We had a full day out and about this week and it provided me with such a varied crop of photos that I thought I would write a separate post on the subject. The main objective was to drive to see a salt village 80 km south of Udon Thani off highway 22 but for reasons that will be explained later this didn’t end up as quite the photo opportunity as planned.

Before we get to that part of the day many of our mornings start off at the family farm, which is a five minute drive from home, and this day was no exception. Having never ridden a motorbike in my life I am expanding my retirement experiences and we take Gaun’s bike. I don’t have a licence (neither does Gaun but don’t tell anyone) and I wouldn’t trust myself on the main roads but as you can tell from the photo below I think that other Thai road users heading to their farms are pretty safe from this farang bikie.

My preferred traffic situation on a bike.

My preferred Thai traffic situation when on a bike.

You bikers will laugh but I am amazed at how fast 50 km/h is on a bike when compared to a car. I feel like we’re breaking the speed limit and then we get passed by a slow moving buffalo!

Our arrival at the farm gets the hot water pot plugged in and once my first Nestle 3 in 1 coffee is made (look for them in Asian supermarkets in Australia) I am ready to focus on the happenings around me. I was a city boy in Australia so I am always interested in the process of crop planting and harvesting. There is something very basic about being part of this endless cycle even if just an observer. I report what vegetables are growing on the farm in my almost daily Facebook posts but for those of you who don’t see that side of my writings coriander, bok choy, dill and mushrooms some days are what’s heading to market in August.

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Coriander is getting 150 baht a kilo at the markets (200 baht/A$8.00 in Udon city). A couple of weeks ago the price was 80 baht.

As far as I know the increase in price is due to the supply side of things this time of year. Coriander is growing very slowly in this season and although I don’t know for sure I think other farms have water restrictions that may reduce their crop size. It is still very dry in this part of Isaan despite it being the wet season and many of the produce farms don’t have a secure source of water. Yuan and Lud have a big bore and they water every day and maybe they have a more consistent and productive crop as a result to take advantage of the down-time with other farms.

On this particular morning Yuan had sold 10 kilos and had a big smile for us when we arrived. If you think that manual workers get around 300 – 500 a day making 1,500 baht is a nice earner.

Bok Choy, mushrooms and coriander off to the market.

Bok Choy, mushrooms and coriander off to the market.

The other thing that has changed in the three years I have been visiting the farm is that these days Yuan and Lud mostly wholesale their produce. When I first came here Yuan would spend days at their stall in the local produce markets selling produce directly to the public. Most of their crop now goes to stall holders who do that for them. They get 50% less but are making more money by selling in bulk. It then gives them more time to be working the farm to increase output.

Lots of new vegetable beds ready for planting.

Lots of new vegetable beds ready for planting.

Beautifully fresh. Picked this morning and on your plate for dinner.

Beautifully fresh Pak/Bok Choy. Picked this morning and on your plate for dinner.

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A glorious collection of mushrooms picked early morning. Selling wholesale for 50 baht a small tray, which are made on the farm from banana leaves.

 

No pick-up required.

No Toyota pick-up required.

Having supervised the transfer of crops from farm to market and finished my coffee I then headed out to a small wat or temple that is being built just down the road from the farm. The 12th of August was the Queen’s Birthday combined with Mother’s Day (Father’s Day is on the King’s Birthday later in the year). I only mention this because the family were involved on the day making these flower leis for Gaun’s mother, which are then presented in a little ceremony.

Gaun and her daughter Peng with a lei made from flowers picked on the farm.

Gaun and her daughter Peng with a lei made from flowers picked on the farm.

Gaun, who hasn’t made these herself much in the past became an expert and enjoyed the experience so as the small white flowers required to make the central part of the lei are in season she decided to make one for the car and a couple for the temple. Today she wanted me to give them to the wat’s Buddhas.

Gaun making leis.

Gaun making leis. It’s a fiddly task but you sort of get into a meditation doing it or go crazy.

We call the temple Ban Dit, which means home of Dit, the name of the main monk there who went to school with Yuan. It does have a proper name but everyone knows what we mean. It is a very simple structure as you can see, which is usually the case with temples that follow the Pha or forest tradition.

Wat Ban Dit.

Wat Ban Dit.

Getting ready.

Getting ready with Gaun’s leis.

One lei for the big Buddhas.

One lei for the big Buddhas.

And one for the mini statues.

And one for the mini statues. Note that you’ll see just as many statues and pictures of Buddhist monks here, alive and dead, as you will of Buddha himself.

The founder monk of another temple close to us behind Buddha.

I think this is a picture of Ajahn Mun Bhuridatta Thera, who was a founder of the Thai forest wat tradition originating in Ubon Ratchathani province.

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Being a monk doesn’t mean you just sit around meditating. This is Dit working at building a new sala (a roofed pavilion usually open at the sides) overlooking the rice paddies at the side of the temple land.

Leaving vegetables and monks behind we left home late morning for the drive to Ban Dung. It was a Wednesday, which normally doesn’t have much significance, but if driving up the hills leaving our next town of Nong Bua Lamphu Wednesday is dancing for the spirits day. On one of the corners nearing the top of the hills overlooking Nong Bau there’s a pretty scrappy building which happens to be an important spirit meeting point. Most cars and trucks will blow their horn three times for good luck when passing.

A weird collection of animals outside.

A weird collection of animals outside.

A number of spirit houses inside.

A number of spirit houses inside. Most of those flowers are plastic.

Everyone looks at the farang.

Everyone looks at the farang taking a photo.

Meanwhile outside two stages had been set up, one in operation and the other one about to be. In one of those wonderful examples of Thai oddness people pay for a music band and dancing girls to perform for the spirits in the expectation of getting them onside and supporting whatever their “wish” is. Usually a marque is also set up and food and drink makes an appearance along with family and friends of the person paying. Now a group will cost you around 20,000 baht or A$800.00 so it isn’t just a casual event. The music and dancing can happen any day but you are guaranteed at least one performance on a Wednesday. Put it in your diary!

A stage going up or coming down.

A stage going up or coming down on one side.

These groups will only perform for an hour or two so it's a big effort to set it all up and dismantle at the end.

And one in noisy action on the other. These groups will only perform for an hour or two so it’s a big effort to set it all up and dismantle at the end.

And one in action on the other.

A pretty standard combination. One lady and one male singer and two bored looking dancing girls plus the band.

They look a bit raunchy but aren't.

This is a pretty normal costume for music group dancing girls. She is more modest than she looks from a distance as she is in a flesh coloured bodysuit.

Most of these girls that I have seen, yet another area of my expertise showing through here, are usually looking so bored and have absolutely no dance skills that the show would be more lively without them.

OK. This time leaving dancing girls behind we continued our trip to Ban Dung and salt. The reason I had this village on my radar was that a couple of months ago we were invited to join friends and visit a popular temple called Wat Kham Chanot.

The entrance guarded by two Naga, mythical serpents..

The entrance guarded by two Naga, mythical serpents.

One of my favourite photos taken at the wat.

One of my favourite photos taken at the wat.

On the way back we passed through Ban Dung and came across this beautiful salt, which was sourced locally. We didn’t have time to explore on this trip so I wanted to come back to see how the salt is made. Today was the day.

50 baht for 6 kilos.

50 baht/A$2.00 for 6 kilos.

It’s an hour’s drive to Udon from our home in Si Bun Ruang and then another one hour plus to Ban Dung off highway 22 on the 2096 as shown below. You can also reach Ban Dung off highway 2, which is that yellow line heading up the photo on the far left. That lighter green squiggle in the left hand corner is the Mekong River and highway 2 ends at a town called Nong Khai, a border crossing to Laos, which you can read about HERE or HERE.

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The city of Udon Thani is that blob on the bottom left.

You can see the salt drying pans from this Google Earth image.

You can see the extensive salt drying pans running alongside the main road from this Google Earth image.

Now I made a mistake in picking this time of year because making salt is a seasonal activity (as I now know). It is one of those “ah” moments after the event and makes perfect sense. The process is that salt bore/well water is pumped onto drying pans, which are either just earth based, or covered with black plastic or concrete. The evaporation of the water takes about two weeks and then the salt is harvested. Well we are in the wet season now, not that it has been that wet, so the whole industry comes to a halt until the dry season starting November. Hard to dry salt when it’s raining!

These are earth based salt pans.

These are earth based salt pans.

Do you see the tower sticking up on the right? That’s where the water from the bore exits if it was pumping. A closer view below:

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The rather dirty looking salt mined in this way. This will go through a cleaning process before being marketed.

The rather dirty looking salt mined in this way. This will go through a cleaning process before being marketed.

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Just in front of this rather sad looking salt area we came across a lady who was growing flowers to sell. She told Gaun that she bought the seeds at 1 baht (A$0.04) each and then the flowers sold for 1 baht each. Obviously each seed produced more than the one flower! Water was a problem here as she had tried putting down a bore but they hit salt at 20 metres. She was totally reliant on the surface water provided by the local moo ban (village).

The flower lady.

The flower lady with her marigolds.

Her small garden.

Her small garden.

Back on the main road, the 2096 you saw in the Google image above, we re-visited the same roadside salt stall we had on that trip to Wat Kham Shanot. My water softening system connected to the house uses salt to flush the filter so we were topping up our supplies.

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Gaun got chatting to the lady and her husband and it was a good illustration of how connected some of these rural villagers can be to the wider world. Their daughter was married to an Australian, and they were due back for a visit that week, while they had a niece who had a Norwegian partner. It isn’t just the relationship connections with farang you’ll find happening so often here. Wood, one of the guys who helped build our house, is now working in Taiwan, while Joe a neighbour is flying over there this weekend. Many Thai people, especially from Isaan, have worked in countries like Japan, Korea, Malaysia and Taiwan. Rarely Australia of course because we are so obsessive about trying to keep Thai people and everyone else out. The Thais would only put all those Aussies offering Thai massage out of business!

Chunky salt at 20 baht/A$0.80.

Chunky salt at 20 baht/A$0.80.

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Thais use a lot of salt to baste fish when bbq’ing so it’s not just bought for adding to cooking in the more traditional sense.

If you have been to Thailand I am sure you will have seen these grilled fish in roadside stalls and the markets. They are rolled in salt before grilling.

If you have been to Thailand I am sure you will have seen these grilled fish in roadside stalls and the markets. They are covered with a thick layer of salt before grilling. Beautifully moist inside when cooked.

A "warehouse" of salt.

A “warehouse” of salt.

Just behind the salt stall were a number of what would be drying pans in season. You can tell that the surface water itself is salt free as the ponds were being fished. I tasted the water and it was “normal”.

Fishing for very small fish that are usually ground up and used as a dipping sauce with sticky rice and chillies.

Fishing for very small fish that are usually ground up and used as a dipping sauce with sticky rice and chillies.

Another of those salt water bores.

Another of those salt water bore/well-heads.

Gaun checking out the catch.

Gaun checking out the catch.

In true Isaan fashion some leaves are being collected that will be part of dinner with the fish. There's not much that isn't a food source here.

In true Isaan fashion some leaves are being collected that will be part of dinner with the fish. There’s not much that isn’t a food source here.

A because I could photo.

A because I could photo.

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And another “arty” one.

We stopped off at this place that had a combination of salt and plants. Two small bushy bamboos bought (thanks Mikey if you are reading)

We stopped off at this place that had a combination of salt and plants. Two small bushy bamboos were bought although I have no idea how we’ll fit them in the garden (thanks Mikey if you are reading).

Back on the 2096 now driving back to Udon we came across this lake on the GPS. As usual it was a disappointment like so much Thai scenery. You need to leave your western concepts largely behind when travelling here. A lake in a European or even Australian context can be worth the side-trip. Here less likely.

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Many of these lakes are super shallow and may even dry up in the hot season. They are often pretty featureless and uninteresting.

However the peanuts were good.

See one roadside stall selling something and you’ll find 20 more within a hundred metres.

A happy and chatty lady pleased we stopped.

A happy and chatty lady pleased that we stopped. She wanted the farang to have the best so a fresh collection of peanuts were washed and bagged.

Hubbie working at extracting the peanuts.

Hubbie working at extracting the peanuts.

3 kilos for 100 baht or A$4.00.

3 kilos for 100 baht or A$4.00. Peanuts are growing on the other half of the family farm run by Paed and Tham, but they aren’t at harvesting stage yet.

The 2096 is a good driving road being wide and in reasonable condition but it isn’t a very scenic one. However glimpses like the one below are always worth a photo this green time of year.

A nice mix of new rice and trees.

A nice mix of new rice and trees.

We were due back in Udon at 4:00 pm to meet up with two farang and their wives, who I had met as a result of the blog. Daryl, an English guy and his wife Tik, are building a house just outside Udon and Terry from Australia and Mai are looking to move here from Pattaya and build. Daryl and Tik’s house was duly inspected. They are at that slightly frustrating stage where the end is in sight but you’re not quite there. They plan for a mid September move-in.

Essential construction equipment. A small sleeping tent for someone working on the build and fishing tackle for a free dinner.

Essential construction equipment. A small sleeping tent for someone working on the build and fishing tackle for a free dinner. This is in what will shortly be the kitchen.

New Isaan residents.

New Isaan residents. It will be great to have them as neighbours come the day.

We finished our day at Samuay & Sons, the best Thai restaurant in Udon, for one of their delicious dinners. You will have to try hard to find better.

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Samuay’s photos this time.

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If you want more food porn then go HERE.

We will get back to Ban Dung during the dry/cool season and report back on the actual production side of the salt. If you are in the area December – March then I would suggest a full day out to include Ban Dung, Wat Kham Chanot HERE, the Red Lotus Sea HERE (go early morning) and Ban Chiang, a World Heritage site HERE (scroll down to find the story). They are all off highway 22 and would provide a varied day in Isaan.

Thanks for reading.