I am almost up to date with these stories as this collection takes us into February. A wide range of topics as always that I hope you find interesting.

9 Jan 2017 – Aussie Garlic

I find that Thai garlic tastes very mild compared to the garlic I remember from my days in Australia. I always double the recipe amounts here and still don’t get the “kick” i am used to. I made garlic bread recently with heaps of garlic and the next day Gaun and I were still friends….what’s going on? I don’t know if this is due to the variety of garlic or the growing conditions.

So to test the variety/growing conditions scenario I asked a good friend of mine to bring some over as she was staying in Phuket over Christmas and could post it to me. Funnily when she was in Australia she visited her daughter, who lives in a small rural town about an hour out of Canberra called Braidwood, and while she was there they had a garlic festival!

We now have some Aussie garlic going into the ground on the family farm in Isaan. I will report back on whether we are able to grow garlic with punch.

Braidwood garlic in Isaan.

My Dog and garlic make the trip to the farm.

Gaun has prepared a bed close to the farmhouse.

Ready to go. I never thought I would be excited about planting garlic! How life has changed.

11 Jan 2017 – Landscaping our boat dock

We have spent a couple of days at the farm and are in the process of upgrading the docking facilities for Isaan Grace, our floating sala. 5 cubic metres of gravel was delivered to create new access paths as well as refresh the main driveway post the wet season.

Lots of plants both bought locally and Gaun’s cuttings have been put into new beds to create a grand entrance to the dock.

Tomorrow three wide concrete steps will be poured to replace the dirt slope to the raft. The final task will be to get the electrician in to provide power for lights and a fan plus some spot lights for the trees on the shore. Not your average Isaan farm 🙂

The starting point. Isaan Grace, our floating raft. The goal is to replace that dirt with concrete steps and incorporate the area into the farmhouse. That bench and the two banana trees on the right have since been moved.

Gaun has been busy digging new flower beds. Looking to the “farmhouse” with the raft behind me. New paths in place.

And after Gaun’s transformation. A mix of plants bought at the local nursery and cuttings.

The large plants in front of the toilet block were donated by a lady in the village.

They will wilt and then establish themselves just fine. Stick anything in the ground here and it just grows. I am going to paint those ugly concrete walls in a rich mud brick colour. P.S. Updated 26 Feb – as the cost of tinting to a mud brick” colour  is more than buying the actual paint I have given up on this idea for the time being. Although white paint is cheap in Thailand you pay for tinting and that can be very expensive for the more vivid colours.

Meanwhile the bougainvillae we planted out along the driveway is enjoying the cooler and dry weather this season.

The most colourful farm in Isaan.

14 Jan 2017 – Garden Update

I know I keep posting photos about the garden and for non-plant people you can skip yet another episode. The reason for this “one more post” is that I am still new enough to life here to be amazed at the colour and lushness of everything in the middle of what passes as winter.

Our main outside living area looking down the left side of the house past the kitchen and the main bedroom to the back  of the block of land.

I can remember winter in Canberra where the garden basically shut down with maybe a few flowers and, as we had a lot of deciduous trees and shrubs, there were a lot of empty spaces. Mind you it was so cold no time was spent outside anyway so it wasn’t a problem 🙂

My first “winter’ in Isaan had nighttime temps under 10 degrees and daytime in the low 20’s. The last two have been much warmer, nighttime 18 and daytime high 20’s. I don’t know if the last two are the odd ones out or whether the first cool season was unusual.

The same view from the other way back to front.

It is so enjoyable to still be able to throw on shorts and a T shirt for the first morning coffee outside and enjoy the eye catching colours especially of the bougainvillae (called paper flowers here), which are coming into full bloom.

This is supposed to be our clothes drying area but Gaun can’t help herself and it has almost disappeared in greenery. Now larger items like sheets are carted over to mama’s house where there’s more open space 🙂

This climber only flowers once, sometimes twice a year but is certainly worth it when it is in bloom. That’s an old mango tree stump that was cut back when we cleared the land to build the house.

Roses in Thailand. Who’d have thought.

The koi pond at the front of the house.

The same view less than 2 years ago. Gaun helping create the pond while her daughter Peng looks on. Times have certainly changed.

Some lovely flowers donated by a neighbour.

14 Jan 2107 – The final Isaan Grace landscaping entry (for now)

Yet another regular subject that I will finish here before it gets too boring. We have spent the last three days landscaping the area around Isaan Grace our floating sala/raft. It all looks a bit bare now after the big clean up but lots of new plants have gone in and I will report back in six months. For anybody wanting to follow the whole project of building raft check out the recent post HERE.

After the last post where I shared the start of this process we moved onto that area at the back to clean it up and replant.

Gaun up a mango tree, which had a creeper growing through it.

I now have another “Tony” sign made in plants thanks to my dear wife who needs to be constantly reminded of my name.

The one she made at home gets attacked by next door’s chickens, which has Gaun muttering about doing some very non-Buddhist things to them. No chickens here and a hardier plant so I will be a long term feature of the farm 🙂

That corner now cleared and the area opened up for planting.

The mangoes are flowering now, a sign of beautiful fruit to come in a few months.

New concrete steps now lead down to the boat for us elderly citizens. This is one of the nicest places to sit with a drink or a book or preferably both.

Still floating after a couple of months. Aussie engineering in action!

Lud tests out a new bench Gaun made and approves.

And to finish the day…..what else. We are open to visitors who bring beer so pop in if you meet this criteria!

14 Jan 2017 – A Mix

A very small mixed batch of photos each with an equally small story attached to them. I still find these minute insights to aspects of life here interesting and I hope you do too.

I had to capture this basket of tomatoes picked on the farm and heading to the Friday street markets.

In Australia this would be a boring batch of pure red tomatoes but here they are harvested at different stages of ripening, to give this super photo.

The reason being that in Isaan “sour” is a part of the range of flavours in cooking. Often these are added to pappaya salad, which is an intensely sour and supremely hot dish served at any time during the day. In Isaan cooking, which is NOTHING like Thai, Gaun will describe flavours as sour, “medicinal”, which I think means bitter, and hot.

This vine was overwhelming a mango tree and was dispatched by Gaun as part of a recent cleanup at the farm.

The interesting bit is that the sap of the vine is used by nursing mothers to discourage babies from ongoing breastfeeding! I tried it just on the tip of my tongue and boy is it bitter and the taste is very hard to get rid of. Think of that stuff they give you to paint on nails to stop you biting them x 10. It can also be boiled and used as a natural remedy for sick chickens!

Breakfast at the farm to energise an upcoming day of concreting. The point I wanted to make is that this is a duck egg and once you’ve had one you’ll never want to go back to the chicken variety.

Very thick shells, bigger than the average chicken egg and a yolk that is far larger and more yellow (these are grown on a local farm that I covered some time ago on FB). At A$4.80 for 30 eggs they are an easy choice to add to the shopping list. A harder find in a western supermarket I am thinking.

Meanwhile Yuan was frying up a tasty batch of flying (well they’re not flying NOW obviously) insects for their breakfast. The choice is yours!

Someone did ask me where he could buy the eggs but I can’t find the comment.

Next time you are in Si Bun Ruang CBD you will find the shop one street back from the main road running through the town (the 228) as marked in the Google Maps image.

I have just published a post on some of the best selection of business in Si Bun Ruang and you can find that entry HERE.

15 Jan 2017 – An Emergency Trip to the Hospital

We had a medical emergency with Peng last night and ended up at the Si Bun Ruang hospital at midnight. All ended up OK and this isn’t intended to be a notification of that event. However it was interesting to observe the Thai medical system in action (although at a very basic level thank goodness in Peng’s case) and I thought I would share that as I do with most things that give insights to life here.

Si Bun Ruang is a small rural town but it has its own hospital ten minutes drive from us with a 24 hour emergency section, which is where we started. Funnily one of the nurses on duty was a neighbour who lives across the road from us so a personal connection was made, which always helps.

A young doctor was in attendance and Peng was examined almost immediately. Simple tests were conducted and supplies from the hospital pharmacy provided without delay. The place was clean and orderly and there were plenty of staff on hand. We were out of there in an hour and a half.

Peng is classified as having a disability because of her mobility problems and she has a medical card that gives her ALL treatments and medicines for free. Basic medical is very cheap here but you do have to pay for medicine and anything major comes at a cost.

The hospital has two ambulances and Thailand has an emergency call number 1669 if you need assistance. If you are relying on the government medical system then you will work your way up the chain if the situation can’t be handled locally. You start off at SBR hospital and then they will refer you to Nong Bua Lamphu, the provincial capital where there’s a large public hospital. The next step is a referral to either Udon Thani or Khon Kaen, which have specialised units – heart etc.

SBR Hospital

As a farang you can use the Thai system and pay or the private system and pay more. Nong Bua Lamphu has a small private hospital while Udon and Khon Kaen have big international standard private hospitals. Although cheaper than the Australian equivalent you can easily end up paying many thousands of dollars for the standard range of operations. I have an entry on Thai Private Health Insurance on the blog if you’re interested HERE.

The pretty basic level of medical support at a very local level worries some farang as reflected on various forums. I agree especially as I get older with an increased risk of something major happening. However if you lived in a non-major town in Australia you would also be faced with pretty limited options locally with more major emergencies passed up the line if you survived that long 🙂 My parents lived on the South Coast of New South Wales and they made regular trips to Canberra over two hours drive for more specialised treatments or appointments. Udon Thani or Khon Kaen are both closer than that scenario for me so I am not at a great disadvantage compared to many Australians. I am sure the same applies to other countries too.

22 Jan 2017 – Wat Pa Thum Praphukao

I am not sure how to classify this post. It is really a hike in the local hills but it starts at a wat and the destination is Buddhist related so it is a special mix of the two.

Wat Pathum Praphukao, or any variation of that spelling, is a temple hidden away nestled against some low hills off highway 3003, which runs from Nong Bua Lamphu south. 16°58’37.1″N 102°25’31.8″E in Google Maps will find it.

The drive to it takes you through a small moo ban (village), the home base of one of my brother-in-laws Tham, who runs half the family farm with Gaun’s older sister Paed. The road turns to dirt, which would be a challenge in the wet season and ends up at the temple. The wat buildings are nothing special so keep driving to the left, past the main building which is still under construction, until you reach a large white Buddha statue.

You will find the start of the “path” that heads up into the hills from here. Just follow the arrows. The path isn’t what you’d normally associate as a path! It is just a trail where others have been. It is steep, rocky and hard work for unfit people like me. A big challenge if you went in the hotter months. I wouldn’t even try it then.

Follow the photos to join us on the hike from the comfort of your PC or iPad.

This is the main building in the wat, which is under construction as the money comes in. It has a way to go by which time it will need more money to renovate the earlier bits.

This is your hiking start point. The trail starts at the back of where I am taking this photo…………

….and looks like this. Follow those arrows. This is as much of a “path” as you get and as you can see it is a steady climb.

No problems for an ex-athlete like myself (in my dreams). There is lots of this type of climbing so make sure your health insurance is up to date.

Until I came to Thailand I never knew that bamboo was deciduous.

Bamboo wasn’t a big thing in the chilly south of Australia. The fallen leaves makes the path slippery for that extra sense of challenge.
NOTE: when you get to this small sign you have two choices. Go straight ahead to discover a hidden Buddha cave (more on this soon) or turn left and head to the top of the hill (recommended).

You will see these small rocks piled up for good luck in Buddhist settings. In a western environment these would most likely be knocked down in no time. Here they will remain untouched until the wind brings them down – an act of Buddha.

The countryside opens up at the top of the hill and the path flattens thank goodness.

This is the entrance to the Buddhist area at the top of the hill.

There’s no temple here but a monk or two are in residence. They must be the fittest monks in this part of Thailand as it’s a 30 minute walk down a steep goat track to even start your walk to collect food in the mornings. Maybe they stockpile!

How this lot made it to the top of the hill is a mystery. Bit by bit or is there a supply road somewhere. I saw no sign of one. This is the monk’s accommodation. Say hello if there’s a monk in residence.

Coming back onto the main track at the top of the hill turn left from the monk’s area. A little way along you will pass large rocks and arrive at another more basic accommodation structure.

This is the VERY simple shrine set under the rocks for this part of the walk.

And this makes it all worthwhile….the view in front of that hut. Not so scenic this time of year in the cool and dry season post rice harvesting but impressive anyway.

Another view of that hut. Obviously in use although the resident monk wasn’t there when we were there.

I don’t know what these fruit are called but Gaun tells me they are boiled up and used as a lotion for people who get rashes on their hands as a result of too much rice planting (dermatitis?)

I look happy because this was a great walk and it is always a challenge to find something a little unusual in the backwaters of Isaan.

Tham’s moo ban. You will drive through this to get to the wat.

You may not see this depending of what device you are viewing this photo on but can you spot the hills in the FAR distance on the left? These are at the back of another province called Loei and are well worth exploring. Search for Dan Sai or Phu Rua.

Sugar is the only green happening this time of year and this will disappear as it is harvested in the next couple of months. Flying over this part of Thailand looks the same as Australia in summer. Dry and brown everywhere.

Here we have walked downhill to that small sign and tuned left to reach the small Buddha cave. To access the cave you climb this ladder.

And lift this wire mesh cover, which is there to stop animals and bats from taking residence, and climb inside.

Here you will find a very small cave, which has been totally concreted with these group of Buddha statues along one wall. It is nothing major in the sights of the world but the route to get there and the unusual way of accessing the cave make it a little out of the ordinary.

A timed delay photo with Gaun lighting a candle for Buddha.

And one of my favourite type of photos on the way back home. It doesn’t get more Thai rural than this in the late afternoon light.

29 Jan 2017 – One More Floating Sala Story

I know I was supposed to say off the subject of Isaan Grace, our floating sala (bamboo hut) on the farm pond, but I had to update you after the installation of power and lights yesterday.

The whole project has a slightly surreal aspect to it but the floodlights illuminating coconut and mango trees on shore and the table lights on the boat reflecting off the water added an extra element of unusual to the scene. Love it.

We use a lovely local electrician who turns up with his wife and makes a day of it. Installed were 3 floodlights, 1 wall light, 1 ceiling light, 5 double power points, 2 single power points, 3 switches and a repair to a florescent light for a cost under A$50.00!

31 Jan 2017 – Photo Editing Photos

I am enjoying using a photo editing product called Adobe Lightroom, as I have mentioned before. I came across some of my favourite photos I took when we were living in Chiang Rai in the far north of Thailand this evening and thought I would run them through the software.

The first photo is the original and the second post production. Even though the photos were taken with my previous camera, which was a lower quality to my current Nikon, and not in RAW format, which is recommended for editing, they still benefit from a bit of personal attention.

Before.

After editing. Taken on the road to a Chinese village situated in the hills back of Chiang Rai called Mae Salong.

Before.

After. Looking to the hills to the left of highway 1, which runs to the border town at Mai Sai (not worth visiting in itself).

Before.

After. Mae Salong itself.

Before.

After. The hills towards Myanmar looking from Doi Tung.

1 Feb 2017 – Snakes Alive

We had a beautiful snake in the bougainvillea in our our garden this morning. Based on a previous post I made to the very helpful “Snakes of Hua Hin” Facebook group I guessed this was another Golden Tree Snake and they have confirmed that it was. It was less yellow especially on its belly than my previous sighting but I am told that the colours do vary between snakes.

I am trying to be more selective about the snakes I need to be concerned about and hold Gaun back from killing the ones that won’t do (much) harm. This one was keen to get out of the way and is now next door.

5 Feb 2017 – The Sugar Crop

The sugar crop on the farm is just about to be fired and cut and this evening we went for a wander through the cane to the dirt road at the back, which is being upgraded, to inspect the fields. As always in local life if you stand around people are always happy to pull up and chat and this evening was no exception.

A relative of the family called Apple has her crop of sugar on the left and Yuan and Lud’s on the right.

The harvesting of the cane is cash time so Lud is looking happy.

For some unknown reason the dirt road that runs from the back of the village past the family farm and ends up back on the main road is being vastly widened and improved.

It is only used by local farm traffic so I have no idea why. Still not I’m not complaining. The soil for the upgrade has created that huge pond to be come the wet season on the left.

Gaun next to that messy hole, which will turn into a pond at some stage.

Friends stop for a chat and a photo opportunity. Lud, Yuan and Gaun in the middle.

Gaun is holding two (empty) beer glasses with ice – essential supplies for the long trek into the wilderness (well they were essential before ending up empty).

Sunset on a smaller pond next to the road. No doubt created by a previous road widening project.

Workers who have been cutting sugar cane have a chat with Lud. It’s hard to be lonely here.

5 Feb 2017 – Burning Sugar Cane

Meanwhile on the farm next to the family’s the sugar cane burn was happening this evening blackening the sky with smoke. Despite its environmental concerns the display was excellent and gave me some wonderful photos.

It is constant burning like this, not just sugar, both in Thailand and elsewhere that leads to the smoky grey skies and health warnings late Feb/early March especially in places like Chiang Mai and Rai in the far north.

The fire covers the back of the farm that supplies all my limes. You can see the trees on the left.

Those aren’t camera dust spots but residue cane that floats down and covers everything if you’re downwind. It’s called Isaan snow!

There is a team who fires the cane and then keeps an eye on it to make sure it doesn’t spread. This lady has a powered water spray. Most burning is done in the evening when there’s no breeze for obvious reasons.

Keeping an eye on things. Hot work.

The burn reaches open farming country.

Huge bursts of fire, which only last a few seconds before dying down. Impressive when its happening.

One of the water guys.

Smoke on the horizon is standard this time of year. This photo taken from the family farm. Their sugar in the background.

Thanks for reading.