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Isaan Region

"More than two thirds of all visitors to Thailand neglect to visit that third of the country which provides the bulk of the seedy pickups and wives for said visitors."  Doug Knell, Doug's Republic

The Tourism Authority of Thailand does not, to my knowledge, have the capability to track exactly how many foreign visitors visit specific locales in Thailand.  They can make guestimates in well traveled places like Phuket, Koh Samui, Chiang Mai, Bangkok, etc based on hotel occupancy rates and the number of tourist visits from various countries.  That info only reveals the roundabout figure of tourist visits to places that are already touristed. 

The fact that there's no Hyatt or Hilton in Mukdahan or menus in English at streetside stalls in Loei tells you all you need to know about the quantity of foreign tourist visits in each place  Such institutions have not sprung up because there's no demand by foreigners for them because there are hardly any foreigners there.

Ban Phaeng | Bueng Khan | Khon Kaen | Loei Nakhon Phanom | Nakhon Ratchisma (Khorat) |   Nong Bua Lamphu Nong Khai |   Mukdahan | Sakhon Nakhon Udonthani |


Vast, beautiful, and unvisited

Which comes first:  the tourists or the development?  Usually, the tourists, Doug's Republic says from careful observation.  A few tourists drift into an area.  Basic services are provided.  As more visitors come, additional entrepreneurs enter the marketplace to provide for the greater numbers.  Eventually, so many new entrants appear, future growth prospects are assessed as infinite, and the overdevelopment phase begins.  

There are rare cases where development brings in the tourists.  Witness Cancun.  The Mexican government assessed, through computer algorithms, that this area of Mexico possessed enough charms to be the best site to construct a future resort.  Cancun only had three residents when development commenced in the beginning of 1970.  Outside investors didn't want to take a chance in an unknown market, so the Mexican government had to foot all the initial investment.

The Thai government might wake up to wider Isaan tourist investment if foreigners, known as farang in Thai, were flocking here for second or permanent homes.  They're not.   Nong Khai, Ubon Ratchathani, Khorat (Nakhon Ratchasima), Udonthani, and Khon Kaen have tiny expat scenes.  Outside those areas, it's actually a head-turning event to spot a restaurant or bar operated by a farang. 

One thing you come to appreciate (or denigrate) after a trip to Isaan is the impact foreigners have had onsexpat Thailand as a whole.  The superficial way to think of permanent visitors to Thailand is as sexpats.  Anyone coming to Thailand for a short spell will have come across a middle-aged or elderly male arm in arm with a girl, usually from Isaan, a half to a third his age.  Only a percentage of these males set up shop in the Kingdom permanently and carry the torch of the sexpat lifestyle forward for future generations.  The oft-quoted comment by the 'morally upright' visitors, predominantly desperate Western females, is that these sexpats are pigs, losers in their own lands, in Thailand strictly for the easy scores.  Such comments underscore a lack of apprehension of free-market economic systems at work. The Western sexpat desires a service he can have provided by an Isaan woman in Thailand  better and cheaper than a female in his native land.  The Isaan woman is in need of cash for her, her parents, and probably a baby or two a Thai lover left her with when she was 20 or 21.  It's only "wrong" that she's with an 80-yr old bald Englishman with a cane  based on the disgruntled complainer's arbitrary definition of fair.  An economist would beg to differ.  He'd call this very fair --- a fair market exchange. 

These sorts of sex tourists or permanent resident sexpats constitute a minority of the foreign presence in Thailand.  The majority of the relocatees are males attracted by the lifestyle who eventually do wind up married to a local woman.  I've already outlined here why foreign women would not be as attracted to the idea of relocating to Thailand.  Relocated foreigners are the ones who tend to initially open up the sports shops, the ethnic restaurants, the yoga studios.  They do what immigrants to any country do:  they bring with them their knowledge, expertise, and interests from their homelands.  Over time, this has an impact, usually for the better, on the host country.   You can see these effects in plentitude in Thailand's tourist meccas.  You won't see them in Isaan.  Whether that's good or bad depends on your point of view.  I'd argue that Thailand is enriched overall by the influx of foreigners.   Purists would say the opposite, that Thai culture is being perverted and compromised by a farang presence.  Those purists should then be happy with a visit to Isaan.   Few foreign tourists will mean less foreign entrepreneurs present and a taste of old-style Thailand.   To most visitors, immersion in Thailand would be too intimidating.  

This page is, by no means, a comprehensive overview of Isaan.   I have never lived in Isaan, and though I've traveled through it, can only list for you the impressions of the places I've been, to give you a taste.  My first taste of the place came in October 2005, when I followed a young British traveler into Isaan to see what it was all about.  Much of what I've seen of Isaan was done so atop a 125cc motorbike, carrying a small knapsack. 

If you're going, leave behind dreams of pizzas, steaks, and cable television with Western stations.  You should be able to find these 'treasures' in the bigger Isaan towns like Khorat and Udonthani, but your choices are more limited.  In Udonthani, for example, I could only locate one Italian restaurant and it wasn't very good. 

Go to Isaan for Isaan.


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The Harry Dandruff Universe

  Isaan is in Northeastern Thailand and consists of Loei, Khorat, and Khon Kaen among others. Sexpat tourists come here to import women.