Isan (Isan/Thai: อีสาน,
pronounced [ʔīː.sǎːn] ( listen); also written as
Isaan, Isarn, Issarn, Issan, Esan, or Esarn; from
Sanskrit ऐशान aiśāna "northeast") consists of
20 provinces in the northeastern region of Thailand.
Thailand's largest region, located on the Khorat Plateau, bordered by
Mekong River (along the border with Laos) to the north and east,
Cambodia to the southeast and the
Sankamphaeng Range south of
Nakhon Ratchasima. To the west it is separated from northern and
Thailand by the Phetchabun Mountains.
12 Administrative divisions
13 Notable natives or residents
15 Further reading
16 External links
Since the beginning of the 20th century, northeastern
been generally known as Isan, while in official contexts the term phak
"northeastern region") may be used. The term "Isan" was derived from
Isanapura, capital of Chenla. The majority Isan-speaking population of
the region distinguish themselves not only from the Lao of
also from the central Thai by calling themselves khon
Isan or Thai
Isan in general. However, some refer to themselves as simply Lao, and
academics have recently been referring to them as Lao Isan or as
Thai Lao, with the main issue with self-identification as Lao being
stigma associated with the Lao identity within Thai society.
The Khmer-speaking minority and the
Kuy people ("Soui"), who live in
the south of Isan, speak
Austroasiatic languages and follow customs
more similar to those of
Cambodia than to those of the Thai and Lao,
who are Tai peoples.
The main language is Isan, which is a dialect of the Lao language.
Currently written with the
Thai alphabet (instead of the slightly
different Lao alphabet),
Isan belongs to the Chiang Saeng and
Lao–Phutai language groups, which along with Thai are members of the
Tai languages of the Tai–Kadai language family. Thai is also spoken
by almost everyone and is the language used in education. Khmer, the
language of Cambodia, is widely spoken in areas along the Cambodian
border: Buriram, Surin, and Sisaket. The Lao
Isan people are aware of
their Lao ethnic origin, but
Isan has been incorporated as a territory
into the modern Thai state through over one hundred years of
administrative and bureaucratic reforms, educational policy, and
government media. Despite this, since the election of Thaksin
Shinawatra as prime minister in the January 2001 elections, the Lao
Isan identity has reemerged, and the Lao
Isan are now the main
ethnolinguistic group involved in the pro-Thaksin "Red Shirt movement"
of the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship. Several
Thai prime ministers have come from the region.
Prominent aspects of
Isan culture include mor lam (Thai:
หมอลำ), an indigenous folk music, muay Thai (Thai:
มวยไทย) boxing, cock fighting, and celebratory processions
Isan food, in which glutinous rice (Thai:
ข้าวเหนียว, khao niao) and chili peppers are
prominent, is distinct from central Thai cuisine, though it is now
found throughout the kingdom.
Sticky rice is a staple of northeastern
cuisine and it accompanies most meals.
Main article: History of Isan
Black ceramic jar,
Ban Chiang culture, Thailand, 1200-800 BCE.
Isan has a number of important
Bronze Age sites, with prehistoric art
in the form of cliff paintings, artifacts and early evidence of rice
cultivation. Iron and bronze tools such as those found at Ban Chiang
may predate similar tools from Mesopotamia.
The region later came under the influence of the
followed by the Khmer Empire. The latter built dozens of prasats
(sanctuaries) throughout Isan. The most significant are at Phimai
Historical Park and Phanom Rung Historical Park. Preah Vihear Temple
was also considered to be in Isan, until the International Court of
Justice in 1962 ruled that it belonged to Cambodia.
Khmer Empire began to decline in the 13th century,
dominated by the Lao kingdom of Lan Xang, which had been established
by Fa Ngum. Due to a scarcity of information from the periods known as
the dark ages of Cambodia, the plateau seems to have been largely
depopulated. There were few if any lines of demarcation, for prior to
the 19th century introduction of modern mapping, the region fell under
what 20th century scholars called the "mandala system". Accordingly,
in 1718 the first Lao mueang in the
Chi River valley — and indeed
anywhere in the interior of the
Khorat Plateau — was founded at
Suwannaphum District (in present-day
Roi Et Province) by an official
in the service of King
Nokasad of the Kingdom of Champasak.
The region was increasingly settled by both Lao and Thai emigrants.
Thailand held sway from the 17th century, and carried out forced
population transfers from the more populous left (east) bank of the
Mekong to the right bank in the 18th and 19th centuries. This became
more severe following the
Lao rebellion (1826–1828)
Lao rebellion (1826–1828) for complete
independence of 1826–9. In the wake the
Franco-Siamese War of 1893,
the resulting treaty with France and the Anglo-Siamese Treaty of 1909
made the plateau a border region between
Thailand and the
In the mid-20th century, the state-supported assimilation policy
Thaification promoted the ethnic integration of
Isan into the
modern conception of Thai nationality and de-emphasized the use of
ethnic markers, for ethnic
Laos and Khmers, as it was deemed
uncivilized and to prevent ethnic discrimination among the Thai
Phanom Rung in Buriram.
The national government claimed that the name "Isan" was derived from
Sanskrit Īśāna, a name of
Shiva they claimed referred to his rule
of the northeast (
Sanskrit īśānya). This interpretation was
intended to reinforce Isan's identity as the northeast of Thailand,
rather than as part of the Lao kingdom which was recently created by
the French colonial discourse, as "race was then an important
ideological tool for French colonialists in the attempt to seize the
'Laotian' and 'Cambodian' portions of Siam."
Before the central government introduced the
Thai alphabet and
language in regional schools, the people of
Isan wrote in the Lao
alphabet, a very similar script that Thai adopted. Most people speak
Isan, a variety of Lao, as their first language. A significant
minority in the south also speak Northern Khmer.
The Kuy people, an Austronesian people concentrated around the core of
what was once called "Chenla" and known as the Khmer Boran "ancient
Khmer", are a link to the region's pre-Tai history.
Main article: Khorat Plateau
Satellite image of Isan: the borders with
Cambodia can be
seen due to the greater deforestation within Isan.
Isan covers 160,000 km2 (62,000 sq mi) making it about
half the size of Germany, and just under twice the size of the US
state of Maine. It is roughly coterminous with the Khorat Plateau,
which tilts from the
Phetchabun Mountains in the west of the region
(the location of several national parks) down toward the Mekong. The
plateau consists of two plains: the southern Khorat plain is drained
by the Mun and Chi rivers, while the northern
Sakon Nakhon plain is
drained by the
Loei and Songkhram rivers. The two plains are separated
by the Phu Phan Mountains. The soil is mostly sandy, with substantial
Cities, mountains and rivers of Isan.
Mekong forms most of the border between
Laos to the
north and east of Isan, while the south of the region borders on
Cambodia. The Mekong's main Thai tributary is the Mun River, which
rises in the
Khao Yai National Park
Khao Yai National Park near
Nakhon Ratchasima Province
and runs east, joining the
Ubon Ratchathani Province. The
other main river in
Isan is the Chi River, which flows through central
Isan before turning south to meet the Mun in Sisaket Province. The
Loei and Songkhram rivers are also tributaries of the Mekong,
the former flowing north through
Loei Province and the latter flowing
east through Udon Thani, Sakon Nakhon, Nakhon Phanom, and Nong Khai
The average temperature range is from 30.2 °C (86.4 °F) to
19.6 °C (67.3 °F). The highest temperature recorded was
43.9 °C (111.0 °F) in Udon Thani, the lowest
−1.4 °C (29.5 °F) at
Sakhon Nakhon Agro
Rainfall is unpredictable, but is concentrated in the rainy season
from May to October. Average annual precipitation varies from
2,000 mm (79 in) in some areas to 1,270 mm (50 in)
in the southwestern provinces of Nakhon Ratchasima, Buriram, Maha
Khon Kaen and Chaiyaphum. The rainy season begins with
occasional short but heavy showers, eventually raining very heavily
for longer periods almost every day, usually in the late afternoon or
at night, until it ends abruptly at the onset of the cool season.
The other seasons are the cool season from October to February, when
the people sit outside around fires in the evenings, and the hot
season from February to May with its sudden peak of high temperatures
Main article: Economy of Isan
Centara Hotel and Convention Centre, Udon Thani.
Isan is home to one-third of Thailand's 67 million citizens, but
contributes only ten percent to the national GDP.
In terms of regional value-added per capita,
Isan is Thailand's
Bangkok is the richest, followed by central Thailand,
southern Thailand, then northern Thailand. This ordering has been
unchanged for decades.:57 Thailand's highly centralized fiscal
system reinforces the status quo. An obvious example of this
Bangkok-centric policy is the allocation of budgets:
for about 17 percent of population and 25.8 percent of GDP, but
benefits from about 72.2 percent of total expenditures.
for about 34 percent of population and 11.5 percent of GDP, but
receives only 5.8 percent of expenditures.:58
Agriculture is the largest sector of the economy, generating around 22
percent of the gross regional product (compared to 8.5 percent for
Thailand as a whole). Sticky rice, the staple food of the region, is
the main agricultural crop (accounting for about 60 percent of
cultivated land). It thrives in poorly drained paddy fields, and where
fields can be flooded from nearby streams, rivers, and ponds. Often
two harvests are possible each year. Farmers are increasingly
diversifying into cash crops such as sugarcane and cassava, which are
cultivated on a vast scale, and to a lesser extent, rubber. Silk
production is an important cottage industry and contributes
significantly to the economy.
Phu Kra Dung is a well-known tourist destination in Isan.
Nong Khai Province, which stretches along the
Mekong River, is noted
for the production of pineapples, tobacco (which is dried, cured and
shredded by the families before collection by cigarette
manufacturers), and tomatoes, which are grown on an industrial scale,
particularly in Si Chiang Mai District.
Despite its dominance of the economy, agriculture in the region is
problematic. The climate is prone to drought, while the flat terrain
of the plateau is often flooded in the rainy season. The tendency to
flood renders a large proportion of the land unsuitable for
cultivation. In addition, the soil is highly acidic, saline, and
infertile from overuse. Since the 1970s, agriculture has been
declining in importance as trade and the service sector has been
CentralPlaza, Udon Thani
Very few farmers still use water buffalos rather than tractors.
Nowadays, water buffalos are mainly kept by almost all rural families
as status symbols. The main piece of agricultural equipment in use
today is the "rot tai na" (Thai: รถไถนา, lit. "vehicle
plow field") colloquially referred to as "kwai lek" (Thai:
ควายเหล็ก, or "iron/steel buffalo"), or more
generally by its manufacturer's name of "Kobota", a mini-tractor
composed of a small diesel engine mounted on two wheels with long
wooden or metal handlebars for steering. It is usually attached to a
trailer or a plow. Buffalo are now mainly used for grazing on the
stubble in the rice paddy, which they in turn fertilize with their
manure. The main animals raised for food are cattle, pigs, chickens,
ducks, and fish.
Most of Thailand's rural poor live in Isan. The region's poverty is
reflected in its infrastructure: eight of the ten provinces in
Thailand with the fewest physicians per capita are in Isan. Sisaket
Province has the fewest, with one physician per 14,661 persons in
2001, with the national average being 3,289. It also has eight of the
ten provinces with the fewest hospital beds per head. Chaiyaphum
Province has the fewest, with one per 1,131 in 2001 (the national
average was 453. Nevertheless, as in the rest of Thailand, all
districts (amphoe) have a hospital, and all sub-districts (tambon)
have clinics providing primary health care. The introduction of the
"30 baht" health card has dramatically changed the numbers of those
attending hospitals for treatment, as it has meant that full health
care is available to all who register for only 30 baht per visit. The
few who can afford it travel to the modern private hospitals and
clinics in the large cities for non-urgent specialist consultations
CentralPlaza, Khon Kaen
The region lags in new technology: there was only one Internet
connection per 75 households in 2002 (national average: one per 22
households) [update needed], but by 2006 every district town (amphoe)
had at least one publicly accessible Internet connection, either in a
local computer shop or in the district office.
Extension of landline telephones to remote areas not previously served
has been largely superseded by the use of mobile phones, primarily of
GSM format, which now covers the entire region with the exception of a
few sparsely populated mountainous areas and large national parks.
Many people, even the poorest and frequently also children, have
cellular telephones, although they have no fixed-line telephone. In
Isan has led advanced nations where land-line service is
now being superseded by cellular technology. The region also has the
lowest literacy rate when compared with other regions in
Khon Kaen Raja Orchid
By the beginning of 2008, most amphoe had been provided with
the TOT, leaving the majority of the rural population dependent on
dial-up connections for those few who have land-line telephones. This
results in slow service that does not adequately meet modern
data-hungry needs. Most rural people rely on smart phones for data
services. Internet shops with high speed connections have for many
years provided service to those who cannot afford or do not have
access to high speed Internet. They are heavily patronized by primary
and secondary schoolchildren who come not only to use the Internet but
also to play on-line games, use VOIP, or just to use the computer and
printers. Resident Western expatriates, and foreign tourists are also
frequent customers. For those outside the district towns who require a
serious use of the Internet in their homes, the mobile phone or an
iPstar broadband satellite connection is the only alternative,
although more expensive than a DSL connection. It is far less reliable
and suffers considerable downtime due to overloading, heavy cloud
cover, and rain. Despite, in theory, being "always on", it often lacks
adequate stability for streaming and clarity of VOIP.
CentralPlaza Ubon, Ubon Ratchathani.
Isan people seek higher-paying work outside the region,
particularly in Bangkok. Some of these people have settled permanently
in the city, while some migrate to and fro. Others have emigrated in
search of better wages. Rather than relocate as a family, they usually
leave their babies and school-age children in the care of relatives,
friends, or neighbours.
Average wages in
Isan were the lowest in the country in 2002 at 3,928
baht per month (the national average was 6,445 baht).
Khon Kaen University study (2014) found that marriages with
foreigners by Thai northeastern women boosted the gross domestic
product of the northeast by 8.67 billion baht (2014: €211 million or
US$270 million). According to the study, after a northeastern woman
married a foreigner, she will send 9,600 baht a month on average to
her family to help with its expenses. The activity also created
747,094 jobs, the study found. The 2010 census found that 90
percent of the slightly more than 27,000 foreigners living in the
northeastern region were married to women from there.
Phi Ta Khon mask festival in Loei
Isan's total population as of 2010 was 21,305,000. Forty percent of
the population is concentrated in the provinces of Khorat, Ubon
Ratchathani, Udon Thani, and Khon Kaen, known as "big four of Isan".
These provinces surround the four major cities of the same names. As
of 2010, their populations were: Khorat 142,169;
Udon Thani 137,979;
Khon Kaen 113,828; and
Ubon Ratchathani 83,148. However, as of 2010
only 50 percent of the region's population lived in municipal areas.
Kalasin was the most urbanised province (with almost 100 percent in
municipal areas), and
Roi Et the least (2.8 percent). Thus, the
population is still largely rural, but concentrated around the urban
The main language of the region is Isan, a dialect of the Lao
language. Northern Khmer, a dialect of the
Khmer language of Cambodia,
is also spoken in the southeast. Standard Thai is understood by
everyone and is used for all official matters. The number of speakers
Isan has been estimated at between 15–23 million, the majority of
those living in Isan.
The Khorat dialect, spoken by around 400,000 people, occupies a
linguistic position somewhere between Lao and standard Thai.
There is a substantial Khmer minority, concentrated in the southern
provinces of Buriram, Surin, and Sisaket, and some Vietnamese refugees
Mukdahan and Nakhon Phanom.
Other languages spoken in Isan, mainly by tribal minorities, are as
Mukdahan, Amnatcharoen, Ubon
Surin, Sisaket, Buriram, Khorat
Buriram, Surin, Sisaket, Ubon, Roi Et
Sakon Nakhon, Nong Khai, Nakhon Phanom
Nakhon Phanom, Ubon, Kalasin, Sakhon Nakhon
Nakhon Phanom, Sakhon Nakhon, Nong Khai, Kalasin
Nong Khai, Khorat,
Loei (plus Saraburi)
Sakhon Nakhon Rajabhat University
Education is well-provided for by the government in terms of numbers
of establishments and is supplemented in the larger cities by the
private sector (mostly Catholic and international schools). Following
the national pattern of education in Thailand, there are primary
(elementary) schools in all larger villages and (tambon) capitals,
with secondary (high) schools to grade 12 (approximately age 18) in
the district (amphoe) towns.
Ubon Ratchathani University
Many other secondary schools provide education only to grade 9, while
some combined schools provide education from grade 1 through grade 9.
Rural schools are generally less well equipped than the schools in the
large towns and cities and the standard of instruction, particularly
for the English language, is much lower. Many children of poorer
families leave school after grade 6 (age 12) to work on the farms. A
number move to areas of dense or tourist populations to work in the
Many primary schools operate their own websites and almost all
schoolchildren in Isan, at least from junior high school age, are
now (2008) largely computer literate in basic programs.
In 2001, there were 43 government vocational and polytechnic colleges
throughout the region, several specialised training colleges in the
private sector, and large colleges of agriculture and nursing in Udon
Universities are found in the major cities of
Khon Kaen (one of the
country's largest), Nakhon Ratchasima, Ubon Ratchathani, and the
smaller provincial capital of Maha Sarakham. Some Bangkok-based
universities have small campuses in Isan, and
Khon Kaen University
maintains a large installation on the outskirts of Nong Khai. Most
provinces have a government-run Rajabhat University, formerly known as
Rajabhat Institutes, which originated as teacher training colleges.
Isan's culture is predominantly Lao, and has much in common with that
of the neighbouring country of Laos. This affinity is shown in the
region's cuisine, dress, temple architecture, festivals, and arts.
Isan food has elements most in common with
Laos and is somewhat
distinct from central Thai cuisine. The most obvious difference is the
consumption of sticky rice that accompanies almost every meal rather
than non-sticky long-grain rice. French and Vietnamese influences
found in Lao cuisine are absent in Isan. Popular Lao dishes that are
also staples in
Isan include tam mak hung, or in central Thai, som tam
(green papaya salad), larb (meat salad), and kai yang (grilled
chicken). These dishes have spread to other parts of Thailand, but
normally in versions which temper the extreme heat and sourness
Isan for the more moderate central Thai palate.
Conversely, central Thai food has become popular in Isan. The people
Isan region in Thailand, a mixture of Lao, Vietnamese, Khmer,
Mon, Cham, and other Tai groups, famously eat a wide variety of
creatures, such as lizards, frogs, and fried insects such as
grasshoppers, crickets, silkworms, and dung beetles. Originally forced
by poverty to be creative in finding foods,
Isan people now savour
these creatures as delicacies or snacks. Food is commonly eaten by
hand using sticky rice pressed into a ball with the fingers of the
right hand. Soups are a frequent element of any meal, and contain
either vegetables and herbs, noodles, chunks of fish, balls of ground
pork, or a mixture of these. They are eaten using a spoon and
chopsticks at the same time.
Traditional drums, Rocket Festival, Yasothon
The traditional dress of
Isan is the sarong. Women's sarongs most
often have an embroidered border at the hem, while men's are in a
chequered pattern. Men also wear a pakama, a versatile length of cloth
which can be used as a belt, a money and document belt, as headwear
for protection from the sun, as a hammock, or as a bathing garment.
Isan is a centre for the production of Thai silk. The trade received a
major boost in the post-war years, when Jim Thompson popularised Thai
silk among Westerners. One of the best-known types of
Isan silk is
mut-mee, which is tie-dyed to produce geometric patterns on the
Library, Tung Sri Muang Temple, Ubon Ratchathani, illustrates the
The Buddhist temple (or wat) is the major feature of most villages.
These temples are used not only for religious ceremonies, but also for
festivals, particularly mor lam, and as assembly halls. They are
mostly built in Lao-style, but with less ornamentation than the more
elaborate central Thai temples or the Lao-style temples in central
Laos. Lao-style Buddha images are also prevalent.
The people of
Isan celebrate many traditional festivals, such as the
Bun Bungfai Rocket Festival. This fertility rite, originating in
pre-Buddhist times, is celebrated in a number of locations both in
Isan and in Laos, but most vigorously and most famously in Yasothon
Isan festivals are the Candle Festival, which marks
the start of vassa in July in Ubon and other locations; the Silk
Festival in Khon Kaen, which promotes local handicrafts; the Elephant
Round-up in Surin; and the bangfai phayanak or Naga fireballs of Nong
80th Birthday Stadium
80th Birthday Stadium in Khorat
The main indigenous music of
Isan is mor lam. It exists in a number of
regional variants, plus modern forms. Since the late 1970s it has
acquired greater exposure outside the region thanks to the presence of
migrant workers in Bangkok. Many mor lam singers also sing central
Thai luk thung music, and have produced the hybrid luk thung Isan
form. Another form of folk music, kantrum, is popular with the Khmer
minority in the south.
Mor lam needs a special mention as its festival-type production, which
is very commonplace in Isan, has not been exported to other regions.
Although it is a very exciting affair, not being on the tourist trail
it is largely ignored by foreign visitors. When the locals speak of
mor lam (pronounced mor'ram with stress on the second syllable), one
will often hear them say pai doo morram (lit. "go see mor'ram"). They
are referring to the most common form of evening entertainment in the
region. Somewhere, in a village within easy reach, there will be a mor
lam festival on a Friday or Saturday evening. Usually, the
rock-festival-sized stage is constructed either in a temple compound
or on a sports field. Thousands of people will sit on mats on the
ground and watch the fun-filled program of variety entertainment. The
traditional music and song is accompanied by extremely colorful
choreography, executed by a group of up to 50 female (and some male
katoey) dancers. The fantastic costumes are changed several times
throughout the program, and the transitions are bridged by
often-raunchy gags, slapstick comedy, and speeches by local
dignitaries. A mor lam festival is a family affair and the area is
surrounded by food and drink stalls.
Although there is no tradition of written secular literature in the
Isan language, in the latter half of the 20th century the region
produced several notable writers, such as
Khamsing Srinawk (who writes
in Thai) and
Pira Sudham (who writes in English).
Isan is known for producing a large number of muay Thai boxers. Isan's
most famous sportsman, however, is tennis player Paradorn Srichaphan,
whose family is from Khon Kaen.
UD Town, Udon Thani
The Mall Nakhon Ratchasima
Marriage and courtship in
Isan still mainly follows strict tradition,
especially in rural areas, and most young women are married by the
time they are 20 years old. Many girls, in spite of the legal
requirement, marry as young as 14 to escape poverty, as usually
marriage is associated with a dowry paid by the husband to the bride's
family. A dowry will not normally be less than 40,000 baht, and
according to the status of the bride and/or her family, can often
greatly exceed 300,000 baht.
Isan women rarely have boyfriends until they meet the man whom they
will eventually marry, and tradition requires that the betrothal is
then announced. Younger fiancées will be chaperoned, usually by a
female friend, brother or sister while in the company of their future
husband. The wedding ceremony usually takes place in the bride's home
and is normally officiated by one or several monks or a respected
village elder who has been a monk. Young couples are increasingly
registering their marriages at the city hall, which they can do if
they are over 17. The extended family system is still very much the
traditional social structure in Isan, with newlywed couples often
living with in-laws or building a home on the family compound or
It is not unusual however, for many women to remain single until much
later. Tradition demands that the youngest or only daughter continues
to live at home to take care of her parents. They are then only free
to marry when both parents are deceased. There is also the tradition
that a woman should "marry up" in status. If the woman is tied to an
occupation in a rural area as a farm or business owner, teacher, or
similar profession, finding a suitable husband who is prepared to
relocate is often not easy.
Water buffalo are a regular feature, even in the suburbs, being walked
to and from the fields at dawn and dusk. Although rarely used nowadays
for working the land, they are considered an important status symbol.
The current value (2010) of one head of buffalo is about 20,000 baht
The cultural separation from central Thailand, combined with the
region's poverty and the typically dark skin of its people, has
encouraged a considerable amount of discrimination against the
multi-ethnic people of
Isan from non-ethnic Thais of Chinese
descent. Even though many
Isan people now work in the
cities rather than in the fields, many hold lower-status jobs such as
construction workers, stall vendors, and tuk-tuk taxi drivers, and
discriminatory attitudes have been known to persist with many
Thai-Chinese inhabitants. Nevertheless,
Isan food and music have both
been enthusiastically adopted and adapted to the tastes of the rest of
The process of Thaification, resulting from central Thais' perceived
threat of Lao cultural dominance in the
Isan region, has diluted
somewhat the distinctive character of
Isan culture, particularly in
the cities and in provinces, such as Khorat, which are closest to the
central Thai heartlands and which have been under Thai rule the
As in the rest of Thailand, the population is mostly Theravada
Buddhist, although this is combined with elements of animism. Larger
cities have Christian churches. Many major district towns have a small
Christian church or chapel, usually Roman Catholic, and there are
others in rural areas.
Main article: Thaification
Anouvong, the last of the kings of
Vientiane rebelled against Siamese
suzerainty, and lost in a war that raged on for two years. Khorat was
then repopulated by forced migration of
Mekong Valley Lao, with a
heavy influx of voluntary Chinese migrants. The plateau was claimed by
Siam when France and Siam divided Lao territories following the
Franco-Siamese War of 1893.
Roi Et was established early in the 20th
century to further Siamese control, and to further assimilation of the
population into the kingdom.
The railway network, one of the major transportation systems of Isan.
The State Railway of
Thailand has two main lines in Isan, both
connecting the region to Bangkok. One runs east from Khorat, through
Surin to Ubon; the other runs north through
Khon Kaen and Udon to Nong
Khai. In early 2009, a rail link from
Nong Khai came into operation.
It crosses the Friendship road bridge into
Laos territory to a
terminus a few kilometres north of the land border crossing. It
remains unclear whether this line will be extended the remaining 20
kilometres to Vientiane, the capital of Laos.
There are 15,000 km (9,300 mi) of highway, centred on the
Thanon Mitraphap ("Friendship Highway") built by the United States to
supply its military bases in the 1960s and 1970s. A road bridge (the
Saphan Mitraphap or Friendship Bridge) jointly built by the
Australian, Lao, and Thai governments forms the border crossing over
Mekong River on the outskirts of
Nong Khai to Vientiane, the
capital of Laos, about 25 km (16 mi) away.
Third Thai–Lao Friendship Bridge
Most roads in
Isan are paved. All major roads interconnecting the
provincial capitals are in excellent condition for driving, and most
are centrally divided four or six-lane highways. Many roads connecting
province capitals to larger district towns are also currently (2008)
being widened to four-lane highways with median strips. The paving on
some very minor roads in the poorer districts may be navigable with
difficulty due to large, deep potholes. Unpaved, graded roads link
some of the smaller, more remote villages, but they are comfortably
navigable at normal driving speeds for wheeled vehicles. Most of the
stretches of paved roads through villages are lighted at night, many
with powerful sodium lighting, some of which are on independently
solar-powered masts. Reflective "cats-eyes" marking the central line
of two-lane roads are a common feature. Crash barriers are installed
along the sides of dangerous bends and precipitous verges. Signposting
is excellent and follows international style. Since 2002 (with the
exception of some poorer sub-districts), all signs are bilingual in
Thai and Roman script, although the spellings in Roman script may defy
the logic of English pronunciation, and vary significantly.
The main highways have frequent, Western-style rest and refuelling
stations which accept payment by major credit/debit cards. In 2006,
all fuel stations sell 91 and 95 octane gasoline/petrol and diesel
fuel. LPG (Liquid Petroleum Gas) and NGV (natural gas for vehicles)
was till recently very rare outside the cities of Nakhon Ratchasima,
Khon Kaen, and Udon Thani. As of 2012 many new LPG and NGV stations
have opened. Since 2009, bio-diesel fuel has become increasingly
Thai Airways Airbus A300 departing Khon Kaen
There are airports at Khorat (at the present time no scheduled
services due to its proximity to
Bangkok making air service difficult
to justify financially),
Khon Kaen (domestic), Ubon Ratchathani
Udon Thani (international),
Nakhon Phanom (domestic,
Sakon Nakhon (domestic, scheduled services), Roi
Et (domestic, scheduled services),
Buriram (domestic, scheduled
Loei (domestic, scheduled services).
Domestic air travel between the capital and the region is well
developed, and has become a viable alternative to rail, long-distance
bus and self-driving. Fares are cheap by foreign standards, and Udon
Khon Kaen which both opened brand new airport terminals in 2005
and 2006 respectively, are served by many daily flights and also have
routes connecting other major destinations in
Thailand with some
companies operating wide-bodied aircraft. Most domestic flights to and
Bangkok operate to and from Don Muang, the original Bangkok
international airport, while Thai Airways flights serve Bangkok
International Airport at Suvarnabhumi.
Buses provide the mass transport throughout the region. All provincial
cities are connected to
Bangkok by daily and nightly, direct,
air-conditioned bus routes. All district amphoe towns operate at least
one similar nightly route to and from Bangkok. All towns and villages
are interconnected with frequent services of songthaew (Thai:
สองแถว, lit. "two rows") a covered truck-style bus or
covered pick-up trucks with bench seats in the cargo bed.
Taxi transport is not well developed, even in the very large cities,
where samlor (Thai: สามล้อ, lit. "three wheels"),
three-wheeled motorcycle taxis similar to the
Bangkok tuk-tuk, provide
the mainstay of urban transport. The large cities do have some pick-up
trucks operating on regular inner-city and suburban routes. Airports
are served by collective vans, which tend to be expensive for the
local population, and samlors for private hire.
In this region, rapids and variable flow make navigation difficult on
Mekong River, so large boat traffic is limited in connection with
downriver areas. Bridges are rare because of the high cost of spanning
the wide river; numerous passenger and vehicle ferries link its two
sides. The Second Thai–Lao Friendship Bridge, spanning the Mekong
between the cities of
Mukdahan (Thailand) and
Savannakhet (Laos), was
completed and officially opened for traffic on 20 December 2006. Some
new bridges, not included on the 2005 maps, have been built over
smaller rivers and dams. Passenger and vehicle ferries also operate
across some large reservoirs.
The provinces of Isan
Isan is divided into 20 provinces, grouped into three statistical
Nakhon Ratchasima (#10)
Ubon Ratchathani (#17)
Amnat Charoen (#1)
Khon Kaen (#5)
Maha Sarakham (#7)
Roi Et (#13)
Nakhon Phanom (#9)
Nongbua Lamphu (#11)
Nong Khai (#12)
Sakon Nakhon (#14)
Udon Thani (#18)
Bueng Kan (#20)
Nakhon Ratchasima Province is considered by some to be more
closely connected with Central Thailand.
Isan returns 136 of the national parliament's 400 constituency MPs. In
the 2005 election, the
Thai Rak Thai
Thai Rak Thai party took 126 of these seats,
with six for Chart Thai and two each for the Democrat party and
Notable natives or residents
Royal Grandmother Statue Srinagarindra, Sakon Nakhon
Mun Bhuridatta Thera, born in
Ubon Ratchathani Province
Luang Por Ajahn Chah, born in
Ubon Ratchathani Province
Luangta Ajahn Maha Bua, born in
Udon Thani Province
Luang Por Koon Paritsudtho, born in
Nakhon Ratchasima Province
Pira Sudham, born in
Nadech Kugimiya, born in
Khon Kaen Province
Sombat Metanee, born in
Ubon Ratchathani Province
Tony Jaa, born in Surin Province
Mum Jokmok, born in
Suthep Po-ngam, born in
Ubon Ratchathani Province
Martial arts choreographers
Panna Rittikrai, born in
Khon Kaen Province
Jintara Poonlarp, born in
Roi Et Province, singing styles: mor lam,
Thai pop music
Banyen Rakgan, born in Ubon Ratchatani Province, singing styles: Mor
lam, Luk thung
Tai Orathai, born in
Ubon Ratchathani Province, singing styles: Mor
lam, Luk thung
Siriporn Ampaipong, born in
Udon Thani Province, singing styles: Mor
lam, Luk thung
Asanee–Wasan, born in
Loei Province, singing style: Rock
Pongsit Kamphee, born in
Nong Khai Province, singing style: Songs for
Seksan Sukpimai, born in
Nakhon Ratchasima Province, singing style:
Anon Sangsanoi football player, born in
Nakhon Ratchasima Province,
currently playing with BEC Tero Sasana F.C., Bangkok, Thailand.
Paradorn Srichaphan tennis player, born in
Khon Kaen Province.
Ratchanok Intanon badminton player, born in Yasothon. 2009-2111 BWF
junior world female badminton champion (three years in succession, in
2009 being the youngest to have earned that title up to that point).
2013 Women's world badminton champion; 2015 Asian badminton champion.
Surat Sukha football player, born in
Sakon Nakhon Province, who played
with Melbourne Victory FC, Victoria,
Australia between 2009 and 2011,
and currently plays for
Buriram United F.C..
Sutee Suksomkit football player, born in Chaiyaphum Province, who
played with Melbourne Victory FC, Victoria, Australia, during the year
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Thailand takes a long-term
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THAI MEN FOUND LACKING BY FARANG-LOVING WOMEN". Khaosod English.
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Wikivoyage has a travel guide for Isaan.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Isan.
Grandstaff, T. B., Grandstaff, S., Limpinuntana, V., &
Suphanchaimat, N. "Rainfed revolution in northeast Thailand."
Southeast Asian Studies Vol. 46, No. 3, December 2008, 289–376. PDF
McCargo, Duncan, and Krisadawan Hongladarom. "Contesting Isan‐ness:
discourses of politics and identity in Northeast Thailand." Asian
Ethnicity 5.2 (2004): 219-234.
The Isaan Record
Ethnologue report on Thailand
Annual population data for
Thailand to 1997 (Chulalongkorn
Population statistics from citypopulation.de[dead link]
Estimates to 2004, from world-gazeteer.com
Toward a Knowledge-Based Economy: Northeastern Thailand
Regions of Thailand
Four-region division system
Isan ("Northeastern Region")
Six-region division system
Isan ("Northeastern Region")
Coordinates: 16°N 103°E / 16°N 1