One of a Kind Villa Holidays in Rural Thailand

The rural hinterlands of northeast Thailand are miles away from the country’s globally recognized tourist destinations – both in distance and in nature.  It is here in rural “Isan” that the more inquisitive visitor will rediscover many of the aspects of the kingdom that first attracted travelers to its shores – places of natural beauty or of historical interest, ever-welcoming locals and truly distinctive cuisine. 

We recently visited Udon Thani province, near Nong Khai and the Mekong river border with Laos, to spend four days deep in the region’s countryside. Here we stayed at Green Gecko, one of two holiday villas operated by Khun Ten and his family. A rice farmer since a young age, Over a lunch of spicy papaya salad and  fresh beef and mint “laab”,  Ten shared his reasons for launching his original property, Gecko Villa.

“The northeast of Thailand is dry and hot, meaning that we can only grow one crop of rice each year. There is little or no opportunity for villagers such as me to find good local employment, without moving to a big city. We wanted to generate extra income, and to remain at home to look after our young children, so, together with local villagers, we built the property that we hoped would be attractive to visitors seeking a more authentic experience of Thailand away from the crowds. We felt that sustainable travel, offering direct interaction with local people, would not only help those involved in the project and promote our age-old traditions and culture, but would also offer visitors a personalized, experiential holiday that standard hotels and resorts simply cannot offer.”


During our stay he accompanied us to local wet markets that would fascinate any chef interested in genuine local dishes (if not distracted by the monkeys roaming freely through the small town), drove us to a nearby UNESCO World Heritage Site seemingly lost on the plains, and took us on a boat trip on the simply beautiful Pink Lotus Sea, where our wooden long-tail boat pushed through thick carpets of giant pink lotus flowers  covering the calm waters all the way to the horizon.

We discovered dishes that blend Thai and Lao cooking styles, many of which would be new to any frequent visitor to a standard Thai restaurant in the West. Being able to pick the produce directly on the grounds was a definite plus – ferreting out fresh lemongrass, chilies, papaya,  a range of aromatic basils, pandanus leaves, and betel leaves.Whilst Khun Ten accompanies his guests around he local area to show them interesting and unusual places and things to do, visitors will also want to simply chill at the villa of their choice. Each has a private salt water swimming pool, offer traditional Thai massage by local practitioners, and feature free amenities such as bicycles to explore on, a tuk-tuk, and free internet connectivity. They were both designed and built using traditional building methods and sustainable materials as well as uniquely local craftsmen, and were designed to maximize cooling breezes. Both harvest rainwater, practice reforestation and have a recycling programme in place. In addition, Ten and his wife cook all meals for guests, introducing them to the delicious local cuisine (with meals included in the rental rates.)

I asked Ten if he had any new projects in mind.  He smiled, and led me through his banana  and lime plantations  to grasslands that neighbour his  extended family’s rice paddies. 

This is my new resort, he said, pointing at a small herd of goats chewing happily on mimosa tree leaves.

“But it is for goats, not people.  And over there I am building a small shelter so I can also raise a few  cattle. Like that, we will be able to sustain ourselves and our families much more easily. We are already self-sufficient in rice, citrus fruit, bananas, bamboo shoots and herbs, and raise a few ducks and chickens, but I hope the new livestock will help us all even more…”


Ten put all this down to the success of the villas, explaining how they provide a modicum of additional income that allows the local families involved to benefit from university study, medical insurance and local employment. And visitors, we discovered, benefit too, from  a unique holiday among welcoming locals who benefit directly from our holidays. Word of mouth and the development of the internet allow the villagers to avoid the heavy commissions taken by online travel agencies  and booking engines, thus ensuring a positive outcome for them, whilst providing attractively priced vacations to overseas visitors and Thais alike.

Boats, goats and geckos: out of the ordinary holidays and memorable experiences can, with a little effort, be generated in unusual places by enterprising communities who believe that sustainable travel is here to stay.





Farming and running unusual vacation rentals in northeast Thailand

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