I was very surprised to read MM's recent sub on Isaan. I have just returned from there and quite honestly I completely disagree with 90+ % of all he wrote. How our opinions and experiences could have been so different I really do not know. He must have been visiting another Isaan in a parallel universe!
Me and my Thai girlfriend accompanied a friend with his 'new' Isaan girlfriend on a 4 day trip. We flew to Ubon and drove back.
Practically all the villages and towns we saw were quite miserable, the countryside parched and dry. We saw grinding poverty everywhere and quite frankly I found it most depressing. It's clearly subsistence farming out there, subsistence retailing and hand-to-mouth living! When you compare living standards out in Isaan to those in Bangkok (which can be bad, I know) it is perfectly obvious why the capital attracts so many Thais. Sure, many end up living under bridges or in slum areas but at least there is a glimmer of opportunity, there is some work available, no matter how simple or low paid. Most Isaan residents are neglected, forgotten about or just plain ignored by the powers that be in the capital. It borders on the inhuman that basic services are not provided in so many cases. Yes, there are schools and some hospitals but check out the many other subs on this site that have testified to the poor level of education and healthcare services available.
Many towns lack basic comforts for residents. There are few meeting places (often none) or shaded places to sit. No spots for recreation or sport or play areas for children – and literally NO opportunities for work . . . or self-help, study, or any of the kind of public amenities that we take for granted in the west.
The main road – ALWAYS noisy, dusty, polluted and dangerous – cuts a swathe through a litter strewn, half-built and / or crumbling main streets that have the usual collection of a few shops selling cheap and shoddy items. 7 Eleven is a real blessing! Air-con, well laid out and clean . . but once you walk through the door it's hard to walk out again – back into 'Thailand' outside.
I often was dismayed to find no peace, no comforts or anything that might refresh the body or lift the spirits.
OK, there are in fact some reasonable hotels (if you know where to find them!) and I must say that on a few occasions we stumbled across some quiet outdoor restaurants where we enjoyed some nice food BUT that is NOT the norm. The markets and stalls are Afro-third world. Food that most Thais eat would be quite revolting to a westerner – having hung around in open trays or hung in glass shelved carts ALL day – Unrefrigerated and gathering dust and flies while waiting for you to come along. Sure, I can eat noodle soup at a roadside stall just like you can. I'm not talking about that. Believe me.
As for housing, most folk live in old timber 'sheds' – for want of a better word! YES, there are some nice houses. I reckon 1 in a thousand have one. I'm talking the other 999 who don't. It is bleak, very bleak. And that is just what you see . . . I KNOW that the interior is far worse as I have been there several times before. Down dirt tracks, away from main roads in the middle of nowhere you can only imagine how bad it gets. Please accept this: I am not blaming the people. I often found myself thinking how I would cope, what my life might be like if I was born into such circumstances. There ARE better places and the fields around Buriram and Surin are quite beautiful at certain times of the year BUT the writer has painted a completely false picture – even ANY Thai would tell him so!
I witnessed people waking up to a day with nothing to do, nothing before them . . . then that scorching heat blazes down for 12 hours . . the once dark – no street lights – nowhere to go – nothing to do – (oh, did I say no money yet?)
MM – where the hell were you for God's sake?
Wages: Stick is right. It's 175 baht per day in Bkk for the average worker. That's a fact. BUT: far less in the provinces . . . IF you can get paid work, that is!
Enough from me, but Stick – I doubt you have ever published such an inaccurate report in all the years you've run this site.
The Isaan that I have experienced is somewhere between the Isaan that you describe and the Isaan that MM describes.