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Isan (Northeast Thailand)


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Isan, also written as Isaan, Isarn, Issan, or Esarn; (Isan/Thai: อีสาน) is the northeast region of Thailand. It is located on the Khorat Plateau, bordered by the Mekong River to the north and east, and by Cambodia to the south. To the west it is separated from Northern and Central Thailand by the Phetchabun mountain range.


Agriculture is the main economic activity, but due to the socio-economic conditions and hot, dry climate output lags behind that of other parts of the country. This is Thailand's poorest region.


The main language of the region is Isan (which is similar to Lao), but Thai is also spoken by almost everyone. Khmer (the language of Cambodia) is widely spoken in regions near the Cambodian border. Most of the population is of Lao origin, but the region's incorporation into the modern Thai state has been largely successful.


Prominent aspects of the Culture of Isan include mor lam (Thai: หมอลำ) folk music, Muay Thai boxing, cock fighting and Isan food, in which sticky rice (Thai: ข้าวเหนียว) and chillies are prominent. Sticky rice is a staple of Thai Northeastern cuisine, and accompanies almost every meal.


Isan has a number of important Bronze Age sites, with cliff paintings, artifacts and early evidence of rice cultivation. Iron and bronze tools, such as found at Ban Chiang, may predate similar tools from Mesopotamia. The region later came under the influence first of the Dvaravati culture and then of the Khmer empire, which left temples at Phimai and Phanom Rung.


After the Khmer empire began to decline from the 13th century, Isan was dominated by the Lao Lan Xang kingdom, that had been established by Fa Ngum. Thereafter the region was increasingly settled by Lao and Thai migrants. Siam held sway from the 17th century, and carried out forced population transfers from Laos to Isan in the 18th and 19th centuries. Franco-Siamese treaties of 1893 and 1904 made Isan the frontier between Siam and French Indochina.


In the 20th century a policy of "Thaification" promoted the incorporation of Isan as an integral part of Thailand and de-emphasised the Lao origins of the population. This policy extended to the use of the name "Isan" itself: the name is derived from that of Iśāna, a manifestation of Shiva as deity of the north-east, and the Sanskrit word for north-east. The name therefore reinforces the area's identity as the north-east of Thailand, rather than as a part of the Lao world. Before the central government forcibly introduced the Thai alphabet and language in schools, the people of Isan wrote in the Lao alphabet. Most Isan people still speak the Isan language which is closely related to the Lao language.


The rivers of Isan:


1. The Loei

2. The Songkhram

3. The Chi

4. The Mun


Isan covers 160,000 square km (62,000 square miles). It is roughly coterminous with the Khorat Plateau, which tilts from the Phetchabun mountain range in the west of the region (the location of several national parks) down towards the Mekong River. The plateau consists of two main 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 salt deposits.


A satellite image of Isan: the borders with Laos and Cambodia can be seen due to the greater deforestation within IsanThe Mekong forms a large part of the border between Thailand and 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 near Khorat and runs east, joining the Mekong in 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 smaller 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 Provinces.


The average temperature range is from 30.2

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