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The International Writers Magazine: Thailand

Going Local in Thailand
• Charles Cole
The northeast of Thailand – called “Isan” by the locals – is the largest of the main regions of Thailand, yet is visited by only one percent of international travelers. We were intrigued by this simple fact and decided to find out more: could it be a place to visit? The answer was a definitive “Yes!”


Tourism is very important to Thailand’s economy, but the vast majority of revenues come from package tours to those destinations that cater almost exclusively to foreigners – the islands of Phuket and Samui, the beach resort of Pattaya or the capital of the north, Chiang Mai. Wander around these places and you will see more overseas visitors than Thais, everything is signposted in English – or Russian – and restaurants seem to purvey more fish and chips, burgers and pizzas than local food. There must, surely, be a corner of the kingdom that has maintained its own spirit…

It turns out that this is the northeast – the place from which many of those working in the tourism centres hail, seeking employment out of the rice growing season. Isan is the “elephant’s ear” of Thailand when looking at a map of the country, stretching from Nakorn Ratchasima to the borders with Laos and Cambodia on the Mekong river. Its main cities are trading centres for rice and more, yet getting out into the countryside is like stepping back in time.

Enterprising locals have now made it possible for overseas guests to experience village life in the unspoiled northeast. Book yourself a holiday at the rural Thailand pool villa Gecko Villa in Udon Thani province and make this your base from which to explore the region. The local Thai family that runs the property with a network of relatives will meet you in town to drive you to the property, set squarely among rice paddies after passing through its bamboo driveway. The property sleeps 1- 6, is fully air-conditioned and has a private swimming pool, and fresh Thai meals are included throughout your stay. All revenues go straight to the locals involved in the project that was established as a sustainable tourism initiative.

Pink Lotus You’ll get to experience things that are not possible in the country’s tourism centres. Try a trip on the stunning lotus lake, visit wet markets or forest temples, become a teacher for an hour or more in a village school, join in the work in the rice paddies, or learn to drive a samlor…Or pick ingredients in the villa’s grounds and gardens and learn how to use them to cook some delicious Thai food. Indeed, most visitors to Thailand will have specific Thai dishes in mind when they think of Thai food, but in fact this varies greatly from region to region.

The cuisine of the northeast is spicy, with pronounced flavours, and includes green papaya salad, spicy beef dishes with fresh herbs, the famous grilled marinated chicken…and a plethora of strange snacks including beetles, silkworms, crickets and more!

Visitors to the northeast will find it helpful to know that the locals here predominantly speak a native dialect that is effectively Lao rather than Thai, so whilst a Thai phrasebook is helpful, a Lao phrasebook will be even more useful, and elicit many a smile from the locals!

In a nutshell:
What: Eclectic villa holidays in a unique setting with outstanding food & a very friendly Thai welcome
Don't miss:The Pink Lotus Sea, Market visits & cooking demonstrations; Interacting with the local rice farmers; traditional Thai massage.
Partners: Gecko Villa works with Pack 4 a Purpose & Responsible Travel.

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