The 20 provinces of North Eastern Thailand, known as Isaan, comprise Thailand's largest region. It is often written off by foreign tourists as having no beaches, no hill-tribe trekking and lacking the fast-paced urban energy found elsewhere in Thailand. The truth is that Isaan is the most colourful, traditional and culturally distinct part of Thailand, where the population is friendlier and speak their own Lao dialects as well as Khmer dialects in Southern Isaan. The region is steeped in ancient history and the Lao-influenced cuisine is a culinary delight that has been 'exported' to all corners of Thailand. There is also much Vietnamese influence in many parts of Isaan where many Vietnamese dishes have been adopted as part of Isaan's own. Apart from the fascinating people, Isaan is rich in outstanding places to visit. From the wonderful riverside provincial town of Nong Khai bordering with Laos to the stunning national parks of Khao Yai and Phu Kradueng National Park, to the culture of the hillside temples and ancient Khmer ruins. The National Parks were the first two areas in Thailand to be awarded National Park status - both full of gorgeous scenery, unforgettable views, thundering waterfalls and teaming with wildlife. Accommodation and food are generally much cheaper in Isaan than other parts of Thailand, with countless low-priced guesthouses, perfect for budget travellers. It is also the best place to seek out real Thai rural life that has barely changed in hundreds of years, except maybe for the odd old motorbike leaning against a wooden house and a rusty tractor in the village. There is something for everyone in Isaan. The laidback style of life is in sharp contrast to life in Bangkok or many of the southern tourist spots. Foreigners who have made the trip to Isaan often find it very relaxing and the best part of their journey across Thailand.