The remains of walled and moated towns scattered the region, in the valleys of Chi and Mun rivers. The remains often show the Buddhist and Hinduist influence, perhaps expanding from the western part or the coastal and the Chao Phraya river basin.
From the 11th century, the Dvaravati/Mon culture from Chao Phraya River basin was gradually displaced by the Khmer Empire of Angkor. Many principal centers became Angkor’s tributary kingdoms. Consequently, a number of temples influenced by ancient Khmer art were found in Isan, most notably in southern part, at Phanom Rung and Phimai, which lie on the so-called Ancient Khmer Highway, the direct link to Angkor. Inscriptions found also told the connections between vassal towns and the court of Angkor.
Sukhothai and Ayutthaya
The Sukhothai Kingdom broke free from the Angkor Empire around the 13th century. Although Isan is not thought to have been a part of the Sukhothai kingdom due to the lack of clear evidence, the Khmer empire became weaker and retreated to its Cambodian heartlands, leaving Isan in the hands of fragmented muang (เมือง) city-states or statelets. However, many Khmer-speaking people remained and are still a prominent fixture in the southern area, constituting the majority in present-day southern part of the region such as in present day Surin Province, Buriram Province and are also numerous in part of Sisaket Province.
The Lao kingdom of Lan Xang (Lan Chang) was established in Luang Prabang in the 14th century by Fa Ngum, with help from the Khmers. The kingdom’s name means Million Elephants, echoing the name of the neighboring northern kingdom of Lanna, Million Fields. Lan Xang was to provide Isan with much of its later population. As the Khmer empire continued to retreat under pressure from the Thai kingdom of Ayutthaya, Lan Xang was able to expand its influence in Isan. Lao settlers gradually moved across the Mekong into northern Isan between the 14th and 16th centuries. However no clear evidence suggests any significant settlement in hinterland Isan during this period. Ayutthaya which arose as a major power from the late 14th century, limited its border only at Nakhon Ratchasima and Phimai.
However, the history of Isan from the period of the retreat of Khmer empire to the end of the 18th century largely remained ‘silent’. No details about communities in Isan were mentioned in contemporary sources, such as Ayutthaya’s Chronicles or Codes. Apparently Ayutthaya limited its influence in Nakhon Ratchasima which was founded in the 17th century, and thought the frontier’s stronghold of Ayutthaya Kingdom in the east.
I often regret that my life had not taken a different direction. I remember reading — back in the early 1970s when I was in my early 20s — a heavily illustrated book about Angkor Wat. I would often read material like that purely for my own interest, but it was unfocused reading — as broad as there were subjects.
Unfortunately, the necessity of supporting myself in life — and related influences — drew led me away from such reading, and I became more and more mundane in my reading until by the 1990s I no longer read books at all. I had no time. It was a struggle just to keep a job.
And there were other personal pressures overwhelming me that I will not get into. Suffice to say, if through some miracle it was possible to gain back the lost time, and economic necessity was no limiting factor, I would love to be able to immerse myself into the study of Southeast Asia; and more specifically, Thailand and its neighbouring countries.
The Wikipedia article that I extracted the paragraphs I quoted earlier cited a 2001 paper titled Northeast Thailand before Angkor: Evidence from an Archaeological Excavation at the Prasat Hin Phimai, and quoted the Abstract:
Northeast Thailand (Isan) was incorporated into the polity of Angkor around the end of the first millennium A.D. Well before this time, local communities in the Phimai region had adopted important activities such as the use of inscriptions and the construction of religious architecture in permanent materials. In 1998, the Origins of Angkor Project undertook an archaeological excavation at the most important Khmer temple in Thailand, the Prasat Hin Phimai. The excavation recovered late prehistoric ceramics and remains of an early brick structure, probably religious in nature, which had been re-used as part of the foundation of the sandstone Angkorian temple.
The reader is referred to Project MUSE for the original source, but the work is inaccessible to the general public. Fortunately, however, the University of Hawaii (Scholarspace.Manoa.Hawaii.edu) has the 16-page document available to the general public in .pdf format here.
One of the authors of that study is Sarah Talbot. Another related work of hers is the five-page Angkorian Architectural Ceramics from the Khmer Temple at Phimai in Northeast Thailand. Here is the Abstract:
Architectural ceramics were a crucial component of Khmer architecture from the earliest times. This paper focuses on the potential of such ceramics, particularly decorated roof tiles, to provide information about Khmer architecture and political expansion. Architectural ceramics recovered from a recent excavation at Prasat Hin Phimai, Northeast Thailand, are discussed in this context.
Key in that Abstract quote: “This paper focuses on the potential of such ceramics…to provide information about Khmer…political expansion.”
If you would like to access it, then it is currently available here.
I have to break away from this post. I get so caught up in the research that it consumes my time, and I have other things to do today. Contrary to what anyone may think, I am hardly deriving an income from this website, so the time I spend is unrecompensed. Despite the Amazon and related advertising links, in the more-than-four years that I have had this website, I have never received an affiliate payment. That is because I have yet to accumulate sufficient balance in my account with anyone like Amazon or Google Adsense to meet their minimum threshold ($100) before a payment is finally released.
So with that said, here are a few related references to close out this most cursory look at Khmer Isaan:
Just outside Isaan’s second-largest city Ubon Ratchathani, in the southeastern part of the region, lies Si Saket where a sizable Northern Khmer population resides. As you’d expect from somewhere that was once an important …
Publish Date: 04/08/2013 0:23
One of Thailand’s most astonishing historical parks, the Phimai Historical Park is a major highlight of Southern Isaan. It protects one of the country’s most significant Khmer temples. Made of sandstone, laterite and brick, the structures are …
Publish Date: 03/30/2013 7:38
With a heavy influence of Khmer culture here, the town of Nang Rong presents an opportunity to see some great historical monuments including the Prasat Hin Mueang Tam, a sanctuary surrounded by lovely gardens and …
Publish Date: 03/12/2013 10:17
… foreigner that has lived in Isaan for 17 years, goes on monthly road trips all over Isaan, knows the roads in Isaan like the back of his hand, can tell you where the best places to get somtam are, and geotags photos of Khmer …
Publish Date: 04/12/2013 21:52
Isaan is het centrum van een eeuwenoude beschaving welke terug gaat naar prehistorische tijden en de tijd waarin de Khmer volkeren huishielden. Er zijn nog steeds overblijfselen en monumenten te vinden die herinneren …
Publish Date: 04/10/2013 2:39
Phimai Historical Park – Isaan’s Khmer Trail. The Phimai Historical Park (Thai: ปราสาทหินพิมาย) located in the town of Phimai, Nakhon Ratchasima province hosts one of the most important Khmer temples of Thailand.
Publish Date: 06/14/2012 2:47
Isaan: Ontdek Buriram. t-h-a-i t-h-a-i. 586. woensdag 10 april 2013 @ 14:47. # 1. Buriram ligt ongeveer 410 kilometer van Bangkok.Buriram laat sporen na van de oude Khmer welvaart. Het zuidelijke deel van de provincie heeft een aantal …
Publish Date: 04/10/2013 5:47
Then several years ago I saw a band in Chiang Mai perform at a small beer garden that had a female lead singer who was ethnically Vietnamese from northeastern Thailand (Isaan). Realizing that there are still ethnic …
Publish Date: 04/09/2013 22:37
The Khmer monuments in northeast Thailand were built over time from 10 to 13 Century AD, a time when the region becomes a king sitting dynasties Khmer Khmer of Angkor in Cambodia, ruled today. Although these positions are not …
Publish Date: 12/07/2010 13:22
When it came to Khmer sites I saw some listed by TAT and had seen more. The other problem with TAT and other “Travel Sites is the do not geotag sites and one is left to dubious print directions. I one case I heard of a site in …
Publish Date: 12/01/2011 11:10
khamerak008 Uploaded on Jan 1, 2008
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