If you’ve got a Thai girlfriend you’ve met, say, in a bar in Pattaya, chances that she’s from Thailand’s rural northeastern region commonly known as Isaan are as high as 99%. In fact, most of the Thais you meet in Pattaya weren’t actually born in Pattaya but originate from rural areas somewhere on the vast plateau of Isaan – traditionally the kingdom’s poorest and least industrialized region.
Geographically the kingdom’s largest region, Isaan has been heavily influenced by Lao and, to a lesser extent, Khmer culture – an affinity that shows, for example, in the region’s traditional costumes, festivals and arts, but most blatantly in its typically spicy cuisine, in which sticky rice and chili peppers are prominent. Another distinctive aspect of Isaan culture is an an indigenous type of folk music known as mor lam.
If our assumptions regarding your Thai girlfriend’s ethnic background are correct, you may have noticed that the food she likes most isn’t just “a bit” spicier than your average Thai dish but may often also, um, smell somewhat “strange” and include bizarre items like fried insects and grasshoppers; her taste in music is somewhat more “traditional” than the Western-style dance tunes they play in your local bar, and the dialect she speaks with her friends (it’s supposed to be Thai, isn’t it?) sounds slightly different from the “Oxford-style” Thai you’re used to from watching Thai soap operas with her.
Well, that’s all because she’s a proud member of the Lao-speaking population of Isaan, who often refer to themselves simply as Lao and account for nearly a third of the kingdom’s total population.
Why we tell you all that? Well, if you’re interested in learning more about your assumed girlfriend’s cultural background without actually traveling upcountry and visiting her home village, then this coming weekend there’s a nearby opportunity at the public school (Pattaya School No. 8) near the Pattaya Tai/Second Road intersection in South Pattaya.
The second “Pattaya Isaan Festival”, starting from Friday, March 27, to Sunday, March 29, promises to bring traditional Isaan music, dance contests and cultural shows, as well as “cooking competitions” (keyword somtam a.k.a. papaya pok pok) to Pattaya.
According to the Pattaya Mail’s current issue, singers scheduled to perform at the event include popular Isaan artists like Sanuk Signmart, Ja Wit, R-Siam, Petch Phuthipong, Nittaya Sarakham, Nueng Palanchai, and Molam Sing.
Aside from the inevitable ladyboy shows and food stalls offering popular Isaan dishes and products typical for the northeastern region, activities will reportedly include balloon shooting, ring fishing, and a Ferris wheel. So yeah, expect a bit of an Isaan-style fun fair in the heart of Pattaya. Why not?
Embedded below is a currently extremely popular and catchy Isaan-style pop song that we’re sure you’ll get to hear somewhere on the festival: