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The least changed part of Thailand, the northeast manages to preserve its rural customs to a marked degree, and offers a fascinating taste of traditional rural life that is today fast vanishing.

Known in Thai as I-San (pronounced "Ee-Saan"), the Northeast comprises 19 provinces and is distinct in landscape, history and folk culture. Adding vibrant life to the entire area are a people who speak their own melodious dialect, have their own delicious highly spiced cuisine, and possess a truly hospitable and fun loving nature.

Bordered to the north and east by the Mekong River and Laos, and the south by Cambodia, I-san is the largest of the country's five major topographical regions, and is largely a semi-arid plateau with forested mountains in the northwest. Amid the latter are some lovely national parks. The plateau supports rice cultivation. Although the region contains 4 of Thailand's most populous cities - Khon Kaen, Ubon Ratchathani, Nakhon Ratchasima (Khorat) and Udon Thani - it covers about one third of the country's land mass, and thus appears sparsely populated and intensely rural.

The economy of the Northeast is based almost entirely on agriculture. Consequently, the people agrarian lifestyles, mostly unchanged by the passage of time and dictated by the annual cycle of the farming seasons. Because of this, cultural traditions - in music, folk dances, festivals, legends and local dialects - are better preserved here than anywhere else in Thailand.

Fascinating not only for its rural traditions, I-San is also a region of great historical interest. As seen today in the prehistoric site of Ban Chiang and in several finely preserved ancient Khmer temple, northeastern Thailand boast a rich past unparalleled elsewhere in the country.

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