Isaan is situated in the northeast of Thailand. It is not known for being part of the tourist trail; it’s mainly known for its flat farmlands. It’s where the majority of the country’s rice is produced. But don’t let the thought of ‘rural’ put you off. There are some hidden gems to be found in Isaan, and it is as beautiful a region as the rest of the country so commonly seen on picturesque postcards.
I lived in Isaan for one year, and I found myself falling in love again with a country that stole my heart a long time before that. I dove into a culture that fascinated me but one I knew nothing about. I made a leap to take a job in Isaan, but I couldn’t be happier with the unique experiences that I gained whilst living and teaching English in rural Thailand.
Here are five reasons why you might want to consider doing the same:
1) The culture is rich.
Having spent some time in Thailand both as a backpacker and an expat, I felt as though the culture in the big cities and on the islands was more geared toward tourism, but in Isaan, where few tourists travel, the traditional culture is alive and thriving. It is a great place to learn about Thai culture and see the many influences from Laos and Cambodia. I have seen some of the most beautiful and ancient temples, which on some days I have walked around by myself and have been the only person there.
2) The food is mouth watering.
Thailand is already known for a its fiery food, but I bet you didn’t know that Isaan has its very own cuisine. It is home to the papaya salad, spicy and sour pork soup, and larb moo (pork salad), all served with Khao Neow (sticky rice). Your taste buds will be in for a treat exploring this fascinating region’s cuisine. My mouth is watering right now as I sit and think about it!
3) The school and students
Having only taught in rural Thailand, I can’t really compare it to other experiences, but I found that the students at both of the schools I taught at in Isaan had nothing but the utmost respect for me. They were excited and nervous at the prospect of having a farang teacher. Especially my second school, as I was the first native-English speaking-teacher they ever had.
One of the things that I loved most about teaching there was the kindness of the students. On Valentine’s Day, I received 19 roses and over 300 heart stickers, which students stuck to my clothing. Afterward, I moved them all to a piece of paper I still have. For my birthday, I received hundreds of homemade cards, an additional 10 roses and about six teddy bears and eight birthday cakes. By the end of the semester at my first school, I had sent a full box home of just cards they had made for me! When I returned home, I made a huge scrapbook to remember them all.
4) The people.
I found that the local people in Isaan are some of the warmest hearted, most generous people I have ever met. As the town’s only foreign female, I soon gained small-town celebrity status and everyone wanted to speak to me. They invited me to their houses where they would cook some of the most amazing food I have ever tasted, and so much of it as well. I was invited to days out, to temples, city tours, and even shopping in the nearby cities. They wanted to teach me about their lives and culture, as well as learn about mine. It made it almost impossible to leave them behind but I am already planning a trip back to visit at the end of the year.
5) So much respect.
Respect is a big thing in Thailand and, as a teacher, I was one of the most highly respected people in the town. Students would greet me in the traditional way and when others learned I was a teacher, they always extended gratitude. By the end of my time in Isaan I felt more comfortable, welcome and safe than I did in my own hometown back in England. I have nothing but good words to say about my time in Isaan and the local people.
Words by Louise Allonby