We are heading back into the archives with this update to the Living in Isaan series based on stories published in late March. Here I cover dancing girls, temples, my stepdaughter’s 18th birthday, an update on the farm in March as well as our developing tropical garden. Lots to enjoy so jump into Isaan life.

Introduction – Skip if you are a regular reader

I have got SO behind in these posts I call “Living in Isaan”, which are a series of small stories I have recorded that make up my everyday life in a small rural village in the northeast of Thailand, a region called Isaan/Isan/Esan. It has been a busy year establishing a new tropical garden, writing a book and filling in time with far more than I ever thought would happen day to day as a result of retiring to “boring” Isaan. I am on a mission to catch up so although the timeline is a bit out of date the material is still relevant sharing what life looks like here. I will now give you my standard introduction for these posts, so skip if you are a regular and head straight to the stories:

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 late March 2018 and early April. 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.

28 March 2018 – On the Road Again

A half-day on the road locally can bring its own rewards if you keep your eyes open and explore, which is what we did today. A mix of photos from Thai dancing girls to temples and more. I know there are a lot of photos but I do make sure there are stories to each one so it isn’t just a lazy post of multiple shots of the same thing.

These are Dok Khun trees (Cassia fistula or Golden Shower), which are a national tree of Thailand.

They bloom around Thai New Year (April). Yellow is the birth-day colour of the king, past and present so very appropriate. We have planted a dozen of these trees in our new garden so in three years we should be getting displays like this.

Heading out of Nong Bua Lamphu, a town close to us, we stopped for a popular shrine on the edge of the road. Nothing to do with Buddhism. This place caters for the Thais obsession with spirits. For some reason offerings of animal statues is auspicious and there’s no shortage.

Gaun and Peng make an offering at the shrine inside (no animals, just flowers and incense)

While outside on Wednesdays and Thursdays people hire music groups and dancing girls to entertain for an hour or so while they sit, eat and consume Thai whisky.

As one band finishes another starts. The idea is that the spirits will be so pleased with the entertainment provided that they will bring you good luck. A set-up like this will cost you around 20,000 baht or $800.00 so it’s a real commitment. Do you see the boy sleeping? If you have ever heard an Isaan music group they register on the Richter scale so it is quite an achievement to nod off during a performance.

The spirits are all male obviously and enjoy young Thai dancing girls. These girls always look a bit risky but in fact, they always wear a full flesh coloured body suit so it’s not as wild as it may appear. Mind you some of their dance moves are designed to get the spirits attention.

Across the road, there are huge works happening leading up to a new temple that has got a boost of royal money. We drop in to have a look later. This is the end of a 1 km long snake that leads to the wat.

This is an old photo of a very well know local temple called Wat Tham Klong Pane, a few km outside Nong Bua Lamphu on the way to Udon Thani. The “Tham” part of its name refers to a cave but as you can see in the photo this was only ever a rock overhang, which had been expanded with a concrete shell.

Since then that structure has been torn down (it did look a bit well used) and a huge new building is in the process of being constructed to take its place.

The Buddhist construction economy is vast and funded by endless donations of money from people who want to easily gain “merit” points. The money has to be spent so popular temples such as this are a constant building site. I am not sure this is what Buddha intended but it’s not my problem and I enjoy the outcome.

This is what the structure will look like when finished. Impressive.

This was the covered area originally. The Buddhas are waiting for their new home.

Reindeer, of course, you are always bumping into them in the jungle, and some visitors inspecting the new work.

More Buddhas on standby for relocation.

This is where the Buddha statues were originally on display in the old temple “cave”.

A couple of Thais relaxing with reindeer! I see it all the time.

A Peng photo request.

A massive temple party starts today lasting until early next month. They were setting up today but by the number of monks (there must have been a hundred at least) and the facilities they are expecting huge crowds. Everything is donated so if you are in the area and want free food and drink pop in.

All of these tents will be set up with people giving away food.

Ken Hulme no wonder you couldn’t find portable loos your way. They are all here.

At the back of the huge site (you have to have transport it is so vast) is this resting place of the original monk who established this wat.

Very unusual.

Chang on guard.

This looks like just another shrub doesn’t it.

Not so. All the leaves have been inscribed in a Thai version of graffiti. By the look of this one they aren’t all Buddhist scriptures 🙂

Gaun couldn’t find a blank leaf lower down so up the tree she went. I now have a leaf named after me. Look for it next time you are there!

Gaun at work.

Tony and Gaun Vansutha! Well that’s what I’m told it says 🙂

Super modern.

Peng is on her long “summer” holidays – six weeks including the big Thai New Year or Songkran festival starting 11/12 April. She is mostly home-based so a day out like this is a happy event.

On the way back to do some shopping in Nong Bua Lamphu for Peng’s 18th birthday tomorrow we stopped off at that wat I showed you earlier.

This naga or mythical serpent is being built on both sides of the road leading to a large Buddha statue on the hill. It would be at least a kilometre from top to bottom so quite a feat. A new dual lane road is also being constructed as well as a whole range of buildings and pedestrian bridges off the main highway at the bottom.

The naga scales.

Royal money involved so it’s all go with plenty of activity and obviously no shortage of funds. This is the daughter of the current king, who was here recently to kick things off at this temple.

The detailed mounding is precast in concrete and then stuck to the main structure and held in place to dry by these elastic tie downs! Such a Thai solution.

The final run of serpents up to the main Buddha statue at the crest of the hill overlooking the town of Nong Bua Lamphu.

Hard to give an impression of size but this would have to be 30 metres high. Note the black marks on his outstretched arm.

Which are actually massive beehives. Bees like Buddha structures for some reason. You will often see them in temple compounds.

Gaun glanced at this thinking it was yet another temple dog. Not so 🙂

29 March 2018 – Peng’s Birthday

It is my stepdaughter Peng’s 18th birthday today so we were up early to feed the monks. It’s not something I do often but always get a buzz when I do. It is such a lovely Thai ceremony and one I hope will last as the society here becomes less traditional.

There are two groups of monks. One from the local village wat and one from the forest wat that is located just past the farm so both have to be catered for. As always the early light (not something I see too often) and the orange robes of the monks make for some vivid memories. A birthday party is planned for later so there may be more photos then. Happy Birthday, Peng.

Peng, Gaun and a neighbour. Mama is tucked in there but you can’t see her. The village monks are feed from the right-hand side of the street. The forest (Pa/Pha) monks on the left!

Only two monks. Unless the head monk is well known the local village temples have problems attracting and retaining permanent monks. Officially there are supposed to be three permanent monks for it to be classified as a wat.

The early morning donations tend to be sticky rice and sweet milk and packaged things for ease of delivery and transport. The elderly women in the village deliver cooked “real” food to the temple each day. The monks eat before noon and that’s their last meal of the day.

The family have moved to the left-hand side of the street and this is Dit and his monks from the Pa (forest) temple. They walk a couple of km each day to do the rounds of the village and then walk back. You can find Dit’s temple and my photos of it HERE.

Dit is one of the sweetest monks you will meet. He has two “temporary monks” who have joined up for the school holidays.

The big guy third down practically lives at the temple and does everything to help out. Now that he is a monk his previous transport duties have stopped as monks aren’t supposed to drive.

A mini monk or monkette as I call them. Free school holiday child minding with a purpose for his family.

Determination!

A last glance from Dit before his group heads off down our soi (street). The “mist” in the background is smoke, some from the general season of sugar burning etc and some from early morning breakfast fires.

A blessing is given by the village but not the forest monks. Water is poured as part of that and then given to a plant later with its own blessing ceremony. Gaun and Peng watched by mama.

Dook Dik, the world’s scruffiest dog and family pet, wasn’t too interested in any of it. The roads are warmer, which is why you see the dogs lying in them with traffic navigating around them.

29 March 2018 – Peng’s Party

A good turnout for Peng’s birthday lunch. A fun time is being had by all, which is exactly as it should be. Thais have a natural way of looking like they’re enjoying themselves. They never seem to lose that slightly childlike enthusiasm for life and it shows in these photos.

Peng made up a sign and sat at the front gate giving away sweets and balloons to local kids.

Which packet of sweets should I pick?

They have slightly outgrown that bike, but it did the job!

The guests arrive in mass.

Never a party without a group photo. What a cheerful looking bunch.

Gaun had set up chairs and tables last night, which I thought was strange. My point was proven today when everyone made themselves comfortable on the floor!

Two birthday cakes.

Spot the odd one out (Dook Dik).

Our new garden provided a perfect place for lots of photos. Massed flowers aren’t a big thing in Si Bun Ruang. One group got lost and asked for directions and were told just to look for the house with all the flowers!

Another cake brought by a friend. This is the top English class in Peng’s school, which makes the spelling a bit unfortunate. Better than my Thai however!

How nice.

Last one.

30 March 2018 – Lud Nearly Shot

I try to share actual insights into life in Thailand rather than just posting photos more aimed at family and friends (nothing wrong with that so I am not having a go). This story is a fascinating look at how a situation is treated completely differently in our society and here. You judge which produces the best outcome.

Two days ago Lud was walking across the farm and was nearly hit by a bullet fired by someone on the road shooting birds. It was a very close miss evidently. When Yuan arrived back Lud was just sitting at the farmhouse and wouldn’t talk. The story came out later but that night Lud didn’t sleep and yesterday was unable to have a conversation with anyone.

Now Lud is the most outgoing and friendly guy you can imagine. Yuan is always having a loving (and sometimes not so loving) go at him when she sends him off to do something and he arrives back ages later because he’s been chatting  So to have a silent Lud is a world first and it had the whole family very worried.

In our language, we’d put this down to the after-effects of shock and if it continued we’d seek medical treatment in some form. This incident may not seem super stressful to some but Lud is such a gentle, kind-hearted man that it must have really shaken him to his core.

The Isaan interpretation of what was happening is that Lud’s spirit had taken fright and left his body, leaving him without his “soul”. The solution was a ceremony held at the farm last night conducted by a villager who can do this sort of thing to find his spirit and re-connect Lud to it.

The spirit was located under a huge tamarind tree on Gaun’s land at the farm and it and Lud were reunited. Today Lud is still a bit quiet but is talking again (we haven’t seen him yet to check on progress).

I know this all seems very primitive but if you look at it logically I think it makes perfect sense and the solution might be a whole lot for effective than our medically based answers. You know yourself that if you have a bad shock it can feel there is part of you that has shut down. That’s like your “spirit” running away and leaving “you” without a central part of your normal personality. If you believed that, then a process to re-attach the spirit would be entirely reasonable to make you whole again.

My contribution also fits the local culture in that I am going to offer to take the family out for an Isaan buffet tonight. There’s nothing like a big dose of food and a few beers to cheer up an Isaan man.

I think Lud’s personality shines through these photos:

Yuan and Lud’s first airflight from Udon to Chiang Mai.

Lud with his Aussie mate Gaz.

P.S. Lud took a while to get back to normal but got there in the end. The return of a happy smiling Lud was a great relief.

31 March 2018 – A Tropical Garden Update

A good friend sent me some photos of a part of her lovely garden with new flowers blooming as Australia heads into cooler Autumn weather. It motivated me to record our garden as it too is starting to burst with colour, although we are going from what passes as winter almost immediately into summer. We lose the brilliant displays of the bougainvillaea but pick up on so much else that is enjoying fresh soil and lots of watering.

The photos speak for themselves so not many words added.

This photo was taken on the 3rd of January 2018 – three months ago. I had to double check that calculation as I couldn’t believe it. Note the gravel markings where things like the big water pot and paths would eventually go. Check the next photo…….

The same view today. God bless Thailand’s climate and Gaun’s love of gardening. Even though I’m the one taking the photos I just can’t get over what has happened in just a few weeks.

1 April 2018 – A Farm Update

A farm update for you city rural types out there. As a lounge based farmer myself I still find it interesting to get a better understanding of the challenges of earning an income from the land in Isaan. The concept of buying super fresh vegetables is one of the top attractions of Thailand but it does come at a price for those growing the produce.

The problem is that with seasonal cropping everyone is growing the same things to sell at the same time, which means oversupply and low prices. Good for us but bad for farmers. If Yuan and Lud could come up with a crop of cauliflowers or broccoli now they would make a killing. We achieve that in the western world by either importing or storing produce to sell in the off-season.

I will give you one guess at what’s in season now!

Long beans by the truckload.

That bunch of beans being held up by Paed will get 20 baht (A$0.80) wholesale at the market.

If you followed the various photos I shared showing the stages Yuan and Lud went through to produce these beans then it is a lot of work for a small return. Everywhere you go people are growing long beans so you have to go with a price that sells. Long beans, BTW, often end up as a replacement for papaya in that super hot salad so loved by Isaan people, and a few weird farangs:-)

See the freshly tilled soil? Yuna and Lud ploughed back in a crop of Chinese celery because the prices were so low it wasn’t worth selling. There are a couple more rows in the foreground that will hopefully sell for a better price come to Songkran, Thai New Year, a huge party time in Isaan when demand for food is high.

And one for the folk who keep track of what is growing when – dill, lettuce and coriander.

3 April 2018 – Bugs

Who’s a handsome boy then? I haven’t seen these insects before. Gaun tells me that you don’t eat them, which they would be pretty happy about. We also have a few mangos this year along with everyone else in Thailand.

The comments from regulars give me the incentive to keep on keeping on (thank you ) They are so much enjoyed at this end of the typewriter! As always I am amazed at the number of opportunities that pop up to share photos and their associated stories. Edition 14 will be out shortly.

Tony