The two Isaan folk stories today come from Roi Et and Sakon Nakhon. The lessons from these two tales are clear: Don’t cross the gods and don’t shoot white squirrels.

Story 13: Yama and the Poor Man

ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE PROVINCE OP ROI-ED THERE WAS a man named Yama. He was the mayor of his town. Yama had a beautiful wife named Nuan-chan, but he was even more proud of his beautiful daughter, Chantra. Many young men wanted to marry her, but Yama would not let her marry them. He wanted her to marry a very good young man.

At this time the land near Yama’s town was covered with grass. The people raised horses in the fields. Yama raised some horses too. One day he went to the city of Roi-ed, and saw the horse races in Roi-ed. Yama thought, “Horse races are very exciting. I think the people in my town would like to have a race track.” So Yama returned to his town and built the race track.

Many people came to watch the races there. If Yama liked to watch horse races, he liked to win them even more. Yama had the best horse in the town. He called it Loi-lom. It was a very fast horse, and no other horse could defeat it in the races.

Soon everyone in the province had heard of Yama’s horse, Loi-lom. Mayors from many other towns brought their horses to race against Loi-lom. But Loi-lom always won the races; and all of the people were discouraged. They liked to win too, but they always lost. Finally, no one would bring their horses to race against Loi-lom.

Now Yama was very sad. He would not speak to his friends. He was cruel to his wife and daughter. One day Nuan-chan asked him, “Yama, what is the matter? Why are you so angry?”

“No one will race against Loi-lom,” he replied.

Nuan-chan did not know what to do. Several days later, Chantra came to her mother and said, “None of the young men will ever ask to marry me, they are all afraid of Father.”

Nuan-chan had an idea. She went to find Yama. She said, “Yama, everyone is afraid of you. No one comes to visit us anymore. Chantra and I are lonely. I have an idea how you can race Loi-lom and be happy.” So she told him her idea.

The next day Yama sent letters to all parts of the province. The letters said: “Yama will race his horse against any man’s horse. If Yama’s horse is defeated, he will give his daughter to the- winner. The men who want to race against Loi-lom may be rich or poor, young or old, but they must be bachelors.” Yama thought, “Only rich men will have enough money to own good horses, and only young men will want to race to win Chantra, so I will find a fine husband for Chantra.”

The god, Indra, had been thinking for a long time: “Yama is a very foolish and proud man. I must teach him a lesson.” So Indra changed himself into a man. He became a very poor man, and he found an old tired horse. Then he went to Yama’s town and told everyone, “I have come to race against Loi-lom. I want to marry Chantra.”

Yama thought this man must be crazy, he said, “Your horse is very old, it cannot run anymore. I will not race Loi-lom because your horse is not a good horse.”

But the people said, “Yama, you must race Loi-lom. You made a promise against any bachelor and his horse.” So Yama agreed to race his horse the next Saturday.

Everyone knew that there was going to be a race. And hundreds of people came to the

race track. They all expected to see Loi-lom win, even though they did not like Yama. No one thought that the poor man and his old horse could win.

When the race began, Loi-lom had run around half of the track before the old horse had even begun. But then something strange happened. Loi-lom stopped running! He ate some grass, and slowly walked toward the finish line. Meanwhile the old horse walked as fast as it could. Ten meters from the finish line, the old horse passed Loi-lom and won the race. Yama was furious!

Yama said to himself, “He is a poor man. He is not suitable to marry my daughter.” So Yama broke his promise and said that the poor man could not have Chantra.

Indra was very angry. Suddenly, the poor man was changed into the god, Indra, again.

Indra said,

“Open pit, deep and wide,

Let proud Yama fall inside.”

At that moment the ground beneath Yama opened into a great pit. Yama fell into the pit. It was so deep that no one could see to the bottom of it. All of the other people ran away because they were afraid. And Indra returned to the heavens.

When Nuan-chan and Chantra heard about this, they went to see the pit. It was so big and so deep that they could not see Yama anywhere. They sat on the edge of the pit and began to cry. Their tears fell down into the pit, and gradually it was filled with them. The pit had become a lake, the water was Nuan-chan’s and Chantra’s tears.

The people named the new lake, Yama Lake, and that is its name until today. They also named their town, Yama, after their foolish mayor. Yama Lake is still very important. The Government has improved it, and now the farmers in that area use its water for irrigation. It is a very beautiful lake, and many people go there for picnics and to play games. Maybe some day you will go to Yama Lake. When you are there, will you remember Yama’s race against the poor man?

Story 14: The Widow’s Luck

EVERYONE LIKES TO HAVE GOOD LUCK BUT SOMETIMES PEOPLE FEEL THAT ONLY PEOPLE who are already lucky ever have good luck. Some people are lucky, and some people are unlucky. Unlucky people never have good luck. But here is a story that tells you just the opposite. Here is a story about a person who was very unlucky, but who had some very good luck one time.


Once upon a time there was a powerful Cambodian prince who lived in a big city in northeastern Thailand. His city was very beautiful, and thousands of people lived in it. There were fine buildings everywhere, beautiful temples and many stores. Even the houses were all very new and very large, except for one house.

In all of the city there was only one, small, old, ugly house. It belonged to a widow. The widow could not work because she was old and crippled. People used to give her food and money, but then one day the Prince said, “Old lady, we want you to move your house to another place. We want to build a new temple here.”

The old lady replied, “I cannot move my house because I have no money to move it, nor do I have any more land.” So she refused to move her house. No one thought to give her money to move her house, or some to which to move it.

They became very angry with her, and they would not give here any more food or help. They thought, “She will soon die. Then we can tear down her ugly old house and build our fine temple on this land.”


The Prince had a very beautiful daughter. And everyone wondered who she would marry. Men from many provinces came to ask her father if they could marry her. The Prince said, “Only a very handsome young man can ever marry my daughter. I will choose him carefully. I am going to have a party to choose the Princess’ husband. Everyone is invited.”

Beneath the city in the ground was the kingdom of the serpents. The serpents knew about the beautiful city of people above them. The wondered what these people were like. So they often sent serpents up to the city. The serpent’s became people and walked around in the streets. Then they returned into the ground and told the other serpents what they had seen.

One day a serpent came back and said to the king of the serpents, “The daughter of the Prince is very beautiful. The Prince wants her to have a husband. The most handsome man will be chosen to be her husband at a party to be given next week.”

When the son of the king of the serpents heard this, he thought, “I will change myself into the most handsome young man in the world, and then I will marry the princess.”


On the night of the Prince’s party, everyone prepared to come to the palace. Even those who were married came; they wanted to see who the Prince would choose. Only one person did not come. She was the crippled old widow. She could not come because she could not walk and no one would help her.

Even the young serpent was coming. When he got near the city he saw many young men going to the palace. He thought, “I must do something, or I will be the last one there, and the Prince will have chosen someone else.” Then he changed himself into a handsome white squirrel. He knew that a squirrel could run faster than men could walk. He thought that if he changed himself into a squirrel, he would get to the palace first.

The princess looked out of her window. She saw a big white squirrel running along the wall of the palace. She said to her maid, “I want that squirrel. Tell a guard to shoot it with an arrow. Then bring it to me.”

So the guard shot the squirrel, but before ‘it died the serpent whispered a curse:

Whoever eats my meat tonight

Will die before the dawns in sight;

And all the houses in this town,

Will by that time have fallen down.

The guard brought the dead squirrel to the princess. She said, “Yes, it is very beautiful. Take it to the cook and tell him to roast it. We will eat it at the supper tonight.”


By this time many of the young men had come. Everyone was very excited. At last the Prince and his daughter entered the dining room. Before the meal began, the princess said, “Tonight, one of the guards shot a white squirrel. We have cooked its meat. Because the squirrel is very small, you must only eat a little bit. Then everyone will have a piece.”

They began to eat the squirrel, but as a person took a piece of the meat, there was still more meat on the plate to be eaten. The squirrel was the most delicious thing they had ever tasted. No one ate anything but the squirrel that night, for the meat never ran out.

Meanwhile, outside it began to rain. It rained very hard for many hours while inside they were eating the squirrel’s strange meat. Soon the water was pouring into the palace, and everyone drowned. It happened so quickly that no one could save himself. The water destroyed everything: palace, houses, stores, and even the temples. By dawn the entire city was under a lake of water…except for one house. … Because she had not eaten the squirrel’s meat, the widow did not die. Her home was not ruined. The land around her home became an island in the middle of a   huge lake.


Many people still believe this story. And they can show you the lake to prove their story. Only, there is a problem: the story is told about two lakes in the Northeast. The people of Sakol Nakorn tell it about Ham Lake, and the people in Roi-ed tell it about Palanchai Lake. Each of these lakes has a small island in it. And each of these provinces was ruled by the Cambodians for many years. But the story could only happen in one place. Which place do you think it was?