Another mix of stories covering activities the last couple of weeks. Masses of coconuts in the garden has got me thinking about Malibu cocktails. Mother’s day had the ladies in my life making flower garlands, covered previously as well, but here specifically to present to mama on Mother’s Day. We have a striking addition to the garden, a small piece of Isaan history to complement the rice hut that you can read about HERE. Septic tanks aren’t something you read about too often in blogs but I prove to be the exception. Upgrades at the local village wat provided a couple of interesting stories. A morning at a medical centre provides an insight into the system here.

Introduction – Skip if you are a regular reader

You will find many expats writing blogs about life in the coastal centres and places like Chiang Mai but fewer make the effort to record what living in the northeast (Isaan) out this way looks like.

None of my stories is spectacular and will never be found in the search results of tourists looking for adventure. However, most of the readers who follow this blog, and there are some who have become “virtual ” friends over the years, are people who have a much more committed and personal connection to Thailand and have moved well beyond elephant riding, zip-lining and bar hopping. For them, these little insights help maintain that connection to village life if they are living elsewhere, and for those who are newer to the scene maybe help with understanding what a life in rural Thailand might look like if that ever happens for them.

I used to call these updates of life in Thailand “Isaan – the Small Stories”. I felt it was time for a change in name although the scope of content is the same. This edition covers a few stories up to today! How’s that for hot off the press.  These stories are extracted from my Facebook page, which I use as a mini-blog to give me an everyday outlet for my enjoyment of words, photography and of course the wonderful lifestyle I am privileged to enjoy. They are very day by day accounts as a result. I hope you enjoy them.

P.S. I will add some of my older posts from March 2018 onwards soon, which although more out of date still have relevance to observing life here for those with an interest.

11 Aug 2018 – Coconuts and Rum

I’ve got a lovely bunch of coconuts – not the 1950 Merv Griffin song, which you can find HERE  but a real treeful of them.

Think fresh coconuts, a cheap, yummy Thai rum called SangSom and what might you get? Malibu! A bottle of SangSom costs 270 baht v’s Malibu at 800 baht so it’s worth a try. You can find a DIY Malibu recipe HERE.

I will get a batch brewing and report back although my typing may be slurred 

A massive crop as with most other things growing in the garden.

They look huge but by the time you get to the core it is quite small in comparison to the original.

11 Aug 2018 – For Septic Tank Enthusiasts

TIPS & TRICKS: Everything you didn’t want to know about septic systems in this story. Most will ignore but for those of you planning to build here print this post.

One of the challenges when specifying a house relying on a septic system (and in rural Thailand that’s 100%) is what size should I buy? There’s a lot of discussion in the building forums about the options available and installation but not much in the way of guidance on sizes. I am here to help!

Your standard Thai rural house has a septic made from round concrete rings stacked on top on each other – two or three rings high. Because most use squat toilets not much water is involved, no paper is flushed and so they don’t require pumping out too often. Every day in the moo ban trucks will come around and you can tell they are septic tank cleaners because they beep their horn twice! Every service or sales person passing the front gates has their signature ‘advertising’.

Farang of course tend to have western flushing toilets with paper, or this farang does anyway, and the storage capacity needs to be larger as a result. I know some expats go with the ring arrangement because at a cost of 140 baht a ring it is a cheap option. Each to their own. I went with a proper heavy duty sealed plastic septic system as I wanted my house to be high western quality and the extra cost was no big deal. No problems with a properly sealed concrete version.

Today we had our septic pumped out for the first time, which allows me to give you some idea of capacity. We bought a 1,600 litre system and we moved in at the end of March 2015. So three people plus a few visitors for three and a bit years. That equals septic storage usage of around 180 litres per person per year. You heard it here first 

P.S. The cost for pumping a full septic tank – 500 baht or $20.00. Not bad for three years is it?

These are the concrete rings often used for septic storage here. These are one of our soaker tanks (NOT septic) this one exclusively for the kitchen waste. We have another for bathroom gray water.

Our plastic septic tank buried in place underneath that concrete ring.

The same view today. For those of you who know my wife Gaun through my posts can you tell where the septic is???? All of this growth has happened in three and a bit years.

Another clue.

That’s Gaun. The concrete lid access to the tank is under all those plants.

12 Aug 2018 – Girls with Flowers

A day at the farm with the ladies, comprising the three sisters and Peng, who were making flower garlands to present to mama this evening for mother’s day. Some beautiful outcomes with the flowers and the casual enjoyment of the day is reflected in the photos. It’s a bit of a personal family-fest for my friends and folks back “home” but there you go.

It took Peng an hour to get dressed up for a visit to the farm. Not much chance she going to be helping with the rice harvest anytime soon 🙂

Hmmmm. How shall I model these………..

OK. All sorted!

Very cute.

Peng, Gaun and Yuan. Paed the other sister had finished hers and was back at work.

Peng and mum.

The end result – all to be given to mama this evening except for one, which Gaun made to give to our Nissan pickup.

For those following the making of these garlands that I have reported before Yuan ended up making 2,500 baht from selling hers and Nit Noy 8,000 baht, so a worthwhile exercise.

A few Gaun and Peng shots which are included just because they were great together for this session. They’re good mates these two and it shows.

My favourite.

14 Aug 2018 – Buying an Isaan Fishing Boat

Lake Ubol Ratana, which you can read about HERE.  The top end of it is about a 30 – 40 minute drive from us.

And this is the latest addition to our Isaan collection. It may not look much now but trust me it will be stunning once it is renovated.

The front platform is broken but Orr will fix it.

The outside is usually brightly painted and we will continue that tradition. Inside will be stained to protect the timber. Spiderman joined us on this expedition, Orr’s grandson, and was so excited to get to go for a ride in a pickup that he tried to hitch a lift back to our place when we left!

Basically this is sound. Isn’t it a great shape. 7 metres bow to stern.

Orr is the guy at the end (number 5 in age of the 7 kids in Gaun’s family) and the owner is in the green top. Just to prove yet again the way my Isaan family look after me and never rip me off….what did I end up paying for this? 500 baht or $20.00. Thank you Orr.

The boat will end up in this area of our garden ‘floating’ on a sea of what Gaun calls Isaan tulips 🙂

We have hired a longboat on Lake Ratana twice before and going back through the photos of those trips I came across a couple of examples of these boats being used for real. You can see the flat nose at the front. Typical friendliness from the local fishermen. See the fish traps in the front of the boat? I have one of those too!

And here’s a photo of that nose being used. This is an exact replica of the one we bought except this one hasn’t been painted.

This is Yuan on that trip who was so excited to buy a bag full of fish from one of the big fishing rafts that are anchored in the lake.

This lot ended up in a super strong fermented fish sauce, exclusive to Isaan, that Gaun rightly calls ‘fish dead long time”. If you ever try a ‘real’ Isaan papaya salad (som tum) then it will have FDLT and not that tame stuff you get from a bottle.

Driving to the lake and back we went down this beautiful avenue of eucalypts that extended a couple of km from the village. Evidently there are several local roads like this.

The story is that the head monk of the village temple asked the locals to plant up the roads like this as he loves trees. Unlike normal commercial situations these will never be cut unless authorised by the abbot. Now there’s a guy I would like to meet.

16 Aug 2018 – Never Lonely in Isaan

One of the unexpected benefits of writing a blog on living in Isaan is the number of people I get to meet. Some remain ‘virtual’ but others drop in to see us either for a once only visit, and we’ve had about eighty of those, or regularly when they are in the area. I also find some local connections that I wouldn’t have otherwise and that’s a pleasure too.

Today was a good example with Greg and Noi from Noi’s Kitchen calling with friends of theirs to see the garden and farm as well as a return visit by Tim Fuller and his partner Aree. Thank you all for spending time here and we would love to see you back at some stage.

At the farm with Yuan and Lud who are internet stars.

17 Aug 2018 – Pebblecreting a Wat

A few little updates this morning. Gaun’s brother has finished renovating the Isaan fishing boat we bought this week and he tells us it looks great. It has turned out so well that the man we bought it from asked Orr if he could buy it back! Only joking (I think). We (Gaun) have arranged for transport to pick it up and bring it here on Sunday so I will report back on that.

We called into the local temple to see our friend Chung (builder) Noy who is working there pebblecreting the entire floor, an eight month job! Noy is the guy who did the pebblecreting at our home. Most of his work is for temples as that’s where the demand is and they have the money to fund it. Noy is just the nicest bloke you’d ever meet. He’s the one who organised our boat transport. A few other photos as always.

Every day at 11:00 am this large drum (known as a Klong Pane) is sounded to let everyone know it is lunchtime for the monks. Villagers will bring food separate from the early morning rounds so that the monks get a hot meal. The monks don’t eat after noon.

This is Tea, a friend and neighbour. I wrote about his ordination ceremony, which happened just before Buddhist Lent, which you can read about HERE.

Tea in a non-monk role. He’a a large character as you might tell from this photo. Regulars will remember the hot air ‘balloon’ that went up in flames at this wat. That was Tea in action!

Inside the Buddha hall Chung Noy is well underway settling out the frame into which the pebblecrete will be poured.

The extra height is so that a proper level can be achieved across the whole area. For anyone who has built here you will know that the initial concrete slab pour is rough as guts as far as levels go and the this is then corrected when the tiling goes down.

This is Noy working on our driveway. You can see the same framework being used but on a smaller scale. Here Noy is setting out the patterns, which are filled with different coloured pebblecrete. The centre of the wat hall will have a huge star design like this.

This is the raised platform on which the Buddha statues will be placed. Obviously a more complex range of patterns planned here.

It’s a slow and backbreaking job.

Chung Noy. One of my favourite Isaan people.

Have mat can eat, sleep or just watch what’s going on. Gaun of course here who is the most patient person as I wander around wherever we go taking photos.

For those of you who don’t know what pebblecrete is it ends up looking like this. Our driveway again.

Pebblecrete turns boring concrete into something interesting. a 40,000 baht job here where the wat is 500,000.

The painting touch up continues from my previous post on this wat.

Sifting sand the Thai way.

These stones are mixed with concrete to fill in those frames and create the patterns. Colour is added to match the overall design.

This is only part of the final quantity that will be used.

Mixed stones, which I presume won’t be coloured. Needless to say I will report back on progress over time.

The work on the hand made moulding continues.

Anyone fancy painting that lot?

New topic. Regular readers may remember a hand pump I came across in Chung Noy’s moo ban when we joined him for a Bun Bang Fai street party, an Isaan rocket festival which you can read about HERE.

When I saw this I thought it would look great in the garden as part of my Isaan oddities collection. This one is owned by the council but Chung Noy knows of one at a local wat and he is going to ask the monk if I can have in exchange for a donation! I will let you know how that goes. I wonder if I can connect it to a small underground tank so that it actually pumps water? Funny.

This chicken, which we bought in Phuket when we went there with Yuan and Lud in 2017, which you can read about HERE has been relocated again. She now has her own basket and plastic eggs. Who said we don’t have good taste?

20 Aug 2018 – Transporting a Boat

Up early this morning to collect our boat from Orr’s home, Gaun’s older brother. We met up with a friend, Chung Noy and a couple of his workers who we’d booked to transport the boat to our garden. It was heavier than it looked so a good thing it wasn’t just Gaun and me trying to move it. All went well and I will now work on renovating it while Gaun replants the flower bed that will become a colourful ‘sea’ once finished.

A lifetime of sitting like Gaun is here allows Thais to create their own ‘chair’ wherever they go. They can sit for ages like this. I can do it but my feet aren’t flat on the ground like Gaun’s are, so it is tiring and easy to topple over. This photo taken outside Orr’s house.

All loaded.

Orr’s wife showed us this boat owned by her mother, which is also for sale. It is in better condition than the one I bought and a metre longer. 800 baht or $25.00 will make it yours for any locals interested. I am tempted to buy it for the farm pond but we’ll see.

Our boat in place.

The inside will be stained to preserve the wood while the outside will be painted. The colour is a TBA thing at this stage.

Once the flower bed is replanted and we get some nice plants to go in the boat itself this will become quite a striking feature. This area is going to be paved with handmade bricks next month and then floodlit, so it will just get better in time.

The pot that was where the boat is now has been moved here a space I wanted something to fill. Perfect outcome.

This is the same space late February, just to give you an idea of the speed things grow here.

22 Aug 2018 – A Transformation

Work on the boat continues and it is looking much improved. I am going to add a centre tyre to support the middle because every Thai person who visits will want to have their photo taken sitting in the boat  An example attached. Gaun has started the landscaping but not the front yet, which she will do once I finish my bit.

A reminder of what we started with on Monday.

And today. There’s still a bit of detailing work to do but the general presentation is finished.

Staining the inside brought up some old paintwork colour, which I left as part of the history of the boat. You can see the difference compared to the previous photo.

Staining the inside brought up some old paintwork colour, which I left as part of the history of the boat. You can see the difference compared to the previous photo.

Gaun’s shade arrangement for working in this area. I am going to buy some fishing baskets and related stuff to add a bit of extra character.

Now these are the sort of chickens I like. Quiet and well behaved. 150 baht in a local garden centre.

We have two owls originally in my garden in Australia who have made the trip over although their visa status is a bit unclear.

23 Aug 2018 – Thai Jams

I very rarely share other people’s posts and especially avoid pushing businesses however this enterprise is an exception for a couple of reasons. Firstly I like to see a farang trying something a bit different so good luck to them for this initiative. Secondly look at some of the jam combinations. What a terrific momento to take home from Thailand that captures some of the local tropical fruits in this way and doesn’t involve chillies 

Dragon Fruit and Papaya – now that’s a mix you don’t see too often 🙂

This is a list of their jams. I haven’t tried them so I can’t recommend personally but I am going to give them a go and will report back:

We are a small family business making jams. Our Jams are made in Phayao, Northern Thailand using locally sourced fresh fruit. They are preservative, filler and additive free. We use Jaggery, a non-refined all natural sugar alternative to corn syrup or refined white sugar.We have:

Mango and Passion Fruit Jam (180ml)..85 Baht
Banana Jam (180ml)…85 Baht
Dragon Fruit & Papaya Jam (180ml)….85 Baht
Green Apple and Longan Jam (180ml)….95 Baht
Mangosteen Jam (120ml)….95 Baht
Santol Marmalade(120ml)…95 Baht
Santol Marmalade(240ml)…115 Baht

You can find K&M Blossom Farm on Facebook HERE.

23 Aug 2018 – A Medical Morning

We had a medical morning and I thought I would share the basics as once again these little events give non-locals an insight into living an everyday life here.

The clinic is on a side road to the 210 highway next to the lake.

Guan’s older sister Paed, who runs the other half of the family farm, had drastically lost weight and went to a local doctor who told her there was nothing wrong. By the time she looked like a skeleton she went to another doctor based Nong Bua Lamphu, a 30 minute drive from us, with a good reputation. She was diagnosed with a thyroid problem, is now on medication and is well on the way to regaining her weight. Every month she has a check-up and gets more medication and that was due today. I have had a cough that hangs around so thought I would give this doctor a go.

There are medical clinics everywhere but the first thing you need to realise is that most of these are run by doctors outside their ‘day’ job of working in a government hospital. That means the vast majority of clinics are only open for a couple of hours early morning and evening. If you get sick during the day good luck with that. Head straight to a hospital because that’s where all the doctors are based. This clinic in Nong Bua Lamphu was unusual in that the doctor and his wife had opening hours of 07:30 – 13:00 and 17:00 – 19:00.

Open fronted waiting room. An Isaan tuk tuk unique to the region on the right.

The second thing you should note is that there are no appointments. Nothing in Thailand seems to have an appointment in fact. Want your car serviced – just turn up! If you want your body serviced the same situation. You need to get there early and get a number and then wait and wait. Take a book, do some shopping, get a massage! We got there at just after 07:30 and I saw the doctor at about 10:00. Our regular Khon Kaen hospital visits with Peng, my stepdaughter, are never less than four hours and often a full day.

Thirdly, in the public system medical treatment can be a pretty public experience. Hospitals have mobile beds lying around with patients waiting for action and clinics can have you waiting in line seated inside the doctor’s room, where you can hear and see everything happening with the people ahead of you. Obviously more personal consultations are private (I assume) but I can’t vouch for that as my prostate is just fine. I think I got a bit of a farang courtesy because they didn’t line anyone up behind me so I had the room to myself, although the door was open.

We had a very social time the day before with Australian friends and so Gaun was feeling a little slow this morning. Spicy sausages from a mobile stall that had set up in front of the clinic was the go to help clear the head!

Fourthly most doctors have some English speaking ability. It may be a bit rusty and limited in some cases but it is bound to be better than my Thai.

Fifthly your medication will be a bit hit and miss if you’re a ‘must read the label’ type of person. Some pills will come in their commercial wrapper while others are dished out of a plastic bottle and could be anything. They are all placed in little plastic bags with ‘tick a box’ instructions all in Thai!

My pill collection interpreted thanks to Gaun.

Finally, the public medical system is absurdly cheap by western standards. I had a consultation with the doctor and received five packets of pills for an overall cost of $14.00 (360 baht).

For locals I have included details of this clinic called Amnat Nitman. The Google Maps entry can be found HERE.  The male doctor I saw spoke excellent English and seemed to take an interest. I just hope that his diagnosis and treatment works. Since I posted this on Facebook I received a comment from a regular reader which stated:

Hi Tony Eastmead – that same doctor is our family doctor in Nong Bua Lamphu (for years) – can only recommend them to anybody in need. They are really great. Hope Paed is back to normal soon 🙏😉

Thanks for reading and please leave a comment if you enjoyed the stories.

Tony