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Why I Live in Isaan

Firstly, a huge thank you to all of you who responded to my previous post about my eighth anniversary in Thailand. It seemed to strike a connection with many of you. I really appreciate the comments and likes. I hope I have covered you all with a return like or a reply. If I have missed you, a big thank-you.

There were two comments made to that post I felt deserved a longer answer, not just for the members asking, but because there are many readers who are or will be making the same life-changing move to Thailand at some stage. It continues to rain outside, so I don’t have to feel guilty about sitting in front of the computer.

The first was a ‘why Isaan’ question, and the second I will cover in another post. Although this is a bit ‘all about me’, which based on the question it has to be, I hope my observations are broad enough to make it educational for everyone.

I think that there are three main reasons people end up in what is often regarded as Thailand’s backwaters, in the northeast, a region called Isaan. More Laos than Thai in some ways with its own language, food, music, clothes and loyalties.

I will cover the reason most frequently seen because it does have some bearing on my ‘why Isaan’ situation. It needs to be recognised that for all the reasons I listed above, plus the incredible connection Isaan people have to their family and land, high on the priorities of many Isaan partners, short or long-term, is a return to ‘home’. This can come as a surprise to some farang, especially those early in a relationship, when they find themselves unexpectedly living in a rural Isaan village rather than beachside or Chiang Mai There are many examples of broken relationships and deserted farang houses based on this misunderstanding.

My case in a way was no different (not the broken relationship bit). When I was still in the investigative phase of my early days in Thailand, Chiang Rai and the northwest was the imaginary goal for my longer-term retirement destination. Little did I know that when I met up with Gaun again eight years ago today, my destiny was about to take a fundamental U-turn.

My first visit to Isaan was not to meet the family, because Gaun and I weren’t an ‘item’ then, but to fulfil my desire to explore some ’real’ Thailand outside Disney-Phuket. Obviously, I did meet the family and found them to be an engaging group, especially sister Yuan and brother-in-law Lud.

A funny story that a few of you may have heard before. I asked Gaun if she would come with me on this trip to Isaan, because I had read online comments about how difficult it was for a farang in this region (not true in reality), and believing that I wanted a local to hold my hand. Gaun didn’t say yes straight away. It turned out that she consulted with her best friend whether she thought I was OK. The final deciding point was not that I was a good farang catch, being the rich handsome guy that I obviously am, but that Gaun would get her first aeroplane flight! My ego suffered years later when she told me the REAL reason she joined me on that trip!

Gaun decided to stay with me after that brief visit to Isaan, and we went on to live in Chiang Rai for three months and then Chiang Mai for a year and during that time we made many trips to Isaan. The really odd thing for me was an almost immediate connection I made to the region and its people. Driving over the hills into Isaan each time was an amazing coming home feeling, which as a lifelong city boy with no rural connection, was not what I was expecting.

Gaun applied absolutely NO pressure as to where I lived. She is one of the most relaxed and content people I have ever met, and to her, if I decided on Chiang Rai or Mai or Phuket, she would have tagged along and made the most of it. I will point out however, and those of you who have Isaan partners might relate, that in my observation of Gaun, she is more ‘complete’ being home with community, farm and family. I think a little piece of an Isaan person is missing when they aren’t at home (a generalisation I know but often true).

In November 2013, land became available Gaun’s village and because this was a rare thing to happen, I took a risk very early in my retirement and relationship with Gaun (we weren’t even community married at that point) and bought it. This was certainly meeting a fundamental desire by Gaun to return home, so to that extent, it demonstrates that ‘farang follows partner to Isaan’ scenario I wrote about earlier. The big difference was that for me, it felt like a natural progression in this new life in Thailand. I also found myself with a strong feeling about a ‘return’ to what felt like home to me, and that is the key ingredient to making a successful life in rural Isaan in my opinion. I still prefer the scenery of the northwest, but this is where my heart is and as you can tell from my posts, it is where every day confirms the sense of my decision to move here. The photo I share, taken an hour ago, illustrates why this is so. Gaun and Peng sitting in our outside living area cooking sticky rice, fish and sausages on a small charcoal fire. How can life not be perfect?

I mentioned that I thought there were three types of people who find themselves in Isaan. We have covered the first – following your partner (like it or not). I won’t go into detail on the other two, but they are people who are mainly attracted because it is cheap – so for an economic reason. Compare the costs of living in an (ex) tourist destination and Isaan you know what I am talking about. Never make any decision solely on this financial criteria – and that can apply generally to those thinking of moving to Thailand because it is cheaper. Outside the money side, westerners may find the lifestyle a lot more restrictive for the type of activities that they enjoy. With more time on their hands, that lack of social and ‘beach’ type opportunities to fill the days, can make for a very unhappy farang. Plenty of examples of that – read the forums. P.S. the joy of my many groups with well over 12,000 readers is that the engagement online is so upbeat on the whole. The wonderful comments for my previous post is a great example.

And thirdly there are those who, like me, find a connection to the region and make an independent move here with or without a partner. Rarer, I think, but I have met them.

I hope that long read was worthwhile, and please share your thoughts and experiences in a comment.

Thanks for reading.



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