"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."
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.
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
Eventually, so many new entrants appear, future growth
prospects are assessed as infinite, and the overdevelopment
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
One thing you come to appreciate (or denigrate) after a trip
to Isaan is the impact foreigners have had on
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
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.