Travelling in Isaan Thailand (Northeast)

Isaan is the coolest place in Thailand.  It's got the best atmosphere of anywhere I've been.

First off foreigners are gawked at. I don't mind… at least SOMEONE is looking at me, you know?  Girls in their teens are flirting with me -and for what reason? I haven't the slightest idea. Someone must have told them that all farangs are good looking. It's far from true, but as long as the Thai girls are believing it – I'm all for it.

I know if I'M getting flirted with then anyone is getting flirted with. It defies explanation really. What is going on here? Would some analysis shed some light?

I doubt it – some things in Thailand DON'T make western sense and won't. Nor will westerners really understand what is going on. Somettimes one must just accept it and forget about any further questioning, it's not even worth it.

I drove over 215 kilometers today through the highways of Isaan. Saw 3 big cities and all of them were cool enough to live in – or to live in the shadow of – in the outskirts so to speak.  It was cooler since a low-pressure system moved in from China and we were supposed to have these horrible storms starting today (Sunday), complete with HAIL.  I was looking forward to that since I haven't seen hail in quite a long time. I think I was 12 or so.

No hail, but awefully cold at 100km per hour on the motorbike. I had a long sleeve shirt and two short-sleeved shirts under that. I had undies, shorts and then pants (jeans) on top. I had cotton athletic socks and nike running shoes. By all improbability there is no way I could be cold in the summer in Isaan. But, I was shivering and my teeth chattering for a good 30 minutes before my mind started to get fuzzy and I recognized it as hypothermia – from lifeguard training… and man, who would have thought THAT was possible in Thailand?  It may have had something to do with my physical state of health… example given:  I had a horrible "business" that morning that was likely a result of eating out every meal since I left Surat Thani 4 days before.  

I call a dookie – "business".

It's more professional.

So I stop and eat some VERY hot soup – I swallow it hot – hoping it will warm me up a bit. I slide into the restroom and exchange baggy shorts for bicycling shorts with the pad in the crotch for bicycle riding to keep everything from chaffing down there as I ride. These shorts are tighter and maybe warmer. I notice that they sag in the stomach area – which is very odd – considering lycra shorts are supposed to be tight EVERYWHERE.  

I have lost quite a bit of fat since last year when I had these shorts on last. I lost 10 kilograms without hardly trying.  That's another post.

So – after an hour of sitting – I start to feel almost normal. I can think straight again. I'm still dizzy though.  Not like I was, but dizzy enough to know things aren't "right".

I decide to go for it.  It's 11:30 and I've got to make it another 100 kilometers to get where I'm going.  

I get going – and it's all smooth from there – the sun came out and warmed me up. I was able to do 80-100 per hour on average and I didn't feel all that cold.

Arriving at Ubon Ratchathani was nice. I remember everything, having spent about a year and a half here when I first arrived in Thailand.  I know the roads, the bumps in the road, the traffic signals, the shortcuts, and how people drive. It was nice to feel good about a place again. Surat didn't really do it for me. Kids drove like racers on the motorbikes, endangering everyone and often dying.  In Ubon it's more civilized.  

The best reason for making a stop here – I know all the great places to eat – and there are MANY.  I've already planned out the next 6 meals.  Isaan food is very different than the rest of the country… there are more spices that they use – and they use more of them. Salt, chili peppers, garlic, fermented fish, limes, I love it all – and in the same dish is great too.

I've already hit 7-11 where they stock a local bakery's banana bread roll which was what I subsisted on for over a year for breakfast.  It is awesome stuff. You must try it if you come to Ubon Ratchathani.  

School is out and the kids are away. There is very little traffic and it's almost deserted here. The town limits of Ubon Ratchathani usually holds in excess of 100,000 people I'm guessing.  The census figures are wrong for all of Thailand as there has been some serious migration toward the cities.  

Jobs are everywhere in Isaan for teaching – there's nobody that couldn't get one if they wanted. With diploma or without. Being native speaker or not. Being able to teach or not.  There are Germans teaching here that nobody can understand, but they are getting paid to teach English. In Isaan the schools will take whatever they can get.

There are some things to do here. "THE ROCK" is a large nightclub in the bottom of the NEVADA hotel – pronounced by Thais' as "Neh wah dah".  There are nightly ladyboy danceshows and real ladies too – they alternate.  The shows start about 9 pm and keep going until 11 or so when it's just dance music over the speakers, and usually the same tunes – but everyone feels comfortable dancing to them – and things get rocking after 12:30 or so.  The club also FILLS UP after about midnight as other smaller clubs start to close.  No ID is needed, nor will they frisk you for weapons, but the Thais' need ID and a frisk.

If you take care of the bouncer type guys there with 20-40 baht everytime you see them you'll get royal treatment and they'll probably stop a fight that breaks out if you're involved – unless you really deserve it.  I've not seen any fights inside The Rock, but I've heard of a couple. Be careful.  There are Thai guys there that are used to being Numero UNO, if you come in with your western posse and suddenly you are the one being looked at and talked about – you are now number 1 and they guy or guys may not appreciate it and start something.

One time I was mildly buzzed and pointed to some guy's plate of food and was incredulous that he could get Gai Pad King in the club – I didn't even know they served it as nobody else is ever eating in there.  The guy got extremely pissed – probably thinking I'm calling his food shite or something – and my Thai friend had to intervene and Kartold krup about 9 times as the guy cooled off a little with each one.

So – when you're drunk you might do something similar that might seem innocuous, but that leads to you getting beat to death by 15 guys.

It's quarter to five on Saturday and I'll likely not get this out today. I'll try to send it tomorrow before I head off to a nearby town.

You should visit Isaan – Ubon, Amnat Charoen, Mahasarakham, whatever – just to get a different feel for Thailand. It's what I think Thailand is really about… many people giving food to the monks in the early morning… dancers in the street following pickup trucks with speakers playing music from a wired-in guitar like instrument that goes really fast like Indian music… Forest wats… great food – spicy maak maa…  reasonable traffic… beautiful people…  good parties and Songkran…  and hotter than hell in the summer – don't come until Winter – you'll appreciate it more!

Author: Vern

I'm an American expat living in Thailand. I like to write informative pieces about life in, living in Thailand, including topics like: Thai People, Thai Culture, Nightlife, Technology, and I have published a lot of photographs, videos, and even books on Thailand that you can find at ThailandeBooks.com. There are many photographs of Thailand here - feel free to share with attribution (a link back to the home page). All written content on this site by Vern Lovic. Contact me at Google+.