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Isan Village Living

Edition 19 – July 2018

Regular readers will remember that for a few months late 2018/early 2019 I slowed with most of my updates on the blog. Because of this I missed out on transferring Facebook posts I had made on an almost daily basis earlier in 2018 across to the blog under the title ‘Isan Village Life’. Having stopped writing for facebook to focus on the blog instead, I thought that I would get back to capturing all these stories, even though they are chronologically very out of date. I don’t mind they aren’t what happened yesterday and I hope you don’t either, because the events they illustrate are as informative as they ever were and it would be a shame to see them disappear when I dump my Facebook account at some stage.

Introduction – Skip if you are a regular reader

You will find many expats writing blogs about life in the coastal centres and places like Chiang Mai, which for the many westerners with connection via their Thai partner to Esan is not very helpful. There are some excellent Facebook resources as well as blogs I am sure that focus on Esan life in the bigger centres and focus more on answering questions and exchanging tops and tricks, but not so many writing as regularly as I do on what village life actually looks like from the inside.

None of my stories are spectacular and will never be found in the search results of tourists looking for adventure. However, most of the readers who follow this blog, and there are some who have become “virtual ” friends over the years, are people who have a much more committed and personal connection to Thailand and have moved well beyond elephant riding, zip-lining and bar hopping. For them, these little insights help maintain that connection to village life if they are living elsewhere, and for those who are newer to the scene maybe help with understanding what a life in rural Thailand might look like if that ever happens for them.

This edition covers a few days at the end of July 2108. These stories are extracted from my Facebook page HERE, which I use as a mini-blog to give me an everyday outlet for my enjoyment of words, photography and of course the wonderful lifestyle I am privileged to enjoy.  They are very day by day accounts as a result. I hope you enjoy them.

Siam Tulips

Last one. I mostly add this post because I know of a couple of locals who might be interested – Robert Cullearn and Michael Cromer. For others reading this is more proof that tropical flowers are just stunning.

Driving back from Udon Thani yesterday we stopped off at my favourite garden centre, just after the traffic lights at the intersection of the 216, the Udon ring road, and the 210. We picked up one large version of this plant (100 baht) and three smaller ones (three for 100 baht). I have never seen them in any nursery before and they will go fast because they are so beautiful so grab them quick!.

These are annuals, in that they flower and have leaf in the wet season (now) and then die back to root in the dry/hot seasons. A bit like ginger, which is sprouting now

See these growing wild in Pa Hin Ngam National Park, Chaiyaphum, Isan

Peng at Wat Pa See Vichi

This wasn’t an intended post but anyway…… I was editing some photos to send to my stepdaughter Peng as a record of our visit today to the impressive Wat Pa See Vichi in Nong Bua Lamphu, as she hadn’t seen it before. Although the photos are a bit Peng centric, because that’s why I took them, they also show the impressive nature of this timber temple. I have covered it before on my blog so won’t add too many photos.

I wrote recently about the ordination of a new monk and the fact he was referred to as Nage, or mythical serpent, until his actual ordination. This is a splendid version of one of those serpents you will see in various forms at Thai temples.

The full ordination story is now in my blog post Mushrooms and Monks HERE:

One of the very impressive entrances to the main Buddha hall.

A washing up area in the utilities section.

See how the timber walls have been cut to fit the original tree branches used for supports.

As always the size of this timber structure is impressive, even though these are small Thai ladies!

One for Peng’s Facebook I suspect!

A floor like this would look great wherever.

Peng making a donation.

Gaun and Peng in front of the Buddha shrine.

I would have loved to see this tree when it was still alive. It would have been a beauty.

The Naga again. The main Buddha hall in the background.

Additions to the Rice Hut

I have had my eye on a wooden buffalo plough that has been sitting outside the rice hut next door for a while now. The owners are not in residence so we haven’t been able to ask if it was for sale. Today as we headed to the farm for coffee a truck was parked there and as a result I am very happy to add another little piece of Isaan farming history to my collection. At 200 baht or $8.00 I think it was a bargain!

There were more farming implements stored out the back at one time but they have since been burnt  as is quite often the case, it’s the foreigners who have more an interest in their adopted country’s history than the locals.

I am on the hunt, or more to the point one of my brother-in-laws is, for a wooden fishing boat to add to my collection. I will report on that story as it develops.

The plough.

Speaking of new additions. I am so pleased to hang this ‘Welcome to Paradise’ sign hand made by Greg of Noi’s Kitchen and handed over in a small ceremony involving beer yesterday. It takes pride of place above the cocktail table in the rice hut.

And this place gets as close to paradise that I have come across – on a limited budget 

Main Street Fun – Si Bun Ruang

I love the spontaneous festivals that kick off at any time for any reason. This one was advertised as part of the 5:30 am village loudspeaker announcements. I was asleep (there are some aspects of a rural life I am not participating in) but Gaun was up cooking breakfast for Peng and told me over coffee post-8:00 am 

Money was being raised for the local hospital and as part of that effort there would be a Si Bun Ruang street party in the afternoon with a Lum band, my favourite. Lum is a percussion group with a single guitar and heaps of drums. It doesn’t sound too impressive on a video but in real life I guarantee it gets your feet tapping.

We took over the main street shop of friends of ours even though they were driving to Udon Thani! A couple of beers from the shop next door and we were ready to be entertained.

The main street was mainly closed off and this intensely colourful procession took over. This is the main money ‘tree’ sitting on an old wooden cart. I was tempted to make an offer on it and ask them to deliver it to the garden after the parade 

The Lum band. This is totally an Isaan sound. If I ever had to leave Thailand hearing a Lum group would always bring me back ‘home’.

Most were seriously working on the drums but this lady burst into a smile when she saw me taking a photo.

Now there’s a drum with history.

As always one of the joys of an event like this is capturing the Thai smiles. If you look as though you’re enjoying yourself and smile first you will be rewarded ten times in return.

Even looking at the photos make me smile.

Our village was involved so there were plenty of familiar faces. ‘Hello Tony’ was called out a couple of times.

You see these salings selling ice cream, loaded up with market produce, filled with people and everything in-between. They only cost and $250.00 to add to a motorbike so you can understand their attraction.

Love the colourful display of umbrellas too. Very sensible and Isaan people take great care not to expose their skin to the sun. They all want to be milky white like us.

Thais smile with their whole face. Farang, if you can get them to smile, slightly bare their teeth  

Good efforts put in by individual salings like this one.

Not all the observers were human.

The Si Bun Ruang police force were out in numbers directing traffic away from the main street. They are always very organised in events like these and immaculately turned out. Note the camera on his helmet.

And this one to finish the parade. Still on the to-do list for my pickup!

New lighting

Two days of installing new garden lighting paid dividends tonight with everything coming alive once the switch was flicked. Evenings are some of the nicest times to be outside especially in the hotter seasons and this improvement makes that experience all the more enjoyable.

What’s happening at the farm?

Wet season crops on the market garden side of the business include coriander, dill, lettuce, sweet corn, long beans and bok choy.

Preparing the soil is a three stage process. A big tractor comes in to do the initial ripping, a more refined break up of soil is done my this little multi-purpose tractor and then….see next photo.

The seed beds are built up by hand. Yuan and Lud working here. Because everything is grown from seed they are given protection using this shade netting.

The other two crops being grown this time of year are rice, both steamed and sticky versions, which are only produced for family consumption. In the background is sugar, which gives a cash return early 2019.

Yuan and Lud have been saving to complete their house in the family compound. If this year gives a decent return they will be in a position to finish it. No bank loans for this family.  Note how tidy even the rice paddies are. Lud cuts the levy banks to give easy access and to minimise the spread of weeds into the rice. This is Isaan farming at its best. The family land goes to the trees in the very far background behind the tall ones.

The rice is looking great. Although we are surrounded by places experiencing lots of rain we have had practically none. The rice paddies are being keep going by pumping bore/well water to keep them flooded. Rice grown well in water but flooding also keeps the weeds down.

This is Gaun’s small ‘pa/pha’ on part of her land (forest). She planted new teak trees last year and they are now well established. Once again undergrowth has been cleaned and paths kept mown (Gaun’s work this time).

The mix of flowers and crops is always a pleasure. Very unusual in Isaan.

Gaun on the slasher. These are essential pieces of equipment in Isaan. Fully exposed steel blades that I am sure would never be approved in western countries but like many things here you are expected to behave like an adult, rather than have government hold your hand.

Everything grows well here especially the weeds. Yuan and Lud spend literally days hand weeding those seed beds and here Gaun is clearing around the very sad pond so she can plant new Dok Khun (Golden Shower) trees. We need another two metres to come anywhere close to filling the pond and at the current rate of rainfall that won’t happen this year. There is a thought to refloat my floating sala (hut) whatever but we will see how that works out.

The Queen’s Birthday

It’s the Thai Queen’s birthday on the 12th and a whole new industry springs up for a few days – making the flower garlands you see everywhere in Thailand, usually being sold for 20 baht at traffic lights.

Because of the demand for these flowers for birthday celebrations people who don’t usually make garlands now do and they become both more elaborate and expensive.

Out at the farm this morning we delivered a bucket load of flowers from our garden to Yaun, who is never slow to make money if she can see an opportunity, and called in to see a neighbour Nit Noy, who is an expert and produces some of the best examples I have seen.

I also took a few photos of the flowers that represent some of Gaun’s farm garden, to again illustrate the delightful blend of crops and colours I mentioned in yesterday’s post. Our regular water delivery completes today’s contribution to everyday life in Isaan.

These are Nit Noy’s (also one of the best Thai massage ladies in Isaan along with Nun in Nong Bau Lamphu here: and will sell for 100 baht. Nit has made 30 so far so it is a good money maker.

Just beautiful detail.

The small white flower buds that always make up the bulk of these garlands. The stems are threaded onto cotton using a long needle.

Our contribution to flower making.

One of Yuan’s garlands and Gaun’s flowers. Yuan’s aren’t as complex as Nit’s and sell for 50 baht. Gaun has just left home to help Yuan make them and I will publish a few more photos later. I can feel a lunch and a beer at the farm coming up.

This is the road that runs past the farm and ends up at a small forest temple. Gaun has planted the edge with purple and pink flowers. The seeds for these originated from her garden in Chiang Mai and also some seeds she was given in Chiang Rai.

Flowers merge into vegetables at the back.

The master gardener on an inspection tour.

The wet season isn’t the most prolific for many flowers but there are still bursts of colour.

All the flowers are picked locally. These are the original plants for some of the ones used in the garlands. These are at Nit’s farm but originated from our garden. We have masses of them but they aren’t blooming yet.

Small hedges have been planted in between bougainvillea, which will come into bulk flower starting October as we head into the dry, cool season. This is the driveway that runs down to the farmhouse.

I used to have a complex water filtration system for drinking water, which used to get clogged up because the RO (Reverse Osmosis) filter was so fine.

A regular replacement at 1,200 baht ($50.00) resulted me in swapping to just having water delivered at 12 baht a 20 litre container. 

These guys get their water from a first rate place in Nong Bua Lamphu. They phone us every three weeks, turn up at the gate, take away empty containers and replace with new ones. At about $2.50 every few weeks for all our drinking water it’s not too much of a strain on the budget.

More little happenings

A few small happenings that might be of interest to those people who follow these almost daily updates. A mix of topics as always seems to be the case. Flowers, floating sala (hut), cooking, a snake visitor and the jackfruit girl.

Gaun and Yuan are still making flower garlands at the farm. As always in Isaan a mat on the floor is the only requirement for eating, sleeping, socialising or in this case having a beer and working.

I needed to make some repairs the decking of my floating sala before relaunch, which required me to get underneath. As the structure was sitting on the ground I thought we could slightly raise the area I wanted to work on so I could wriggle under it. 

Gaun decided that this wasn’t acceptable for someone of my very advanced age and organised family and neighbours to come over and raise the whole thing up so that I could work in comfort. Totally unknown to me as I expected to give a hand. I arrived out to the farm yesterday to find my boat like the above photo 

Not only that but Yuan had sent Lud off to buy food and beer to thank everyone involved. So not only did I get the boat raised but I was also invited to have lunch paid for by my in-laws. I wanted to reimburse but it wasn’t accepted. The generosity and thoughtfulness of this family is a wonder even after five years of knowing them. There are three other helpers not in this photo.

Noodles for me prepared by Gaun. Everything you need to cook for a dozen people in this basic but totally functional kitchen at the farmhouse. Note the homemade flame protector around the gas bottle.

A scene I thought worth capturing today. Lud had been out mushroom hunting this morning and so soup was on the menu for lunch. So much food that is eaten here is foraged locally.

I was visited by a snake this morning hiding behind the speaker closest to the sliding door. We get a few snakes passing through but this was the closest one has got to the house. There are lots of frogs around in the wet season and the snakes are hunting. 

As always for me it confirms what a sensible decision it is to have insect screens on all entry points to a house. If this door was unscreened, as you often see in Thai houses and some farang ones, then that snake might well have got inside. I am not too concerned with them in the garden but not in my lounge room!

The double entry door is a common feature in houses built here. All good as long as they are screened, which they mostly aren’t. It isn’t just the snakes. There’s a list of creatures big and small happy to join you inside including scorpions, mosquitoes, geckos, lizards, frogs, flying insects and those huge centipedes that are around especially this time of year. 

I come from Australia, which also has a range of creatures you want to remain outside, including a range of the most deadly snakes and spiders in the world, but insect screens on doors and windows are standard. I don’t think you can buy them without screens. Why not here?

I couldn’t resist an update photo of the jackfruit lady. Her crop is looking pretty good and I love the mix of colours.

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