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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The path animals end up in more recent times all of which still required group photos:
Finishing up and driving home the excitement of the day got to the family and it was a pretty quiet trip home:
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:
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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 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.