I am going to be including the following standard introduction to these posts for those people who come across them for the first time as it gives some background as to why they read the way they do. For regular readers (a huge thank you to you all) you can skip this bit and get stuck into the new happenings. Well actually they are a bit of a catch-up so not that new but as of this week with three months off doing anything physical after some minor surgery they will become newer the more bored I get with being inside 🙂

Introduction

My posts “Living in Isaan” 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. 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 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 a few days early in December 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.

3 December 2017 – Chinese Festival in Udon Thani cont’

We dropped into the Chinese festival in Udon Thani last Friday and here are a few photos from the event. We missed a street procession due to misinformation, which happened at 9:00 am but purely by chance picked up another one happening later. It was really two separate processions with a small Chinese element happening in one area while the larger Thai contribution flowed around them. I will separate the photos into these two categories across two posts. This is obviously the Chinese action.

I only add this photo to make a comment about the difficulty of capturing decent photos at urban events like this.

You can have the most beautiful elements but then the background is 100% butt ugly, like this example. It is why I end up with a lot of close up’s rather than any wide angle photos because Thai cityscapes are universally distracting for all the wrong reasons.

However, I love crowd scenes (no background) like this because of the variety of faces, the colours and the characters.

This was a very long-tailed dragon with a large support team. He was alone and I know there are many more of his mates around so maybe they made an appearance earlier this morning.

I thought this was some sort of Chinese acrobatic exhibition.

But it ended up being a way to get the dragon to the top of this pole.

A bit of fire from the dragon in celebration of the climb.

There was then this fight between presumably the hero and the dragon. This photo doesn’t look much until you see the next one………

That’s quite a height. The bamboo pole was swung in by a team of people holding onto the bottom before being swung back and being laid almost horizontal to the right-hand side. Sooner this little bloke than me.

Face painting as part of a dance troupe.

 

Maybe a reader knows the tradition behind this scene of a lady sitting in a lotus flower. Update 12 Mar 2018: A reader has kindly identified this lady as Mae Kuan Im, or Goddess of Mercy. More information can be found HERE.

One of the only Chinese themed mobile floats.

Mae Kuan Im.

More dragon heads but not in full action.

Great colours. The music however…….an acquired taste. I prefer Isaan traditional dance music.

Chinese music seems to involve a lot of crashing and drumming type noises. This is a crasher!

And last photo. This girl was drumming for one of the music groups and is she enjoying the experience? Maybe 🙂

The second part of the festival involved various towns within the province of Udon Thani who had contributed floats and dance groups. I am an addict for Isaan dancing, the costumes and I have to admit the beautiful ladies involved. Always so graceful and stunning in their outfits, which are created for each individual event.

These are school army cadets.

Blue is the birth-day colour of the Thai Queen. Every day in Thailand has a colour and blue represents Monday. Each royal has their own coloured flags depending on the day they were born.

A more traditional display.

Note all the vegetables decorating this float. I only really added this photo because the guy with the stick is there to lift wires running across the street out of the way if they are too low.

A sort of Fred Flintstone float.

Another beautiful display of flowers and vegetables. Can you spot the long beans? That arrangement behind the lady on the far left is handmade mostly from banana leaves.

A closer view. See all the individual beans and corn that has been glued to the display. I love the sweet corn.

This snake/dragon at the front of this float has been contributed by the area around Wat Kham Chanot to the south of Udon. The temple is based on a mythical naga or snake. My original post on this temple HERE:

Another amazing handmade display.

The new king of Thailand (Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun) picture was the only royal presence. The last festival I went to was mainly the previous king’s photos so things are changing.

This photo is just to give you an idea of the size of some of these dance groups. I suspect this must have been Udon Thani city’s contribution because it was huge. The video below is of this group dancing.

Most of the following photos are a tribute to Thai beauty and costume skills.

The number of young girls with braces is astounding. For a society where unskilled labour earns 300 baht a day – braces at 40,000 baht (A$1,600), although cheap by our standards is a whopping amount yet they are everywhere.

A great Thai smile. Most westerners I meet in Isaan look as though they have just had a death in the family. My advice is if you are as unhappy as you look – GO HOME.

The girls even look beautiful as they walk away. Those hairstyles are done in 15 minutes. I know because when I married Gaun the wedding party (ladies only!) had theirs done. What western hairdressers get up to is a mystery.

Gaun and Peng at our wedding. That hair was done in a flash.

A pose for the camera.

One of the dancers from Wat Kham Chanot – did you spot the naga (snake) on her costume?

Beauty and grace in action.

Another dance group had a fishing theme. These are fish baskets.

And these were her fellow dancers. Don’t you just wish this scene was set next to a beautiful lake? Oh well.

Lovely.

And more. I know I am biased towards taking photos of the ladies but the dancers were all women (true!).

This photo is SO Thai. Here we have a formal procession and the lady centre is texting (if Thais could have phones embedded in them they would) and the guy on the left is trying to sell a lottery ticket to the lady under the pink umbrella! The bi-monthly lottery is the other religion in Thailand.

Well not ALL. This is a ladyboy but she is only there to look good and tweet, not dance and ruin the makeup!

Behind every dance group came the music of course. Never subtle.

And each dance group had a support team of a pickup with cold water in an ice chest and people handing it out plus an ambulance and medical team.

Attached to the Chinese festival are large markets based around the Chinese temple and Udon City Shrine close to the main lake inside the city. We go mainly because they have excellent plant stalls around the parameter but if you are into all the usual market offerings then this one is better than many. There’s a funfair too but if you have the same suspicion that I do of the Thais ability to maintain things that spin very fast and go upside down then maybe give that a miss. For locals reading the markets are on 1 – 12 December each year.

The Udon city shrine.

We focussed in on this orchid stall. A$2.00 each or five for A$8.00.

And on the left of the shrine this Chinese temple.

Entrepreneurship Thai style. Lay mats on sidewalk, a few tables and cushions and your restaurant is open for business.

Plant stalls down one side of the street.

The road is still open to traffic so whenever you leave a stall you need to check for traffic otherwise you die 🙂 If you see the line down the middle of the road the cars on the left are super close to the stalls! In Australia, the road would be closed but here you behave as an adult and take care.

Photos of the optimistic outcome of buying the plant. Mostly to do with eating of course but there is some display greenery in there as well.

Pure Thai – they love this sort of stuff – bright and themed for children – a bit like their TV.

You will pay big money (by my retired standards) for the larger versions but the small ones are cheap. Slow to grow,

The cure for cancer is here somewhere. These stalls always have everything written in Thai so I never have any idea what these roots and bulbs are and what they are claimed to cure.I think you mostly make teas from them but stand to be corrected.

Every market has these crockery stalls. There was a guy out the front washing bowls and that looked like a lifetime job.

A few of our purchase in that pot next to the koi pond in our garden.

Gaun’s world famous hat fits in well.

I love all the variety of colours. I want to use a lot of these sort of plants once we start to landscape our new land in the village (previous post). At 150 baht each (A$6.00) these are expensive but are easy to take cuttings from once established.

These plants are cheap by western standards but you can still end up spending heaps because it is all so tempting.

Are orchids the most beautiful plants? Maybe.

The lady running the stall on the right offered Gaun a discount if she could “hug a farang”. Well, I wasn’t complaining!!!!!!!!! She’s young, single, nice looking and hanging out for an ancient farang like me. Be quick 🙂

3 Dec 2017 – Back on the Farm

Leaving the Chinese festival behind Isaan Grace, my luxury yacht on the farm pond has developed a leak in one of the high tech floatation devices (barrels) that resulted in it sinking slightly in one corner. With friends due to visit for New Year today was the day to fix the problem.

You can see the lean from right to left. What we needed to do was get that barrel out, empty and reseal it. The trouble is that the raft is very heavy and the barrels are built into a frame that holds them in place.

A friend of ours suggested we use an inner tyre to inflate under the raft and thereby lift the frame high enough to get the barrel out. Here Gaun is using the inner tyre to do things other than its engineering purpose. There’s a fun-loving child in many Thais thank goodness.

Yes Gaun very nice but I need that tyre under the raft.

Gaun and Lud working to get the tyre in place.

We actually managed to get the barrel out using the muscle power of a few people so the tyre wasn’t needed. Isaan Grace is now more level although not 100%. In true Isaan style that’s good enough! The inner tyre will be used for fishing 🙂

5 Dec 2017 – Starting Christmas

Peng had a day off school today, as it was the previous king’s birthday, and the pressure was on to get the Christmas tree up 🙂 Although Christmas is a bit hit and miss (mostly miss) in Thailand it is a recognised festival and you will come across things like trees, decorations and very unfortunately Christmas music in some shops. This is a sort of friends and family post so for those who aren’t into that, you can give it a miss.

Every year Peng’s vast collection of stuffed toys makes the trip from mama’s house to our home. It’s a pick-up job.

I love the marketing you see on pick-ups (utes) with them ploughing through rivers, over rocks, wheel-deep in mud and carrying loads of building equipment. The reality is that 99% of them are used like mine – just every day on road transport and this load is about as stretched as it will ever get 🙂

Yup. This is what I’m doing with the Nissan when not transporting stuffed toys!

My family.

Canned coloured string. Last year most of it went on Peng and Guan and not too much hit the tree!

Peng without braces – a happy girl.

Over the top? No way – I think there’s room for more.

Spot the wife.

Tucked away are a rather decrepit rabbit and a better-looking teddy bear given to me when I was born, which makes them not very old at all. I have never been able to dump them as they have outlasted the only other two people who knew me back then 🙂

I wouldn’t be in Thailand if not for this lady. Forever grateful. My Christmas gift every day!

Ah.

Ah 2.

Moving away from home for a moment this is a tree we came across in UD Town in Udon Thani. Of course, the Thais love things like this because it provides endless selfie photo opportunities.

UD Town is recommended if you ever find yourself in Udon. Next to the train station.

And pretty good at night too.

7 Dec 2017 – A mix of stories today with a farming bias

If you’re not into that then see you tomorrow! The first “winter” vegetables were taken to the market today, a payback for all the hard work that’s gone into getting them this far. They will keep on producing over the next few weeks, which will allow Yuan and cash in on the New Year rush.

Having spent my life only buying vegetables from a supermarket I still get excited about photos like these. Harvested before sunrise and ready to go the market by 9:00 am.

The early stages of the lettuce as shown in the previous photo. They are planted as seed and then have to be thinned otherwise you only get very small plants. It’s a job that takes days as Yuan and Lud have many rows like this.

Lud with Thai celery.

This is a kilo and sells at the market for 60 baht (A$2.40). It is amazing how much pride Yuan and Lud have in their product, which is reflected by the number of customers who will only buy from them and not the many alternative farmers out there. I think that pride is also reflected in Lud’s face and the fact he wanted me to take this photo. How many of us can say that we have this level of satisfaction in what we do for a living?????? Some but not many. Note Lud’s hands. They are like shovels after over 20 years of working the soil.

Three lettuce bundles to be sold for 20 baht (A$0.80).

Yesterday’s crop.

Cool season broccoli making an appearance.

And cauliflowers too. I am booking a cauliflower for tomorrow to be cooked with a farang white cheese sauce. Yum.

For those of you excitedly following the progress of my Australian garlic (only joking) the three thicker sprouts right at the very front of a sea of Thai garlic are mine! These three sprouts represent about 50% of my potential crop this year 🙂

There were three cows feeding off the paddy field grass on the farm yesterday.

Speaking to the farmer via Gaun it was interesting (probably only to me) that they don’t have them to sell directly for meat. Every Tuesday there is a local cow market and he will take one or two of his along and see if he can sell them for a higher price than he paid. If he does then he looks out for a replacement on the basis that he can sell it for profit at some stage. It’s like share market day trading! Short term turnover equalling a longer-term overall profit. This cow will sell for 45,000 baht (A$1,800).

He and more often his wife will spend all day watching the cows feed and making sure they don’t get into the sugar. I have also had jobs like that!

The farm will shortly turn into a split of lush and dry, dusty brown. Gaun’s flowers are thriving in the cool season like this………

…….and then out the back, the view over cleared paddy fields looks like this.

The sugar in the background will be harvested January and then rather than a typical Thailand tropical landscape, it looks a lot like Australia countryside in summer. With no rain, until April/May, there’s not a lot of greenness around.Once New Year is out of the way Yuan and Lud wind back on growing vegetables before gearing up again for Songkran in April (Thai New Year).

Looking OK today though.

You might remember a post where I told you about the government land plots given to people who didn’t have land of their own. Water has now been provided and the plots laid out and villagers are hard at work getting the soil prepared and vegetables in.
Yuan is amazed at how slow they work! She told Gaun that she and Lud would have the rows in one of these plots all finished in a couple of days, yet the “amateurs” are taking ages 🙂

Yuan also had a comment about these salas (huts). She said that if they started work at 2:00 am like her and Lud they wouldn’t need protection from the sun!!!! The professional’s views on others are the same the world over.

I also wrote in a previous post on some of the types of plants I wanted to plant on our new land next door.

We had been to a big market in Udon Thani where these pots were selling for 150 baht (A$6.00), which I thought was expensive. Yesterday driving back from Nong Bua Lamphu we passed a mobile stall attached to a motorbike selling exactly what I wanted so we pulled him over to the side of the road. We cleared him out and at three for 100 baht (A$1.40) each, I was happy. It is this sort of spontaneous occasions that make Thailand so more interesting than back “home” – cheaper too.

8 Dec 2017 – Join us as we wander through the local markets

We picked Peng up from school this afternoon and being a Friday the local Si Bun Ruang markets were in full swing on the way home so we called in. I have posted market stories before, as does everyone who visits Thailand, but today I thought I would take you along on a wander through the aisles and point out the variety of offerings.

You’d never guess that markets were on, would you?

These weekly markets are an afternoon, early evening affair so it is all very temporary. This is just a vacant field other than on Friday afternoons. A disaster in the wet season for farang like me who hate getting their feet muddy. No problem for Isaan people.

The markets are split into two areas. The majority of stalls are based on food (unsurprisingly in Thailand) one option being raw produce and the other cooked takeaway. The rest is a mix of clothes, phone accessories, cheap jewelry and accessories, shoes, plastics/cookware and usually a tool shop like this one.

You won’t find any high-class clothing in this environment. The offerings match the customer base a lot of whom are schoolkids having a look around with their mates. It is hard to spend more than 200 baht on a clothing item (A$8.00).

Be careful because you will also come across stalls like this one where all the clothing is second hand. You will find second-hand shoe stalls too at some markets.

Thai bedding is never subtle. They have an almost childlike quality to some aspects of their lives. I wanted white sheets and a matching doona/quilt for my bedding and it was a real hassle to find. Spending the night with Bambi just wasn’t part of my retirement plans.

Ah…..teenage clothes. How sweet. I think that parents reading who have survived teenagers will relate to the “I hate everyone” t-shirt. Most of the clothing has a very Chinese take on an American theme.

Girl and clothes.

These items are usually very reasonable but a bit hard to pack if heading home from holidays.

However, do you see the hammocks behind the lady? A$4.00 will get you one and they are light and easy to pack. Make sure you hang them high because once a heavy farang gets in one they stretch and you find yourself sitting on the ground.

The start of the edible part of the post – wall to wall food.

Seafood is never a problem to source even though we’re 600 km from the sea. Much of it must be farm grown I am guessing. Prawns, crabs and squid. Prices per kilo. 140 baht is about A$5.60.

Grapes aren’t what you expect to see in Thailand but they are grown locally and turned into the worst approximation of wine I have ever tried. You can ask to taste-test items like this before you buy.

The presentation leaves a little to be desired but the prices won’t wreck the budget. Even if you are just coming to Thailand for a holiday make sure you have a pair of shoes like this – slip on and off. You are constantly taking shoes on and off and it is a total pain if you have laces or even velcro.

The space for each stall is rented for the day so some people have put up simple shelters. Many of the people here are selling produce grown in the garden for a little extra income, like this yai (grandmother). They are mixed in with professional farmers like Yuan and Lud.

How people make money on growing and selling some things is a mystery.

These spring onions are selling for 20 baht a kilo A$0.80). In Australia, you’d be paying that per stalk! They will be hoping to sell this sort of bulk quantities to other stall holders who will divide it into small bundles and usually aim for a 100% profit margin. It is most likely that these particular onions were sourced from the big wholesale markets in Udon Thani. Small utilities/pickups load up with produce and then do a sweep around the local markets in the district. The problem with then buying this product is that it wasn’t in the ground this morning like the vegetables grown by the family.

Tomatoes are sold very unripe and are used in papaya salads (som tum) to add extra sourness via the juice.

The flesh isn’t normally eaten and ends up being thrown away. A sample recipe link HERE but for Issan people, it isn’t two individual chillies as stated but two handfuls of chillies.

Duck eggs. We bought one layer (30 eggs) for 120 baht (A$4.80).

Sam if you are reading you will like the price of those chillies @ $0.40 for a bag. The cucumber at 20 baht is good value too.

A$0.20 for a hand.

Yuan is very happy because she has nearly sold out and it’s only 5:00 pm. Spot Peng with her cousin Puk.

Yuan doesn’t normally come to these markets but sells wholesale. Today she felt that she wanted to get full value from her broccoli and cauliflowers (she makes double the profit if she sells direct) and has been rewarded with good sales. Cauliflowers for 60 baht a kilo and broccoli 50 baht a kilo.

Banana leaves pre-packed. These are used in all sorts of ways in Isaan from wrapping things up to boil or steam cook, to an alternative for plates, general presentation for just about anything and building Krathong – a formal display used in weddings, funerals and anything Buddhist.

Rice at 25 baht a kilo. Steamed rice at the front and sticky rice at the back.

Ant eggs. They come from the large orange coloured ants you see everywhere in Isaan certainly. They love mango trees for some reason with or without fruit. The orange coloured bits in the photo are dead ants, which you can leave in the soup to give extra flavour!

Umbrellas are a part of the landscape. Added colour wherever you go.

Sour sausage freshly BBQ’ed. I love them so give them a try. They usually come with a sweet and sour dipping sauce, raw cabbage, fresh ginger and a few chillies to cleanse the palate :-).

A choice of cooked noodles.

All the ingredients for an Isaan buffet. These are sort of DIY BBQs using small charcoal burners. Remember this is Friday so the end of the working week for school kids and many office workers.Thais do the easy takeaways end of the working week like we do.

More choice.

My advice is to give strawberries a miss. Even if they look good, which these don’t then they are mostly picked early and are hard and sour. Not a problem for Thais as they enjoy sour tastes. Thais like certain types of mangos that never ripen the way we’re familiar with and are eaten sour with dried chilli and sugar dipping.

Pineapple in season now. Beautiful. 20 baht a pack or three for 50 baht.

If you’ve been to Thailand this is a sight you will have seen wherever there’s street food. Salt crusted fish cooked over coals. 100 baht (A$4.00) per fish.

More insects. Not on my menu.

Puffed sticky rice cakes with a sweet sauce. 20 baht a pack.

Dried fish. Expensive by local market standards. A treat.

A raw vegetable/fruit stall. She even had beetroot mixed in there, which is a first that I have seen as Thais don’t use it.

What would you pay for a clump of asparagus like this back home? A$1.20 here.

Jelly sort of desserts in a coconut milk sauce. Very sweet and the jelly bits taste of nothing. They’re not bad though and cheap. You normally add ice to them before eating to cool them down.

Choose the ingredient and they will make a crushed ice smoothie for you. 20 baht.

More cucumber at 20 baht a kilo.

Peng choosing takeaway. 30 baht gets you a meal.

The sausage queen. Mix your own selection.

Although this is supposed to be the cool season, in reality, it isn’t and most days are in the low 30’s. However, this mum has bought the cool weather gear and baby is going to wear it whatever the temperature 🙂 A sweet photo.

Thanks for reading and please take the time to leave a comment. I always enjoy the chance to hear from you and know there’s someone on the other end of these words! There is a security question to answer before you can leave a comment. Don’t be put off. You wouldn’t believe some of the automated rubbish that gets onto blogs if you don’t filter them with something like this.

Tony

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