I start a post with the aim of being disciplined and writing just about the heading topic and then other things happen that I want to cover and my good intentions head South or is that North in Thailand? This is an example one of those posts. The main topic of this post is Phu Foilom park or spelt Phu Foi Lom but I have added a couple of extra stories in for variety cos they were there to be told and I had photos to prove it.

Last weekend I felt the urge to get out of Si Bun Ruang and become a tourist for the day and see one of the local sights called Phu Foilom, a 30,000 + hectare park set in the hills between the towns of Udon Thani and Nong Bua Lamphu, about an hour’s drive from us.

Phu when used in place names outside the far North of Thailand means hill. If you see Phu incorporated into a town name it means that somewhere near it is a hill. The next town to my soon to be Isaan home of Si Bun Ruang, which definitely has NO Phu within view, is Nong Bua Lamphu and sure enough to the East the road climbs through some low hills as you head towards Udon Thani. As another example Phuket has hills running along the coastline. In the far North Doi is used as a substitute for Phu. So for example you have Doi Suthep, the well known hill at the back of Chiang Mai.

Lesson over back to the topic. The immediate family of Yaun, Lud and Peng wanted to join in the expedition to the park, it is hard to be alone here, and there was an air of excitement the day before. Yuan even went and got her hair cut and straightened for the event. It is interesting to spend a moment to examine the reason for this reaction to what I regard as just another drive out. Yuan, Lud and Peng have never seen a formal garden before and almost never have a day away from the farm or house. Yuan has just turned forty!

It is a real testament to the lifestyle of a small Isaan farming family that traps them to a very regimented routine. Farm, market, home pretty well sums up their day to day life. The variety many of us take for granted through our ability to access free time and money, combined with a broader education and urge to explore new sights and locations is a foreign concept to families such as mine here in Isaan.

The family and one farang.

The family and one farang.

Gaun in her one year of living with me has seen more of Thailand and the world than this section of the Si Bun Ruang family will probably see in their lifetime. The photos here are really an attempt to capture the genuine novelty of the day so perhaps this section of the post is more for my personal enjoyment but I will let you decide.

Showing the relationship between Udon, Nong Bua Lamphu and Si Bun Ruang.

Showing the relationship between Udon, Nong Bua Lamphu and Si Bun Ruang.

Just when you thought we were heading to the park we’re not. The day started off by us driving into Udon Thani city itself to meet up with sister number 2, Gaun names her family largely by their birth numbers! The family don’t see her very often even though she is just down the road an hour so I thought we might settle into having something to eat and a bit of a chat. For whatever reason, and sister 2 is very well thought of in the family, the meeting ended up happening on the side-walk and consisted mainly of an exchange of farm produce for “city” items ranging from washing up liquid to various packaged food items.

Yuan and sister No. 2

Yuan and sister No. 2. In true Thai honesty Gaun describes her as both fat and ancient but in a nice way. The ancient tag I’m a bit worried about because she is only a few years older than me!

Breakfast. Can life get any better.

Breakfast. Can life get any better.

Is this a Thai thing? A bread roll accommodating a selection of ice creams. Who cares. For $0.50 it has all the essential nutrients required for a day out.

Is this a Thai thing? A bread roll used to hold a selection of ice creams. Who cares. For $0.50 it has all the essential nutrients required for a day out.

Family exchange over we headed back the way we came. Just to add a further aside to the topic it is on the 210 Highway between Udon and Nong Bua Lamphu that you can pick up a very nice little sala or hut, which is the first thing I will be doing when starting to build on our land. A shady spot to oversee building activities whilst having a beer.

This size will cost you $170.00. the next size up, which I will be buying $330.00.

This size will cost you $165.00. the next size up, which I will be buying $330.00. A few cushions, a bar fridge and wifi and I might not bother building anything else.

Finally back on topic – about 10 km outside Udon Thani on Highway 210 heading West towards Nong Bua Lamphu there is a big blue overhead sign that lists Phu Foilom in both Thai and, very kindly, in English and we turned left into farming country and small Moo Baans. Follow the pretty good signage and 30 minutes later you are into low hills and shortly after arrive at Phu Foilom.

The view from Phi Foilom over the countryside.

The view from Phi Foilom over the local countryside.

I have to say that the gardens themselves can’t compare with some of the ones we have visited in Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai but it is great to see the effort being made. However I believe that during the last two weeks in December and the first week of January they have a huge daffodil exhibition, so that’s one for your diary.

Shady parking useful on a hot day.

Shady parking useful on a hot day.

I was hoping that they had found all of these before we arrived.

I was hoping that they had found all of these bombs before we arrived.

I was disappointed that the sign had been changed.

A sign confirming the basic thinking pattern for us males.

The park is dividend into several sections with walking trails but we focussed on the more photogenic areas of the flower gardens and the dinosaur “theme park” in the limited time we had.

The garden area and Lud.

The North-east garden area and Lud.

This is a rather flattering photo of this part of the gardens, which are actually mostly large garden beds set in lawn.

This is a rather flattering photo of this part of the gardens, which are actually mostly large garden beds set in lawn.

The more open area.

The more open area. The drop away to the plains behind those trees.

Gaun, Peng, Yuan and Lud.

Gaun, Peng, Yuan and Lud.

Sisters.

Sisters.

Mum and daughter.

Mum and daughter.

A rare photo without family members.

A rare photo without family members. Yuan loved these so much that I bought her some for home when we got back.

Teenagers are the same the world over.

Teenagers are the same the world over. Grand mothers are too. When Gaun’s mum saw these new jeans she told Gaun that they were “broken” and should be thrown out.

Yes, hi Lud.

Yes, hi Lud.

It's all full of action shots isn't it.

It’s all full of action shots isn’t it.

Oh dear. THAT hat.

Oh dear. THAT hat.

These two are just brilliant people.

These two are just brilliant people.

Miss 2014.

Miss 2014.

...and her aunt.

…and her aunt.

Yuan who has never seen herself in single photo poses for years was very happy at how good she was looking! She is now thinking of dumping Lud and getting a farang for a more relaxed lifestyle – but not too seriously 🙂

Food is of course high on the list of essential needs after a big photo session with flowers. Within the garden area shown above there is a small cafe type place. Nice horses. We didn’t go in so I can’t comment on what’s on offer or if it is any good.

Cafe choice 1.

Cafe choice 1.

However we stopped at a larger place on the main road, which ended up being a mistake because the food was very ordinary. It is very hard to get bad Thai food but they managed it. About double “normal” prices, although still very cheap.

Not recommended. Try the horse cafe if you go.

Looks good but not recommended unless we just hit a bad day/chef. Try the horse cafe if you go.

The second part of the trip took place towards the back of the park, just behind the T junction so you’ll know it when you go! The dinosaur trail is in recognition of some larger wildlife that wandered the region a little while back.

If still around they would be sold as Laab Dino with sticky rice at street-side stalls.

If still around they would be sold as Laab Dino with sticky rice and chillies at street-side stalls throughout Isaan. Maybe that’s why they aren’t still around.

There is a small museum at the bottom of the first set of steps on the right in a round white building. It hasn’t been touched from the day it was built by the look if it and unfortunately represents the Thai love of building things but then falling short on the ongoing maintenance. Have a look through but I don’t think you will stay long. A shame.

The walk itself takes you on a circular route and full sized concrete replicas of dinosaurs line the way each grouped within its historical time-scale and is well worth doing. There is a sign warning of a very steep section and they really do mean it.

Feeding time - us feeding Dino not the other way round I think.

Feeding time – me feeding Dino not the other way round I think.

Big bugger weren't they.

Big buggers weren’t they. Sorry to get scientific on you.

Peng and friend.

Peng and friend.

Not so scary.

Not so scary in concrete.

Cute.

Cute. Jurassic Park 4.

Me and the missus.

Me and the missus.

The path animals end up in more recent times all of which still required group photos:

One for the grandkids.

One for the grandkids.

Hopefully Peng will meet a real one of these when she visits us in Chiang Mai in October and we go to the zoo.

Hopefully Peng will meet a real one of these when she visits us in Chiang Mai in October and we go to the zoo.

Thais just have to get personal.

Thais just have to get personal. Ladies I am sure it was just for good luck.

Finishing up and driving home the excitement of the day got to the family and it was a pretty quiet trip home:

End of a good day out.

End of a good day out.

Next topic. If you have spent time on the blog you’ll know of my and Gaun’s obsession with plants and gardens. We called into one of the local nurseries just outside Si Bun Ruang to check out what they could provide once we started a garden here. Although the selection was pretty limited I thought I would give you a taste of prices:

A simple nursery on the Southern side of Si Bun Ruang on the right.

A simple nursery on the Southern side of Si Bun Ruang on the right as you head towards Khon Kaen.

The plants I bought Yuan as a result of her visit to Phu Foilom. $0.50 each.

The plants I bought Yuan as a result of her visit to Phu Foilom. $0.50 each.

These ones

These ones the same cost.

$1.65 each.

$1.65 each.

Slightly larger plants for

Slightly larger plants for $1.30.

Nothing over $10.00. The big red ones at the front $5.00.

Nothing over $6.00. The big ones at the left $5.00.

Establishing a garden here will be an absolute joy, not just because it will be significantly cheaper than Australia but because of the range of choice and the speed at which plants grow here.

A recent post HERE spoke about the health problems Yuan has been having and that a Buddhist monk spirit clearing ceremony had been planned as an alternative the the traditional health system, which didn’t seem to producing results. Last Monday was busy with the preparations for an early morning Tuesday ceremony. Food was bought, of course, a stage set up for the monks in what will be Yaun and Lud’s house when completed and the family “silverware” brought out and cleaned. The head monk had listed what was needed, which included a bowl of flower petals with seven different colours. This caused the major headache for the family trying to locate that many different colours in the lead up to the event.

Hard at work separating petals from flowers.

Hard at work separating petals from flowers.

Peng and friend were sent out to forage or pinch flowers that would make up the shortfall in colours.

Peng and friend were sent out to forage, otherwise known as pinch flowers, from neighbouring gardens that would make up the shortfall in colours. Peng’s new motorbike in illegal action!

The next day was supposed to get underway at 6.00 am but no one including the monks was around then so there obviously wasn’t much faith in the monks’ ability to make the deadline.

Early morning and all is quiet.

Early morning and all is quiet. This is Yuan and Lud’s house in its current stage. More cash = more building. No mortgages for this family.

Not just one monk but a swag of them - I don;t know what a collection of monks is called.

Not just one monk but a swag of them – I don’t know what the formal name for a collection of monks is!

The head guy takes a look round the compound to suss out the problem with the Pi or spirits lack of access to the road post Yuan and Lud's house construction.

The head guy takes a look round the compound to suss out the problem with the Phi or spirits lack of access to the road post Yuan and Lud’s house construction.

The monks and everyone else who attends needs to be fed after the ceremony so the kitchen becomes, as it always is, the most important place in the house.

The monks and everyone else who attends needs to be fed after the ceremony so the kitchen becomes, as it always is, the most important place in the house.

The rest of the cooking crew.

The rest of the cooking crew. The lady at the front is called Jan and I bought our land from her. Sister number 4 on the left.

The head monk.

The head monk. A choice of drinks available not all totally traditional.

The full party.

The full group.

The ceremony starts.

The ceremony starts.

Some monk shots.

Some monk moments.

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The full ceremony underway. Events like this are a community thing not just for the family.

The full ceremony underway. Events like this are a community thing not just for the family.

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The group chanting was great. This white string extends from the monks and runs right the way around the property in an unbroken thread. Left in place for three days afterwards.

 

You can see the white thread here.

You can see the white thread here.

My brother-in-law number 4 - Tham. Married to sister number 4 Paed.

My brother-in-law number 4 – Tham. Married to sister number 4 Paed. They live in the house to the right of the photo above.

Yuan.

Yuan.

The whole ceremony took over an hour and comprised of the head monk chanting to warm things up. They then did a group chant, which I enjoy. It is sort of a Thai Gregorian sound and I find it quite powerful. Candles were lit and various other symbolic actions taken. Gaun, who can only take so much wandered off and made me a coffee. The Thais are pretty casual with their beliefs.

The feast set out for the monks at the end of the ritual.

The feast set out for the monks at the end of the ritual.

The end of the ceremony was marked by a huge amount of food being brought out for the monks, who eat before anyone else can. I guess that if they are following their rules they haven’t eaten since 11.00 am the previous day so by 9.00 am the next are pretty hungry. The sad thing was that the food was brought out before the end of the ceremony so they could look but not touch, which I thought was a bit unfair but maybe it was a test of resolution.

The food being offered.

The food being offered. You can just see the bowl of seven different coloured flower petals on the ground on the left.

Finally the reward.

Finally the reward and they could put it away too.

Those flower petals are then strewn around the perimeter of the property following the white thread.

Those flower petals are then strewn around the perimeter of the property following the white thread.

Once the monks have finished eating what is left over plus some more is passed to the other participants for them to eat.

Once the monks have finished eating what is left over plus some more is passed to the other participants for them to eat.

Sticky rice for breakfast.

Sticky rice for breakfast.

Gaun's mama watching everything going on.

Gaun’s mama watching everything going on. There’s a life of bringing up seven kids alone when your husband dies early with no welfare net in that face.

My surrogate Thai mama who pops up everywhere.

My surrogate Thai mama who pops up everywhere.

No sticky rice and fish for this farang. A nice piece of toast and marmalade thanks :-)

No sticky rice and fish for this farang. A nice piece of toast and marmalade thanks 🙂

The final and unofficial part of the ceremony involved the head monk who did a sort of healing thing with some of the people there. It is all a bit of a hotchpotch as to my knowledge Buddhism doesn’t involve either spirits, the basis reason for this ceremony, or healing. However Thai Buddhism is interwoven with so many other beliefs and cultures that everything seems acceptable. A Wikipedia link HERE if you want to read more.

Here the part of the body causing a problem was presented to the monk who blew over it a mist concoction of water, some sort of leaf and rice

Here the part of the body causing a problem was presented to the monk who used his mouth to blow over it a mist concoction of water, some sort of leaf and rice. Knees and backs were the main problem just like everywhere.

Junior monks waiting their transport.

Junior monks waiting their transport. Two of them checking their text messages!

All over. Senior monks inside. Juniors outside. A Thai smile to finish this topic.

All over. Senior monks inside. Juniors outside. A Thai smile to finish this topic.

I will finish this mixed bag of stories with a little one for those professional readers of my blog – Jenny and Saskia I am thinking of you. You will know that Gaun has a weakness for good looking farang and mushrooms! Mushrooms form an important ingredient to Isaan cooking menus during the rainy season. Every time it rains every possible mushroom site is covered at night by people with little miner’s light headgear looking for mushrooms. The roadside stalls and markets are full of them the next day.

Gaun's second love after me of course - I think.

Gaun’s second love after me of course – I think.

Gaun however is equally enthusiastic for the concrete versions as the real ones. I am pleased to report that our collection of concrete mushrooms has grown considerably as Gaun was able to negotiate three bunches of them for 100 THB or $3.50, which is actually cheaper than the real ones, from a nursery we found on one of our drives recently. For some reason they have ended up in the bedroom. I won’t tell you about the concrete sheep with the big smile and orthodontic braces that are also on the menu otherwise you won’t come back.

Thanks for reading.