Elora Herberick, 127 TCCS
We all love our respective regions in Thailand, I get that…I really do. Honestly, how can you not love and be immensely proud of a place whose people have taken you in like family within a few short months. A village whose culture, atmosphere, and natural beauty surpass many of the highest rated travel destinations in the world. Yeah, take it in. That is where we call home for two years.
Some of the Peace Corps Volunteer sites are blessed with incredible views of high rocky peaks and warm sandy shores. These lovely places have immense wildlife, perfect weather, or a beach just a short drive away. I say “short drive”, because we all know distance doesn’t have anything to do with how quickly you all arrive at that ocean view (Excuse me while I prepare myself for death *screams on the inside*). I’ve spoken with multiple Volunteers who stand in awe at rolling hills, lush forestation, plentiful fruit carts, and gushing waterfalls (when there isn’t a drought). Like I said, every region of Thailand has its own unique draw. But seriously. No, this is very serious. Nothing, I mean NOTHING beats the way of life in Northeastern Thailand. And that’s a scientific fact.
Isaan may not be the most visually appealing or mentally stimulating place in Thailand. I say this in reference to the ominous rice field fires that we pass on our way to work, or the ash residue we inhale while taking a short train ride in a car that may or may not have seen better days. I mean, there have been several instances when I was taking that glorious 14 hour night train into Bangkok where I thought to myself, “Hey, is that blood or poo on the wall?”. Or more frequently, “I can literally see the tracks when I pee, what if I fall in?”. I have opened my eyes to flames in the night and immediately thought, “This is it, I died. Oh good, look – Hades: God of the Underworld has come to greet me. That sure is swell of him”.
But listen, Isaan is so much more than endless rice fields, my good buffalo friends, and multiple cities that greatly resemble one another. Isaan is all about the people. And the people are all about Isaan. Allow me to elaborate with this short list of why Isaan is literally the cats’ meow, the somtam to my sticky rice, the wind beneath my bug swarm, and the rotating fan to my 104F degree days.
Why Isaan Rocks my Socks:
1. We have the best food
Now, I’m not sure whether or not to attribute this claim to the bountiful MSG (Oh Buddha, I love that s**t) in everything. Regardless, our food– ranging from the countless varieties of somtam, the raw beef creations in Northern Isaan to the Cambodian inspired dishes in my Southern Isaan hood; every place you go is known for its delicious food. Multiple districts claim to have the “Best Grilled Chicken in Thailand”. We all know that the best gai yang to date comes from, you guessed it, my amphur. I mean y’all can throw shade all you want and say yours is the “best”. To that I say, “Haters gonna hate, Ain’ters gonna ain’t, we win.” (I just high fived every chicken vendor on my road…they seemed confused) SO there.
2. We have the best parties
This is probably my favorite aspect of Isaan life. I mean you guys saw who the Peace Corps staff sent to the Northeast right? We are a compilation of rif-raf (no offense guys), loud individuals, blunt and hilarious people (You’re welcome world) and we have mad respect and pride for our home ISAAAAAAAAAAAAAAN! But for real, Northeasterners are partiers and good ones at that. They are extremely accepting, love outspoken people, love joking, laughing, and watching me make a fool of myself dancing…it’s like a dream come true.
We have these fabulous dance clubs called, “Tawandang” where Thai people and farangs alike get their party on. Things get pretty groovy with a huge stage, bucket drinks, and crowds of party goers. If you get a chance, the best one I’ve been to is in Khon Kaen. However, they are located all over the region. Party On Wayne…Party On Garth.
3. We have the best festivals
On a semi-regular basis all over this vast land, Isaaners throw wild festivals entitled, “Molarm“. The festivals usually include a giant selection of food trucks and stands, clothing, souvenirs, balloons, and trinkets for sale and so much more. With a centrally located, enormous stage and crowds swooning over the bedazzled dancers and famous performers, Molarm is an essential piece of the Isaan puzzle.
Not to mention, throughout the year there are several cultural and religious holidays that Thais play best in Isaan. Anything ranging from the Ubon Ratchathani Candle Festival where participants spend months on end creating brilliant sculptures of wax; to the Loei Ghost festival where the largely believed Thai ghost culture shines vibrantly, through the use of hand-made masks and traditional dance. The largest EDM concert takes place every songkran in Udon Thani and the largest elephant gathering in the world happens in the Southern province of Surin. We have kite festivals, long boat races, rocket shows (with like, really phallic sculptures all over the place), Naga fireballs are shot into the sky along the Mekong River and so, so much more.
4. We have the best attitudes
This goes without saying, I am so thankful to have been placed in Isaan. The people here are so kind and good hearted. Generally, they are open and willing to see things from other perspectives too…which makes my job a whole lot easier. It is always tough though…you know the deal; trying to make connections in a foreign tongue, in a culture so different from your own. However, the people here really do make livin’ easy. Happiness is key and everything else here just comes along with it. I sincerely think that when someone coined the term, “Land of Smiles” they were referring to that yai down the road with her mouth full of beetlenut but her heart full of joy. They were talking about the children riding buffalos down muddy paths laughing just because they can. They were talking about the boys at the shop drinking beers and dancing like there is no tomorrow. They were talking about the women selling khao niao on the trains who tell me my thai is perfect (I love those women). They were talking about the gleamer in a young couples eyes when their friends say the word, molarm. Those people…they were talking about Isaan.
Special thanks to Volunteer Ty Miranda (YinD 127) for giving me the idea to write this article.