June had as its main activity the restoration of an Isaan rice storage hut, which I covered in detail in this post HERE, Bun Bang Fai, the Isaan rocket festival, covered HERE and a Ghost Mask festival in Dan Sai HERE. I obviously won’t repeat these posts and as a result this post is shorter than normal.

A more recent photo that shows how well the rice hut has settled into our garden.

Still plenty of interest so read on. Included are topics like flying ants, the discovery of a couple of new garden centres, buying 6,000 handmade bricks for paths, my 5th anniversary in Thailand and work happening at the farm especially around planting the new rice paddies. A couple of videos I know you’ll enjoy too.

Introduction – Skip if you are a regular reader

I have almost caught up with 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 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 all of June 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.

1 June 2018 – Flying Ants

Sitting outside having a glass of Aussie red (with ice!) last evening we were overrun with a swarm of flying ants attracted to the garden lights. It once again made me think about how those people who don’t bother with screens on doors and windows cope. Of course you can run around and close everything up but if not you’ll end up with a carpet of wings and dead ants surrounding every light you have on.

The idea of a lovely open house like Jim Thompson’s in Bangkok might seem like a great tropical idea but after a few flying ants have dropped into your gin and tonic, some geckos have crapped on your walls, you wake up with mosquitoes buzzing around your head and you find a snake in your bathroom, I am all for something a little less romantic 

A slow motion dance of the flies.

We were away from the lights so they didn’t bother us. That “lightshade” is a rice steaming basket Gaun converted for my village birthday party!

Wings and ants. Outside they are easily swept away the next day. Inside? Not my preference.

This is the image we all have in mind for a tropical home. Big open spaces connecting with the garden. In reality not so practical. My thanks to: http://www.whispersofstyle.com/jim-thompson-house-museum-bangkok/ for the photo. What a beautiful place. If you haven’t been there make sure you include on your Bangkok to-so list.

3 June 2018 – Gaun in Action (again)

Gaun is the most proactive person I have met especially when it comes to the garden. As we headed out to the farm this morning I pointed out a pot that I liked the shape of and suggested we ask how much it would be to buy.

We returned home and I thought no more about it. The next thing I know three pots have turned up. Gaun had picked one up from mama’s house and negotiated with a neighbour for the exchange of two more pots for some mangos! Got to love that sort of initiative. The pots have been cleaned and now have a place in the new garden. Thank you Gaun.

Pots plus a borrowed cart.

And here they are adding no-cost style to the garden.

4 June 2018 – Another Local Garden Centre

A post for locals but as always maybe others will enjoy.

It is always a pleasure to find a new garden centre and this one is just to the south of Si Bun Ruang on the 228. This place has been around for ages but in a very limited way. The lovely lady who runs it is the daughter of the owner of the garden centre just before Toyota on the right as you leave SBR, which is still the best for variety.

Since I was here last this business has expanded a lot and added a lot of great plants, mostly ferns, succulents and shaded varieties. They are a little more expensive but most are more advanced. This is an easy place to spend money, which is always my way of recommending a place!

They also have a range of concrete products – pots, tables and chairs and concrete pavers and can make to order. Her brother runs that side of the business out the back, a friendly and helpful guy. He used to work at his mum’s place, for those who have been there before.

We stocked up on some plants (unintended but they were so tempting) and a couple of show pots for the entrance to the new garden at our place.

From the road. I have included GPS coords later. If you aren’t a GPS sort of person it is 1.2 km on the left from the intersection of the 228 and the 2133, where the 228 makes a turn to the right south of SBR.

Beautiful ferns and broad leaf varieties. The huge hanging ferns will set you back 1,500 baht (A$60.00) so not cheap but if you have the budget they have the plants.

For those who can afford a quickly developed garden.

Beautiful small succulents from 3 for 100 baht (A$4.00). The bigger ones 250 baht up.

We bought a few of these as they are one of my favourites. $4.00 worth here and they make lovely small feature.

We don’t have the shade yet to have a lot of these tropical varieties but give it three years we will be buying in bulk.

A garden lovers dream! Most of this lot wasn’t here when we were last here a few months back.

A small concrete selection but they will make to order.

Concrete pavers made to look like timber. 220 baht each. Timber is great but hardwood is expensive and you need to keep on top of the termites. A path like this would last a lifetime and it looks pretty good.

Those two pots at the entrance to our new garden were bought today plus the plants in them. Each stand and pot including the plant A$30.00! I wanted something to make a more definitive entrance and these do the job. Even better at night….see next photo.

The same view with the evening lights turned on. Now that’s my concept of tropical!

5 June 2018 – Bricks

We have ordered 6,000 handmade bricks from a family business just outside Si Bun Ruang. They are in the process of being made as I type and by the time they are fired we won’t get them until the beginning of next month.

I enjoy dealing with small local businesses like this because people are generally so friendly and helpful and it becomes personal, unlike our big franchise operations in the west. We called in to make the order yesterday and once they knew I was interested in how the bricks were made, the lady hopped on her motorbike to take to to the “kiln” and then invited us back this morning, which is when they make the bricks themselves.

The bricks when delivered will be used to lay another 60 metres of paths in our new garden although this time I may employ someone to do it.

I will show you how they are fired later this month, 50,000 bricks at a time.

These are being laid out to dry in these low walls, straight after being made. The colour only comes after firing.

The husband doing this part of the operation.

Rice husk scattered to help with the drying process.

Previous bricks are covered so they don’t dry too fast. A typical Isaan paddy scene in the background. New rice and sugar.

The “factory”. The son is shovelling a mix of clay and ash (in those bags at the back from previous firings) into the centre brick making machine, which is powered by one of those wonderful “do anything” diesel engines.

It still had its wheels on ready to plough some paddies once this operation is over. The lady in orange is cutting the clay into bricks and stacking them while the wife, behind Gaun, is moving them to be stacked outside by her husband.

Some of these could be “our” pavers! No deposit, just leave your phone number and they will call when ready. 1.5 baht (A$0.06) each with free local delivery.

This is me laying the 3,000 bricks we got last time. My back doesn’t enjoy this activity any more so although I love being able to have my very own project (I usually have to fight Gaun to do anything!) I may have to settle with sitting on a chair to supervise. I will cope 🙂

13 June 2018 – My 5th Anniversary

Five years ago today on my second day in Thailand I met up with someone I had spent time with on holidays the previous year. I so enjoyed her powerhouse enjoyment of every aspect of life that I wanted to see her again. Two months later I wanted a guide to hold my hand when I went exploring the wilds of Isaan and I asked her to join me. She has been with me ever since.

Thank you Gaun for making this five years in Thailand the best period of my life. You have not only been a rock through periods in Chiang Rai, Chiang Mai and now Isaan, but the package of family and rural village life you have introduced me to has been transforming. Your support when we built our house, your boundless energy to create the best garden in Isaan and your total engagement with fun and laughter has made Thailand such a rewarding experience for me every day. Words cannot express my gratitude so I won’t even try.

14 June 2018 – Another Garden Oasis

Another one for gardening locals. There’s a new garden centre that has opened on the Nong Bua Lamphu ringroad, east (Udon Thani) side. The prices are very competitive and they have the best range of succulents that I have seen in the area.

As always I ended up buying heaps and then got home and tried to work out where we could fit them in. I love the tropical ferns and broad leaf plants but we have limited shade until the trees get going in the central garden.

The hills in the background are between Nong Bua and Udon Thani.

A narrow frontage but it goes back a way.

For gardeners this scene is a delight. Hard to spend over $10.00 in one of these places.

Space for more to come. A nice selection of shade plants.

Coming from cold Canberra (in winter) I can’t get enough of these vivid tropical colours.

Fun additions for the child inside every Thai.

And more.

Subtle colours isn’t always a factor in Thai anything.

Two new additions to our garden. I couldn’t resist those colours. 100 baht each (A$4.00).

Most of the ferns ended up in this newly developed area hidden away in the corner of the garden. To the back of me are a number of custard apple trees, which are fruiting well this time of year.

Flowers

These flowers are starting to bloom. We have masses of them in the new garden so it is a pleasure to see them establish themselves to the point they can add colour. They have huge leaves and grow to over 2 metres high and will help form hedges and rooms in the garden.

20 June 2018 – Firing the Bricks

We have ordered 6,000 bricks to continue the paving of the new garden, enough to lay about 60 metres of paths. My computer popped up with a reminder that today was the day our bricks were being fired so we went for a look, as neither Gaun nor I have ever seen this process happen before. The process takes 10 days so they will be delivered early July.

A couple of unrelated topics as well.

This is their firing location, just outside their moo ban (village).

Like so much in Isaan, it is small-time and very personal. A husband and wife team in this case. 50,000 bricks are fired in the one go.

Sun dried bricks in the front being moved from their truck to the stack at the back.

Hand stacked with a gap in between, which is where the rice husks are poured and then slow burnt. The bricks sticking out are to support the structure…see next photo.

The next row has a corresponding version and they support each other. The gray is rice husk ash from a previous burn.

Completed rows. The rice husks will fill that space and then be burnt. The bricks aren’t that colour. There was a red umbrella filtering light onto this area.

The bricks on the left are currently being fired. Somewhere in there we have 6,000 bricks. 1.5 baht each (A$0.06).

The bags on the right are filled with post-firing ash. If you remember from my previous post this is mixed in with the soil at the brick making stage so every bit is reused.

We are incredibly lucky to have a great noodle shop in our moo ban.

There are always heaps of them in every village but most are pretty basic and not inviting. Ours is run by a husband and wife team, she cooks he serves As you can see from the photo the shop is a step above the usual. That’s their house in the background, built mostly by the team that built our home. A new pickup shows that business must be good. She’s a good cook, they are both friendly, the place is spotless and it also stocks a small range of drinks and groceries. $1.00 buys you a meal for two people.

Gaun with papaya salad – 20 baht (A$0.80) sorry Samantha Koren

Nicely done for Thailand. You won’t see this standard in rural Isaan too often.

Handmade tables, once again unusual in a country where plastic rules.

I spotted these in town today and picked up a couple.

They are fishing baskets. The idea is that you capture the fish inside, if you’re quick enough, and then remove them through the hole in the top. Needless to say I had a totally farang concept for them and they are going to be experimental light shades for the rice hut. I think they will be in character and give a warm characterful lighting at night. I will report back. 180 baht each (A$8.00).

Being used as intended! An historical photo (obviously not mine!)

The wife of a friend of ours saw this post when I published it on Facebook and asked her husband to bring a couple back when he stayed with us shortly after. We were able to pick up a couple and when he returned home they sent a photo of two Isaan light shades over the kitchen country in rural Victoria, Australia.

Janet May a good friend in Australia made a comment about the shade on the rice hut and I thought I would share this photo taken at midday. The whole hut and deck area is in shade provided by a large mango tree.

You can see that some ideas for landscaping and upgrading the hut has happened already even though we have been out most of the day. Back to it now.

21 June 2018 – A Farm Update

A quick visit to the farm this morning after a few days break due to our travels and the rice hut renovations.

The rice planting is underway with Gaun’s older sister and hubbie, Paed and Tham, having finished their part of the farm while Yuan and Lud are at the stage of preparing the paddies. I love this time of year, as somehow the process of growing rice is so central to the culture and food of Isaan.

For those of you with a crafty inclination we bought some timber today from a friend of Gaun and I noticed she was making these amazing little rosettes. They have a one baht coin inside and are thrown out to the crowd at the ordination ceremony for a new monk. I have often seen them but never thought about how they were made. These ones were each a work of art with many different styles and far too good to throw onto the street!

A ploughed paddy waiting to get its water before the rice is hand planted. In the background Yuan and Lud were setting out a new vegetable growing area under shade cloth. The big trees on the left are on Gaun’s land (she owns 16 rai (25,000 sq mtrs) and these trees are safe from harvesting for as long as she lives 🙂

Not only has Gaun protected the existing trees but has added new teak trees to the mix (the big leafed plants). That’s a huge tamarind tree on the right and Gaun used to climb it as a child, so it’s an old one.

Bear and Tham’s newly planted rice in the background, with one of Yuan’s flooded paddies in the front.

After a good start to the wet season it has reverted to the way it’s been the last three years and we have had almost no rain for six weeks.

The water flowing from the blue pipe at the front is being pumped from a bore/well to flood the rice field. For those farmers without access to water the rice is looking very sad. These super green rice shoots are harvested and then replanted, which is the way to get the best yield and highest quality rice. I have a friend from Australia visiting next week and I hope his time coincides with the chance to get toes into mud and plant some rice for that essential Isaan photo opportunity!

A panoramic view of the back of the farm. Sugar on the left and then new paddies looking touristy perfect. This is all the family farm to the big trees in the background.

And looking the other way with Yuan and Lud’s farmhouse in the background on the left. The newly expanded pond is behind those trees to the right of the farmhouse.

These are the rosettes I told you about. Each one is handmade.

I can’t believe the work that has gone into this. The lady’s name is Jan, and we bought our original block of land from her in 2013. She is doing this to gain Buddhist “merit” not for any financial return.

Wow. Origami eat your heart out!

So creative.

I would buy all of these as a table centerpiece.

28 June 2018 – Rice

Gaun spent the afternoon helping Yuan harvest the rice shoots that will be replanted in separate paddies on the family farm. This method of growing rice is labour intensive but gives the very best yield and quality. Steamed rice has already been planted and this is sticky rice – the backbone of all Isaan meals (and homemade whisky).

Rice is so central to life here that it is always a pleasure to see a new crop being planted out on the family farm. Apart from my original three months in Chiang Rai we have never bought rice here as it is supplied by the family – a fresh batch every year with whatever is left over from the previous season sold off. My involvement today was less strenuous than Gaun although the camera does get heavy after a while. I did buy beer for the real workers.

Lud getting another paddy ready for planting.

Gaun and Yuan harvesting the rice shoots. See how it’s done in the video I have just posted.

Those bundles at the front will be taken to another paddy and hand planted. Gaun is as happy working on the farm as she is in her garden. Unstoppable.

A fair way to go!

This and the next two photos follow each other. It shows Yuan battling to get this bamboo pole with the rice bundles onto her shoulders so she can transport them to the next paddy. With the remaining soil and water it is a heavy load.

Halfway – well done Yuan.

Bingo!

Gaun’s photo moment.

With enough rice bundles stage two is to then plant them out. Just Gaun and Yaun working.

An idea of the work involved. Sticky rice in the front and steamed in the paddy at the back. This is a new paddy created by filling in a small dam using soil excavated from the pond extension.

Back-breaking work.

Almost there. Another three fields to do.

These sisters are best mates and it shows.

Gaun’s older brother Jun’s wife and granddaughter came over to view progress.

Checking out earlier photos on Gaun’s camera. I posted this mainly because the small girl’s mum is away with her hubbie working in Chon Buri, South Thailand, and may not see her daughter for some time. She’s a FB friend so might see this photo.

A beautiful Isaan sunset finished the day.

Thanks for reading. Please leave a comment if you have enjoyed this post.; It is the only payment I ask for 🙂

Tony