Monday, December 28, 2009

Isan(อีสาน), Thailand

I still remember fondly of Isan, because this was our first family backpacking. We went to Loas, but also visit Isan on the way. Few Malaysian will like to visit Isan at that time, unlike other more popular part of Thailand. Isan is unknown to most tourists, unless you are back pack to Loas or Cambodia.

Map of Isan, Thailand

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Isan (อีสาน)
Isan (Isan/Thai: อีสาน; also written as Isaan, Isarn, Issan, or Esarn, pronounced as 'ee-saan') is the northeast region of Thailand. It is located on the Khorat Plateau, bordered by the Mekong River (along the border with Laos) to the north and east, by Cambodia to the southeast and the Prachinburi mountains south of Nakhon Ratchasima. To the west it is separated from Northern and Central Thailand by the Phetchabun mountain range. Isan, a term adopted from Sanskrit Ishan that means “north east direction.”

Provinces in Northeast (Isan)

1. Amnat Charoen
2. Buri Ram
3. Chaiyaphum
4. Kalasin
5. Khon Kaen
6. Loei
7. Maha Sarakham
8. Mukdahan
9. Nakhon Phanom
10. Nakhon Ratchasima
11. Nong Bua Lamphu
12. Nong Khai
13. Roi Et
14. Sakon Nakhon
15. Si Sa Ket
16. Surin
17. Ubon Ratchathani
18. Udon Thani
19. Yasothon

The Lao-speaking people from this region, who comprise a majority of the population, distinguish themselves not only from the Lao of Laos but in addition also the central Thai by calling themselves later as Khon Isan, or Thai Isan. The Khmer and Kuy (Suai) who live in the southern part of the northeast region of Thailand communicated in languages and follow custom that are more similar to Cambodia than to the tradition of either the Thai people or the Lao people.

The main language of the region is Isan, which is similar to Laotian. Considered by some to be a dialect of Laotian, but written in the Thai alphabet, Isan is among the Chiang Seng and Lao-Phutai languages, which are members of the Tai languages of the Kradai language family. Thai is also spoken, with regional accents, by almost everyone. Khmer (the language of Cambodia) is widely spoken in regions near the Cambodian border (Buriram, Surin, and Sisaket). Most of the population is of Lao origin, but the region's incorporation into the modern Thai state has been largely successful.
(source: wikipedia)

Nakhon Ratchasima(นครราชสีมา)
We by mistake took a train from Bangkok’s Hua Lampong central terminal to Korat, an old mountain train where we are the only foreigners in the train, all passengers looked at us like we are in the zoo. The journey was long and passing through hills. We arrived at Nakhon Ratchasima at night, but managed to book a big clean room from hotel near the railway station. Nakhon Ratchasima(นครราชสีมา),is also known as Korat or Khorat(โคราช), the city's name is the same as the province. Nakhon Ratchasima or Khorat, is Thailand’s largest province and the ‘Gateway to Isaan’ (Gateway to the North-East). The night life is very active in Korat, we have our Korat dinner at a restaurant near the hotel. The next morning we visited the morning market, and tasted the local street food there. A modern town, and surprisingly with big church building in the town. (Note: I did not realized it is closed to Cambodia border until I recently look at the map again)

We changed our transport mode from train to bus, which is faster. From Korat we went to Phimai. Our main destination is Phimai Historical Park. There was a celebration of King's birthday at Pimai town. Pimai is a small town,compared to Korat, but a tourist town, at that time,mainly domestic tourists.

Phimai (พิมาย)
Phimai Historical Park (อุทยานประวัติศาสตร์พิมาย) in Phimai District, has one of the grandest and most important Khmer historical sites in Thailand that is the Phimai sanctuary. The word Phimai appears in an inscription on a stone slab at the front doorway of the building as well as in many other structures. It is believed that the word Phimai meant a religious figure or site. It consists of structures made of sandstone and laterite, all ornately carved with designs.

Udon Thani (อุดรธานี)
After Phimai, we need to travel to Udon Thani, on our way to the border town Nong Khai. We need to go to a station to take a bus to Udon Thani. But as the bus take some time to arrive. A local farmer used his truck to take us to the station at the junction of the road. From there we will take a bus to Udon Thani. Udon Thani (อุดรธานี) is one of the north-eastern provinces (changwat) of Thailand. The city is bisected by Mittraphap Road, the highway linking Bangkok with the Northeast and Laos. A modern, multi-lane ringroad system enables through traffic to bypass the city centre to the west or the east. It connects to the airport and to the main roads leading to Nong Bua Lamphu province in the west and to Sakhon Nakhon in the east. Udon Royal Thai Air Force Base was built by USA during the Vietnam War, the U.S. turned the base over to the Thai military in 1976. There was a parade in Udon Thani, but we had limited time to join the locals for the festival mood. We need to travel to Nong Khai before night fall

Nong Khai (หนองคาย)

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Nong Khai (Thai หนองคาย) is the northernmost of the north-eastern (Isan) provinces (changwat) of Thailand. The province is located in the valley of the Mae Nam Kong (Mekong river), which also forms the border with Laos. It is located at the bank of Mekong River. To the south it has some highlands. The Laotian capital Vientiane is only 25 kilometers away from provincial capital Nong Khai. The Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge which connects them was built jointly by the governments of Thailand, Laos and Australia and was opened in 1994. The bus did not go straight to the border , you need to get down at Nong Khai to take a taxi to the border check point. When we reached the border check point of Loas/Thailand, it was late night, the immigration asked for overtime. It is difficult to take transport to Vientiane at night. We were lucky to meet some Loas Chinese youngsters who can speak Mandarin, we arranged for a private taxi to take us to the Loas capital, Vientiane.

Note: In early 2009 an newly completed rail link from Nong Khai came into operation. It crosses the Friendship road bridge into Laos territory to a terminus a few kilometre north of the land border crossing.

On the way from my travel from Nakhon Ratchasima to Nong Khai. A very straight highway where there are paddy field , and some time small towns are appearing. But the most surprising sign was the numbers of big church buildings seen at the highway. Thailand being a Buddhist country, the appearing of big churches was very refreshing and reflected the open mind of the government. I was with the impression that Isan region was influenced by Khemer and Loas. it did not come to my mind, that there are Vietnamese in Isan. Now I realized the Church must be Catholic Church with Vietnamese congregation, refugee from the era when Catholic are prosecuted in Vietnam,not only a heaven for the Catholic, it was also the place for independent fighters for Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh was in Isan during the period.

Related articles:

1. Inspiring Isan,
2. Sakon Nakhon - live,
3. Isan,

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