“Isan" or Northeast Thailand
Isan (also written as Isaan, Issan, Esan or Esarn) is the northeast region of Thailand, a region comprises 20 provinces. It is bordered from North and Central Thailand by the Phetchabun mountains, by the Mekong River to the north and east, and by Cambodia to the south. The Mekong, one of the world’s longest rivers, forms the border between Thailand and Laos for hundreds of kilometers. In much of the area Isan language is spoken, which differs from Thai and is closer to Laotian language. Famous food for the region are sticky rice and Som Tam (papaya salad). Aspects of Isan culture include mor lam music, Muay Thai boxing and cock fighting. Much of the North East is rural with the majority of its inhabitants employed in farming, making Isan Thailand's poorest region. Many Isan people have moved to Bangkok to find work, but due to ASEAN, opportunities for the region occur resulting in increase of other activities.
Due to it's history and still lesser-known status, Isan is still limited visited by foreign tourists, hence all the ancient grounds, unspoiled sightseeing spots and important Buddism landmarks are still hidden treasures, waiting for foreign tourists to be discovered.
In the 15th century Isan was divided between Laotian and Khmer kingdom, used by Khmer kings as a buffer state between Khmer kingdom and Thai kingdom. Actual Laos and "ISAN" area were under the rule of the Siamese King. When French colonialist army occupied Laos in last century, they forced Siam to withdraw from the right shore of the Mekong. At that time Isan was included in Thai kingdom. Early 20th century, forests covered majority of the northeast, meaning communication between villages was difficult and travel only possible by primitive ways like buffalo-carts, hence Isan was very remote.
During Vietnam war, "ISAN" area received money thanks to the deployment of US military bases (Udon Thani, Ubon Ratchathani, Nakorn Phanom, Nakorn Ratchasima) in order to send bombs on Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. In 1975 after Vietnamese, Laotian and Kampuchean governments became oriented by communism-socialism, Thailand worried that external powers might want it to become communist also. If Thailand might fall, "ISAN" area will be the entry point because it was the poorest area of Thailand. So central government feeling the danger did quite a lot for "ISAN" area development. At the beginning of the 1980's there was a communist resistance (most of them were students) in "ISAN". Big parts of forests were destroyed in order to discover the resistance shelters. Thanks to a specific law, all were amnestied. Isan area has always had a reputation of insurrectionary area.
In the mid-1990s, Thailand has become an industrial capitalist economy. Thailand was a rural society but industrialization brought many big changes. Agricultural employment decreased as people sought employment in other sectors of the economy. In urban areas, young women flowed inside factories. A wealthy middle class appeared in cities and especially in Bangkok. Modernity brought new technology and consumption. Rural areas were also affected. Modernity brought new needs to rural areas so farmers needed more money. Farmers diversified their crops engaged in contract farming, borrowed more and turned to mechanisation. Inequality between rural and urban areas increased.
Isan covers an area of 170,226 sq km or one third of the country. The region sits on Korat plateau which distinctly raises from the Central region. The plateau tilts from Phetchabun mountain range in the west of the region down towards Mekong River. It has high mountain range of around 500 – 1,000 metres above sea level in the west and the south and are the watersheds of 5 rivers. The San Kamphaeng mountain range and Phanom Dong Rak mountain range border Thailand with Cambodia and Laos. The highest peak is Phu Luang at 1,571 metres and Phu Kradueng at 1,325 metres. Both are popular tourist destinations.
The region has 641 km Mun River originated in Nakhon Ratchasima running through Burirum, Surin, Roi Et and Si Sa Ket. It joins Chi River and Mekong River in Ubon Ratchathani. Chi River originating in Chaiyaphum flows through Kkon Kaen, Maha Sarakham, Kalasin, Roi Et, Yasothon and joins Mun River in Ubon Ratchathani. The river is 765 km long. Songkram River originates in Sakon Nakhon and runs through Udon Thani, Sakon Nakhon, Nong Khai and moves down to Mekong River in Nakhon Phanom. The river is 420 km long.