I haven’t been very active with the blog in recent months apart from a burst with three new posts in the last few weeks. I thought I would try to catch up with some of the small stories that make up everyday life here. None of them are spectacular and will never be found on the search results of tourists looking for adventure. However, most of the readers who have followed 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 and ziplining. 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 only part of September 2017. 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.

2 Sept 2017 – Upgrading Isaan Grace Docking

With a real wet season this year and high water levels in the farm pond the banks around the docking area for our “boat” Isaan Grace were collapsing threatening the concrete steps and landscaping. Major engineering works were required urgently!

Step 1 – we bought 50 bags and sand to shore up the sides plus erected a fence to keep the fish from eating the bags.

Step 2 – 1,000 small fired bricks were bought and delivered to cover the bags, which were ugly.

Step 3 – terracotta pots were filled with cuttings to sit on top of the bricks to cascade greenery to the waterline.

The end result – beautiful. Needless to say most of the hard work was done by the family who treat me as if I am well past my use-by date, and they could be right 🙂

The bags sitting ready to be placed in the water. Isaan Grace in the background.

The before photo taken from the raft.

Gaun, Lud and Yuan working to put the bags in place. Heavy work.

Our version of an Isaan swim-up bar.

The bricks added to cover the bags.

Gaun doing what Gaun loves the most. New plants. Cuttings being arranged in seven terracotta pots (A$2.00 each).

The pots in place on the left side of the dock area hiding the bricks.

The dock as of yesterday.

Gaun’s garden leading to the boat has grown up a lot over the wet season.

The path through mangoes and banana trees to the back of the farm. More of Gaun’s green finger work.

A rustic bench overlooks the boat.

Flowers and new rice paddies. The uniqueness of the family farm.

2 Sept 2017 – Driveway Upgrade

In a burst of activity on the farm we have also upgraded the entrance with new gardens, a gateway under construction and a refresh to the gravel driveway. The Bougainvillea is on the edge of flowering, which will be a stunning wall of colour to the farmhouse.

The entrance as it was. The “council” (called OrBorTor in Thai) recently upgraded the road past the family farm, which was ideal timing for Peng’s recovery program as she now has a good surface to take long walks. Peng’s operation is covered in this post HERE.

The same view after improvements.

Two hardwood trees had been cut to form a wooden gateway to the farm. They have been treated for termites and varnished. Concrete being mixed here to cement them into place. Lud doing the hard work hand mixing.

The gateway started. Another piece will go across the top and I have the urge to add a wooden sign with “Vansutha Farm” carved in it. New gravel down and the garden on the right has been upgraded by Gaun.

Another view. You can see how lush everything is this time of year. A great time to be in rural Thailand with the rains easing and cooler days.

A jump back in history. Behind Yuan and Gaun is the driveway to the farm as it was when we moved here in 2014..This photo looks towards the entrance and the outside road I showed you before.

And three years later this is what it looks like from the entrance heading to the farmhouse..

And the full extent of Gaun’s gardens as of yesterday evening. The pond and boat, as shown in my previous post, is to the left of the farmhouse behind those trees.

And here is a sneak preview of the entrance early 2018 when all the bougainvillea are flowering:

2 Sept 2017

Gaun had a day off working today, which for her meant jumping in the farm pond to get some fish for dinner. She also started to learn to drive again after a long time of not being comfortable with the new Nissan pick-up, which is a lot bigger and more expensive (!) than the Mazda it replaced.

Net fishing. Nothing too sporting.

An immediate hit with two fish.

A delighted Gaun.

One of those Thai smiles often associated with food 🙂

Not such a good day for this guy.

Peng watches mum in action. Isaan fishing ruins the makeup so you won’t see Peng in the water anytime soon!

We are starting off practising on the newly sealed road leading to the farm. A complete mystery as to why it has been sealed as it goes nowhere. I am not not complaining.

No traffic other than the occasional farm machine and motorbikes. A great resource to learn to drive. Thanks Thailand.

3 Sept 2017

We spent a day on the farm today. Beautiful mid-30’s with sunshine and ever changing massive clouds a reminder that the rainy season is still happening.

The rice is growing well on the left in the first true wet season for a while while Gaun’s garden surrounds the farm house.

Isaan Grace, the floating sala I built, is still floating and provides a comfortable base for spending time in rural Isaan.

The boat flows from the dock area, which has been upgraded as you can see from recent posts.

All mod cons and a pretty spectacular location.

Doing it tough in the wilds of Thailand.

Peng heads off on one of her walks as part of her rehabilitation programme post-operation. It is the reason we are spending a lot more time at the farm these days. This is the driveway leading to the farm house.

I could take photos all day of these ever changing cloud formations. One moment they look like the end of the earth is about to arrive and the next thing they have changed to fluffy white.

5 Sept 2017 – Feeding Ghosts

There are two occasions this time of year in Thailand when people gather at the temples to honour deceased relatives and give them food. The second of these happened today. Yuan has been busy at the farm for three days preparing packages of food and cigarettes to sell at the markets, which happened yesterday, for those too busy/lazy to do it themselves. Today there was a very early ceremony to feed the monks and donate money and then at 10:00 am another less Buddhist orientated event leading up to giving food to the spirits (Gaun calls them ghosts, a name I much prefer).

Yuan at the local markets selling some farm produce but mainly the food packages she had prepared. Yuan is one of life’s lucky people in that she not only enjoys every aspect of her job (growing produce or other income generating ideas like this), but has a great time selling as well.

A mix of produce and spirit food.

Left to right in the photo above – lemongrass, plates of tobacco items, cowslip flowers, sweet coconut and sticky rice desserts wrapped in banana leaves. Paed (Gaun’s elder sister) on the right.
They made 1,500 baht, which for four days work isn’t a lot but there’s not much ready for harvesting on the farm and this was Yuan’s idea to make a little income in the downtime. Other Thai farmers would probably just sleep but Yuan, Paed and their partners rarely stop.

Hand rolled cigarettes for the male ghosts and chewing tobacco and betel nuts for the ladies! 20 baht (A$0.80 a plate). The packages for the female ghosts are tied in silk taken directly from the cocoon.

Pre-packed food parcels on sale (not my family). A busy day at the markets yesterday.

A$0.20 a bunch.

Gaun made her own flower garlands for the occasion plus one for the car.

Early this morning more food being steamed.

Paed preparing more parcels.

Gaun’s mama helping to fill all the banana leaves.

Gaun all dressed up for the temple.

The food packages being delivered to the spirits.

Gaun is pouring water previously blessed by the monks. When opening the food packages the sisters call out the names of relatives. As Gaun say if you don’t do that how will they know that the food has arrived! Good point. She tells me that even if the relatives don’t hear other ghosts will pass on the message 🙂

I love this concept of honouring deceased relatives (taken from the Chinese maybe?) especially as food is so central to the culture. It makes it really personal and down to earth. Lovely. Mangos for my mum and maybe a roast for my dad!

Paed lighting a couple of cigarettes.

Other families doing their thing around the temple walls.

More parcels hanging in the trees.

These aren’t opened here but after the ceremony are taken back to houses and out to the farms to make sure that any spirits who haven’t made it to the temple get a feed. I now have a few scattered in our garden.

Local village pre-school kids joined in but were more interested in climbing the temple wall than feeding ghosts. Their teacher on the right.

A typical Isaan heading home view.

7 Sept 2017 – Nong Khai

We spent the day in Nong Khai today, a town on the banks of the Mekong River, to show Lud and Yuan, my brother and sister in law, who have never been there. One of the places we visited was a sculpture park called Sala Keoku (or Keokou), a place we have been to many times with visiting family and friends. Instead of post repeat photos of the huge statues I thought that this time I would focus on the faces, each of whom have their own character.

The photos have been heavily edited, which gives them a slightly surreal appearance, but that sort of fits the whole theme of the place! The final photo is there to show the size of some of these statues. Spot Lud’s head at the bottom.

The elephant offers water to Buddha and the monkey a honeycomb.

Literally til death do you part and beyond.

The centre of the wheel of life.

I have written about Nong Khai before HEREHERE, HERE

9 Sept 2017 – Peng Update

I am only sharing this for friends who continue to follow Peng’s progress after her operation HERE.

It is a bit under 2 months since Peng had her leg casts taken off and she is walking solo (in bursts) having graduated from the walking frame and then two walking sticks. So much work has gone into what maybe looks like not much by both Peng and Gaun. Gaun describes her walking as “like a baby buffalo” but I am sure that is only a mother’s love talking  There is obviously still a way to go but I think we are well on the way to achieving Peng’s goal to return to school for the next term starting in November. She will be one happy girl.

BTW the arm covering isn’t a fashion statement but to prevent her skin getting any darker! A trip to the farm involves a whole makeup routine as well. I don’t see Peng harvesting rice anytime soon.

13 Sept 2017 – Fast Growth

Even after four years living here I am blown away by the speed that plants get established. The first photo is of the driveway to the farm in July 2016. One year later what an amazing difference. These Bougainvillea shrubs are on the verge of blooming as we head into the cool season and I will post updates as this will be a wall of colour in the next month or so.

July 2016. It’s not just the driveway. Look at the difference between the trees in the background in this photo compared with the next.

And last month.

14 Sept 2017 – The Blue Temple

I have been following the construction of this temple Wat Wiset Mongkhon close to home because it promises to be both quite beautiful and unusual.

Although the traditional red, white and gold are the wat colours seen everywhere I enjoy the contrast of this temple with its pebblecrete walls and gray blue roof. There is lots of detail in the ornamentation, which you don’t see often in the village based temples. There is a big push to get as much as possible finished for 8 October, which marks the end of the three month Buddhist Lent period, when the village is throwing a two day party.

Blending in perfectly with a stormy sky this afternoon.

Terrific detail.

The tiling going down, which will contrast with the more muted colours elsewhere. Note the hole next to the front tiler. There are eight of these around this structure, called an Ubosot – a monk’s ordination hall, and one in front of the main Buddha statue inside.

These nine globes called luk nimit are placed in the holes I showed you previously in a ceremony later.

The local cemetery is built into wat walls. Ashes and bones are placed here after cremation.

Good job.

GPS location.

16 Sept 2017 – Best Wats

I have just published a post titled “The Best Wats in Isaan” HERE

For anyone visiting the area or expat residents I guarantee you will find some hidden temples you won’t find elsewhere. The photos below illustration some of the surprises you can find hidden away in Isaan.

18 Sept 2017 – Wat Baan Waeng

“Wat Baan Waeng (also known as Pho Chair Sri) is an absolute gem of an attraction, and one that is constantly being overlooked….” Those were the words from a local expat’s website that set us off on a 200 km trip this afternoon in the expectation of adding to my favourite wats of Isaan collection.

Well what a mess of a wat. It was everything I hate about many temples. Unkempt, disorganised, overrun with weeds and the original buildings and statues falling to pieces while money is poured into new ideas. In the expat’s defence it looks as if he hasn’t been there in a while so what might have originally looked OK has fallen apart since. However even in its prime I wouldn’t rate this temple as anything worth the trip. If I was me I would be relying on my list of “The Best Wats in Isaan” posted yesterday 

The main reason I wanted to go was that they had a collection of statues designed to scare Buddhists into behaving as model citizens! I discovered a similar temple in Chiang Mai, which was far more dramatic, and I covered that wat in two blog posts HERE and HERE.

Unfortunately the statues in the wat visited today were falling apart and hadn’t been repainted since they were put in place. I have included some photos anyway, which look better than the originals. There are some beautiful wats around but it takes work to find them. This isn’t one of them.

The entrance gives you hope that you have found something special. Not to be.

Great roofline.

Who knows what this is supposed to represent but the guys building it obviously had a good time.

Very racy for a Thai temple don’t you think!

All these statues were crowded into one area, which didn’t allow each scene to stand on its own.

Like so much you see in Thailand a lot of effort and money has gone into a big opening ceremony and then it is all left to decay over time.

I know the feeling (in my dreams)!

The gory bit of the display, which was only a small section compared with Chiang Mai.

It’s all a bit sexist don’t you think?

This was actually my favourite despite the poor monk who had lost part of his right arm. The farmer in the foreground looks very real and there is the one person turning around to look at him. It looks like a very natural scene.

Peng and Gaun.

This building also looks better in this photo than real life. It is more recent so in better condition. It won’t last.

If you turned around from the previous photo this is the view. It is a workshop making new large statues ,any of which look as if they have been under construction for years!

I love this image as a sort of Buddhist industrial scene! Who knows when he will be finished and connected with a body 🙂

New components being made for the latest statue.

Instead of finishing this Buddha there are a row of other statues equally unfinished. I used to have home projects like that 🙂

And finally to leave you on a more positive note:

No trip in Thailand is a disappointment if you keep your eyes open. After our disappointing visit to Wat Baan Waeng (last post) we spotted a forest temple on the way home and dropped in just in case. Called something like Wat Pa Thum We Wek (Thai signage only) it was everything the other place wasn’t. Clean, lots of trees, no over the top attempts at spending money and really peaceful. Chalk and cheese. 17°38’34.1″N 102°26’26.6″E

This huge undercover space is a crematorium. They must have some big funerals in the wet season!

I now have this coffin transport booked for when it’s my turn. What a way to be taken to the funeral 🙂 Love it.

A class act!

The wat didn’t have hugely spectacular buildings but it was very peaceful, helped by being situated in a forest, and this Buddha was simple but appropriate to the theme. Peng here.

A small totally round Buddha shrine was very nicely done. Again simple, tasteful and immaculate. I think the Buddha would be pleased.

A painting of Buddha and the princes and monks on one wall.

And this on the other. I liked the way the sunshine illuminated just the Buddha.

Gaun paying respects.

The Buddha shrine on the right and the smallish main temple building. A great fan leaf palm on the left.

Peng using the pick-up (ute for Aussies) in the same way they are used in all cultures!

As we left the monks and some nuns were completing a meditation session and the monks were drumming and sounding the gongs. A blessing to get us home safely.

Thanks for reading. Heaps more to come to stay in touch.