This is a particularly mixed bunch of stories that I am sure you’ll enjoy because of the variety. They include a market day, Happy Birthday Gaun, a turtle lottery, building a boat jetty, thanking the spirits, two newly discovered wats (temples), stocking the farm pond with fish, Elenna Pizzeria, pots, pots and more pots, some mixed photos with small stories attached and a mushroom farm.

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 I am on a mission to catch up so although the timeline is a bit out of date the material is still relevant sharing what life looks like here.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 early the end of May 2108. 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.

11 May 2018 – Market Day

Every Friday afternoon big street markets set up in Si Bun Ruang. It is a mix of retail, cooked food and fresh produce stalls. Yuan goes every week and what’s on her table is an indication of what’s happening at the farm. Not much currently as we have had early rains, which has delayed preparing soil for the next batch of crops – coriander, lettuce and celery. It is a problem for all the local farmers and if you have any coriander it will now get 200 baht a kilo compared to 20 – 50 baht not that long ago.

Yuan and Lud were up very early with flashlights looking for mushrooms. Only a small harvest today. 50 baht ($2.00) a container (made by hand from banana leaves).

Large mangos. This type are popular so in demand. 20 baht a kilo.

And the final long beans and some small mangos from our tree. The end result will be not much income for an afternoon’s work but as long as there’s something to sell Yuan will be there.

12 May 2018 – Happy Birthday Gaun

A little while back a girl was born into a farming family living in a small rural Isaan village and the world became a better, brighter and more lively place as a result. It’s your birthday today Gaun but I get the presents every day. Happy Birthday my love.

14 May 2018 – A Birthday Party

Gaun’s birthday party in Udon Thani yesterday evening was good fun enjoyed by Gaun of course plus Yuan, Lud and Peng, and friends from Udon.

We started with a shopping spree at UD evening markets, which are the best in the area followed by dinner and drinks at very decent farang restaurant/bar for the evening. Yuan and Peng tried pool and darts for the first time but Lud showed evidence of a misspent youth and was surprisingly good. Our thanks to Terry, Mai PolsenaDaryl Newman, Tik and Daniel for helping make the evening memorable.

The following day we dropped in to see friends one of whom is coming to the end of a very challenging new house construction. Congratulations Terry and Mai for sticking with it and making what will end up being a comfortable and impressive home.

The camera wasn’t mine so the nighttime photos are a bit rough but you get the idea.

Gaun and Peng dressed up at home just before we picked up the rest of the family to drive the 90 km to Udon.

Gaun’s birthday party group.

I am not a Thai bar enthusiast but I have to say that The Brick House Inn HERE would be a very acceptable drinking spot anywhere. The presentation is first class, the owner Max, from Holland, is there to welcome you and make sure you are looked after and the meals are huge and reasonable. Max allocated a waitress just to take care of our group and in one of the most impressive displays of training I have seen in Thailand, with nine meals ordered the staff knew who ordered what! You are lucky to find that in Australia and I have never seen it in Thailand.

Lud is looking a little worried, not with Yuan making the shot but whether she connects with the ball at all 🙂

Peng was in there too.

This is Daniel, Daryl and Tik’s son, who became supervisor for the cake cutting ceremony. Daniel enjoys Gaun’s company and spends as much time with her as his own parents. Gaun tells me that she was getting the attention of a farang in the bar until she headed his way with Daniel in arms after which he seemed to lose interest 🙂 Thanks Daniel.

Next day. This is Terry and Mai’s new house a couple of months off completion all being well. We look forward to the house warming.

15 May 2018 – A Turtle Lottery 

There is so much simple fun to be had as Isaan life presents the unexpected. Follow the photos for the story.

We arrived at the farm this morning for our usual daily visit and met this guy who was caught wandering across the fields by Yuan. He’s a lucky one because turtle soup is one of the dinner options here, but not with my family.

My camera is broken so this is an iPad photo. So what do you do when you find a turtle on the 15th??? Well, the second of the two monthly Thai lottery draws happens on the 16th so you dust the turtle with talcum powder and inspect him/her for any clues as to the winning lottery numbers of course. Duh!

60 was the result although that could be equally determined as the result of a dream, car number plates, or any other sign resulting in a “for sure” winning outcome. Gaun, who almost never plays the lottery, invested 140 baht today so we will see if turtle power comes good.

She wasn’t too sure about holding a turtle but the photo opportunity was too good to pass up. One of the daughters of Gaun’s niece.

The turtle was let loose in the very shallow pond, which he promptly swam across and climbed out the other side.

He has now been relocated to the other small farm pond but I suspect he/she is on a mission and will be on the move again by now. Do females return to the place they were hatched like sea turtles or maybe it is a male looking for a mate. We see a lot of them as the wet season progresses and usually to take them to a temple pond where they are less likely to end up in the cooking pot.

17 May 2018 – An Optimistic Jetty

Gaun decided that while the lake at the farm was dry it was a good time to build an extension to the dock area for my floating sala (hut). I was just going to make a slight modification to the existing area to support the deeper walls leading up to the dock but there is no stopping Gaun when she is on a mission. She has endless energy.

Yuan and Lud were roped in and as always gave of their time freely and with good humour even though they have other demands on their time. Building a dock for a farang’s boat would not probably rate too highly on their list of things to do normally 

Trees were cut, holes dug and a new jetty built in the hope we get decent rain to fill the lake and refloat the boat. Thank you Gaun, Yuan and Lud.

Lud, Gaun and Yuan. A tree had been felled on Gaun’s land to provide timber for the piers. Gaun ended up digging a dozen holes in 35+ degree heat.

A passing dog decided to take advantage of the easily accessible water for a cooling dip and drink.

The new dock extension taking shape. Yuan and Lud donated old hardwood planks for the decking, which will outlast me.

The powerhouse herself. Turning this blank canvas into a garden surrounding the lake is her next project – garden number four. You can see how much water we need to fill this pond. I hope it happens this year.

Finished. We will sit some sandbags behind the wire to make sure the walls stay in place. All we need is water and a boat now.

The dock and Isaan Grace in wetter times.

18 May 2018 – A Spirit Thank You

Next month is the first anniversary of Peng’s major operation in Khon Kaen’s Srinagarind Hospital aimed at improving her mobility. At the time Gaun made a promise to the spirits at our village’s shrine that if all went well with Peng she would make an offering to them. Today was that day.

Yesterday she, Yuan and Thare, a niece, worked at the farm on making garlands from fresh flowers picked there and at home. Today in the evening we made our way to the small moo ban shrine with Gaun’s mama and another village elder to present the flowers and thank the spirits for Peng’s recovery. Lovely.

For those of you who might be interested to read what a stay in a Thai public hospital looks like you can go HERE.

The three ladies working at creating the garlands. Thare is Jun’s daughter, for those of you who remember the building project happening for one of Gaun’s older brothers already covered here.

For those of you who have been to Thailand you’ll recognise these garlands, which are sold for 20 baht at almost every set of traffic lights!

Gaun, her mama and the elder (this is the lady who acted as my surrogate mother for our wedding) performing the ceremony this evening.

It is interesting that this occasion has little to do with Buddhism. Gaun is not thanking Buddha but the spirits for taking care of Peng. Buddhism and superstitions blend effortlessly together here.

Mum and daughter.

Gaun making the offering.

The flowers in place. I hope the spirits were happy because a lot of work went into making them.

Back at home Peng received the traditional white wrist string for good luck.

Peng holding sticky rice and a banana!

The operation and recovery was a very challenging time for Peng. She took it all with good humor and no complaints that I noticed, and has worked super hard on her rehabilitation. Her mobility has some way to go but she is much improved on her previous situation.

It was a privilege to add my contribution. Well done Peng and thank you spirits.

There’s a bit of a jump in dates here as this period over Bun Bang Fai, an Isaan rocket festival, has already been covered in separate blog posts. We take up the story again here:

25 May 2018 – Wat Chong Khao Khat

I decided to karmically balance up yesterday’s whisky drinking/phallic symbol production, which you can read about HERE, with a visit to a local big Buddha temple called Wat Chong Khao Khat. We have been there a couple of times before but not recently. I was hoping that as it was only semi-completed last time, more donations had been made resulting in progress, but that wasn’t the case.

However, it was a great day for photos as it was a typical wet season morning, mostly sunny with huge fluffy clouds that build into storms late afternoon. Previous visits were in very overcast conditions so although the scene was much the same the photos are more interesting. GPS coords HERE

We stopped off at a small wat at the base of the hill to the big Buddha. Depending on your screen size you might just see the Buddha in the far distance as a speck on the horizon.

While I was busy taking photos of cultural significance Gaun was in the trees looking for mushrooms!

An outcrop with even the slightest overhang is called a cave (Thum/Tham) and you are very likely to find a wat or at least a shrine there. This one isn’t worth visiting other than for a quick photo stop on the way. Google Maps HERE

The photos are very selective to maximise the good bits because this project is only half finished and what has been done isn’t being maintained (the story of Thailand). If you haven’t done a big Buddha and are in the area it is a nice drive, about an hour from Si Bun Ruang, and the Buddha on a day like today is spectacular. Five stars out of ten.

Buddha has friends. At the back of these the rocks drop away at a cliff face.

I much prefer these white Buddhas over the gold ones. A great place to have a communications tower.

Very fine.

Although the area where these statues are located is rubbish the Buddha display itself is beautiful.

Gaun wanted a photo of the ceiling for some reason. The walls and ceiling decoration is temporary (although semi-permanent at this stage) and is a sort of wallpaper pasted on.

The wat is on three levels. This is level two. More wallpaper.

Gaun trying to get the temple gong to “sing”. Some people have the knack but neither Gaun or I could get this one to work. The back of the going is usually easier and you rub your hands in the concave. If it all comes together the gong gives out a loud tone. 

Clouds, blue sky and Buddha.

The other attraction to this wat is that it has sweeping views both east towards Udon Thani and west over the plains towards Si Bun Ruang. This is the westerly view.

A beautiful time to be here as the rice paddies are starting to be planted and vivid green rice and fresh sugar shoots turn the countryside into what you expect of a tropical place like Thailand.

28 May 2018 – Wat Sok Sombun

I will give you a break from Bun Bang Fai photos although I do have one more batch to publish after a party we went to yesterday.

Today was supposed to be a day off but we ended up spending most of it on the road chasing new fish to stock the farm pond, lunch at Noi’s Kitchen and then a visit a great small forest wat, thanks to a chance meeting with a Norwegian expat, before returning home to release 2,000 new fish. Potential BBQ’s at the farm in a couple of years. I will cover Wat Sok Sombun here and then the fish in another post.

If you want to find this wat on Google Maps I have added a review and you can see it HERE. I have told Google they have their marker in the wrong place and that should be fixed by them soon.

Phonetically this reads something like Wat Pha (forest) Sok Sombun. I have given you GPS coords later. In the middle of nowhere and off the beaten track but well worth the effort of getting there.

I have published details of a few of the local temples built in this rough timber style and you can find the best of them on my blog HERE. This is the main meeting hall and would probably only be used for major ceremonies. A smaller more intimate hall seen in the next photo would more likely be used for daily chanting and meditation.

This is a side building where the monk meets people casually.

We know him as he has visited our local forest wat HERE and he recognised us and told Gaun that he loved her flowers at the farm. A super friendly monk, the only one in residence, who spent 45 minutes with us walking around the large grounds and then raided the fridge to give us refreshing cold soft drinks.

The monk with Yuan and Lud. Notice how clean the area is. Regularly swept I am guessing.

Being a forest wat there were beautiful treed paths everywhere like this one. The whole place was absolutely immaculate. I so prefer these quiet, natural based wats to the more glittery traditional ones. What a great setting for reflection and contemplation.

The monk who is called Mee, which Gaun tells me means Panda in Thai, took us on a personal tour of the whole place.

This is his midnight meditation area.

Gaun is very respectful with monks.

Mee’s mediation hut. Once again super neat and maintained.

Another sala (hut) designed for sitting and watching farm life pass by.

Another of the many beautiful roads that run through this large wat.

Mee built this sala by himself. Gaun kneels and has her hands in a wai as a sign of respect whenever she talks to a monk. She was wearing shorts but has a supply of sarongs in the car for when we unexpectedly call into temples like this one.

A rural view from the temple. The wat is close to a huge lake called Ratana and also to Gaun’s elder brother Orr, who is a part time fisherman.

Heading back to the main temple building……….

……….which was decorated in these fun carvings. I haven’t seen a forest wat doing this before.

A smoking dragon?

Another dragon just to give you an idea of the scale of these carvings.

No words required for the next few photos.

A large bee (?) hovers over the main meeting hall. Why? Who knows.

Mee (panda) was very keen I take a photo of this panda, which was enough to give the kiddies nightmares 🙂

A more detailed look at one of the dragons keeping guard.

These forest temples are always very simple in their presentation, the main focus being the use of timber. This was the only Buddha in the main hall and he was tucked into a corner. Mee is renovating the hall so it will be interesting to keep an eye on progress over time.

GPS coords, which is by far the best way to find this wat. aA 40 minute drive from Si Bun Ruang heading south(ish).

28 May 2018 – Stocking the Farm Pond

With some good recent rains plus a bit of extra water from the bore the pond at the farm has filled up enough to restock it with fish. There is a long way to go to achieve a full pond but it is bucketing down as I type so we might get there by the end of the wet season, which has only just started.

Yuan and Lud wanted to look for fish at a place just outside Nong Bua Lamphu, but they didn’t have the ones we were after (the easy for a farang to eat type with large bones!)

We then decided to make a day of it and headed south towards Lake Ratana where Lud knew there were a selection of fish stalls. We called into Noi’s Kitchen for lunch, and to introduce Yuan and Lud to Greg and Noi. We then visited the temple I covered last post and after that had a bit of a search to find someone stocking the fish we wanted. All good and the pond now has ripples in it a sign of fish settling in.

Gaun is going fishing tomorrow in the small pond on her land to transfer the original fish moved when the big pond was emptied, back to their original home.

It is starting to look like a pond again.

I will add the GPS coords for this fish place tomorrow (when it is dry and I can get to the car).

Thais eat any sized fish. These could be dried, used to make a fermented fish sauce essential for papaya salad (something Gaun calls “fish dead long time”), mushed up for larb, a sort of minced dish eaten with chilli sauce and sticky rice or just fried.

Our fish on the move.

The costing was a bit technical but I will try to explain it for you. 100 baht (A$4.00) for a dish-full 🙂

Literally in the middle of the fields.

GPS

We arrived back at the farm at sunset and released the fish. Ten bags, filled with oxygen for the journey, each containing 200 fish (one dish-full).

Yuan counted out the contents of one bag and that dish came in at 205 fish! We also got a bag of another variety for free so the pond will be well stocked.

Be free…………

As always I am prepared to put in the hard yards to help my Thai family. Can we fast forward two years for fresh fish BBQs at the farm eaten on Isaan Grace, my floating sala, with a cold beer.

A fish filled pond is a happy pond.

29 May 2018 – A Few Photos

A few catchup photos of the everyday each with a small story attached.

This is Yuan and Lud’s farmhouse, home for over 20 years. I love this sort of big sky photos. A typical wet season morning, sunny with clouds that build into rain later.

The soil is so wet that it has been hard preparing it for crops. The modern buffalo waiting for action.

The usual collection of Chinese celery, coriander and lettuce. A huge problem with weeds in this super growing season, which keeps Yuan and Lud busy for days meticulously pulling each one out. That’s what they are doing now as I sit comfortably at home typing this post.

Gaun planted this some time ago for me (her idea) and it is looking pretty established now. I will be remembered when I’m gone (Tony who?)

The cycle of rice starts with bulk seed beds sprouting at the farm.

These will be harvested and then replanted by hand, which gives the highest quality of crop and the greatest yield. I have seen some machine planted rice recently and will try to get a photo of it actually happening. You can tell machine planting because the rows are very regular and straight. Isaan is looking terrific now as new rice paddies are sprouting everywhere.

I always love the spontaneous nature of meals here.

Thais NEVER eat alone and whatever is on the “table” is available to share with whoever is around. Have you seen westerners sitting alone eating food with a book or iPad/phone in front of them for company? The phone situation often applies to Thais as well but it will be in a group! This photo shows breakfast at the farm with Gaun, Yuan, Lud and a niece Thare. Her hubbie is also there. Yuan cooks or buys food (they have been up since dawn or earlier so this is lunch for them) and anyone who is in the area shares. None of the older generation are phone crazy so a get together like this is all about chat. Families eating together and TALKING is one of the many aspects we have let slip in western society.

A full complement of cooking utensils at the family home. I just liked the image.

My pet “wanna do” . Two rice storage huts in good condition next to the family home. My lottery win scenario is to have two like this and then join them with a modern glass and tiled structure. A mix of old timber and new sleekness. You finance and I will build! Any takers?

That centre area would be the glass connection and become a living area flowing into one of the timber huts. A bedroom in the other. Outside bathroom/kitchen and large covered veranda space. Bring it on.

I didn’t get to build a double rice hut renovation but was lucky enough to move a single version from a field to our garden and you can read about this terrific project HERE.

TIPS & TRICKS: You are very safe with ice and water in Thailand but always make sure you have the type of ice with a hole in the middle (see on truck). This is commercially made and is delivered everywhere in trucks like this or vans. You can order a sack of ice for around 40 baht (A$1.60). Every local shop has ice and you can get a bag from 5 baht.

30 May 2018 – Elena Pizzeria

We had a day in Udon Thani having lunch with friends at a new (for us) pizza place that I thought I would share in the incredibly unlikely chance that you find yourself both in that area and hungry!

Elena Pizzeria is on the outskirts of Udon just off highway 2 on the southern Khon Kaen side. It is owned by a very friendly German, called Georg (pronounced George), who is also the server and cook. He says he runs the place as a hobby, but it is spotless, the drinks arrive quickly and cold while the pizzas, if that’s what you order, are slower but Georg makes them totally fresh. He even grows his own herbs.

The place is pretty basic, you won’t find much in the way of characterful eating places in Isaan, but the food and Georg make it an eating spot that we will return to as it’s close to our friends.

There’s an external review of Elena (Georg’s daughter’s name) Pizzeria HERE.

Contact details.

That’s Georg in the middle. If you’re not happy to have the chef pull up a chair for a drink and a chat then this isn’t the place for you!

Does the job.

There are three separate areas to sit. I am not sure you’re going to be fighting for a spot as this place is well outside farang central close to the railway station.

A little more than you’d pay in a Thai place, but less than a farang place in Udon central.

A small selection of German meals.

Funnily, I wrote in the previous story about the ice trucks that make deliveries everywhere. While we were eating one pulled up to drop off a bag of ice.

Commuting Isaan-style.

GPS coords.

Potting Around

On the way home from Udon we stopped off to do some garden shopping, which included two large clay pots made locally. Pots are plentiful and cheap here but not very adventurous in style. There are some lovely shapes though and the ones we bought were a bit different from the normal and they fitted into two spots I had picked out the day I did the original plans for the garden.

Hand made and fired locally.

These are produced by the thousand. A$4.00 – $8.00 depending on size.

Fine for some but not for me.

Waiting to be fired.

The wood kiln.

Lovely shapes and colours. A large version of these (1.5 mtrs high) will cost you 1,500 baht (A$60.00).

I’ll have that one on the bottom.

Definitely a two person life. Very heavy. Gaun called Lud and five minutes later he has ridden in from the farm to help me move them.

Nice

This path will eventually go through a doorway cut into a tall hedge. You can see the hedging plants left and right in the middle of the photo. The pot will be a feature from this side framed by the doorway. The second pot on the other side has the same arrangement.

This updated photo was taken in Sept and gives you a better idea of the way that pot with be framed as the hedges grow.

31 May 2018 – More Mushrooms

We were on the road with Yuan and Lud again today to buy more fish and on the way back we stopped off at a mushroom farm.

I have a friend in Australia who is in the process of changing jobs to setting up a mushroom farm on his land using coffee grinds as the basis, a fascinating new business that you can read about HERE. and his Facebook page HERE. I have therefore started to take more interest in local mushrooms and how they are sourced. Many are collected at night in season, which it is now, and you’ll see people heading out with miner light helmets late at night (used for hunting frogs too!). There are also ad-hoc “farms” that spring up like the one I show you here, which produce the white mushrooms rather than the multi-coloured ones you buy in the markets or on the side of the road.

Not too high tech. A very temporary structure built for short time production. Sept: Well it’s still in place so maybe longer than short-term.

Will your setup look like this Gaz? Maybe not 🙂 Was manure being used? I believe so!!!!!

This wood fired heater is being used to warm the soil before the mushroom spores are released tomorrow. He is expecting his first crop to be ready in a couple of weeks so I will report back.

A saling, the motorbike and sidecar combo you see everywhere here. 6,000 baht (A$240.00) will get you the sidecar and you see an amazing variety of uses for them.

Alvin Sumedha Lee Interestingly, its name “saling” is very close to its Chinese colloquial name 三轮 (Teochew pronunciation: “sa lieng”, literally meaning 3-wheeled).

A case in point 🙂

More fish being released. These are what Gaun calls Pla Nin, which are the large boned, easy to eat for a farang variety. One baht each but they were bigger than the ones we bought the other day.

Alvin Sumedha Lee ปลานิล (pla nin) literally means “Nile Fish”… an apparent reference to the red-hybrid Nile Tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus), more correctly known in Thai as ปลาทับทิม (pla thab thim), meaning pomegranate fish or ruby fish. However, most of the Pla Nin found in Thailand are actually a different subspecies that is commonly referred as Black-and-White Striped Tilapia.

And finally, Lud’s pickup was filled with 7,000 baht worth of chemicals that will be used on the sugar crop to contain weeds. Don’t think that just because you are in a more basic rural community life here is organic because it’s not. Make sure you wash vegetables well bought at local markets, however fresh they look, because pesticides are widely used.

Rod Young I found an organic weed killer on my last visit back to Brisbane. A product called Slasher. I bought some to try it out, its a really fast kill the next day anything that hot coated in spray is brown. I believe it also kills the seeds that’s something glyphosate can’t do.

Thanks for reading and if you have enjoyed the stories why not leave a comment. It’s the only ‘payment’ I ask for this providing blog.

Tony