For those of you who follow these posts on the little happenings in my Isaan life you will be both pleased and surprised that I have finally caught up with 2017 although only the first few days of the year. I know this makes some of these entries out of date but I thought they were still worth including because they were all part of the sequence of our time living here.

I am about to add a post that breaks the flow of Small Stories so keep an eye out for that. So here we go into 2017 – it probably seems like a distant memory already.

31 Dec 2016 – Happy New Year’s Eve

A fun and busy New Year period with two weddings (not mine), friends arriving to stay with us from Australia and Holland, parties, Lud’s birthday, the farm flat out trying to keep up with demand for vegetables and Si Bun Ruang’s monthly markets.

New Year’s eve and our first wedding invitation.

The daughter of a guy who worked on building our house was getting married. Here I am with his wife. The financial donation is given to these guys on the right and recorded. Food is served from about 7.00 am and the ceremony itself starts at 9.09 am – nine being a lucky number in Thailand.

A photo with one of the local “mayors”. I have ever drunk so much beer so early. Beer and breakfast was never a big thing with me in Australia. I have got used to it now!

I love a crowd of Thais because you can always capture some wonderful faces.

Now there’s a lifetime of living in that face!

The groom arrives with his wedding party.

The groom always walks to the bride’s house. They party separately the night before (the “reception” in our terms) and also for the morning breakfast on the day of the ceremony.

A smiling bridesmaid is unusual event. I have been to many weddings and they often look as if someone has died. Maybe it is part of their role to look serious. Not this one.

The groom with the “spiritman” who will conduct the ceremony itself.

Another well worn face.

A happy moment captured.

I love this photo. These two small kids had been paying and then mum came to claim the boy. There’s a sense of loss from the girl’s expression or is that just me? Maybe a wedding of the future 🙂

The bride and groom weren’t a smiley couple but I hope that was just the seriousness of the occasion and not second thoughts. Mind you seeing the way Thai’s party the night before it could well be they and everyone else is just intensly hung-over 🙂

Away from the wedding a lot was happening on the family’s farm.

The huge demand for vegetables to feed the doubling of Isaan’s population over this period requires a the family to be working without sleeping – almost. Guan was up at 1.00 am this morning helping Yuan to harvest. Here she is later in the morning still going.

One load had already gone to the markets and this lot is about to go. A lot is sold to other stallholders and some is sold by Yuan directly to customers at the family stall.

Even my Mazda is loaded up for a trip to the market.

Yuan and Lud make a delivery in the village.

And Gaun gets flowers as a bonus. You can tell that we are in the cool season here can’t you.

Super fresh vegetables helping to feed the endless New Year parties.

Setting up the family’s stall. 1 meter of space is rented for 700 baht a month (A$28.00)

Even Peng, my stepdaughter, is called to action.

Leaving Si Bun Ruang I drove the one hour to Udon Thani airport to collect three friends who are staying with us for a week. The evening was taken up with eating and drinking in true New Year’s eve tradition, a dancing party held by the village and then time spent at the second wedding party before bubbly for the click over into 2017.

1 Jan 2017 – New Year’s Day

New Year’s Day kicked off with a ceremony to feed the local monks early before heading to the second of our weddings. The bride was a photographer at my wedding to Gaun and also a good friend of the family. Back to the markets to buy presents for Lud’s birthday and a family celebration that evening.

And finally on the second day of the New Year the local monthly markets happened to finish a wonderful New Year period, my fourth in Thailand.

The village turned out in force to start the new year in Buddha’s good books. The monks group at the top of the road.

Gaun’s older sister Yurt on the left, Puk – a niece, Gaun, my friend of 30 years Gaz, his wife Saskia, my stepdaughter Peng and a friend from the Netherlands, Odete.

This is an unusually big turnout to feed the monks.

And off they go.

The donations are collected in this pick-up.

Tee – a neighbour and a bit of a playboy. You’d never guess would you? This is a New Year haircut.

One more wedding this morning. Ideally timed for our friends.

Yes, the cool season is happening in Isaan.

Wedding number two, The groom arrives.

Isaan certainly turns out some beautiful ladies.

Just a great mix of colours.

The groom has to “bribe” his way through a number of chain ropes to get into the bride’s home. 

Some of these are formal barriers and some less so. Gaun’s friend on the left got her to join in to set up a chain and they both got an envelope with money from the groom. The lady on the right is called Apple and is a part of Gaun’s family. You can read about her wedding HERE.

No wedding would be complete without selfies.

More food and drink! 

One to add to my “Faces of Isaan” collection.

This money is called Sin Sod. It would be called a dowry in the west. 

It is money paid by the groom to the bride’s mother. Daughters have an obligation to support the family. When married in theory that obligation passes to the groom and his family although I don’t think you can ever separate a Thai person from their family obligations. The bride’s mother gets this money to compensate for the loss of what is sort of a superannuation support from her daughter. It IS NOT buying a wife as many farang think.

To not pay Sin Sod is to basically say that you don’t think your wife is worth the money and disrespect to her family. The whole community knows what you have paid as it is an open transaction so you can’t hide it. Maybe not the best way to start your married life. Get over it and pay up! 100,000 baht here (A$4,000) and gold.

The ring.

The bride and groom gets the gold. Mum gets the money.

A funny photo. Mum “sneaks” off with the money.

The groom gets his gold.

I only add this photo because the lighting of the candle and passing it to the bride is part of the ceremony. The Leo beer bottle container makes it perhaps a less romantic gesture!

On the way back from the wedding we met up with Lud, Yuan and Yurt on the way to the markets. My friend Gaz certainly appreciated Lud’s offering. It’s a sort of Isaan bunch of flowers.

Gaun, Yurt and Yuan inspect the envelope of money Gaun got from the groom. The curiosity was it held 111 baht, and the amount was a mystery.

Unexpectedly we all got these ceremonial gifts from the bride’s family. Usually they go to other family members and close friends. Lovely.

The day then rolled into Lud’s birthday late afternoon. The village elder who acted in place of my mum for my wedding wanted to tie New Year good luck strings for my friends.

80 years old, seven kids and she has more energy than I have. Gaun reciprocating tying a string on yai’s (grandmother) wrist.

A great lady.

Gaun’s mama getting attention this time. People hold onto the person receiving the wrist band to share in the good luck and provide loving support.

Lud, who had no idea it was his birthday, gets the first of his presents from Gaz and Saskia, my friends from Australia.

Lud and Yuan have been working 16 hour plus days for the last month and Lud was in a slight daze about the whole surprise party thing. The 285 whisky helped though.

Appreciated.

A mix of cultures but who cares!

My friends were kind enough to bring small gifts for Yuan and Peng.

Peng. Anything fluffy will bring a smile to the face of a Thai girl.

The birthday cake.

I couldn’t think of a better way to end day one of 2017. A belated Happy New Year everyone from Tony, Gaun and family.

The next day we headed off to the local markets.

Today the Si Bun Ruang markets set up for the 2nd of the month sales. Perfect timing for our guests.

For those Aussies reading the story of how a Bunnings inflatable hammer arrived in Si Bun Ruang would be worth hearing!

Never to young to start being an entrepreneur.

Lud making deliveries in his new birthday gear.

7 Jan 2017 – A Day out with Friends

If you are in the Udon Thani area, in the north east of Thailand, in the cool season (Dec-Feb) then this is a great and varied day out if you have your own transport – Red Lotus Sea, Ban Dung salt factories and Wat Kham Chanot. All can be found off highway 22 heading south.

I have covered the Red Lotus Sea before HERE so I won’t bore you with too many photos but will add a little info you might find useful.

Ban Dung the town is nothing much in itself but it specialises in making salt and if you wanted an unusual gift to take home then some Isaan spa or cooking salt would be a first. Don’t just buy a bag but explore the backroads to see how it is made.

Wat Kham Chanot is not a place with classic Thai Buddhist temple buildings. Situated on an island it is actually dedicated to a mythical Naga or snake that is supposed to live in the area. It is a great example of that confusing but fun mix of cultures and beliefs that make up Thai Buddhism. A previous post on Ban Dung and Wat Chanot can be found HERE.

The Red Lotus Sea would be a typical uninteresting shallow wetland if not for the Lotus displays that flower so well this time of year. As others have pointed out go early in the morning for the best display as they close up by late morning.

Hire a boat (obviously) and take the longer 1 1/2 hour option. 

A longboat for up to 4 people will cost 300 baht while a larger one for up to 10 will set you back 500 baht. Don’t be disappointed for the first 15 – 20 minutes as it can take a while to reach the sea of beautiful flowers you see here. Just enjoy the ride. It’s not all tourism. People make a living fishing the lake too as seen in the background here.

I am sure you have seen this type of photo many times on this site but it doesn’t stop it being a stunning image.

A cloudy morning so the flowers were blooming but not enthusiastically 🙂 Still, it’s a photo worth the trip.

I was acting tourist guide for friends staying with us over New Year from Australia and the Netherlands. 

There always has to be the odd one out!

Just cos I could. One for Thai readers.

Make sure you ask your boatman to take you to the large lotus flower beds, something most people don’t know about.

They are in the far left hand corner of the lake from the main boat house and he can sweep through there on the way back. These weren’t flowering well this time but when we went in Feb last year and they were just spectacular – more so than the smaller lotus plants up close.

The classic closed lotus you will often see in markets carved from wood.

Some water birds around who have escaped the Isaan culture of eating everything that moves.

A lucky shot that worked.

A reader from another page I write for tells me “We have many like this in northern Australia. We call a “Coot”, or water hen. Some smaller plain black ones and some with iridescent blue on their bodies like this one.”

Leaving the lotuses the next stop is an hour away at Ban Dung on the 2096.

If you head out of Udon on highway 22 then you turn right to the Red Lotus Sea and then come back to the 22 drive a little further and turn left onto the 2096.
Drive through the town of Ban Dung and you will see street stalls like this. This is salt that is produced locally.

The salt is obtained from bore/well water that is pumped up and either let evaporate in large ponds like this one (dry season) or put in tanks with a wood fire underneath.

Some of the ponds are more commercial and have a concrete base, others are lined with black plastic with raw earth being the third option. The platform on the right is the bore water outlet.

This is the more interesting production and you have to head off the 2096 into the side streets to find these little operations.

Bore/well water is pumped into these holding tanks and a fire is lit underneath. The rest is up to the laws of nature. The resulting salt is stacked at the back over the tank ready to be processed.

Putting a submersible pump down the bore/well would be asking for trouble in such salty water so air is pushed down to bring the water up (so I understand).

Weighing the salt for distribution to the stalls, local shops and of course the pick-up with loudspeakers that circulate through local villages we local residents know so well.

A mountain of salt. Gaun providing a touch of colour.

A more commercial output. One of those bags containing 10 packets cost 50 baht bought direct from the producer. 10 kilos of salt in all.

Enough salt? Continue down highway 2096 and you will soon see the sign to Wat Kham Chanot, which is a turn to the right. A 10km drive will get you there. This photo of the entry bridge to the island was taken on a previous visit and I will explain why I have used it shortly. Note the opening times.

We last visited late in the afternoon and on a weekday on our previous visit and the lovely walk to the temple through the trees looked like this.

If you visit on a major holiday period like New Year you might find it looks more like this! There are big local markets held in the carpark area on every Saturday and Sunday so expect more crowds then too.

What will you find close to a Buddhist temple or a shrine dedicated to tapping into good luck like this one? Lottery sellers. Makes sense.

How many monks can you get into a pick-up? Trivia question answered!

This is as dramatic as the buildings on the island get. This photo taken “offseason”.

Or the same area time we went. Groups had been organised so as one bunch got a blessing there was another lot waiting – and this was late in the day when many had already been and gone.

Taking an interest in the proceedings. He’s seen it all before.

The next group waiting. Their “spiritman” in white in the centre.

These works of art were everywhere. The naga or snake in many forms crafted from banana leaves and flowers. Relatively expensive offering made to the temple for good luck.

Just stunning. Not much of the Buddha on show here even though it is a formal wat.

The “Chanot” bit of the temple’s name is in reference to a sacred tree of the same name that grows on the island. In western terms I think it would be called a Morton Bay fig but stand to be corrected.

A lot of this “stuff” is collected at the end of the day and dumped so you can see the activity that’s already been going on all day.

My favourite photo. 

Powder is rubbed into the trees to make the spotting of lottery numbers embedded in the bark easier. It is one of the reasons people come here. You will see some sign of this obsession with clues to the lottery numbers in other wats too but not to this extent that I have witnessed.

These kids were doing the interpretation and calling the numbers out to their parents who were noting them down. You will also see many mobile phones in action taking photos to be studied later. The numbers 606 is the go from these experts so there you have it. 10% to my bank account when you win.

Getting the gongs to “sing” is another way to add to your good luck for 2017. 

If you look at the back of the gongs in most temples you will see the polished area where many hands have tried and so few have succeeded.

More statues that have nothing to do with Buddhism.

You see this guy all over and it took me ages to find out who he was. Gaun, my wife, called him “Lucy”, which didn’t help my internet search. He is often situated alone in a natural setting, has a long beard and is usually wrapped in an animal skin. Gaun was right but the Thai play with the letters “R” and “L” means that he is this bloke:

“The Ruesi are Hermit sages who spend their time meditating and developing psychic powers and collecting magical herbs, minerals, rarities and other substances. They use the magical ingredients to make special love charms, spells and protective amulets. They wish to help other beings to be happier in life, and do this by telling fortunes, making rituals and spells to reduce bad karma, chase evil influences and spirits away, protect from ones enemies, or even increase one’s luck and wealth with a spell for wealth and good fortune.”

Now you know.

Plenty of monks around as this is a very well respected temple. 

This was a line of what I call “mini-monks” or “monkettes” (young monks) off to check lottery numbers at the biggest Chanot tree. The bright orange robes will always remind you of Thailand once you’ve seen them once for real.

A day’s offerings.

One of my favourite photos of Thailand. I was lucky with the lighting this time.

A photo from our previous visit. The snake is supposed to pass through this area making the water good for everything. Splash it on your head or even fill up your water bottle for good luck or ailments at home. Ladles provided.

Without people this is a serene and peaceful place. 

However it was such a buzz to be mixed in with so many Thais (only one farang spotted) involved and enjoying the expression of their beliefs that given the choice I would prefer to come in peak time. Do both! I can provide more specific driving instructions if anyone is interested.

7 Jan 2017 – A Smokers Paradise

WARNING: If you are a smoker and living in Australia then don’t read this post. It will make you very sad.

We had friends visit for the New Year and they wanted to take some tobacco back for a friend who rolls their own. A trip to the local market provided a free taste test and 300 grams of tobacco for around A$3.00.

You can buy one kilo “bricks” for A$10.00 including government tax. Given the low cost I am surprised at the low number of Thais you see smoking. A cheaper way to get your addiction kicks than ice cream!

BTW due to customs restriction into Australia, which will soon limit import to one cigarette per person, much of this tobacco was left for Lud, who enjoys a very mild intake during the day.

8 Jan 2017 – Wat Pha Phutthabat Phu Kao

An afternoon drive took us into a hidden valley surrounded by hills looking for a temple called Wat Pha Phutthabat Phu Kao.

This crater looking feature is a large valley surrounded by low hills. Our home is off to the left and we entered via one of only two roads at that break in the hills on the bottom left, which is the dam for a small lake.

Unsealed roads only but excellent surfaces. A lot of new work happening this end of the valley on the roads. That’s the lake that sits behind the dam.

Being a Pha/Pa (in the name) wat this is a temple in the Thai Buddhist forest tradition so much use is made of natural timbers in the various buildings. 

This is the main public hall. Paste these coords into Google Maps:16°55’37.2″N 102°30’32.1″E

And inside. A little different from the temples you would normally associate with Thailand.

Being a Sunday Peng wanted to come along. She has seen far more of the local area than anyone else in her family other than mum.

The wat even has its own cafe! For events like an upcoming celebration in February there will be 100 monks here and huge crowds so the facilities you see, as with many temples, can be extensive but only used several times a year.

Good looking toilets.

You can always tell the money that a wat is attracting by the quality of their water tanks! These stainless steel ones are top of the line and many times the cost of the blue plastic ones you will see elsewhere.

The wat is set on a rocky site, which will turn into a sheet of water come the wet season. It would be worth seeing. There’s not much inside that building apart from a big Buddha footprint – see later photo.

Solar panels being fitted watched by spare monks.

This is the abbott and he wanted his photo taken so I could show a mate of his, another monk called Dit, in Si Bun Ruang. Dit heads up a new temple that has been established just down the road from the family farm.

The kitchen and dining area. All very well maintained and clean, which isn’t alway the case with temples here. The abbott is obviously running a disciplined place.

One of the big Buddha footprints you will come across in Thailand. This one set inside one of the main buildings.

Looking up the rock formation to a couple of the buildings. You can see how the water will cascade down this area in the wet season.

Heading back we called into another wat called Tat Kiriwan and I took this image. Temples are just everywhere but most are very basic and undeveloped. Occasionally you get lucky and find one worth recording.

This must be a new ordination hall (not open to the public) and what passes in Thailand as gravestones one the left. Ashes and bones will be stored at the top of these brightly coloured structures. Heaps for sale, without occupants, at the side of the road.

If you are using GPS enter these coords to stop at a decent looking waterfall/rapids in the wet season only 16°58’59.2″N 102°30’04.0″E

The crematorium in a lovely setting. I asked Gaun if she wanted a closer look and she replied “Not yet” 🙂

This is yet another wat on the way home on highway 2146 (for locals) called Wat That Han Thao. Worth a quick look if in the area.

A more classic Thai temple. Paste these coords into Google Maps: 17°08’09.0″N 102°26’57.3″E to find it.

I will be working hard to catch up on these small stories, although I have said that before and still never seem to get up to date. The fact that there are so many of them is an indication that life in the backwaters of Thailand doesn’t necessarily mean that life is boring and there’s nothing to fill in the day. If bars, beaches and farang are your thing then Isaan will mostly disappoint (especially with the beaches!) but if you get involved and out and about there are other more naturally Thai moments to enjoy.

Thanks for reading.