Discovering Isan (North east Thailand)

We had visited Thailand twice before, but on our last trip in December we wanted to experience something different, going local and getting away from the overdeveloped tourist centres. Having been recommended a Thai holiday villa called Gecko Villa, we booked a week with them.  Connecting directly through to the northeastern city of Udon Thani at Bangkok airport, 50 minutes later we were greeted by Ten, the owner of the villa, at the provincial airport.

He drove us out of town, along ever smaller roads, with the final approach to the villa being along unsurfaced tracks through the rice paddies. The property was set on acres of private grounds with paddies and plantations, gardens and organic orchards,  so we were guaranteed privacy and peace by our own pool – a private saltwater infinity pool set into the extensive decking of the villa, with bucolic views.

The 3 bedroom villa has a fully equipped kitchen, but one of the factors that had drawn us to a stay here was the way in which they blended elements of a traditional holiday rental with a fully catered and serviced holiday, and the way that visitors are encouraged to meet the locals and participate in village life.

The Thai meals they prepared for us were excellent, and  we were delighted to be taken off around the grounds to pick our own herbs and spices – including strange plants that we had never considered using in the pot – before being shown how to make genuine Thai and Northeastern dishes. The owners seemed genuinely pleased to be able to impart their knowledge and love of food – and we were equally happy to have this cooking lesson provided at no cost.

Some of the highlights of the trip were the boat trip on the nearby “Red Lotus Sea” – a vast stretch of inland waterways quilted in startling, bright pink lotus blooms; wandering around the potters and craftsmen at the UNESCO World Heritage Site at Ban Chiang; joining in local religious ceremoinies and getting up early to participate in the tradition of giving alms to the barefoot monks who filed through the village; learning to cook Thai food; mastering a tuk tuk; visiting a local school and helping out with English lessons, and indulging in a traditional Thai massage. Whilst there was plenty to see and do, the tranquil pool also remained a focus with its beguiling waters!


It was also interesting to see how the owners take environmental care seriously – and how this happens naturally there, where resources are scarce: rainwater was harvested in large red jars, waste was minimized and recycling was an established business, reforestation was undertaken on disused rice fields, and to say that food miles were kept to a minimum would not do justice to the amount of produce that was literally freshly picked on the grounds as required.

Ten and his family also run a second holiday villa called Green Gecko. We had a look at it during our stay – it was a beautiful pool villa raised off the ground on stilts and finished in the traditional Thai style. As and when we return, we would take that villa – especially if we get the chance to visit without the children in tow!

Even for those not planning to visit the country, their site shows how sustainable travel can benefit the locals, as a reminder to us all that our holiday choices can make a difference.