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North East Provinces

North East Thailand Isan (Isaan)

Isan - North East Thailand - is one of the remotest areas of the Kingdom, but Isan is no less attractive because of that.

Isan is steeped in history and really epitomises Thailand as it once was. Historic ruins are to be found in virtually every part, and family life here is what Thai culture is all about.

Most foreigners who either live here, or are long-term visitors, will know of Isan by way of contact with the many Thais who leave their farming homeland to go and work in the cities and other areas of Thailand which are seen as more affluent.

Isan is a poor area for the masses, with farming being the main source of income. Small farms and large families do not do much for personal wealth.

However, Isan is gradually gaining popularity as tourist area, and also for a getaway haven for expats living in the bustling cities. Many expats end up living in Isan at the behest of their Thai girlfriends and wives who they have met in other parts of Thailand.

Pattaya in particular, survives - even thrives - with the many young ladies who are forced to look elsewhere for work, and money, in order to help support their families - as is the way with traditional Thai culture which is still a way of life for Isan.

The bars of Pattaya, are almost exclusively staffed by Isan folk.

Map of Isan North East ThailandGeographically, is the largest area of Thailand and is for the most part, a flat plain with a multitude of small family farms concentrating on rice production. In total, it is somewhat larger than England - even larger than England and wales together.

It would be unkind to over emphasis that Phetchabun to the west, has a glorious mountain range with several notable national parks.

To the North and East, it shares the border with Laos - separated by the Mekong River, and to the South of Isan lies Cambodia. Both of these outer countries will be known to those who have to travel outside of Thailand for renewal of visa purposes.

None of the foregoing is meant as negative comment about Isan, for it is an area of Thailand that is sorely missed for its cultural and historical background, and most of the rest of Thailand is gradually being sucked (suckered) towards Western influences.

Do not think of 'Traditional' as being boring. The tradition of Isan is exciting and a huge change from the rest of Thailand.

Whilst there is a huge area devoid of a hill, there are also many splendid mountains to the North, the widest range of activities that do not entail sitting in bars, and festivals and events are all brimming with spectacular excitement here, with traditional dress, music and food bringing you into the Thailand you saw in the colour brochures.

There are no beaches, no islands. You will not need them.

When travelling about in Isan, you could be forgiven for thinking that not too many people live here. Wrong! In fact, almost a quarter of the total population of Thailand live in Isan - 21,000,000 more or less.

The great mass of agricultural land is for growing produce - not home to the vast population. To be at large with the population of Isan, you will need to visit one of the four main cities of Khon Kaen, Khorat, Udon Thani and Ubon Ratchathani.

Farming in Isan North East Thailand

Phimai Isan ThailandIsan is hot - sometimes very hot - for most of the year.

But with a sometimes predictable rainy season which allows for the planting and subsequent growing and harvest of rice crops.

The rainy season should be during months May to October inclusive.

As with other areas of Thailand, climatic changes are afoot, and what was once predictable is no longer. Sweet corn is also grown, together with sugar cane crops.

All are 'grass' crops and so are suited to surviving - even thriving - the otherwise hostile 'growing' environment. Drought is normal outside the rainy season, and flooding of the plain areas generally accepted in the rainy season. Several rivers take surplus water down stream - towards Bangkok, which is not always best prepared for this.

To the North of the area, other crops such as pineapples and tomatoes in particular, are the mainstay of the farming economy.
Isan Culture, Language and Food.

Isan has its own version of the Thai language, or should it be that Thailand has 'its' version of Isan Thai! The language is derived in the main from Isan's Khmer roots. The language is a form of Laos, with sprinklings of Khmer Cambodia, and Vietnamese. This is true of all its cultural heritage, for it is to Laos and Cambodia that its historical background belongs.

When you read about traditional Thai culture, you are essentially reading about life in Isan as it is today still. The family and its core values are the mainstay of this culture, and the respect for elders (remember that in the west) is paramount and still to be witnessed in the city environment to which Isan's younger generation have moved.

The main reason for this exodus from home, is an inbuilt desire to help support the family that is left behind. Many who have moved to the cities, themselves struggle financially, in order to send money home each month.

The culture of Isan extends to manner of dress, music and most popularly - food. Isan food is legendary throughout Thailand, and the migrant population throughout Thailand is fed from a multitude of street food vendors who specialise in Isan Food.

Isan Food is SPICY!

None more so than Papaya Salad. Don't for one moment think that you are about to be served with a lettuce-based dish when you see Thai Salads on the Menu. They are all hot, and not for the faint hearted or uninitiated traveller.

Historical Isan in Thailand

History is on show everywhere in Isan - with the exception only of farm lands. The old temples are almost exclusively Khmer (Cambodian) in origin, and the somewhat neglected condition of some, helps to convey a sense of what has happened in this area over the last 5,000 or so years.

North Eastern Thailand - Isan - was once more allied to Cambodia than Thailand and this aspect of its history is so evident still today with its ruined Khmer Styled Temples to be found throughout the region.

The festivals of Isan - and there are many - are steeped in its historical past. The festivals are as varied as Isan itself is. Boats, Elephants, Rockets, Silk, Candles and the other Thai festivals such as Songkram and Loi Krathong, make Isan an exciting and educational - even awe-inspiring place to visit - or live.

Thai Provinces in Isan