It’s an ongoing debate, whether tourism is helpful (development is a good thing, right?) or harmful (what about the culture and natural beauty?), and it’s one in which I’m sitting uncomfortably on the fence, one leg dangling on either side.
Forgive me if I’m wrong in saying every traveler’s dream is to step foot onto uncharted territory; to set the first footprints in white sand; to enter a culture untouched by others.
I think I’ve come as close to that dream as possible by living in Isaan – Suwannaphum, to be exact. Nobody passes through this corner of the world without reason, and the guidebooks will tell you there is no reason.
It’s why this part of the country is considered “the real Thailand,” though I had my doubts about that before I came. How can it be any more real than the rest? I questioned. Now I know.
Because it hasn’t been spoiled by tourism, and it hasn’t been affected by the western influences so many other parts of the country have seen. Isaan culture is still intact – farmers continue to push wagons and walk their buffalo to water twice each day. Rice fields are harvested by hand. Children aren’t scared of strangers.
That smalltown “family” feel still exists, and there is no crime. Here, trust actually means you can leave the keys in your motorbike, your hut unlocked and all your belongings outside, and know it will still be there when you get back.
If you’re planning a trip to Thailand, I recommend scheduling at least a few days in the Northeast. Check out the monkey temple in Ban Ku, the nightlife in Khon Kaen (Isaan’s little Bangkok) and the cock fights in Suwannaphum. Catch a festival or parade where the local dance is sure to captivate you (it’s not hard to find one – they close down entire streets almost daily). Visit Old Town Thailand in Chiang Khan or the pillow-making village in Yasothon.
Give food to the monks, pray at the temples and relish in the company of animals everywhere you look. You can learn how to cook with the locals (if you like spicy!), walk down a village street to feel like a celebrity, or simply rent a motorbike and just drive, stopping at roadside fruit stands to try something new.
I realize my urging you to visit makes me a hypocrite. It makes no sense for me to promote tourism here because the best part of my trip (and what will undoubtedly be yours too) is that lack of it.
So, on second thought, maybe you should just settle for seeing it through my eyes!
Northeastern Thailand: A Photoblog