Thailand is located in peninsular Asia with an estimated population of over 67 million people. It is best known for its popular tourist beaches, friendly smiles and unique culture. Though there is no official religion of Thailand 93% claim to be Buddhist, 6% Muslim, and less than 1% Christian.¹ Thailand is home to 115 people groups with 82 of those groups who are currently unreached.² Thailand remains the single most unreached country of peninsular Asia.
Thailand is officially called the Kingdom of Thailand (ราชอาณาจักรไทย) and once was know as Siam (สยาม). The largest city is also its capital, Bangkok (กรุงเทพมหานคร). The surrounding Bangkok region has a population of over 14 million people and is home to nationalities from all over the world. Bangkok is popularly known as the “Venice of the East.”
Thailand is broken down into 6 regions and is divided into the following: Northern, Northeastern, Western, Central, Eastern and Southern. We currently live in Northeastern Thailand.
Thailand is home to over 67 million people and 115 people groups with 82 of those groups who are currently unreached. Thailand remains the single most unreached country in all of peninsular Asia.
Northeastern Thailand – Isaan
Northeastern Thailand known as Isaan (ภาคอีสาน) is made up of 20 provinces and is the largest region in Thailand and makes up about one third of the Thai people. Isaan is home to over 18 million people and is over 98% Buddhist with less 0.2% of people calling Jesus their Lord and Savior.³ It is the most unreached region of Thailand and has the lowest amount of mission workers. There is an overwhelming need in this area for continued support and laborers.
Isaan people generally are some of the more friendly people you could meet. You could call them “easy going” or “laid back” and tend to be more simple people. They enjoy the presence of their family and friends. Most tend to live in a village and then disperse out during the day into their fields or other daily jobs and then once the hard work is finished (or at least postponed until the next day of course) they return to live in community together. They are tender-hearted, kind and gentle people that place a high value on family and community.
While agriculture is the largest sector in the Isaan economy its importance is decreasing. Sixty percent of the land is dedicated to rice production but the concentration on this has made farmers vulnerable to fluctuating prices. Diversification has increased over the years and farmers are now beginning to plant more cassava, sugar cane, and watermelon. Isaan farmers also grow various types of fresh fruits, vegetables and fish but they vary throughout the season. Beef cattle and poultry are also prevalent through the region. Many farmers still use water buffaloes in their fields but with the introduction of tractors over the years it can be more cost effective to hire out the basic tilling of the fields. Although the land is plenty here, due to high deforestation and saline contamination one third of the land is unfit for basic agricultural cultivation. From this and due to the unpredictable weather patterns of the changing seasons which can result in drought or flooding it has made it difficult to get high yields thus making profit margins lower for Isaan farmers. Northeastern Thailand is also world famous producers of the Mudmee Silk which use secret of natural dyeing and hand-weaving that have been passed on through generations of families.
The equation looks like this: One working day in a tapioca field pays $8. One working day at a multinational chicken factory pays $11. One working day at a metal factory in Denmark pays $91, and one busy working day at a Danish brothel pays $450.⁴
Poverty, Migrant and Sex Workers
Many economic disadvantages have increased poverty in most of the Isaan area. Due to these disadvantages many people live below the poverty line. The minimum wage is set around $8-$9 per day and tends to be about the average pay one would receive for a full days’ worth of work. Numerous people are found wondering through the urban areas in search of recyclables and we have seen an increased number of begging near the local markets.
The education is lessor in these areas as well. We have traveled to many villages and most kids go to about 6th grade. Some are fortunate to go on and continue education while the vast majority do not. Most jobs require few or no educational requirements.
Many people in Isaan have sought to find work somewhere else. With the daily salary being roughly $8 per day, there is enough to put food on the table for your family to survive, but little for anything else. Unfortunately when illness, unexpected unemployment or things like hospitalization happens; your daily salary of $8 per day will not suffice. It is normal at times to see fathers and mothers migrate out of the Isaan area and leave their children to be taken care of by a grandparent or two in hopes that they can send money back home. It is common that we experience more often as we frequent the villages.
Poverty is debatably the single largest factor contributing to sex workers in the world. If you don’t place a value on your body some people see it as a way out of poverty. One researcher says the equation looks like this: One working day in a tapioca field pays $8. One working day at a multinational chicken factory pays $11. One working day at a metal factory in Denmark pays $91, and one busy working day at a Danish brothel pays $450.⁴ It is a sad equation but it speaks a lot of truth. There is a moral obligation in the culture that girls are to take care of their families as best as they can. For some, it’s an easy way. Some people go into this business unwilling, but many are very aware of the choice they are making; I personally don’t think many would want to work in these types of businesses but with the amount of poverty and poor education around them to some it just seems easier. Pray with us for the people of Thailand!