Known as the kingdom’s rice bowl and as a generally poor and agricultural region, the perception of Thailand’s northeast (or Isaan as it is generally known) is of a dry, hot and generally arid region. Whilst the vast plateau of Isan is home to numerous breathtaking archaeological sites and ancient temples, and is bordered by the mighty Mekong river, the visitor to the region simply does not expect to come across a sight as bucolic and awe-inspiring as this lotus lake, known locally as the Talay Bua Daeng or Sea of Red Lotus Flowers.
An annual wonder, in December, January and February, millions of startling, flamingo-pink lotus flowers dance above the crystalline waters of the Lotus Sea in Northeast Thailand. From the banks of the lake, the expanse of water seems nondescript, but if you can find a local wooden boat owner to push you out between the reeds, you suddenly break through to a vast carpet of the blooms, with fishermen throwing circular nets and old ladies collecting lotus roots for stews.
Yes, this is quite literally the land of the lotus eaters! The seeds and stems may both be eaten, and the flowers are a potent Buddhist symbol. If the lotus plant does not seduce you from a culinary standpoint, then do try the fiery local cuisine with its spicy salads, lime bathed fish and fresh meat dishes: the food of the Northeast has now become a firm favorite amongst the Thais and may be found throughout the kingdom.
Whilst visiting Isaan it is imperative to leave the large cities and to head out into the countryside, with its small villages and unchanged rhythms. Whilst the vast majority of hotels and guest houses are situated in the cities, Visitors to Isaan may experience the lotus flowers and learn how to cook Thai and Isaan dishes at holiday homes such as Gecko Villa, or may arrange a circuit of the area either by bicycle or by train.
Visitors to Isaan should know that here, the dialect spoken is more akin to Lao than to Thai, so a phrasebook on the Lao spoken in modern day Laos is much more helpful here – and will guarantee you to be immediate point of fascination with the locals!