Wow. Who would have thought that I would discover enough new material to keep this series going for its 30th edition. Well I have and here it is 🙂 If you are new to these posts they are extracted from the entries I write almost daily on Facebook, which is why they are in chronological order. Many people are sensible and don’t use Facebook for whatever reason, which is why I duplicate the entries here. Enjoy my February in Isaan.

7 Feb 2017 – Fun Buses

I was going through some photos when I came across this one of a bus parked outside a temple in the city of Nan, in the far north of Thailand. I have still to write about our time in Nan itself but you can read about our backroad trip to get there HERE and HERE.

I just love the artwork that many of these VIP buses are decorated with. I compared this example to one from the main bus-line in Canberra and maybe it makes a statement about the different approaches to life between Thailand and bureaucratic Australia – or is that just me?

If you do try a VIP bus you’ll find seats that recline, have individual TV screens with movies and games AND they massage you!  The third photo is from 2013 so the quality isn’t great but it’s good enough to show the speaker system built into the front of this bus. Illegal I am sure back “home”.

A few photos sent in by a reader – thanks Guy.

7 Feb 2017 – A Few Old Photos

Following on from a theme in previous Small Stories these are a few “old” photos. These were taken very early after I arrived in Thailand in 2013 before I decided to retire here. I rented a place in Chiang Rai for three months and this was my first encounter with a tea plantation. Previous to this tea was what one bought at the supermarket. A stunning area.

Gaun getting into the spirit of tea harvesting.

7 Feb 2017 – More Cane Harvesting

I posted a few photos about the start of the cane harvest in our little bit of the world in the last Small Stories. The farm next to Yuan and Lud’s, owed by a relative called Apple, was burnt and cleared just after I took those photos and this evening the crop was being loaded up to be transported to the local collection point.

My previous photo. Apple’s farm on the left and Yuan and Lud’s the right.

And the same view this evening.

All hand cut by a team employed by the sugar harvester contractor at 300 baht per person per day (A$10.00). The alternative is to hire labour who are paid 2 baht (A$0.08) per bundle of 10 canes.

From left to right. Yuan, Lud and wife of the contractor and Apple.

You see version of these tractors all over Isaan this time of year collecting and loading the cane.

A smaller trailer here. You also see the huge sugar trucks driven onto farms and being loading directly from harvested cane.

There are four prices for cane. On farm where the contractor arranges harvest, on farm post-harvest where the farmer organises cutting, at the local collection points delivered (you see these all over Isaan just off the side of the road sometimes with the delivered cane price paid on a sign) and at the sugar processing plant. Small quantities can’t be taken there – only the big trucks.

10 Feb 2017 – Rice at Sunset

Driving back from Khon Kaen this week, a city to the south of us, I took this photo of the sunset on new rice paddies. It is unusual in this area to see a second crop of rice being planted because of the lack of water. There’s a small river that runs through this village so maybe they are using that to maintain this crop. Nice to see the fresh green in a landscape that is very brown and dry this time of year.

13 Feb 2017 – A Few Scenic Photos

A few recently edited photos taken at the very picturesque Lake Ratana. This is a large man made lake sitting between Udon Thani and Khon Kaen in the north east of Thailand. You can’t miss it on the maps of Isaan.

Heading down to the long boats that can be hired for a trip around this portion of the lake (the northern end).

Gaun listening into a phone call being taken by Yuan, her younger sister.

Lots of fisher-people working the waters.

It’s all net fishing so that even the smallest fish are captured. No throw back policy happening here.

The houseboats sitting on sealed bamboo. Very basic living. Those long poles raise and lower the nets using a leg powered winch.

Great skies on this day with storms in the distance.

The wooden boats now being replaced with metal. Less characterful but easier to maintain.

14 Feb 2017 – Happy Anniversary

Today is a double celebration for us being both Valentine’s Day and the anniversary of our wedding in Isaan three years ago. The wonderful day was shared with family and the best of friends and marked the formal beginning of the happiest period of my life.

My sister-in-law Sam looking remarkably good at 4 am in the morning after a party the night before. Makeup being done by one of the most attractive ladyboys I have ever seen.

This beautiful hair style took ten minutes to create. What do western hairstylists do when they take hours?

My brother Richard and best mate Gaz. At the family home where the morning pre-wedding breakfast was happening.

Sam, Gaun, my step daughter Peng and good friend Saskia, now wife of Gaz.

That’s a mother look I think.

How amazing that I could share the day with people that mean the most to me.

The formal walk of the groom from his home (in this case only the vacant the block of land we had bought up the road – no house yet) to the bride’s home.

The deed done. The best commitment of my life.

15 Feb 2017 – Orchids

I have been on the lookout for some different coloured orchids to add variety to the “standard” purple and whites we have been buying up to now that you see everywhere in the garden centres and markets here.

Today was my lucky day when we called into a nursery close to Khon Kaen, a city two hours drive south of us, and found these two beautiful examples which are now hanging from the pergola outside the lounge room at home. At 200 baht each they are expensive by Thai standards but when you convert that to A$8.00 it doesn’t look like too much of an extravagance does it?

For anyone Khon Kaen way make sure you check out the huge street market festival starting on the 17th at the main provincial government centre off highway 2.

16 Feb 2017 – A Mix of Happenings…..

………..each with their own little story. Yet another illustration of the variety of topics you can spot here if you keep your eyes open and camera handy.

The final improvements to the family farm have now been completed.

A new washing up area has been constructed comprising of two large basins and a drying area to replace tubs on the ground. That’s Yuan dressed up in bank robber gear. Isaan people are very good at covering up if working outside. Far better than us. The guy doing the work did all the tiling at our house when we built. Highly recommended if you want to fly him over.

For the first time the farm now has stored household water and a pressured system to provide water to four new taps and a western toilet.

These are new crops going into what were rice paddy fields.

The area that was so heavily planted up for New Year is now lying fallow. Lettuce, coriander, Chinese celery and chillies are the main crops so far. Everything is burnt in Isaan. Such a brown contrast to the vivid green rice crops when they were newly planted.

Lud on the left takes a well earned break while Yuan carries on sawing bamboo for plant stakes. I thought it was a lovely contrast in activity.

Kids at our local primary school doing their morning march around the oval. Thais love flags and marching bands. It’s still cool early morning and that is a slight mist mixed with smoke from all the burning happening this time of year.

Spot the Aussie. I was driving Lud’s pickup and saw this little Australian keeping an eye on the driver. That’s a small fishing trap ornament for good luck and plastic flowers, also for good luck and to save money 🙂

An early morning visit to the farm this morning got our lime supply topped up from the guy next door who grows limes. He selects the large ones for me. 

Thais prefer the small ones because they are usually just a squeeze of flavour in their dishes. Mine were for pancakes, lime juice and sugar – not a big item on the Isaan breakfast menu. 3 kilos for 50 baht (A$2.00)

This is the first time I have seen this rather drab (sorry mate) butterfly in the garden. We get more of the bright red and black ones the size of small birds.

Enjoying the selection of flowers.

We went to collect Peng from school this afternoon because she had a dentist appointment. The school gates are literally that and the kids can’t leave until they are opened by teachers at 4 pm.

Outside the food stalls are set up every day waiting for hungry kids to be let loose.

The rush is on. Never get between a Thai person and food.

I took this photo because you will notice that each child is giving the teacher a wai, the Thai way of showing respect with two hands raised to the face. 

There are actually three levels of wai depending on the social level of the person on the receiving end. This is a middle level one. Teaches supervise the exit and manage the road crossing while real live police direct traffic at many local schools. Not something you’ll ever see police doing in Australia I am guessing.

Peng makes an appearance. She’s a happy soul like her mum.

Stopped at traffic lights next to a huge sugar truck I rolled down the window and took this photo of the stacked cane. I liked the mix of shadows, shapes and colours.

Taken through the car window so not such great quality. 

A perfectly normal sight here. A few more kids inside of course. Like the photos of five people on a motorbike this is all good tourist fun. The number of road casualties, which is super high in Thailand, shows that this relaxed attitude to bulk people transport can have a high price.

Street markets were happening in Nong Bua Lamphu, the larger town next to us, where Peng had her dentist appointment. I won’t show photos of the markets, which I have covered several times before, but this bike was worth sharing.

18 Feb 2017 – Udon Once a Year Markets

We called into the huge markets that are happening in Udon Thani this week and came across the Fabric Expo in a separate pavilion within the main market area. It was a delight to spend some time wandering through not only because it was air conditioned but to enjoy the vast range of fabrics on display.

If you are living or visiting the area then the markets are happening for the next couple of weeks to the right of the main lake in Udon. They are normally connected to Chinese New Year but the death of the king postponed their arrival until now. They are a larger version of the local markets but generally with better presentation and goods and a LOT larger. Lots of food of course. Well worth dropping in. There are less crowds during a non-weekend but packed in the evenings.

I haven’t included lots of market photos because this is a subject I have done before.

One of the aisles in the main pavilion.

A professionally set-up area for the fabric expo.

Lots of different styles. These are the more traditional Thai you will see on display in various festivals here with formal dancing.

Wonderful colours.

Small displays of traditional costumes from ASEAN countries – Cambodia here.

Laos.

A little more traditional. Cotton. Under A$30.00.

And one more.

20 Feb 2017 – Aussie Garlic

It may not look much but this Yuan and Gaun checking out the garlic a friend brought me from Australia. After a slow start it is now sprouting with 30 bulbs out of the ground as of this morning. We go to the farm most mornings and part of the ritual is counting the number of Aussie garlic shoots. It’s a small life as you can tell.

I have been in contact with the growers in Australia and they are delighted to hear they have now gone international. I am hoping the end result will have more taste than the Thai version, which I find to be pretty bland. Time will tell.

A cup of coffee and a count of the garlic.

21 Feb 2017 – Fishing Isaan Style

We took some drinks out to the farm this evening and tested the new fishing rods constructed by Yuan and Lud for the first catches from the pond. The fiber carbon rods (bamboo) with a small float (really a float) stood up to the heavy demands of the wild perch fish and raging waters. No fish were harmed (much) in these photos and all were let go.

The bait as recommended by Fishing International – lettuce! Yuan and Gaun baiting up (is that an expression?)

An action shot of the ladies and rods waiting for the first bite.

And the winner is……….Yuan.

You can see the fish are starting to get to a decent size. There are 600 originals in the pond plus newer generations growing.

Fish number two….Yuan again.

And half a catch for the third catch, a trifecta from Yuan. 

As you can see from the fish, which is out of focus in front of Gaun’s leg, it was being a bit ambitious in grabbing the bait, which at this stage had changed to a fish pellet. Good fun followed by cold beer on the boat at sunset.

23 Feb 2017 – Gaun’s Driving

Gaun has started to learn to drive so if the blog becomes inactive you will know why! Day four of Gaun’s driving lessons and we had enough going up and down the dirt roads so we hit the sealed backroads and headed off to see Noy, the eldest of Gaun’s sisters, at her moo ban (village) about 30 minutes away. As always I was able to capture a few photos that will give you some insights into Isaan life.

Heading out of our moo ban we passed these school girls walking into the countryside. The significance of the pink balloons for a rural expedition is a mystery.

There are some large eucalyptus plantations beyond the family farm. Evidently this plus lots of other farms are owned by a local Thai/Chinese guy. He has so many farms that he forgets where they all are. Fact or legend who knows.

One of Noy’s farms close to their family home. New sugar cane quickly sprouting only a couple of weeks after being burnt and cut.

Cucumbers starting off with drip irrigation fed by gravity from that large pot on the left.

Chillies of course.

The second farm, which is 100% chillies. They need more water so these are hand watered rather than drip irrigated.

A crop of tomatoes on a neighbouring farm. These are the small variety and are picked mostly when green because they are used in pappaya salad, which is a hugely sour and hot dish consumed in vast quantities by Isaan people everywhere.

Gaun was very impressed by the quantity of this crop.

A small load of sugar off to be sold. One of those multi-purpose tractor engines pulling the trailer (Gaz).

Even tractors can run into problems. This one wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

Coming back I photoed one of the many roadside sugar weighing and collection points. 

Small loads are brought in like the farmer in the previous photo. The sugar is weighed and then loaded up on these larger trucks, which will deliver to the factory. Sugar delivered here gets 200 baht more per ton than the price at the farm.

The reason why our skies are getting more and more grey with smoke. Sugar cane and just about everything else is burnt off in this season.

Safely back at the farm Yuan and Lud had been working at collecting ant eggs to sell at the Friday street markets tomorrow. With nothing ready to harvest in the fields ant eggs provide a little income bonus.

If you are in rural Isaan this time of year you will see people wandering around with long bamboo poles with a basket on the end. The ant nests are built high in trees.

These eggs are sold for 50 baht (A$2.00) for three spoonfuls, which makes them like an Isaan caviar I guess. They are used in soup and larb. I believe they have a sour taste if cooked with the ants and less so if just the eggs. Not on my menu so far!

24 Feb 2017 – More Orchids

Today was orchid day in the garden. Gaun found an old piece of hardwood at the farm and has since moved it here and attached orchids to it creating an interesting mini-display. These small orchids sell for A$1.40. We were lucky to pick up a yellow one the other day in Nong Bua Lamphu (thanks Mike) plus a couple of others whose colours won’t be known until later when they flower.

These are a few photo nerd photos added just because I could.

The koi pond in our garden. This photo is a merge of 3 shots taken with different exposures, a process called HDR, so that the lights and darks average out to give you a more balanced result. Processed through some software called Lightroom. Pretty lush for winter isn’t it.

I have a fisheye lens in my photo kit but have never used it. This is an example of what it can do. This is also a HDR photo merge. Spot the koi.

Another fisheye. We have a number of these small lily pots in the garden all with small fish to eat mosquito larvae.

We bought a few of these beautiful coloured chilli plants the other day. The significance is shown in a couple of photos. A reminder of our trip to Canberra of all things.

Fisheye. Not realistic but interesting.

Me in 2014 when Gaun and I spent a month in Australia. This is a great garden centre on the edge of Canberra and they too had chillies on sale. Double the price we paid in Si Bun Ruang but a nice display.

At that same place Gaun made friends with a small Australian. He will be walking by now and causing trouble just like Gaun.

Fisheye obviously and one of our new orchids.

27 Feb 2017 – The Wooden Houses of Si Bun Ruang

Most of the houses around Si Bun Ruang are either the old simple wooden affairs often built on columns a reflection of the days when the buffalo slept underneath, shack-like structures or various pretty ugly modern concrete places built for function rather than looks.

However there are a few of these classical Thai lanna type wooden houses being built, which is a refreshing change. Timber is very expensive here, especially the hardwood, so these represent a substantial investment. It is great to see that there are still some people around who can work timber in a land where concrete and steel are the favourite methods of building.

A beautiful lanna house as you head north out of Si Bun Ruang on highway 228.

Impressive entrance. A newer addition.

Just down the road is this Adam’s Family structure. TLC required but still offering character missing from most “architecture” on offer here.

Nice to look at but hot of course, no glass windows so every flying insect joins you as soon as you open the shutters and no sound insulation from the main road that runs past the front door.

A new house that’s been under construction in the centre of SBR for some time now.

This timber is softwood so although it looks the goods it is a cheaper construction than the quality versions. More susceptible to termite activity than aged hardwood.

Most of these lanna style houses incorporate large verandas, like the Australian Queenslander, which makes sense. So much living here is best done outside in the shade. Big covered areas underneath give you expanded sitting and entertaining areas.

The full view of the roof design. Very classical Thai.

This one being built around the corner is the real deal. A hardwood structure with lots of detailing. Very nicely done.

Heading to the second level.

Love that.

Even a matching san phra phum (a spirit house). There will be a ceremony once the house is finished to invite the spirits to take residence here rather than the main house.

I have covered this before on FB. This is an old village wooden house that was bought, dismantled and rebuilt in a more modern configuration on a local farm. He basically bought the house for the 40 year old hardwood timber.

28 Feb 2017 – My In-laws

Thai in-laws often get a bad rap on blogs and forums and for those of you who follow my Facebook entries you’ll know that I do my best to provide a balancing point of view.

Thai in-laws are as much a hit and miss lottery as any other nationality I suspect. It just is that Thais tend to have a closer connection and sense of obligation to family than we have in the west so they sometimes intrude into your new life here more than might be the case elsewhere. Big generalisations I know.

The trouble is that as with all news you tend only to hear the bad and less often the good, which if you solely rely on the internet for your pre-conceptions, makes you approach the subject of Thai in-laws with some trepidation.

I thought I would add this positive story to the plus side of the in-law ledger. Each year we take Yuan and Lud somewhere on a “formal” holiday because otherwise they end up working seven days a week without a break. Last year we flew to Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai for a few days and next week we are off to Phuket. Neither Yuan nor Lud have seen the sea before, which combined with lots of farang behaving badly will ensure an entertaining time and lots of photo opportunities.

Phuket as seen from the Big Buddha on a hot humid afternoon. A photo from my holiday in 2013 when I first met Gaun.

There’s not much money in the family and because this is my idea I pay for everything and am happy to do so. Yesterday came as a surprise then when Yuan and Lud arrived at our place and brought out 10,000 baht (A$400.00) to put towards the cost of the trip and wouldn’t accept ‘no’ as an answer.

Lud and Yuan at the Doi Tung royal palace gardens outside Chiang Rai. A must visit place.

The farm sugar crop money had just come in and they wanted to make a contribution to their holiday! Now I know how much they received from the sugar and this represents a decent chunk of that. I was very touched at their generosity and decided to share because this sort of moment can be just as much the experience of being around a Thai family as all the negative, money grabbing stories you read about.

Yuan is Gaun’s best mate and the connection shows in this photo I think.

You can read about our wonderful trip to Phuket with Yuan and Lud HERE, and HERE. Great fun.

On that positive note I will end the 30th edition of Isaan the Small Stories and keep an eye out for the next one, which will be published soon.

Thanks for reading.