• Will Davies

Beyond Bangkok - Life as an Expat In Northeast Thailand

Updated: Jan 6

When we think of Thailand, we often associate the country with pristine waters, party islands, sleepless cities, or the tourist capital of the world - Bangkok. Very rarely do we associate Thailand with what exemplifies Thai culture so well, its Northeastern region, Isaan.

Home to 20 provinces and almost a third of the country’s population, Isaan is often overlooked when it comes to travel itineraries. There’s no denying that destinations in the North, South, and Central Thailand possess qualities that make them such desirable locations. Whether you’re a teacher or a traveller, here’s why you should consider abandoning your ‘Bangkok or bust’ or ‘Chiang Mai or goodbye’ mentality and opt for a more distinct path.

Bangkok Or Bust?

In Bangkok, a culture of pleasure and sophistication awaits each traveller. There’s no doubt as to why Bangkok proves to be the tourist capital of the world time and time again. Whether you opt for temple tours or food markets, roadside beers or cocktails atop skyscraper bars, Bangkok has it all.

However, while the thrilling metropolis offers a taste of Thai culture as well as the comfort of westernised influence, it may not encapsulate a true and authentic picture of Thailand. Its popularity has inevitably led to a surge of Western influence which comes at the cost of Thai identity. Having sights only for the capital only may result in a one dimensional Thai experience.

Why Living in Isaan Presents an Authentic Experience

While the name Isaan derives from the Hindu god of death (Yamanivesana), the region suggests anything but. Bountiful rice paddies, tropical forests, and mountainous terrain, Isaan boasts of destinations polarised to the rest of Thailand. Khao Yai and Phu Pha Man, 2 of 26 national parks in Isaan, are examples of the region’s rich biodiversity.

Where the bountiful harvest lies on the fringes of bustling Thai communities, Isaan is a place where travellers can choose between natural tranquillity or urban frenzy at the blink of an eye. The countryside provides a scenic escape from the city life with its rich life courtesy of the mounds of rice paddies and crops of sugarcane.

In a region where its economy is dominated by agriculture, growing fresh produce is woven into the fabric of life. Anecdotally, co-workers typically arrive at work with fresh produce to share every morning. Sharing is a staple of Thai culture, and expats can expect to revel in an organic community.

Members of society with conventional jobs such as teachers, taxi drivers and police officers have their own allotment and farms. I was particularly intrigued when I discovered that one of my co-workers at school also managed an alligator farm for five years, before making the transition into goat farming, all whilst being a full-time teacher.

Difference In Attitude Towards Expats

One of the quintessential differences between cosmopolitan cities such as Bangkok and areas of Isaan is the attitude towards expats. With around 22,000,000 foreign tourists arriving into Bangkok each year, the local population is bound to grow indifferent to tourists.

In cities and towns of Isaan, however, the local population will be much more receptive to foreign presence. Foreigners, or ‘farangs’, will notice the vast difference between the two locations when it comes to their reception. Since the presence of foreigners is much more of a novelty in Northeast Thailand, locals will be much more inquisitive.

This will have its benefits as well as its drawbacks, depending on the traveller. It might be refreshing to receive significantly more attention than you usually would back home, or even in Bangkok or Chiang Mai.