Check out the least popular part of the country! You’ll be glad you did!
I had the distinct privilege of living and working near the exact center of Northeastern Thailand for several years. Aside from a few justly revered historical sites (Thailand’s only vestiges of the empire of Angkor) the region lacks, for the most part, the kinds of attractions tourists come to see. There are no beaches, apart from the sandy banks of the mighty Mekhong, no real mountain ranges, and people speak better Lao than English. But where it lacks sophisticated tourism, the region more than makes up for it with what I believe are the best examples of the good things Thailand is famous for: food, textiles and handicrafts, and most of all, the genuine warmth and openness of the people. I firmly believe that the Northeast is the friendliest part of a famously friendly country, and most people have yet to get jaded by putting up with legions of smelly, dreadlocked backpackers, as well-intentioned as their garishness generally is.
For these reasons and more—I’d include the music and local festivals, as I’m a big molam fan—the region known as Isaan will remain my favorite part of Thailand, a country I love more than most places.
Since moving back to the States a decade ago, I’ve earned a Master’s degree in Thai literature (which is almost as useful as it sounds) and returned to visit many times. I’ve been fortunate enough to have the chance to see all of Thailand’s regions, and most of its provinces. I speak and read Thai well, and like to believe that I know the country fairly intimately.
But no matter how exciting Bangkok is, or how beautiful the misty green hills of the North may be on a winter morning, they are second to me to the wide expanse of the Mekhong, and the small towns and cities of the Khorat Plateau. I will forevermore order my green papaya salad Lao style, regardless of the funny looks I get in restaurants in Bangkok.