratchasima Province

Prasat Hin Phanom Wan

3 hour to half day activity (depending on your transport)

Just 18 km Northeast of Korat is where you’ll find the 11th Century Khmer temple site. While it’s not as impressive as Phimai or Phanom Rung it is definitely worth seeing and usually void of other visitors. The temple site opens from 8:30am to 4:30pm and the entrance is free. You can get there by rental motorbike or even by bicycle. Alternatively, a round trip taxi ride will cost you around RHB400-500.

Wat Ban Rai

Half day activity

Truly spectacular temple and well worth the trip, even if it is located 50km Northwest of the city. The site displays the “Hor Thep Wittayakom“, an elephant-like ceramic shrine in the center of a pond. It’s Asia’s largest ceramic shrine with more than 20 million pieces of mosaic. Buses to Dan Khun Thot village leave from bus terminal 1 in Nakhon Ratchasima every hour. In the village hop on a motorbike taxi for the last 10km (THB150). The return will be cheaper (THB100). Opening hours are from 8am to 5pm and entrance is free.


Elephant temple Wat Ban Rai in Nakhon Ratchasima
Spectacular Wat Ban Rai in Nakhon Ratchasima

Ya Mo Statue

1 hour activity

Local heroine “Thao Suranaree” led her army to rid the city of Laotion forces in 1826. She is worshiped by the people of Nakhon Ratchasima and far beyond as “Ya Mo” (grandmother Mo). At the base of the statue’s pedestal is a small shrine where Thai offer flowers, burn candles and incense to honor her.

The statue is located in a small memorial park at the Western gate of the moated old city and can be visited for free. Treat her with respect, because again, she is worshiped by the locals. We saw tourists trying to climb the pedestal for selfies. It made us cringe and the Thai reacted very agitated, to put it mildly.


Ya Mo statue in Nakhon Ratchasima
Ya Mo Statue

Bung Ta Lua City Park

2 hour to half day activity

Perfect for exercise, strolling, sunset watching and to relax in general. A 3km track for cycling and jogging runs around a small lake with green lawns for picnics and other leisure activities. Grab a coffee from one of the nearby coffee shops and some food from the few surrounding food stalls. Every Thai city should have a park like this.

Shopping

1 hour activity for me, whole day activity for my wife

In the year 2000, Nakhon Ratchasima entered the modern era with the opening of “The Mall”. Since then, several other malls have opened, of which “Terminal 21” and “Central Korat” probably are the most interesting and will make all of your shopping dreams come true.

And of course, this is Thailand, so there are night markets to satisfy your shopping needs. Most notable are:

  • Wat Boon Nightmarket in the Eastern part of the old city. Everyday from 5pm to 10pm.
  • NBK Nightmarket in the Northeastern part of town app 1km past the University. Everyday from 1pm to 9pm.
  • SaveOne Korat Market in the West, which is so huge that there is a shuttle service to get you from one side of the market to the other. Everyday from 3:30pm to 10pm.


SaveOne Korat market
The huge SaveOne Korat Market venue

(Multiple) Day Trips

Khao Yai National Park is not too far away (85km). You can go there on a day or multiple day trip. Jungle hiking, waterfall spotting, camping and maybe see some of the wildlife. The entry fee is THB400 for foreigners.

Phimai Historical Park is even more close (60km), although I really do recommend to stay at least one night there. The park has one of the largest, ancient Khmer temples in Thailand and it’s restored into perfect condition. Moreover, it’s in the middle of Phimai town, which is a pleasure to discover as well. Entry fee is THB100 for foreigners.

Travel Insurance

Always make sure to travel with the right insurance that covers medical care abroad and includes evacuations and repatriation. You’re a million miles away from professional healthcare, just saying. Any serious injuries or ailments will most likely result in expensive medical transport to Bangkok where hospital beds are another $500 per night. Payable upfront if you lack proper insurance.

Also, make sure to cover adventurous activities like hiking, kayaking and diving. Don’t just assume that it’s included in your regular policy, because most likely it’s not.

Read more about travel insurance, or get a non committal instant quote right now!



Accomodation in Korat – Where to stay


There is plenty accommodation to find in Nakhon Ratchasima, especially in the budget and lower mid-range section. The main clusters are North of the Tech University and in between the train station and the old city. We preferred the latter area as it’s close to many food options and easier to find transport.

Walkaboutmonkey.com recommends


Urban Bamboo
Budget = from THB500 to THB1000
Situated in an excellent location within the old city, Urban Bamboo offers modern, boutique style rooms. A nice touch are the free to use bicycles and the included Asian style breakfast. Good wifi, friendly staff and the place is clean! Be advised though, the building has 5 floors and there is no elevator.


Leosor Hotel
Mid Range = from THB1000 to THB2500
Wow, Nakhon Ratchasima is really stepping up its accommodation game! Leosor is a modern, medium sized, no-nonsense hotel. Spacious rooms, Asian breakfast included and located near the train station with easy access to multiple bars and restaurants. They often have great discount deals on Agoda.


Aisana Hotel Korat
Mid Range = from THB1000 to THB2500
Excellent modern hotel close to the city center and the railway station of Nakon Ratchasima. Although it’s just a 3* accommodation, this hotel boasts all modern amenities and includes breakfast. The vast hotel grounds are quiet even if you’re in the middle of the city.



Restaurants in Korat – Where to eat


Small Thai canteen style eateries. That’s what the bulk of restaurants in Nakhon Ratchasima is made up of. More than often there is no English menu and the staff rarely speaks English. Put on a smile and be patient. Expect a lot of nervous giggling from the staff, but usually they will go out of their way to help you.

Having said that, on our second time around in Korat we noticed that a lot of new restaurants had opened. Also a few Western style restaurants, catering to expats, tourists and pizza loving locals.

Walkaboutmonkey.com recommends

Laab Som Pith

A local favorite that has been around forever and also famous with Thai visitors outside of Korat. Laeb Som Pith is the place to go for authentic Isan food. The “koh moo yang” (honey glazed grilled pork neck) is one of the reasons for their fame. Tender and succulent meat served with a spicy dip and sticky rice. People also come for the Laeb (sometimes larb or laab) and the tangy papaya salads, both Isan classics. You’ll have to eat early though. They open everyday from 7am to close at 4pm.


Koh Moo Yang dish
Koh Moo Yang

Noodle Papa’s l รสหนึ่งลูกชิ้นปลา

Noodle Papa’s specializes in …fishballs. Fishball noodles, fishball soup and fishball noodle soup. Amazing how creative the chef gets with fishballs, it’s truly delicious. We came back for lunch a few times, also because the family is so friendly and smiling. The recent renovation turned this Thai canteen style eatery into a stylish family restaurant.

Chez Andy

Chez Andy A Swiss restaurant in the middle of Nakhon Ratchasima, does that work? Oh yes it does, for the past 25years we might add! Chez Andy serves high quality Swiss/Italian dishes and even the Thai style dishes are better than at most “real” Thai eateries. Expect schnitzel, Australian beef, thin crust pizzas and even cheese fondue. But remember, quality comes with a price.


Chez Andy Nakon Ratchasima
Caprese Salad at Chez Andy restaurant in Nakhon Ratchasima

Mingter Vegetarian Restaurant

Very good vegetarian restaurant near the Yah Mo statue with lots of local vegetarian dishes to choose from. Serves Thai, but also Chinese vegetarian food, which are both delicious. Perfect place to satisfy your lunch crave in a healthy way. The eatery also doubles as a health food mini-market.

Piya Radna

Another institution in the Korat hall of food fame. Piya Radna is a long lasting and famous restaurant in Nakhon Ratchasima. They have been serving Radna (sometimes Ratna) as their signature dish for over 20 years. Radna is basically wide rice noodles with a bite, topped with a marinated pork gravy. Extra nice with a handful of thin crispy fried noodles (mee krob) sprinkled on top.

Radna is a common Thai dish, but Piya Radna really perfected it to the point that they deserved a mention in the Michelin guide. Next time we’ll try the seafood version, yum.


Piya Radna restaurant in Nakhon Ratchasima
Cooking up a storm at Piya Radna restaurant in Nakhon Ratchasima

Markets

Mae Kim Heng Market

The go to fresh market in Nakhon Ratchasima for locals. Occasionally you will come across a stray tourist, but that’s mainly because of the market’s central location. Be aware though that Mae Kim Heng Market includes a genuine Thai wet market and all of your senses will be tested to the max.

Great venue to rub shoulders with the locals while having a Thai breakfast with steaming hot doughnuts or grilled chicken over rice. The market spills out onto Pho Klang road and Suranaree road at both sides of the market with more grilled chicken and fruit stalls. Opening hours are pretty much 24/7, but early mornings are the most lively.


Mae Kim Heng Freshmarket in Korat Thailand
Front of the Mae Kim Heng Freshmarket

Wat Boon Night Market

Night markets in Thailand are always a good choice to find delicious and affordable food. Wat Boon Night Bazar in the old city near the Eastern gate is no exception. The atmosphere is very friendly and this is a relatively clean and non-chaotic Night Market. Anyone who ever visited a Night Market in Thailand will agree that is quite unique.

Food stalls definitely form the majority of vendors at this market so you won’t be short on choice. Absolute must-try food here is “Pad Mee Korat”, the local take on Pad Thai, but more spicy and sweet. Wat Boon Night Market opens every evening from 5pm to 10pm, but in our experience, many stalls already start packing around 9pm.


Korat Wat Boon Night Market
Locals waiting patiently for take-out dessert
Korat Wat Boon Night Market
Wat Boon Market Korat

SaveOne Night Market

I guess we can safely say that SaveOne Night Market (on Mittratap road, 500m West of the crossing with Road 304) is the mother of all night markets in the Isan region. It’s a huge area covering no less than 17 acres with stalls offering everything for sale. In fact, it’s so big you may use the complimentary shuttle service to get you from one side of the market to the other.

Next to the zillion vendor and street food stalls, SaveOne consists of multiple retail outlets, a large food-court with restaurants, many bars and plenty of entertainment. The venue is also used for open air festivals, concerts and fairs. Market opening hours are everyday from 3:30pm to 10pm, but the real action usually doesn’t start until 5pm.


SaveOne Market Korat
SaveOne Korat



How to get to Nakhon Ratchasima


Nakhon Ratchasima is a regional transport hub so it’s easy to reach from all directions by bus or train. From Bangkok by bus 4h, train 4h25m. From Nong Khai by train 6h10m, (transfer at Udon Thani).

Book your transport tickets online with the planning tool from 12Go.com. Especially during high season and public holidays it makes sense to book ahead to secure your seat(s). Skip the lines at the bus station, make your choice and book instantly.

Getting around

There are many tuk-tuks in Nakhon Ratchasima and thankfully they are a lot more trustworthy than their peers in Bangkok and Phuket. Of course, making use of a Korat tuk-tuk requires negotiating skills just as anywhere else in Thailand. However, fare prices are reasonable and they won’t give you the runaround. Short trips in/around the city center are up to THB70.

Taxis are all metered according to official regulations in Thailand. Then again, we have yet to find the first taxi driver that actually uses the meter. You need to bargain hard and agree on a price before you get in. From bus terminal 2 or the train station to the Ya Mo monument in the center should be around THB100.


Korat songthaew
Public transport in Korat (songthaew)

If you dare, hop on the back of a motorbike taxi. Again, you will have to bargain, but expect THB50-60 for shorter rides in the city center. In addition, there are songthaews driving regular routes for THB10, but their system is difficult to understand. Unless you speak and read Thai there is a great chance of misunderstandings and you might end up in the wrong neighborhood.

If you have a data plan on your phone you can also use a taxi app. This is definitely the most convenient transport in Nakhon Ratchasima and cheaper than a regular taxi. Grab is the better taxi app in Thailand.


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