A few hours northeast of Bangkok, American-style cowboy culture thrives.
Pensuk Great Western Resort (pensuk.com; 011-662-530-7111), probably the best—and the weirdest—place to sample Thailand’s cowboy culture, is about four hours northeast of Bangkok by car. The highway is wide and well paved, and there are interesting stops along the way. Reservations are a good idea, but getting them may take some persistence: Pensuk’s staff tends to be disorganized and can be hard to track down. Rooms start at about $40 a night.
Yana Farm (yanafarm.com) and Farm Chokchai (farmchokchai.com/en/chokchai_main.asp), both on the way from Bangkok to Pensuk, are worth a visit. Yana lies in the heart of Thailand’s cattle country, where you’ll pass not just herders and cowboys but also Buddhist shrines. At Chokchai, sign up for the farm tour, the only way to see the entire operation.
Isan, the region where Pensuk is located, contains many legacies of the Khmer, the master builders who in the 12th century created the Angkor Wat temple in what is now Cambodia. Their most spectacular structures in Thailand include Prasat Hin Phimai, a towering 11th- and 12th-century Hindu/Buddhist temple of soft, pink-and-white sandstone, and Prasat Phanom Rung, which has Angkor-style sculptures and striking orange-and-pink reliefs.
For those interested in a tour of Thailand’s northeast, try North by North East (north-by-north-east.com), the major tour operator specializing in Isan culture. The company leads four- and five-day guided excursions to the region.
Back in Bangkok, you can keep your cowboy vibe going at one of the city’s many Western bars and steak houses. Tawan Daeng, which offers live music nightly, draws the biggest crowds (a map, with directions for a taxi driver, is at afana.org/tawan.htm). Chokchai Steakhouse has two branches in Bangkok (for their addresses, go to farmchokchai.com/en/steakhouse/03_location.asp), though the most-serious beef gourmands head to the New York Steakhouse at the JW Marriott Hotel, on Sukhumwit Soi 2.