Another day out and about in Isaan story. This one follows in the theme of the last two posts HERE and HERE where I had a destination in mind but we captured lots of other moments making small stops along the way and back as well as our visit to Udon Thani itself. For those newer visitors to the blog Udon Thani is the nearest city to us. It is about an hour’s drive on excellent roads basically heading north east or up and right as you look at a Thai map.
The destination was self-selected because I had to drop into Udon Immigration to lodge my 90 day address notification, which was due on 30th September. Normally I can do this online but recently the Thai Immigration website was hijacked by an Arab looking group and once the Thais had regained control it wouldn’t approve my application for whatever reason. You can read about the 90 day online process in great detail HERE. Not to worry because I wanted to try out a new restaurant in Udon, meet up with some friends, do some family stuff and a bit of shopping. If you’d like to join us on the day keep reading.
The start of our day was a nice illustration of the ongoing connection between the members of Gaun’s family. The five kids that are locally based are sisters number 1, 2, 4, 6 (Gaun) and 7 (Yuan). They have a very easy and casually close relationship, which is a pleasure to watch. Sister number 2, who does have a name – Yurt, works in Udon Thani and has done for decades. It was she who got Gaun her first job working for a Chinese family in Udon when Gaun was pulled out of school aged 12 to earn a living. I suspect this move was a relief to both Gaun and her teachers! Incidentally Gaun’s salary then was 400 baht a month or A$16.00. Mind you she is ancient so that’s going back a while 🙂 Don’t tell her I wrote that.
Although Yurt only lives an hour from the family home she only makes it back there three times a year for the big festivals of our New Year, Chinese New Year (she works for a Chinese/Thai family and they close for that holiday) and Songkran (Thai New Year, which is in April). In the meantime Yurt stocks up on household non-perishables and when she hears of a family member visiting Udon she buys up big on food, all of which is then shipped home for mama and the family. In return the family will send her whatever is growing on the farm.
For example on the day of our trip Yuan and Lud had been on the mushroom hunt as there are lots around at this time of year with the slightly cooler and wetter weather we have been experiencing. So our first job for the day was to load up with mushrooms to be taken to Yurt in exchange for all the things she was sending to Si Bun Ruang.
With the mushrooms loaded we hit the road and almost immediately had an emergency stop because I spotted a “tao” or turtle crossing the main highway to Nong Bua Lamphu (that 2153/228 I mentioned in the map above). I did a quick U turn and we made it back before some eyesight challenged Thai ran the poor creature over or picked it up for dinner:
I had scheduled a stop on the way at the lovely Buddhist temple we often visit called Wat Pa/Pha Silawa. We had been there the previous evening and some of the locals jokingly invited me to join in the construction work to extend the wall around this temple.
We had been to the ceremony for the abbot’s birthday in November last year, which had raised over 2 million baht (A$80,000) in one morning and the wall being built now was some of this money being invested in the temple.
Gaun had told the locals we were heading to Udon on this particular day (phew) so we had an excuse to be lazy. However I wanted to drop off some drinks for the workers as we passed the wat. The temple also has a pond as you can see from the photo above so we had a dual task to deliver drinks and set the tao free in the pond where he/she would be safe and have plenty of food.
Just for the record contributions like this (my drinks) and the work each person contributes to the wat are recorded in a book so that your Buddhist merit isn’t missed.
Back on the road we arrived in Nong Bua Lamphu, which is the next sized town up from Si Bun Ruang about a 30 minute drive. It was the first opportunity to photograph the new Buddha statue on the hill as you head out of town, which was looking pretty striking. It has been under construction for ages but a bulk donation of money must have flowed in more recently because it was finished very quickly. Good Buddhist merit points for some people.
If you are interested in the particular gesture this Buddha is making I can tell you that it is called the Abhaya Mudra and represents fearlessness and protection. You can find more information in the unlikely resource of a travel agency called Renown Travel, who have a brilliant informative Thai website HERE.
Going to Udon on a Wednesday is always fun because as you drive through the hills climbing out of Nong Bua you pass a spirit house (san phra phum) area, a collection of small shrines and masses of concrete animals assembled for good luck. You can read about the installation of a san phra phum in Chiang Mai HERE. Wednesday is the day to be passing because on this day people pay for music groups to come and entertain the spirits for an hour and thereby gain merit or the fulfillment of a wish. A stage is set up and Thai music played, sometimes with a live band and sometimes not, but always with scantily clad dancing girls. The spirits like a bit of mildly naughty entertainment it seems.
Whoever has paid for the entertainment will usually set up a marquee and drinks and food will be served to family and friends who have been invited to the occasion. I have been offered drinks too but unfortunately we have always been on our way to an appointment so have never done more than a photo stop. It would be worth a trip just to spend a morning or afternoon here. Free music and drinks.
Although it all looks a bit Pattaya gogo it isn’t really. The girls always wear a flesh coloured bodysuit on the top half top and this is as wild as it gets.
On arriving in Udon I had a couple of shopping locations to visit on my list after the Immigration chore, which I won’t report on other than to say they were typically very efficient and we were out of there in a few minutes. All done for another 90 days. The next due date is the 26th of December, which I only mention because it happens to be my birthday. Make sure you post my presents early.
The first non-immigration stop was a place that sold shirts that I like and although I won’t tell you where my particular shop is in case you buy all the stock, I will share the location of this hidden market, which you can add to your Udon Thani must-do list!
The second destination was a shoe shop opposite the markets that both stocked a decent range AND more importantly kept supplies of what you might want in farang sizes. There are a row of shoe stores here so you can pick and choose.
Across the road you will see this large shoe store along with others. Men’s and ladies shoes. So many places in Thailand will only stock what you see on the shelves. If you have small Thai sized feet then this might be fine but for us lumbering male farang it usually just doesn’t work. This place actually has stock in storage and I have always found the size I wanted.
The next and very important stop was for lunch with our friends. Daryl, Tik and their young son Daniel will shortly move into a house they have just finished building on the outskirts of Udon. I “met” Daryl through the construction side of my blog and we have followed up with that virtual friendship by catching up with them several times when we visit Udon.
I had chosen a Thai restaurant called Baan Mai Khao for lunch which had been recommended to me by another blog contact. Finding something a little out of the ordinary (and by that I mean “nice”) is always a challenge not just here but in many areas of Thailand. Street food or plastic furniture and tin shed eating places are every few meters in Thailand but looking to find the type of restaurant you and I would enjoy back home, wherever that might be, is not easy.
If I sometimes sound snobbish about my standards in Thailand I don’t mean to be. When you come here on a couple of weeks holiday the ramshackle nature of just about everything here is unique and so different from what you see back home it becomes is interesting and involving because of that. If you look at your holiday photos you will most likely find a mix of the beautiful, and Thailand certainly has some of that, and the just different.
Once I came to live here permanently I still appreciated the “Thainess” of the street stalls and small eating places like the one above but I haven’t abandoned my enjoyment of some of the things that made up my life in Australia. If a serene, clean and easy on the eye eating place gave me pleasure before why would I completely change just because I have moved to another country? “Variety is the spice of life”, a corny saying but true. The challenge in Thailand is finding that variety and as a retirement destination you need to be aware of that. Outside the major centres the vast majority of everything is aimed at the very low income customer base and finding a place like Baan Mai Khao, which is hardly 5 star but is a standout in presentation, is not easy.
This place ended up a great find and one we’ll be definitely returning to.
I first came across these amazing trees on a trip we did to one of the most beautiful temples I have seen in Thailand called Wat Pa Phu Kon, and you can read about that day on the road HERE. It was built using $10 million donated by an elderly Thai lady and contains a lovely reclining Buddha made from white Italian marble.
You can read more about these trees HERE. Back to Udon:
It’s a small place as you can see from the photo above so best to book. Their Facebook page is HERE or call 062 220 7882. They reply promptly if messaged and in English.
I have never seen lemon used in a dish here. A kilo of lemons (if you can find them – Makro have them) cost 180 baht while a kilo of limes is currently 20 – 40 baht, which explains its absence from the Isaan dinner plate.
A very pleasant lunch over we farewelled Daryl and family and made our way to the last of our Udon city destinations – Yurt (remember her from the beginning of this post?).
The little Mazda has a boot that accommodates three international sized suitcases and in times like this that capacity comes in quite useful.
On our way out of Udon we stopped at a farang complex that is being developed almost directly opposite the traffic lights at the intersection of the 210 and the road to the airport. Taps is owned by a British guy and he is expanding it to include the current specialist beer and wine shops plus a butchery, a dried food store and a pub with beer garden. It might end up as a useful addition to the Udon shopping list for us expats with a taste for a bit of the homeland from time to time.
Back in Si Bun Ruang I stopped to take a few photos of this small house being built on the road that comes off the 228 and ends up at our moo ban (village). It shows what can be done with very little money here. No planning regulations to restrict the design and push up costs. I know it may not be for most westerners but this is a perfectly workable if basic home. A lot of life is lived outside here so large western style homes are a bit of a waste in my opinion. I am guessing that there wouldn’t be a mortgage involved and how many of us can say that – well I can but…….. 🙂
The girl at doing the hard work is called Pan and she’s a neighbour and friend of Peng, my stepdaughter. The little guy on the front has a huge character already and is the son of a young girl, also a neighbour, called Thoy who wasn’t expecting this outcome anytime soon. You can read about her wedding aged fourteen HERE. The girl in the middle is being raised by her grandmother, while her parents work in Bangkok only making it home a couple of times a year. She calls grandma “mam” as a result. This is a very normal situation here (kids being brought up by family members rather than parents) and doesn’t seem to make any difference to their psychological well being 🙂 Raising children is much more a group arrangement and a lot more flexible here than my experience in Australia.
Who would have thought that a simple day out could end up with so much in it. I hope you’ve enjoyed the trip with us.
Thanks for reading.