For US$6 at The Jungle House (www.junglehousehotel.com), the adventurous among us are strapped into a seat atop an elephant as it traces a treacherous, muddy forest trail and murky water. Half of Thailandâ€™s more than 7,000 elephants work, and the others are wild, our guide Yui tells us. The government frowns on mahouts (handlers) bringing elephants to urban areas to entertain tourists. To top off an exhilarating day, I scour a night market to find vendors selling crickets, grasshoppers, and beetles to test my stomach. Frying made them more palatable, even tasty. Back on the road weâ€™re heading to Surin, a province famed for its annual elephant roundup, and nearby Ban Tha Sawang silk-weaving villageâ€”where we shop but also linger to observe the weavers. A driver and car for a road trip cost 2,500 baht per day (US$50), not including gas.
Our extraordinary sojourn ends at Ubon Ratchathani, the easternmost Isaan province that borders Laos and Cambodia. The Tohsang Khongjiam Resort (www.tohsang.com) rests along the Mekong River and offers a serene setting for breakfast. While visiting the Koo-Har-Sa-Wan temple, I wandered from the group and stumbled upon eight monks eating with villagers who invited me to dine. The road less traveled offers amazing Thai experiences. Visit www.tourismthailand.org to chart your own course.