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 I am on a mission to catch up so although the timeline is a bit out of date the material is still relevant sharing what life looks like here.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

Introduction

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 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.

23 Jan 2018 – Peng’s First School Trip

Having published stories more recently mostly for gardening enthusiasts, this one is only for those of you who take an interest in Peng’s progress post-operation, which you can read about HERE.

Gaun got a telephone call today from her teacher (very unusual) and as always I had to wait until it was over to hear if good or bad news. Up to this point Peng has never been able to go on a school excursion with her classmates because of her mobility restrictions. This time her class is off for a couple of days heading beyond Korat (south) and the teacher phoned Gaun to ask if Peng could come along as her walking ability had improved so much.

In one of those moments that give you hope for humanity she as well as Peng’s friends gave a commitment to look after her and make sure she was OK. When Gaun agreed evidently there was a big cheers from the background as Peng’s friends were listening in to the call. One very happy Thai girl. It’s often not the big things in life that give me the most enjoyment.

This is an older photo of Peng and mum and one of my favourites.

We went to pick Peng up at her school after they arrived back. I was so jealous because the school had hired five of these incredible buses for the two days. They are basically set up as party buses with large screen TVs, karaoke, blasting music and wild lighting. They are pretty splendid in daylight but they come into their own at night.When I win the lottery I am getting one of these just to park in the driveway for parties.

Driver distraction? No way.

Does any other country come up with buses like this? Note the speakers built into the front.

Very tasteful and restrained.

The VIP buses, which this isn’t, can have video screen built into the headrests and massaging seats.

I posted a YouTube video of one of the buses in musical actin and you can see it here:

And leaving buses aside it does look as if the girl had a good time 🙂 Peng in the centre with two friends.

Wat Ban Rai in Nakhon Ratchasima (Korat) province.

24 Jan 2018 – Coffee at the Farm

I will keep to my garden-free updates as promised (for now) and instead invite you to join me at the farm for coffee! It is nice to be feeling well enough after a brief flu attack to get back into my regular schedule of catching up with Yaun and Lud to check out what’s-a-planting. A mix of photos each with a story.

I posted this photo late last year. It is of an area on the way to the farm that has been set aside for 60 small plots of land for villagers without access to land to grown some crops.

In a short space of time most of the plots are in use and the vegetables well underway. Great to see.

We’re at the farm now.

You might be thinking strawberries but these will be long beans. This is a crop that is harvested over a longer period of time, which is why effort has been made to keep the weeds under control using black plastic (700 baht for 200 metres).

Long beans are grown on a trellis and these are ready to be used once the beans get out of the ground. They were harvested at a local farm growing at the side of the road and individually cut to sharpen the ends. It was a two day job.

Now in our western situation the black plastic would be held down with a plastic stake or some other commercially bought arrangement. Here some bamboo is cut with sharpened ends and these clever tiedowns made at no cost.

Celery, coriander and lettuce will be planted out in this area a recently ploughed ex-rice paddy.

Note the eucalypt stakes, which will hold up those long bamboo supports for shade cloth. Each stake has a Y shape to the top to allow the bamboo to sit securely. Cut locally at no cost.

Many of you are probably more sensible than me but left to my own devices I probably would have put up the supports and then rolled out the shade cloth. How much easier to lay out the cloth over the supports on the ground and then raise both components in the one go. Duh Tony.

The finished product.

Gaun helping herself to some soup ingredients. You don’t get fresher.

Gaun’s mama has made the trip out to the farm on her trusty bicycle this morning.

Her goal was to collect some firewood. She never used gas for cooking only wood or charcoal. Each of these bundles has been tied with the veins of dried banana leaves. No string required.

Mama heads home. No riding on that modern gravel!

These trees seem to float on a pond of flowers don’t they. I forget the name but the general term is green fertiliser. These will be ploughed back into the soil to add nutrients. That is some of Gaun’s land in the background and those trees will remain while see has a breath in her body!

Gauns and Roses. Sorry music fans I couldn’t help myself. I must be feeling better. Gaun loves roses and has planted many at the farm. She also has a stack ready to make two rose gardens around the big waterpots we may have in place on our new land this week. Had to slip one piece of garden info in 🙂

Just a nice shot – or I liked it anyway. Yuan making breakfast this morning.

1 Feb 2018 – The Little Things

It’s the little things that add interest. Today Gaun landscaped the washbasin and I add a couple of touches and we now have both a feature and a useful addition to the garden.

Hasn’t that piece of scrap hardwood I showed you a couple of weeks ago turned out well. What a beautiful colour. Total cost for all aspects of the basin – $16.00.

How do you hide that ugly blue water pipe?

Find some old bamboo, cut it in half and place it around the pipe. A natural and free disappearing act.

The hand wash basin has merged into the greenery over time. This photo was taken July 2018.

2 Feb 2018 – Waterpots

Today has been a pot day. Firstly we drove 40 minutes to an area that specialises in terracotta pots, mostly made and fired locally. I was after some for a spot in the garden and Gaun picked up some unplanned extras. We were also after more plants. On the way back we saw some of the large water storage pots (“ong” in Thai) that had obviously recently been moved into position. As I have been frustrated in finding anyone to transport the three pots I have on standby in the village to our new land we stopped to see if we could get a contact number.

In true Thai fashion it wasn’t that easy. The guy told us where we could find the contractor so we drove there and after asking two people found his house. He wasn’t there but his mum was. She told us he was off selling sugarcane at the local weightstation. She didn’t know his phone number. We called in at the sugar collection point but he had already left. Luckily someone knew his number but when he called he told us he was busy with sugar and couldn’t help us until April!!!! Square one.

The Thais who knew of my efforts to contact a pot mover (phoning builders, notices on the side of the road, checking with locals) told me that I just needed to relax (sabai sabai) and that eventually someone would come through the village advertising on loudspeakers. If not this week then next, if not this month then……….

I was opening the gate for Peng this evening and she pointed up the road – “ong” coming! One hour later and 1,200 baht ($48.00) I have three pots in the new garden and am a happy man. Thanks Peng.

In true western mindset I had the minimum requirement as a truck with a lift mechanism and a cradle of ropes to move these very heavy pots. How complicated we make our lives. All you need is three blokes and a sort of trailer!

The family was donating one pot to me and here it is loaded with Lud helping.

I also had two other pots waiting to be moved bought at a cost of 250 baht each ($10.00). Here the first is tilted, the trailer slides underneath and is hitched to the pick-up.

No high tech required.

And the final resting place. Once in place these jars are going nowhere. They are old so made twice the thickness of the new versions (if you can find them – plastic replaces all).

Just to give you an idea of their size. Even by compact Thai girl standard (but still beautiful Peng if you are reading) they are a decent chunk of concrete.

The vision I have been waiting to finalise.This will be an avenue of golden palms leading from the pergola area to the pot with two fan palms framing it. Floodlit at night. The plants on the left haven’t been able to be put in the ground until the pot arrived. We can now finish off the rest of the garden that was in the “flightpath” of the pot delivery. Yes, I know that pot is slightly tilted. It will be corrected 🙂 The smaller pot will be filled with lilies once they come back into season.

Looking from the pot back to the pergola.

The other pot on the opposite side of the pergola. It will be surrounded by a rose garden and circular path. A new path marked out on the left.

That concept in reality July 2018.

All paths lead to a pot.

Not bad even if I am biased. I was going to paint them but I like the weathered original look. I will investigate some sort of sealing coverage that will bring out the variations in colour.

Gaun picked up five of these small pots for $4.00. A slight size difference.

And they ended up in her mini-pond area.

And just to show you the speed of growth here this is the same area in July 2018.

And these are the pots I was after in place under a mango. Plants bought today to be dug in tomorrow. A big step in finishing the new garden.

And again JUly 2018. Focal points like this are becoming inundated with plants where as before they were on their own.

3 Feb 2018 – Another Tropical Garden

A reader of my blog kindly shared a link for a magnificent tropical garden in Queensland, Australia. It is exactly the theme that I am trying to reproduce with ours. If I can get even slightly close to this one I will be happy man. Worth a look here:

http://www.dennishundscheidt.com.au/

4 Feb 2018 – The Colours of the Farm

We haven’t been out to the farm in a little while so when we called in today it was lovely to see that the bougainvillea has taken a new lease of life and shows no sign of stopping flowering. Stunning colours.

Sugar cane in the front and a wall of colour at the back.

4 Feb 2018 – More Pots

Needless to say work continues in the garden to settle the big waterpots into place. They have really made such a difference. New paths and plants have gone in to start the development of the areas waiting for the delivery of the pots.

I was going to paint the pots but I just love the natural colours of this weathered concrete, which has been brought to life with a coat of sealer – half half in this photo to show the contrast.

The matching pot at the other end of the garden has a beautiful (in my eyes) pearl sort of feature also enhanced by the sealer. You couldn’t order a design like that.

Back in the day these pots were made on-site and the tradesmen would engrave their names and a date into the surface. This one was made in 2543 (the Thai Buddhist calendar is 543 years ahead of ours). It is only 18 years old but 2543 is Peng’s birth year, so that’s a nice coincidence.

The pot donated by the family was less interesting so it has received a coat of paint today. The avenue of plants to the central pot is now complete and the sprinkler system is being extended to cover this area.

There would now be a thousand plants in the new garden and I haven’t dug in one! Gaun is the powerhouse behind this achievement and all of the credit goes to her. HOWEVER I wanted to claim to have done something so I had two avocado bushes waiting to be planted and this was my moment. If you do visit I will take you to this spot to proudly show you my efforts 🙂

I will now prove how honest I am and tell you this is mostly fake.

I have a hernia that means I can’t lift or dig ATM so Gaun dug the previous hole for me and then rushed off to get the camera and capture the moment!!!!! She is one of a kind. I DID actually manage to backfill the hole 🙂 You can read about my operation and time in a Thai private hospital HERE.

A job completed by teamwork. Isn’t the shape of that water jar great. Once it is softened with plantings it will become a real feature.

This is the real achiever in this project. Today Gaun was moving barrow loads of gravel to create paths, gathering cuttings at the farm, and endless digging in concrete-like soil to expand the planting. A massive energy level and endless enthusiasm.

New paths and new plants everywhere. What was a barren area two days ago is being quickly filled in.

8 Feb 2018 – Australians Moving Overseas – Beware

I have written a new post, which I have described as follows:

“A very different theme to this post from the last two relaxed gardening stories. It is aimed directly at Australians who are thinking of or planning to retire and move overseas to take up permanent residence and has less relevance to other nationalities (skip the first two topics and head to the second half).

I have to say that we Australians must rate as one of the most poorly treated citizens of any country in the western world when it comes to becoming a non-resident and I will set out to prove that statement as we go along.”

This post should be of interest to those Aussie readers who have a more serious interest in Thai retirement options.

The link is HERE and because I think it is so vital for people to understand I have made it an item in the menu bar above.

9 Feb 2018 – A Lapse in Niceness

I am having a morning in between coffees answering the responses to the last blog post “Australians Moving Overseas – Beware”, which is stirring up some comments. I am so lucky with my blog in that because of the type of positive stories I write (it’s no effort because I genuinely love living in Thailand) I attract good quality readers with similar attitudes and positive outlooks. Try reading some of the forums in ThaiVisa and reach for the valium.

I did get my second negative comment in four years of writing and because I had just had my first cuppa for the morning I was in the mood to reply. For you non-readers/photos only types this post will be of no interest but I know some of you have the sense of humour that might appreciate the original comment and then my response:

Comment: “Suck it up, Tony. Government retirement benefits are for those who retire in the country that’s paying them in my opinion. That Australia allows its pensioners to live abroad is a legacy of its extensive migration programme. I’ve lived all over the world for extensive periods of time but have always remained “resident” by virtue of answering “are you a resident of Australia?” on the annual income tax return which is now lodged electronically from wherever I happen to be in the world. That has never been challenged. I would never move permanently to Thailand as I have a persistent medical condition that requires medication (insulin) that I can receive for $5 for six months’ supply if I get it in Australia, and $5 for roughly two days’ supply if I get it in Thailand. There’s pluses and minuses in every decision – you seem to want to keep the pluses and remove the minuses.”

And my response:

“Thanks for that constructive comment David that adds nothing to the topic. I don’t edit the standard of comments and let all through to express their ideas and yours certainly falls into that category.

Nice to start the comment with “Suck it up Tony” – attacking the author is better served on ThaiVisa where I am sure you are an active contributor (tit for tat). You are obviously a skip reader too as I state in my post “I don’t want to live worrying about a letter from the ATO so I declare and suck it up – but not gracefully” and conclude with the balancing statement “I hope you have found this post useful in touching on some of the realities on the financial side of retiring to Thailand. All in all the fact is that in my case, even despite the frustrations, I can afford to live a simple but very comfortable retired lifestyle here while back “home” I would be retired in a caravan or still working. I know what my preference is”.

Your work situation has no relevance to the target audience of my article. You conveniently also skipped the ATO definition of non-resident in which POINT NUMBER ONE states “If you leave Austalia temporarily and do not set up a permanent home in another country you are an Australian resident for tax purposes” – exactly your situation so your point is what??? Of course you are taxed at Australian resident rates because you match that criteria. Duh. Let’s say that the ruling was changed and you were taxed at 32.5% from dollar one in your situation. I guess you’d just sit back and say “suck it up David”.

You offer no reasonable explanation as to why long term Australian residents and citizens are penalised in the tax/pension systems based on their place of residence. If I was spending my retirement income in Australia I would be paying GST on some things, but as someone on a more limited income a greater proportion of my income would be going on non-GST taxed items like food. You would think that as an aging resident with greater demands on healthcare, aged nursing later in life and all the government infrastructure that is reliant on numbers of clients for resourcing, an encouragement for us types to live elsewhere would be a priority. You are obviously happy to pay tax to support us in our old age a generosity for which the baby boomer population is very grateful.

I enjoyed your whole reasoning for not moving to Thailand – the cost of insulin. I will check on that statement and report back because there are massive numbers of insulin dependant people certainly here in Isaan and they must have access to cheap medication or perhaps it is covered under the 30 baht maximum medical treatment plan introduced by Thaksin. Are you telling me that the overall savings in expenditure by living in Thailand is less than the extra cost of your insulin? I say I “enjoy” because it always gives me a free laugh when negative farangs get going on forums. They will pick up on the one thing in Thailand they dislike and then spread that to cover the entire experience. [Q] “How’s life in Thailand” [A] “Those bloody soi dogs never stop barking”. [Q] “Oh, that’s no good – how’s everything else?” [A] “Bloody wonderful mate – cheap beer, great women, cheap food, cheap accommodation, great climate but those soi dogs!”

Of course I want to keep the pluses and remove the minuses. Wouldn’t you? I only applied logic in my article asking the questions as to why these rulings were in place to discriminate against a 45 year resident like me? Is that not a reasonable question to ask? I am NOT saying I want preferential treatment I just want to be treated EXACTLY the same as fellow citizens? Unreasonable????

You also miss the point of my making the effort to write the post. If you were a fellow Australian thinking of retiring to Thailand wouldn’t you appreciate a heads up about some of the pitfalls financially of doing that? In your case you’d let them get over here, find they have just lost 20% of their expected income in extra tax and then say “suck it up mate”. I’m old school Australian and that’s not what you’d do to another Aussie. Maybe you have been out and about elsewhere in the world for too long and have forgotten the basics of being an Aussie.

Finally in a morning outburst of energy spending far too long replying to a pretty empty comment have you read any of the other of my 320 blog posts? Best summarised by a constructive comment recently posted by Jim Busby “The majority of the blogs are full of your drive and energy to make your life in Thailand with you wife and family all anyone would wish for in their lifetime.” I hope there are people in your life David that would be prepared to make that same statement in your situation (relatively).

Always a pleasure to get rid of that first morning coffee hit on a bit of expressive typing.

Good luck with your life ex-Thailand.”

I am occasionally reminded of the fact that although I live in a small rural village in Thailand I still access the best of traditional Thai combined with first world facilities. A flyer left on my front gate this morning is an example.

11 Feb 2018 – Broadband

I am occasionally reminded of the fact that although I live in a small rural village in Thailand I still access the best of traditional Thai combined with first world facilities. A flyer left on my front gate this morning is an example.

A Google Earth view of my moo ban (village). It’s not exactly big city material. Spot the house with the white roof!

200/100 mbps fiber optic broadband, unlimited downloads for $60.00 a month. $4.00 to install! Tough.

13 Feb 2018 – Bananas

Gaun’s mama has just arrived at the house with a basket of yumminess. She rode her bicycle out to the farm and cut this bunch of bananas for us. How fresh is that!

14 Feb 2018 – Happy Valentine’s Day

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone. It is also our fourth wedding anniversary. Sometimes nothing seems to go right in life. Since meeting Gaun life has never been better. Thank you Gaun.

For those of you who have only ever seen Gaun in gardening mode it might come as a surprise to see that there is another side to her. Unfortunately one of the downsides to living in rural Thailand is that there’s nowhere to go that involves getting the good gear out. This morning gave us an excuse to dust off clothes from a previous life and take some Valentine’s Day photos.

And in a happy Valentine’s Day finale Peng arrived home and gave Gaun and I some roses she had bought for us – how sweet.

17 Feb 2018 – Yurt and Food

Yesterday we made the 90 minute trip to Udon Thani, our closest city, to pick up Yurt, Gaun’s older sister (number two in the line of seven kids) who’s been cook for a Thai/Chinese family for decades. Even though she is just down the road by my standards, she only comes home for a few days at New Year, Songkran (Thai New Year) and Chinese New Year, the latter being why she has a short break now.

The reason Yurt has to be picked up (she gets the bus back) is that she brings enough food and cooking supplies to last the entire village for a month and a pick-up is required to transport it all home. Yurt’s arrival is good news for all the family because she arrives, and immediately starts cooking! She phoned Gaun a week ago asking what I wanted on the menu so she could buy the ingredients. Spring rolls, Massaman curry and chicken sweet and sour was the reply. The spring rolls happened yesterday and today it was the turn of my other choices.

This is a quick and easy version of sweet and sour and massaman using commercial ingredients. Fresh spices and coconut milk would take this to a new level.

The chef in action. As always give a Thai a wok and a simple gas stove and the next thing you know you’ve got a ten course meal for 50 people! Sweet and sour in the making here.

The family were called in to observe and learn 🙂 Yurt is well respected so what she says goes but all in very good humour. Gaun, Peng, Yuan and Puk, a niece of Gaun’s.

There is absolutely nothing sophisticated about Isaan cooking because the range of sauce ingredients is very limited. Fish, soy, chilli and oyster sauces, sugar, MSG, oil, salt, vinegar and pork/chicken stock makes up most of the selections available. No need for walk-in pantries in a Thai kitchen.

Massaman curry just about ready for lunch. I got a big bowl of this plus the sweet and sour (Isaan people don’t eat it) to take home for the freezer. Massaman is obviously not an Isaan staple meal either but Peng, who is more adventuresome, had some and Yuan a taste.

A taste test.

And the kitchen wizz – Yurt, happiest doing what she loves most.

Thanks for reading and please leave a comment. It’s the only payment I ask for what is for you a completely free Thailand resource.

Tony