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The 12th of May is my wife’s birthday (Gaun), which in itself isn’t of particular interest to anyone outside our family, but each year I try to organise something different to do that breaks routine and our day yesterday was no different. I hope you’ll enjoy the varied mix of stories in this post.

I had a number of objectives in the schedule for the day and only met one of them, which in a strict sense was a dismal failure but in reality it still turned out to be a fun day and I have heaps to share with you.

Our main trip for the day was planned to be a drive to a temple called Wat Kham Chanot, about 2 1/2 hours from us east of Udon Thani. Along the way we were going to call into Central Plaza in Udon to complete a couple of chores for me. As my in-laws Yuan and Lud had never been there I was looking forward to seeing their reaction to escalators and the glass fronted lift they have plus of course the excessive range of brand stuff in the shops that you may want but don’t need!

Lunch was planned close to the wat where a friend had recommended a dish where chicken is stuffed into bamboo with seasoning and BBQ’d, something I hadn’t come across before. It was supposed to be outstanding. And then there was Wat Kham Chanot itself. I have written about this place before, the first and more detailed post being HERE and the second one HERE. This would be our third visit. The temple itself isn’t a place of Buddhist worship as you’d normally expect and doesn’t even have much in the way of buildings. However it is seen as a powerful place of good luck and the main reason to go there seems to be to obtain the next lottery numbers (true). As the Thai lottery is drawn on the 1st and the 16th of each month our timing on the 12th seemed appropriate.

I then wanted to end the day with an Isaan buffet with the extended family. The promise of all you can eat is music to an Isaan person’s stomach, if I can mix my metaphors. But before we hit the road Guan wanted to start the day early by feeding the village monks and getting a blessing from them for her birthday. This meant opening my eyes before six am, which was high on my list of things I would prefer not to do post retirement. Oh well.

There are two wats attached to the village. One is a traditional wat while the other is a forest wat and the two sets of monks collect food separately. The moo ban monks walk down the right hand side of the road and the pha/pa or forest monks down the left. The offering mat is placed on the left hand side because they come first and then moved across to the other side for the next group. Very fair.

The pha monks further up the road along with a pretty uninterested dog. Maybe it wasn’t his birthday today.

Dit, the head monk of the forest wat, is well known having been a monk for 30 years and although his temple is fairly new he has attracted a full complement of monks. He’s not in this photo.

That’s a friend of Gaun in the front. They went to school together. The line of monks you see in the streets early morning is in order of seniority. The monks at the front get the best food 🙂

And the little guy at the back gets whatever is left over! I call these guys mini-monks or monkettes! He will be heading back to school next week. His monking days were only for the summer holidays.

Peng and Gaun getting ready for the second group. We have moved to the other side of the street.

Only two monks for the moo ban temple this morning.

The pha monks don’t give a blessing while the moo ban ones do. Because it is Gaun’s birthday they are doing a longer one while Gaun pours water into a bowl.

If one person is making an offering like this and you are next to them you should hold onto their arm as Peng is so that you support the blessing.

And finally once the monks have passed the water is then offered to a plant with a short prayer.

Gaun in traditional dress under a tree she calls Dok Khun, which produces a mass of yellow flowers once a year in April/May.

Yuan and Lud took the day off working the farm for the road trip part of the day and as Peng is coming to the end of her summer school holidays she wanted to join in as she hadn’t been to Kham Chanot before so we had a full carload.

It is a recurring theme of mine so regular readers will be used to this but for others you do need to be very careful with Google Earth/Map locations for places in Thailand. Kham Chanot is a good example where the Google marker for the temple is way out of place as you can see from the map below:

Google is marked red and mine in yellow. I suggest you trust me in this instance 🙂 It’s not just a “next street” sort of error is it?

If you don’t trust me then this is a close up of Google’s temple:

If empty fields are your thing then I do recommend this version of the wat.

And this is of mine:

The more formal, and mostly ugly main buildings are on the left of the water. Where everyone wants to get to is over that bridge to the “island” and the small shrines there hidden away from Google’s satellites in those trees.

Google Maps has a version in the correct location, as well as the one miles away, but it is spelt differently. It also has the Thai script spelling. No wonder us farang get confused.

The weird thing is that this is a hugely popular temple. Thousands of people will visit it on a single day in peak times and yet no one has asked Google to move the location, which I now have. Off hobby horse and back to this trip.

Now about that thousands of people comment above!!!!!! The first time we visited this place during the week there was hardly anyone there. It seemed like a quiet forgotten, backwater sort of temple. The next time we came it was on a weekend and I was surprised to find a large market in action and masses of people both on the mainland and on the island part of the wat. It was like chalk and cheese between the first and second visits.

The chalk – the first time.

The cheese – the second time.

Well….what’s a more extreme example of chalk and cheese?????

I am at a loss for words this time. Unusual I know. This photo is not even on the island but people waiting to get there.

I thought something was going on because the roads leading to the wat were crowded with traffic both ways and there were endless stalls selling dragons made from banana leaves, which are offerings to the naga (a mythical snake that is supposed to visit the island).

When we finally got there we had to park well away from the temple itself, which cost 40 baht, and then catch a tuk tuk to the wat at 20 baht a person.

The family loaded up in an Isaan tuk tuk, which barely has power to move itself let alone with a full load.

We passed one of those wonderfully eccentric Thai busses in one of the carparks. Those things down the sides are mainly lights!

The markets at the other end.

These markets are extensive and selling everything you can think of. Some of it is vaguely Buddhist related and a lot of the usual street stall stuff. Heaps of food of course but I don’t need to tell you that!

Flower bulbs were bought for Gaun’s birthday.

Gaun who has an amazing head for figures and is incredibly thrifty told me these bulbs were expensive at 30 baht each because we bought similar ones in Chiang Mai three years ago for 20 baht 🙂 Inflation…………it’s a killer.

And the crowds – unbelieveable. There were literally several thousand of people lined up waiting to get on the island. The photo below gives you a little insight to how it was but this is just a fraction of the masses of people in queues. Tents has been set up and chairs and fans provided. Security guards were everywhere trying to make sense of it.

This is just part of the queue. It sort of starts somewhere on the right and winds backwards and forwards into the far distance and then does it all over again on the left hand side.

All of this is way before you get anywhere near actually taking the long walk to get to the shrines on the island. It would literally be a full day’s effort and even then…………..

And why so busy? I can’t honestly say but it might be a combination of events. Firstly we are in a Buddhist holiday period generated by Asahna Bucha, which was when Buddha gave his first sermon in India over 2,500 years ago, so it would be seen as an especially auspicious period to visit the temple. BTW if you are living or visiting Thailand it is always a good idea to know when the big events are and you can find them listed HERE.

Secondly, as I have mentioned previously in this post, this is not a traditional temple. Most people come here to pray for good luck and especially to get inspiration for the upcoming lottery numbers. Now this seems like a nonsense but it is absolutely why vast numbers of people come here. It has nothing to do with Buddhist teachings or much else to do with Buddhism. Now we were here on the 12th and the next lottery is drawn on the 16th so you would expect more people as that date gets closer. One of our Tuk Tuk drivers told us that people drive up from Bangkok (600 km away) and spend the night just to look for lottery numbers at Kham Chanot. Wierd.

I took this photo last time. These are kids checking the bark of the sacred Chanot tree (which is a something like or exactly like a Moreton Bay Fig tree), which has been rubbed with talcum powder to help bring those lucky numbers out. They were calling numbers out to their parents.

From our peaceful first visit. This lady is photographing the bark to study it for numbers at home.

And if proof were needed these are lottery sellers in bulk.

Whatever the reason we decided that there were better things to do with our day and gave up and caught another tuk tuk back to the car. Remember the chicken stuffed into bamboo that we were supposed to enjoy for lunch? No sign of it! Strike two 🙁

Heading back to Udon we stopped off at a small town called Ban Dung, which specialises in salt. The water softening system I have at home uses salt to flush the calcium from the resin filter (turning hard water to soft) and I had run out. We firstly called into the salt factory (a very loose term) because Yuan and Lud hadn’t seen where the salt that they buy in the village comes from.

Lud testing the salt.

This area has extremely salty ground water. The water is pumped up and then evaporated either in salt pans using the sun to dry it out (not now because we are moving into the wet season) or just by heating it and extracting the salt that way.

A wood fire under the water and the salt is stacked on top.

Very eco-friendly – not Eucalyptus trees here used to feed the fires but they will burn anything that’s handy.

Back on the main road we picked up three bags of salt. 25 kilos each for 100 baht (A$4.00). It was the first time my pickup has been used to actually transport something other than people on the inside.

You can obviously buy smaller and better quality salt for cooking.

For most of you how we got to Ban Dung and Wat Kham Chanot is of no interest at all. But for the few that use my posts to actually get to the places I write about this is for you. Armchair travellers can skip this bit! From Udon Thani you have two choices to get to Kham Chanot (Ban Dung is on the way either route). The first is to follow highway 22 east from Udon and then turn onto the 2096 and keep on going until you hit Ban Dung and shortly after Kham Chanot 17°44’39.50″N 103°21’38.14″E. The other way is to head north on highway 2 out of Udon and then turn right onto the 2255, which shortly after turns into the 2022. I prefer this route as it is slightly more scenic and the alternative 22 is a busy and ugly duel carriageway best avoided. The 2096 is nothing special either. Hedge your bets (an appropriate expression considering we’re talking about getting to Wat Kham Chanot) and do the full loop and see which you prefer.

Armchair people you can come back now.

Anyway heading back we took the 2022 west of Ban Dung (on the highway 22 side) because I hadn’t been that way before. We were on the hunt for a lunch stop and pulled over at this place sitting pretty well in the middle of nowhere called Wiang Chiburi (City of Tastes), which as you can tell from the admittedly out of date Google Maps photo below, is under construction 17°38’21.8″N 103°05’49.9″E.

The place is built around two large ponds.

Thankfully it has progressed from this photo and now looks like this:

It is still work in progress but a lot is complete. The entrance here.

A photo moment. Yuan and Peng. Very colourful.

And one for Peng’s Facebook.

It is a very spread out development with a big investment involved. It’s a long walk to deliver food.

Nicely done. This path leads to one of the many dining areas.

My three favourite women.

The main eating area close to the front entrance.

See those clouds? There was also thunder rolling in the background when this photo was taken.

And then the storm hit with a huge downpour of rain and high winds.

Now these open sala designs are lovely in perfect weather but they give only modest protection when hit by a wind storm. Umbrellas were being used to try and shelter the guests while the staff got totally soaked. You can see the umbrellas given to a large group of nurses (this is only half of them) who were celebrating getting their certificates of nursing in the photo above.

The nurses when they were dry.

And a wet nurse (for you mothers out there).

Our umbrella was slightly smaller 🙂 Thanks for the thought Lud.

Although our meal was ordered pre-storm we decided to cancel and get out of the wet and cold (it dropped to 28 degrees!). I was feeling a little disappointed by this stage that most of my plans were falling in a heap. It made no difference to my Thai companions who are the happiest bunch of people I have come across. Always in good humour in most circumstances. Just to top it off my idea of calling into Central Plaza also took a hit as we were running late. Not to worry readers because the Isaan buffet happened just fine and a well fed Thai person is a contented Thai person.

Our buffet team trying out a spot of bubbly for the birthday girl at our home.

And where there’s wine there’s a farang.

And where there’s a birthday there’s cake. All Thais seem to be able to sing “happy birthday” in English for some reason.

Not too many candles.

Bubble finished everyone piled into the pickup – three inside and five outside – and drove the ten minutes into Si Bun Ruang town for our evening meal. If you have ever had an Isaan buffet it is all about the quantity of food and not much about the quality or the general atmosphere 🙂 Under those two round bowls in the photo below are two charcoal burners. You cook your meat/fish on the top or in the broth that is added to the moat around the bottom plus vegetables and dried noodles and eat until you fall out of your chair.

Left to right – Peng (stepdaughter) Yuan (Gaun’s younger sister) Apple (Gaun’s cousin) Paed (Gaun’s older sister) Gaun (my wife!) Tham (Paed’s husband) and Lud (Yuan’s husband).

The buffet is a bit limited for me because I prefer to eat things that I can identify (I am unadventurous in that way) and the choice in these places are dumped into tubs partly frozen from large plastic bags and although vaguely meat and seafood some of it is a complete mystery. Deboned chicken feet is one of Gaun’s favourites but unfortunately they were missing from the menu this week. I stick to the fish (or I think it’s fish). The main benefit here is that they have all you can eat ice cream, which forms 60% of my food intake for the evening and ensures I get my money’s worth. Speaking of money the food costs 139 baht (A$5.00) each and beers 70 baht a large bottle (A$2.80). I don’t know how they make money as everyone except me eats their own bodyweight by the end of the evening. The total bill for eight people including four beers, ice and soft drinks was 1,360 baht or around A$50.00.

Well there you have it. A birthday not quite as planned but full of family, friendship and laughter and you can’t get a better present than that.

Happy birthday Gaun.

Thanks for reading.

Update 16 May 2017:

If you see a wrong location on Google Earth/Maps do get in contact with them. I have found them to be super responsive and they do make the changes once verified. Wat Kham Chanote is now noted on Google where it’s actually located, which I think is a good thing 🙂 Thanks Google.