Thailand boasts vast numbers of visitors annually, yet the vast majority of these stick to the tourist enclaves such as Phuket, Pattaya, Chiang Mai and Koh Samui. Yet, with the help of the internet, it is now easy to find much more unusual places to visit and to stay, giving the traveller the opportunity to experience the real side of the country as lived by the Thais themselves.
We visited the rarely-traveled north-east of the country. This is Thailand’s rice bowl, which stretches up in a patchwork of rice fields to the mighty Mekong river bordering Laos and Cambodia. It is known as Isaan, and the local dialect is much more akin to Lao than to Thai.
One of the delights of getting away from the tourist centres is the noticeable change in the reaction of locals to the rare visitor. The people here are the most open and fun-loving in the country, perhaps because their lives are based on village traditions where overt consumerism has been much slower to advance than in the other booming parts of the nation. Travel to the north-east certainly rewards those looking for a unique experience, to get away from the tourist crowds, and to immerse themselves in something new.
Whilst there are numerous hotels in the area, these are all situated in the major towns and cities, and do not allow a full immersion into local lifestyles. Thus, we opted to stay in our own private house in the heart of the countryside, near some typical rural villages, in a standalone property called Green Gecko.
This is a Thai style pool villa finished in wood and terracotta tiles, with a large wooden deck and private infinity pool. The house sits on its own extensive rural grounds, with rice paddies, sugar cane plantations and woodlands.
There are two air-conditioned bedrooms and large fully equipped living and dining rooms, and kitchens - both Thai and Western. However, as all our meals were cooked for us (and the washing up done) we only really touched the refrigerator!
When we said we loved Thai food, 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 north-eastern 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!
The property was fully serviced and the rate we paid covered all our meals and even generous quantities of cool beer and fresh fruit juices. And as we were there in the mango season, we were encouraged to simply help ourselves to the fresh fruit straight from the trees…
This has set a precedent for us... no more hotels!
Udon Thani province
Nearest train and airport: Udon Thani
Gecko Villa is a unique place to stay in the northeast of Thailand: it's a single house with a great private swimming pool standing in the rice fields in the countryside.
You get the whole villa to yourselves, airport transfers are free and the Thai meals that were served to us daily were delightful and again included in the cost. It was great fun picking the fruit and vegetables and herbs in their own orchards and then learning how to cook them up.
We were looked after by a Thai family that lived in a village nearby and they really made our stay a memorable one. Friendly, fun and good value for an unusual stay away from the normal tourist meccas.
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