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A Visit To Isaan

  • Written by MM
  • January 16th, 2006
  • 4 min read


Black Pagoda Patpong Bangkok

After so long in Thailand I had my first trip to Isaan over the last weekend. A small village about half way between Buriram and Khon Kaen.

Given all the stories about Isaan on StickmanBangkok.com I was prepared for a few days of tough living. However as is usually the case in Thailand, you find the reality so different to expectation.

My girlfriends house was nice. Beautifully tiled floors, furniture, and it was large. There were also items such as Satellite TV, Automatic Washing Machine, and I noted that the bathroom has floor to ceiling tiling – something I remember from my days of building two houses in Australia that was simply not affordable there. I stood in front of her house, and could see 3 new or very near new cars parked next to other houses.

Is this Isaan? Maybe this is an up-market Isaan village? It was way better than I expected. Sure there was still some other very basic housing around. And, granted, it was not luxury. But neither was it poverty. I guess poverty is a relative term, but I think back 25 years to my days growing up in a small country town in NZ, and then compare my few days in Isaan What was different? Well when I grew up, there was no Satellite TV and no automatic washing machine, and no new car. While my mum now has an automatic washing machine, to this day she still does not have satellite TV, and the new car remains a dream that she is unlikely to ever fulfil. So who is better off I start to wonder?

So poverty it is NOT. If you want to see poverty try India or Africa. But it isn’t in Thailand. Basic it may be, but that is largely the lifestyle of country living isn't it? The same as my basic standard of living growing up in small NZ country town.

Of course seeing all of this then raises the question in your mind again as to why all of these young Isaan girls flock to bars in Bangkok. It sure is not for reasons of poverty. There is a perfectly adequate country lifestyle in Isaan Probably, I believe, the cause is much the same reason I left my small NZ country town. It is in search of more than what a basic country life can offer, and there are the thrills of the big city. The difference for me, is that I was fortunate enough to have an education that allowed me to move to the city and prosper. Isaan girls arriving in Bangkok find that they can only earn the 300THB per day they were earning in the country. And while you can live on 300THB per day in Isaan, it is a much harder achievement in Bangkok. So Nana Plaza sucks in young girls as easy as it sucks in the men.

But there is hope that the future is going to see change. My girlfriend's sister had a 20 year old daughter. To say she was stunningly beautiful does not do justice to her. And the sweetness and innocence was a delight. This lovely young lady is presently studying at university however. And will be doing so for another 3 years. By the time she ‘hits’ Bangkok in 3 or 4 years, she will be arriving with a very different set of opportunities than her sisters before her. While the earning power of university graduates in Bangkok is not exactly impressive, it offers better opportunity than the 300THB per day in a factory, and I pray is enough to keep her well away from infamous Sukhumvit locations.

Thailand will always have women entering the sex industry. Every country has this industry including wealthy western ones. But if you examine the basics and look at the changes that are taking place, the fact that a much larger percentage of Isaan woman are being provided the opportunity of education along with the living standards being substantially above the poverty line, these two points will in the next 10 years or so cause fundamental changes in the Thai sex industry as we see it today.

As for my 2 days in Isaan, I can only hope for more time one day. I could easy spend a month or two enjoying the country life – not to mention living among amazingly warm, generous, and lovely people. To me Isaan is an example of Thailand at its very best, and not the worst as I had expected.

Stickman's thoughts:

Agreed that travelling in Isaan is a joy, and the people are on the whole very nice indeed.

The one point I would disagree on however is that from the sounds of it, the village you went to was in all likelihood one of the more prosperous villages. There are some incredibly poor places and I remember driving through parts of Mukdahan and Udon Thani which were REALLY poor.

Also, 300 baht a day for "standard labour" in Isaan is VERY high by Isaan standards and not the norm at all.