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 late December 2017 to early 2018. 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.

25 Dec 2017 – Flowers

One of the joys of Thailand is being able to pick up beautiful cut flowers for not much. We have friends arriving tomorrow to stay for a few days so it was an excuse to get in some orchids. A five star look on a 1 star budget.

These small orchid bunches are sold as offerings to temples at 10 baht each or A$0.40. I prefer sharing them with Buddha so we both get to enjoy them. Three bunches in this bedside vase.

Even small displays of flowers lift the room. Our guest bedroom.

And larger orchid bunches in the dining area. Prices range according to season. We have bought these large bunches for 70 baht (one white and one purple) but yesterday 130 baht or around A$5.00.

And these beautiful flowers sourced from someone in the village that grows them at the back of their garden – 100 baht or $4.00 for this display. This pot will be moved back inside tomorrow.

25 Dec 2017 – Christmas

Peng arrived home from school (business as usual here – school and most shops are open) and the ladies were in Christmas dress-up mode. Some of the family came over early evening for a quick drink to mark the day. As all of them are up shortly after midnight harvesting vegetables for the New Year rush so making a party of the evening wasn’t an option. Come my birthday party on the 27th – now that will be a different story (I hope).

Gaun and Peng.

Peng in pixi mode.

That large box at the front is Peng’s birthday present to me. I suspect it may not be all that it looks.

Gaun, Peng, Yuan, Tham (brother-in-law to Gaun), Lud and yours truly. In case you hadn’t guessed it is a cool evening here.

26 Dec 2017 – My Birthday Party

Firstly a huge thank you to all of you who wrote to wish me a happy birthday via Facebook. Although my official birthday was on the 26th we celebrated the event yesterday with an Isaan buffet last night organised by Gaun and Yuan. It ended up being a big event with family, local friends and neighbours and a few village elders.

The delight was that there were no unwanted party goers – people invited to make up numbers. These are folk I see around the village and know by face if not name. Ming, who built our house, Nop, handyman extraordinaire and the supplier of our limes, Bun and Jan the two ladies who sold us both our blocks of land, Nit Noy, a terrifying but awesomely good Thai massage therapist, Noi, the village elder who acted in place of my mother for my wedding ceremony with Gaun nearly four years ago and so it goes.

A special treat was that two Aussie friends from Hong Kong were able to join us, which is why it ended up being put back a day.

A huge amount of food, drink and music so I certainly enjoyed it and am pretty sure everyone else did too. I think these photos prove that.

Gaun had decorated the carport for the occasion.

Lots of guests so three cakes bought for Mr Tony.

Gaun wanted to know if I wanted 62 individual candles. I gave up that general concept as a depressing idea decades ago!

The beginning of that wonderful Thai ceremony where guests tie string onto the wrists of the main players for good luck. The lady on the far left is Noi, my surrogate mama in Thailand. She also gave all three of us those pieces of cloth that she had weaved herself.

A small bunch of roses from Gaun!

Peng’s Christmas present from me.

And my birthday present from Peng.

All the family bought me presents and some of the guests gave me money. As Thais don’t normally make a big thing of birthdays (Gaun didn’t even know what her family’s birth dates were before I arrived on the scene) it is touching that they make the effort to fit in with strange farang customs.

I am now the proud owner of a large bright green turtle!! There is a story behind this.

When I designed my house the draftsman called it a turtle house because it was single storey and sat on the ground where most Thai houses are raised up a few steps. The label stuck and you will come across a few turtles as you wander the garden. None quite like this one. Thanks Peng.

An Isaan buffet is various meats and fish cooked on these charcoal heated BBQs.

The meats are cooked on the raised section while things like vegetables, noodles and prawns are boiled in a broth that sits in that moat area around the rim. The juices from the meat run down and creates a beautiful soup at the end. This version is sitting on a table for the benefit of us ancient farang.

The full party. A very happy group with tons of food and drink on hand.

A toast to the birthday boy.

This group up the front were the troublemakers (spot Gaun). Once the music got going they were up dancing and playing up. All of them on whisky except Gaun who stuck with beer.

My thanks go to Gaun, Lud and Yuan for organising and paying for the entire event. Yuan and Lud even took the day off at the busiest money making time of the year to help with shopping and cooking. Gaun used her own money raised from a little income from last year’s sugar crop – not money provided by me. As always the kindness of my Isaan family is slightly overwhelming. A busy social time leading up to New Year so there’s no let-down post birthday. Happy days.

29 Dec 2017 – A Mix

A mixed day of photos. I hope you enjoy them.

With Isaan filling up as people return home for New Year the farm is fratic trying to keep up with the demand for vegetables.

Gaun has been out helping Yuan, Lud and their son Game starting 2:00 am all of them working in the dark with miner’s lights. Several huge loads like this one are being harvested, packed and delivered to market every day. The family are like walking zombies but in good spirits as the money flows in.

The devastation of harvested crops in the background. Yuan washing cabbage here.

We have friends staying and Lud still had the energy to pose for an Isaan farming photo!

One of our friends helping deliver vegetables at the market to the huge amusement of the locals. Yuan thanked us all for our hard work, which considering we had contributed 30 minutes of light exercise to their 16 + hour working day was a little generous.

And this is my hard work.

A wall of fresh lettuce.

On its way to happy, hungry customers.

A lady at the chemist was helping to decorate the store for New Year and wanted a photo taken. Happy to oblige. Never be shy in asking a Thai for their photo!

I spotted this house for the first time today and had to stop for a closer look.

I haven’t seen a traditional village timber house being upgraded in such a practical way before. All they have done is concreted underneath, added a large covered deck to the old structure and It looks as if new cladding is going over the old. Hasn’t it been transformed even at this stage? As these old houses can be bought from 50,000 baht (A$2,000) and these extensions aren’t complex you could well end up with a modern looking place for not much. I will report back on progress.

I only share this photo because I am on the hunt for one or two of these as a feature in the new garden we will create next door.

These are old concrete rainwater pots used in the day when there was no running water. Some are still used as originally intended but many are just sitting around. $20.00 will get me one. There are people who specialise in moving them and I (Gaun) will flag them down next time we spot them in the village.

We took our friends to a most unusual village wat being constructed near to our home.

I have covered it before so won’t bore you but this photo captured the essence of why this is outside the norm. That’s not bare concrete but pebblecrete (small pebbles). Google Maps HERE:

And speaking of outside the norm this almost completed village house would look more at home in a western suburb than here.

The guy on the left talking to Gaun is a structural engineer and the builder and he has constructed this for his mum!!! I am not sure what she would make of it as she was probably living in one of those old timber houses that I showed you earlier!

At my birthday party we had bought a present for this young girl, which stayed by her side the entire evening.

She is the daughter of a single dad, who is a friend and neighbour of Gaun, currently working in Taiwan. She is being looked after by family but is a very shy person in a group of very outgoing kids. Gaun wanted to buy her something for New Year as she tends to be the quiet girl in the background and people don’t notice her much. I am sure she had never been given a formal present like this one before and she was treating it like gold on the night.

And today the fairy princess emerged. She’s certainly noticed now Brilliant.

31 Dec 2017 – Travelling the Backroads

We spent a half day on local backroads with friends from Australia. Our plans included visiting two wats that I have covered here before and along the way we came across a couple of other finds that will be included in my list of “things to do with visitors”. A perfect day to take some photos of the moments of quite spectacular scenery hidden away off the main roads.

I’m not going to include specific location details as the vast majority of you wouldn’t be interested but if there are any locals who want to know please get in touch and I will give you GPS coords.

Sugar cane backed by low but rugged outcrops.

An interesting looking road leading into the hills with a wat at the end proved too tempting to pass. Most disappoint but sometimes you find a gem.

Not quite a gem but a clean temple in the Thai forest wat tradition, which means they are set in trees and constructed mostly from timber.

Simplicity and open structures are always the main theme.

However the big bonus here was a super friendly and well look after dog who was so delighted to see us. Most dogs in Isaan are mangy and dirty but this temple version was the total opposite.

When we left he wanted to get in the truck with us! Probably had enough of temple life and wanted to see the bright lights. The monk made an appearance but he was far less friendly than the dog!
I have no idea what this temple is called officially, as it isn’t on Google Maps, but the “Dog Wat” will be on the list for future road trips.

After passing through some hills and valleys the road opened out to this. Not too shabby.

Another side trip took us to an unremarkable wat but I liked this shot of wild grasses on the edge of the temple pond.

In June (last year!) we visited this wat and I took a photo of this construction.

Well nothing’s changed on the building side but if you want to risk the stairs it does provide a good view over the completed part of this complex. Who knows why it is here and on both occasions we have been here is has been almost deserted of monk or anyone else.

Wild bamboo growing at the back of that uncompleted structure.

The centre court and this is as busy as it gets! Gaun checking her photos under a tree. Poor Gaun. I rush around taking photos wherever I go and she patiently waits for me to reappear. For Thais if you aren’t taking a selfie or a photo with friends/family in it you are totally wasting your time.

Another second visit temple. This looks like just as outcrop of rock in fields but if you climb to the top you get great views of the surrounding countryside.

There are also some terrific caves hidden away behind that large blue door but the monk was away today and we couldn’t get in. I have his phone number now!

At the top of those steps was this bike. Extreme mountain bike riding?

Gaun and sugar cane.

Dad likes to get his sugar crop harvested well before the rest of the family

Driving back one of my friends spotted a large Buddha statue on a hill and with a bit of detective work we found the super steep, narrow dirt road that led to the top. Not recommended for small cars and definitely not in the wet season when you’d need a 4 wheel drive to get there. The alternative option is to leave the car at the bottom and walk these steps! Good luck with that. This photo taken halfway up.

And here’s the reason you might want to make the trip.

I love these characterful hills and of course we aren’t fully into the dry season so there is still a lot of greenery around.

Wow.

The big Buddha at the top. He has just had his “opening” ceremony so is brand new.

From where we live you have no idea that this sort of landscape is 30 minutes away.

Last one.

Back on the farm at the end of the day Gaun was teasing Peng who was helping to pick celery for Yuan and Lud. Tomorrow is their (and Gaun’s) last 2:00 am start for New Year. They can wind down a bit as everyone heads back to work and the food markets return to normal.

Yuan had an order for 50 kilos of celery. Left to Peng this order would have been filled just in time for New Year 2018 The spirit was willing though. Thanks Peng.

I took this one just because I liked the combination of farmhouse and sky. A great day to finish up 2017. More to come next year. Thanks for reading.

1 Jan 2018 – Peng’s present

The mystery of Peng’s Christmas gift is finally over and I can share with the world.

For some reason Peng decided that her Christmas gift from me could only be opened once friends staying with us from Hong Kong had left. We arrived back from dropping them off at Udon airport and shortly after Peng arrived

Think teenage girl and then think mirror! That was my logic and it seems to have paid off

As it already takes Peng an hour to arrange her hair, makeup and clothes to even start exercise on the treadmill I suspect we have added extra non-jogging time to the whole routine.

The location on our new land is a little lacking in character but the New Zealand Sav Blanc wine kindly brought by our friends (thank you Andy and Gina) made up for it. Peng having been moved out of her room while they stayed is keen to return to her luxury accommodation after living in the family home the last few days!

Don’t worry about underage drinking. There’s no way I am sharing precious decent wine with locals

2 Jan 2018 – Waterpots and More

The large water pots have been bought for the new garden as well as lots of plants and we celebrated the end of the New Year farm produce rush and also Lud’s birthday (yesterday).

These two pots will be moved to the new garden area and stained a weathered brick red. 500 baht for both (A$20.00). The expensive bit will be getting them professionally moved – maybe around the same amount each.

A beautiful snake caught up in netting at the farm this morning. Most Thai snakes are harmless to humans.

Some of our new plants and 10 cubic metres of gravel to lay out the paths

The draft layout of the paths starting to take shape. One of those large pots will go in the middle of that circle.

Another Isaan buffet this evening to celebrate the end of the busy but lucrative New Year farm sales. It was also Lud’s birthday yesterday so a dual purpose.

Yuan and Lud.

My contribution to the birthday.

4 Jan 2018 – A Photo Milestone

Big party at my place for the 1 million – all invited

17 Jan 2018 – Visiting Lud’s Mum

Yesterday we had a family road trip south of Khon Kaen to a small very rural moo ban (village) to see Lud’s mum. As it was one of Thailand’s many holidays (Teacher day in this case) Peng joined us as well as Yuan of course so we had a full car.

Part of the formalities of such a visit is the exchange of gifts so the pick-up was loaded with two sacks of rice, cauliflowers, cabbages and heaps of other farm contributions. Yuan was also very worried about the basic conditions at mama’s house for a sensitive farang (which I’m not by the way) so chairs, a table, precooked food, water and ice were also packed for my comfort  Am I spoiled – not at all!

We were eight hours on the road for a less than three hour visit but Lud seemed to be very happy with it all (Yuan was doing her dutiful wife thing more than having it on her to-do list). I always enjoy a day with my family, who chat, laugh, comment on other people’s farms, eat and generally have a good time on the trip. In typical generosity Yuan paid for the fuel (which will be returned in another form when I get the chance) and is bringing beer over this evening as a thank you. The trip also gives me a chance to see a little more of Thailand and I will share some of those images with you here.

My family’s gifts to Lud’s family.

Maybe buying a pick-up was a good idea. Everything loaded up. — with รอนะ. เจ้าควานฝัน.

Peng with her gran, the latter rarely seen with shoes! — with รอนะ. เจ้าควานฝัน.

Doing it tough in the wilds of Thailand. A cool 15 degrees when we left at 7:00 am and Gaun had six layers of clothing on! The day warmed to a perfect 30, which required shade but very comfortable. — with รอนะ. เจ้าควานฝัน.

While the Thais did their family thing I went for a wander around the streets. This is a very basic village and I would guess still mostly rural in its activities.

Our moo ban in Si Bun Ruang also has a strong farming base but there are a lot of people who work in business and government as well. There is more money in the community as a result and we are moving slowly away from this sort of traditional house to modern (ugly) concrete alternatives.

Some very basic structures in this village but the mortgage is low and home is home.

I really like these sort of Australian outback buildings with their use of natural timber and rusted iron. Full of character and each one is individual. You can’t pre-order rust like that from your local DIY. Note the TV satellite dish. They’ve probably got a large curved screen TV in there

I know that I wouldn’t want to live in one and that a concrete replacement is far more practical but I won’t be taking photos of the latter. Isaan villages will lose a lot of their character in time but I do understand that the desires of a farang to take photos for Facebook and blog may not be a big motivator for their retention!

The temple here was an old timber structure reflecting the limited income levels of the locals. It was either being renovated or demolished – could go either way

The corner of the temple building. Timber cladding, wooden shutters and the concrete water pots (still waiting for someone to move mine into place) are still to be found thank goodness.

The reason Isaan rural houses are on stilts are nothing to do with western concepts of ventilation for the heat.

Back in the day buffalo were the tractor power for farms (Gaun’s mama had 16) they lived under the houses plus any other livestock. I have never seen this actively happening in the more “modern” moo bans but here this stick fence showed that it is still a go’er in more remote places. Could be cows or buffalo.

This reminded me of older Australian beach “shacks” I am familiar with on the south coast. I like the mix of tin roof, the windows (the same as I put into my garden wall for regular readers) and the slatted enclosed veranda. It’s a pretty modern look for an older house.

Lud’s mum has a weaving loom set up in a hut on the edge of her 5 rai (1 rai = 1,600 mtr sq) of rice land. When we left she gave all of us lengths of cloth she had woven as gifts. The one she gave me was made from silk and is beautiful. Such a generous gift from someone who has very little.

Not a bad location (an edited HDR shot for any photographers out there).

If you come to the north east of Thailand (Isaan) expecting lush green this time of year then you’ll be disappointed. Many treed areas are deciduous so trees are bare (rubber trees loses leave in the dry season), rice has been harvested (although there are some second plantings happening in areas with water) and the sugar is in the process of being cut. It is a dry, brown dusty landscape on the whole.

Yuan inspecting some sort of potato seeds being given for planting on her farm. I am not sure that will happen but a gift is not to be refused.

These two girls joined us for the afternoon. Kids play is the same the world over. Some sort of slapping hands and singing game in action here. Cheap entertainment and nice to see that there’s no phone involved. When Thais are born they come with phone attached and an app so that both mum and baby can rate the birthing experience

Beer for the passengers. A big disadvantage being the driver who would have loved a few.

And to finish up the traditional and lovely Thai ceremony of tying good luck strings on the wrists of key people.

A great moment captured. Lud’s mum.

Despite seven hours driving the call of a new wat building got us off track for a short break. As always the main puzzle is how such a structure is funded stuck out in the countryside. A small but decent structure. Peng in stretching mode.

It is always a pleasure to see a break from the more traditional red, white and gold temples you see everywhere.

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

Tony