I am finding it hard to keep up with the small stories of living in Isaan. Good news for me because it means that my life here is more involving than I might have imagined and it also gives me plenty of material to share with you, whether you are planning to live here or not. These stories provide an insight into what life could look like if you were one of the many people who contact me and often visit with a retirement goal of making this part of the world home.
Once I catch up with the Small Stories I want to write a couple of posts of our recent trip to a northern city called Nan, driving there on the back roads through some magnificent countryside. A taste of what’s to come:
June 17 – Essential Dinnerware
One of the photos in my previous post reminded me of an essential piece of Thai tableware that I have been meaning to tell you about. You will see these everywhere in Thailand although at various levels of sophistication.
The toilet roll napkin dispenser is not as bad as it sounds and is totally sensible once you get over any natural discrimination towards toilet rolls having a life outside the bathroom. Given time the Australian nanny state will pass legislation to make such discrimination illegal but there’s no such problem here in Thailand.
We have two of these dispensers and my acceptance of them is a sign that I am becoming fully integrated into the local culture. Obviously we don’t lower ourselves to the plastic covers or God forbid the plain toilet roll on the table scenario. No we have hand carved wooden boxes, a family heirloom in the making. You can pick these up at most handicraft sort of markets such as the night markets in Chiang Mai or Chatuchak markets Bangkok (covered in a previous post).
There is a trick to how you set them up, which I will share. If visiting Thailand don’t go home without one. They are a real icebreaker at dinner parties.
The paper needs to unravel from the centre not the edge as you would in the toilet scenario. Pop it through the opening in the top of the box and you have hours of clean fingers.
June 21 – Happy Snaps
I am writing an eBook on the construction of our house (which is now finished and you can find it HERE) and trying to get it finished before we head to Bali tomorrow. This post is a welcome break from editing and contains a few miscellaneous bits and pieces from the last couple of days, which have mostly been spent in front of the computer.
That is the turn to the family farm on the right. A bland photo but the interesting bit is that this will become a small resort at some stage. I have to wonder at the business plan that supports this venture. This road has NO passing traffic other than local farmers and it is in the middle of nowhere. Si Bun Ruang, which is a small town, already has over 25 resorts so I hear.
My only thought is that because it is located so privately it is intended to cater for the “short time” business, which is how most of the resorts make any sort of living. It is a rate designed for couples who aren’t planning on doing much sleeping and is about half the rate you would pay if you actually want to spend the night!
The vine is climbing up that thin bamboo pole in the foreground on the right and has already reached the top. I will let you know if we get grapes (red) in time. All the materials for this were cut by Gaun at the family farm and brought home.
The topic is badminton. Peng has mobility restrictions so she can’t participate in sports. Instead of actually playing badminton her teacher gave her (Gaun) an assignment to write about the topic.
June 25 – A Holiday in Bali
We were invited to the wedding of good friends of ours at the place of their first holiday together – Bali. For Gaun it was a chance to explore a new culture and for me an opportunity to compare two Buddhist (Bali) tropical locations and reflect on my decision to make Thailand home. We spent all our time in Ubud, in the hills of Bali about 1 1/2 hour’s drive from the airport. These photos are the first impressions of our temporary home:
July 5 – Back in Thailand
We enjoyed our time in Bali and especially being part of the wedding for two of our closest friends. It was also wonderful to come home. Day one had us out to the farm early morning to check out the rice planting. It is great to see these vivid green scenes taking over Isaan to replace the dry, brown and dusty conditions we experienced from December last year.
These typical Thailand “postcard” photos (who buys postcards any more?) can only be experienced July – November each year. Rice is planted during the wet season so if you want the beautiful tropical scenery like these photos then you need to be prepared to get wet sometimes. The upside is that it tends to be cooler this time of year with daytime temperatures in the mid-30’s (if you regard that as cooler!). Visit rural Thailand outside this rice season and you will find it a brown and less interesting place visually.
Also remember that in the north Dec – Feb is the cool season and many trees will lose their leaves leaving normally clothed hills pretty bare of coverage. Nice weather though with temperatures 10 – 25 degrees (nighttime/daytime). Do avoid Apr – May if possible where in Isaan the temperatures will be above 40 for weeks and it is super dry so no waterfalls or rural greenery to be seen.
July 5 – Snakes Alive
Life is always unexpectedly interesting here. Today Gaun’s mama arrived at our house to tell Gaun there was a large snake in the bathroom (the family’s house not mine thank goodness!) Gaun grabbed a stick and I grabbed my camera, which shows who grew up on a farm and who lived in a city. I also got my zoom lense, which seemed appropriate not being the bravest farang you have ever met when it come to snakes!
The snake had taken refuge underneath the washing machine so it was a hard job to get it out. A neighbour was called in to help and he eventually brought in the dogs. The snake made a break for the door, which happened to be where I was standing and in a moment of self preservation rather than any planning I managed to close the door on it whereupon Gaun stepped in to bash it.
iPads sometimes don’t play these videos. If that’s a problem you can find the original HERE.
I would like to impress you by saying that I had a near death experience but haven’t been able to find out what type of snake it was.There are many here that are not venomous through to those that are best avoided such as king cobras, which in full size can stand up and look you in the eye. Best to be sure though especially when it is inside your home.
Thais have an open door policy with their homes and I have watched farangs especially from Europe go down the same route when building their homes with no insect screens. A great idea if you want to share your house with the local wildlife otherwise do what I did and include screens on everything.
July 5 – A Garden Update – before and after
For those non-gardeners out there my apologies. I have been writing an eBook on my house build in Thailand as I have mentioned before and have been adding some before and after photos, which I thought I would share here as well.
The “befores” were taken fifteen months ago and the “after” in July 2016. The amazing change is a testament to the Thai weather, the productive soil and Gaun’s endless passion for her garden. There is nothing in these photos that she hasn’t planted.
July 9 – Friends In Isaan
We have friends visiting us for a few days and this is a roundup of their first day in bustling Si Bun Ruang.
In season you will see lots of lights in the countryside at night as people hunt for mushrooms using small miner’s lights strapped to their heads. They get a good price in the market the next day or just end up in the family cooking pot.
No problem because the farm next to theirs had some and we all walked over to get a bunch. While the coriander was being picked we watched a few of the locals getting rice ready to be replanted in the paddies. The lady closest to the camera is called Nit Noy (a little bit) and is a wonderful but cruel Thai massage lady. She is anything but nit noy especially when she is walking on you during a session. The second lady with the hat is called Jan and we bought our land from her back in November 2013.
It is a natural repellant for the tiny mingies (flies) that buzz around your eyes and ears if working on the farm this time of year.
We bought some prawns and freshly squeezed coconut milk and Gaun cooked up two beautifully tasty dishes for everyone this evening.
I took this photo tow days ago. The road does a sharp dog-leg around the village temple on the left. With no barriers if you don’t make the turn you and the car will end up wetter than planned.
The guy on the left is called Yaks, which means “giant’ in Thai and he was part of the “A Team” a group of four guys who did most of the work on building our house. In true Isaan style the new river was being fished today, one day after filling! You can see how close the road is to the water.
July 10 – On the Road with Friends
Day 2 with our friends visiting us in Isaan. We hit the road to see a few sights on the way to Nong Khai and the Mekong River at the border of Thailand and Laos. We finished up at the best Thai restaurant in Udon Thani before heading home with a stack of photos some of which I have shared here.
Large markets run alongside the Mekong selling all the junk (mostly) that you will ever need. This photo shows that Thais can sleep anywhere even when at work. These clothes didn’t fall into the junk category, which is maybe why nobody was in there keeping the sales guy awake.
For once I agree with Trip Advisor and this is a great place to eat. Friendly staff, complex Thai flavours beautifully presented. Highly recommended. The Trip Advisor map is wrong for the restaurant’s location (how unusual) but I have provided the correct details later in this post.
July 11 – Back in the Village
After a big day yesterday we stayed closer to home but still managed to mix up the activities to keep our friends busy.
She has no mercy and finds all the spots that need attention. For her it was a break from rice planting, for Gina it was less than relaxing as you can see from the photo. Still Nit is rebooked for Wednesday so mission accomplished. $12.00 for two hours.
A Trip Advisor Warning
Just a warning if travelling in Thailand. Trip Advisor/Google Maps location pins are often wrong and sometimes by quite a margin. I remember trying to find the Immigration Office in the northern border town of Mae Sai and Google maps had it in the middle of a rice field, rather than its true location in the middle of town.
For anyone relying on finding the lovely Thai restaurant Samuay & Son in Udon Thani Trip Advisor has you probably eating in a motorbike repair shop! The comparison of locations is shown in my example below.
Please double check all locations using street view in Google maps if relying on Trip Advisor in Thailand.
Update 4 Mar 2017: I have found Google Maps to be very responsive if you do advise them of a wrong location so don’t be passive but help others. For Google Maps changes go HERE.
July 15 – Free Beer
Somehow a Chang beer truck (chang means elephant in Thai, which is why you will find them on the label – see below) managed to cross the road and end up on its side in this small pond on the main road between Si Bun Ruang and Nong Bua Lamphu.
The truck had just been extracted when we arrived and was being towed off but the salvage effort for the beer was in full swing. The rescue was being helped by a bit of liquid incentive using the recovered bottles of beer. A good time was being had all round.
Many of you will glaze over but I had to include this wonderful piece of marketing gobbledok about why the Chang bottle has changed colour and shape. How many hours went into this process and at what cost? You have to love modern corporate life:
Happy 20th anniversary to Chang Beer! To commemorate this milestone in its rich history, the iconic Chang Beer has revolutionized its packaging. The cool, modern and stylish newly designed bottle for Chang beer features a longer neck and elegant contours with embossment that befit the brand’s stature. The special emerald green colour of the new bottle is a refreshing change from its current amber colour, making it a significantly more appealing, premium and refreshing drinking experience. The gold used on the cap and labels has been updated to a fresher, more premium champagne gold, which is brought to life by the satin sheen of the labels.
The bottle has been dramatically re-shaped for a more tactile feel in hand. The taller neck and elevated bottle shoulder create stature and a stronger, more masculine look. The bottle waist has been adjusted to offer better grip, and the beautiful embossing down the bottle side adds visual and tactile interest.
The refreshingly different appeal of the new packaging underscores the drive to position the brand for even greater success and desire to position Chang Beer as the beer of choice in line with Chang Beer’s premium positioning in international markets. Chang’s commitment to quality and its brewing of an international award winning beer continues to be the objective and dedication of its internationally trained master brewers. Only the finest malt and hops from Europe, Australia and USA are used with every brew resulting in an exceptionally smooth, full bodied and well balanced beer with a fruity aroma and crisp finish that is enjoyed by consumers of today.
Enough already. Heaps more to come so keep an eye on the blog.
Thanks for reading.