Isan has been the official name of the North-Eastern Region of Thailand since the beginning of the 20th century. It can often be seen written as Isaan, Isarn, Issan, or Esarn. The region is located on the Khorat Plateau, and shares borders with both Laos and Cambodia. It is separated from Northern and Central Thailand by the Phetchabun mountain range. The term is adopted from Sanskrit Ishan, meaning in a “northeast direction”.
Agriculture is the main economic activity. Production lags behind the rest of the country due to the socioeconomic conditions and the exceptionally hot, dry climate. The region remains Thailand’s poorest with the average wage for the region being about 40% below the national average for Thailand.
Although Thai is spoken by almost everyone, the main language is Isan, which is a dialect of the Lao language, Although the people are well aware of their Lao ethnic origin, several Thai prime ministers have come from this region.
They also love their own culture. This includes mor lam, an indigenous type of folk music, Muay Thai (Thai boxing) and cock fighting. Anyone that has spent time in the company of Isan people will be well aware of their love for the music of their region. They also love their food, which is distinct from the Central Thai cuisine with sticky rice and chili peppers being included in almost all meals. Some foods that would be off limits in most western countries, are considered a delicacy in some of the villages of the region.
Visit the region and you will see for yourself why so many Thai girls make the decision to work the bars of Pattaya and Bangkok, rather than stay at home in their local villages.
Main Cities and Attractions of the Isan Region
- Amnat Charoen – weaving and gem cutting classes, mountaintop pools, temples, riverside walks
- Buengkan – partitioned off Nong Khai Province in 2011 is in the north east corner of Thailand. National park and waterfall.
- Buri Ram – history, national parks, wildlife reserves, silk weaving
- Chaiyaphum – sandstone caves, silk weaving, rare cliff orchids, national parks, mountains, waterfalls, weaving
- Kalasin– cliff carving of Buddha, caves, cliffs, open zoo
- Khon Kaen – university, museum, limestone cliffs, ancient cave art, temples, strange pets, silk and cotton waeving
- Loei – sandstone mountains, caves, temples, Buddha relics, waterfalls, national parks
- Maha Sarakham – art, history, stone Buddhas, national parks, pottery, weaving
- Mukdahan – Laos on the east and the thick-forest covered Phu Phan mountains, on the west.
- Nakhon Phanom – Phu Lang Ka National Park with the Tat Kham and Tat Pho waterfalls.
- Nakhon Ratchasima – historical park, maze, temples, historical ruins, zoo, national [arks, waterfalls
- Nong Bua Lamphu – National parks and history of King Naresuan the Great
- Nong Khai – temples, markets, wildlife sanctuaries, friendship bridge,
- Roi Et – handicraft products such as silk, and bamboo woodwind instruments.
- Sakon Nakhon – The heart of Buddhism
- Si Sa Ket – borders Cambodia. Many Khmer ruins throughout the region
- Surin – big elephants, prestigious silk, Khmer ruins, sweet radish, fragrant rice, and rich culture.
- Ubon Ratchathani – beaches and rapids, Thai scholars, devout Buddhists, carved candles, and pre-historic rock paintings.
- Udon Thani – best known for its archaeological and bronze age history
- Yasothon – historical relics and rocket festival
Isan Region North Eastern Thailand Image Gallery
Below are a few photos of our visit to Isan Region North Eastern Thailand. Click on any image to open a cascading light-box and to see a description of the image. Notice the stark contrast in the elaborate temples and also the impoverished temples and housing. There is money in some parts of Isan and in other areas you see the evidence of massive unemployment and low incomes.