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These stories happened over three weeks early to mid April 2018. Songkran, Thai New Year, happened in the middle of this period and as I have written about this festival already I excluded it here so that you only got new happenings and not a repeat of older stuff. A broad mix of small events as always starting with three maybe more aimed at locals but still giving ‘outsiders’ an insight into life here – farang comfort food shopping in Udon Thani, tips for driving in Thailand and car insurance. Parties, a wedding, extending the farm pond, building a small Thai-style house, visiting a local eating place plus a few surprises gives you plenty of other material to read in this edition.

Introduction – Skip if you are a regular reader

I have got SO behind in these posts I call “Living in Isaan”, which are a series of small stories I have recorded that make up my everyday life in a small rural village in the northeast of Thailand, a region called Isaan/Isan/Esan. It has been a busy year establishing a new tropical garden, writing a book and filling in time with far more than I ever thought would happen day to day as a result of retiring to “boring” Isaan. I am on a mission to catch up so although the timeline is a bit out of date the material is still relevant sharing what life looks like here. I will now give you my standard introduction for these posts, so skip if you are a regular and head straight to the stories:

You will find many expats writing blogs about life in the coastal centres and places like Chiang Mai but fewer make the effort to record what living in the northeast (Isaan) out this way looks like.

None of my stories is 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.

I used to call these updates of life in Thailand “Isaan – the Small Stories”. I felt it was time for a change in name although the scope of content is the same. This edition covers early to mid April 2018. These stories are extracted from my Facebook page, 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.

4 April 2018 – Villa Mart, Udon Thani

A post for locals and of passing interest to outsiders! The Udon Thani expat supermarket everyone knows about is Tops in Central Plaza, a place I avoid as much as possible. Pointless consumerism at its worst. If you are hooked on getting a shirt with a polo player on it just pick one up in the local markets for 200 baht – they probably come out of the same factory in China with the logo added later  Tops is fine as a farang food resource, it is just a pain to get to.

A much easier farang supermarket heaven, if you have the budget, is Villa Mart next to UD Town (adjacent to the railway station) off highway 22. No painful searching for a parking spot like in Central’s multi-story, just park outside the front door at Villa.

If you are not on a pensioner’s budget then Villa Mart has the best wine selection I have seen outside Bangkok. Not much under A$30.00. I really hate seeing cheap Aussie party bubbly, which you’d get for $8.00 back “home” selling for $30.00 here.

Google Maps.

A substantial supermarket packed with everything you can’t get at Tesco Lotus.

700 baht (A$29.00) in Villa Mart!

Needless to say, I am off eating beef 🙂 Tenderloin at $75.00 a kilo is my monthly budget for meat!

GPS for Villa Mart, Udon.

5 April 2018 – Essential reading if Driving in Thailand

I rarely share other people’s posts, preferring to do something original myself, but the quality of this driving in Thailand article is outstanding. I one hundred percent recommend it as essential reading for all locals and those of you visiting Thailand and tackling the roads either on a motorbike or by car. Leave your fixed western ideas of how driving should be behind and apply the reality of driving here and you will be a lot safer. I never understood why bikes pull into the road without looking. Now I do. Excellent stuff:…

This re-post was originally made on a Facebook page called Nong Bua Lamphu – We Love You, so Ken Coates thank you.

5 April 2018 – A Double Birthday

Another specialised post for locals.

My Nissan pickup had its first birthday recently (we bought it on Peng’s birthday 29 March 2017 so they are almost twins). With my Australian new car owner’s hat on I went in to renew my registration and learnt a couple of small tips that could be useful to others.

One small Thai birthday girl and one large Nissan toy.

Firstly I had not realised that my rego renewal date was the day I came off red plates (the temporary plates given to you while the real ones are lovingly handmade by one bloke working only on Tuesdays in the hills of Chiang Rai resulting in a two-month delay), not the day I bought the car. The Thai rego sticker is helpfully in Thai so an ignorant farang like me has no idea of the month it is due.

Nissan bought Peng a birthday cake and all the staff came out to sing a Happy Birthday to her.

Also, the compulsory third party insurance is issued on the day you buy your car, the 29 March for us, so at the end of year one, you may have a mismatch between the compulsory third party and the registration dates as I did. If in my case I had focussed only on the registration renewal date (had I known it) I wouldn’t have had insurance for two months, which would have been a problem if stopped by traffic police for a paper check (unusual but you never know).

The Nissan (we call it Big Chang – “Chang” means elephant in Thai), being blessed by Dit, the boss monk of a local temple.

When I renewed my rego, which I did early because I thought they were both due on the 29th forgetting about the red plate issue, you can then ask to have the third party and rego dates brought into line for future years.

A photo shoot with the ladies of my life. Note the temporary red plates.

I wrote a full post about buying a car in Thailand and you can find that HERE.

7 April 2018 – Dress Up Time

Party day today and we are waiting for friends to arrive before lunch and then a street dance party at the village next to ours. We are heading into Songkran or Thai New Year and bright clothes is the theme. Dress up time.

8 April 2018 – An unusual Photo

I rarely take photos of food so today is an exception, not because of the food in itself, but because after weeks of cloud and smoke this morning broke into a warm, sunny piece of perfection. Bacon, eggs and a fresh mango shake just added to a little moment of Thai happiness.

8 April 2018 – Socialising

A great day yesterday with friends both from Kalasin way, a three hour drive south of us and Udon Thani, plus Yuan and Lud. The temple party I had told people would be special with a big lum dance band turned out to be not so special but the opportunity to chat with delightful, positive farang, have lunch and a few drinks made up for that slight disappointment.

There’s a monk ordination party happening in the village today and I am told that a different lum group has been booked for that, so I am hopeful of getting some video of them in action later.

A very cool and cloudy day yesterday so lunch was held indoors.

Tik making a mango salad (the same as papaya but with mango obviously). These are green mangoes so it is a very sour dish that even Gaun won’t eat. Peng and Tik demolished the dish in no time!

The farang/Thai group at the temple party. Gaun, Tik, Daniel, Daryl, Nok and Ken.

Wonderful colours for Songkran – Thai New Year.

Gaun was dying for a dance but we missed a lot of the procession and the band wasn’t that good anyway. Maybe today.

Another shot of that great little temple whose head monk was hosting this event.

The dates skip over the Songkran period because I published two posts about this wonderful, fun celebration HERE and HERE.

19 April 2018 – Extending the Farm Pond

Sometimes things get worse before better and that’s certainly the case with the new pond project at the family farm.

Yesterday the digger moved in and proceeded to make a huge and increasing mess of what was a serene and lovely area! Such is the price we pay for progress  It will all end up better than before of course, once Gaun gets going with a replanting project, and Isaan Grace, my floating raft is relaunched on a much larger pond.

In the meantime coffee overlooking the pond is less scenically attractive than it used to be but watching boys toys at play makes up for it.

My previous morning coffee view. Gaun is standing, which gives you an idea of the depth. In the following photos you will see that in the same position she would now be several metres underwater.

Looking in the same direction on day 1 (yesterday). We have had a lot of recent rain and the base of the pond was a sort of clay sludge. The original idea was to use this soil elsewhere but it was too wet so they pushed it up to start to form new sides to the expanded pond. Looking good – not!

And looking back at my not so floating raft from the other direction.

The structure on the left is my dock where the raft used to be based. It shows how shallow the old pond had become. If anyone reading wants some potting clay please let me know 🙂

This earth moving business is owned by a lady in a village opposite ours. Her husband died and she has taken over running the business. Her two sons help operate the machinery. They are currently digging two ponds so she quite an investment in equipment. These photos were taken this morning.

Some of the soil is being moved to fill in this old pond originally formed from the soil removed from the farm to build up our land in the village back in 2013. 

Once this hole is filled the soil will be sold by the contractor for 220 baht (A$7.00) a truckload and this offsets her cost of the project. The small forest wat down the road is buying 50 trucks and a neighbour some as well. Yuan is paying an additional 28,000 baht on top of this recovery income. The new pond will extend from where the digger is across to the sugar cane on the right hand side.

This is that soil being put on our land in 2013. You can see how much it is built up. We ended up higher again.

You can see why Gaun won’t be able to stand at the bottom of the new pond once full without diving gear! Note how they layer the sides. Gaun tells me that a wet season will fill this huge hole with water but I have to be convinced. I will report back.

P.S. 26 Aug 2018: After some initial rains the wet season has been mostly dry for us and the pond has a long way to go to fill. I suspect we won;t refloat the boat this year but will have to wait until maybe another chance for a wet wet season in 2019.

20 April 2018 – More on the Pond

Regulars will already know already that there will be daily updates on the farm pond project so I won’t disappoint. It’s not like there’s a lot else happening!

If they continue I won’t need a plane ticket to return to Australia.

I thought this was a reasonable depth but I hear that they are going lower. The idea is that enough water is held here to allow the rice paddies to be flooded in June/July without using the bore/well. This now has an electric submersible pump rather than the previous big diesel and extended use would be expensive.

The family is concerned that there are no problems for my boat. The soil in front of the dock (on the right) is going to be taken away so that if the pond water is low I can still bring the raft in for a smooth disembarkation 🙂

If you spot Gaun in the distance it gives you an idea of the current depth with more to go.

Four trucks working (2 to move soil to fill in the old pond and 2 to deliver soil that has been sold) a tractor and the digger. The temple up the road ended buying 100 truckloads. I will have to visit to see what they are up to.

It is great to see a lady owner who is also hands-on. She was on-site this morning to direct operations. There is no problems selling the soil because locals have heard it is from Yuan’s farm and the calls are coming in.

I thought this was a fine depth but I hear that they are going lower. The idea is that enough water is held here to allow the rice paddies to be flooded in June/July without using the bore/well. This now has an electric submersible pump rather than the previous big diesel and extended use would be expensive.

21 April 2018 – A Local Wedding

We were invited to a wedding, which was happening this morning a few doors down from us. Gaun and family were up at 4:00 am helping out with cooking and setting up, a few hours before I joined in! I have covered a few weddings before but each one has its own theme and small stories to share and this one is no different.

We stopped off on the way and I saw this photo that was crying out to be taken. Nice. The day this scene is replaced with plastic tanks and concrete ugliness will be a sad one for us photographers.

Some of the wedding party plus Gaun. The bride and her mum and dad. Gaun normally dresses up of course but because she was helping out hadn’t this time.

My turn.

As always the hero’s are the cooks – all volunteers. It works on a sort of honour system. If you help out at someone’s event then they are on-call to do the same for you and it just goes round and round.

Yuan on the washing up team. Yuan’s smile says it all about Yuan! A great lady.

Standard wedding drinks – water, soft drink, beer and Isaan whisky. Soda water hidden but that’s just to mix with your whisky.

The bridesmaids. They are holding bead “barriers” through which the groom has to negotiate entry and make a small donation to the ladies for the privilege.

The groom always travels to the bride’s family home. This was a big wedding with 200 people, half of whom were on the groom’s side and had travelled to be there, basing themselves at the village school ready to walk down to the bride’s home.

The groom and his party.

They were challenged midway by some ladies from the bride’s side, including Gaun. I don’t know what use she is making of that pestle but from the laughter it wasn’t polite.

he groom hits his first roadblock. The lady holding one side is Apple, a relation of Gaun. A beer being offered so it’s a friendly barrier!

Both bride and groom are teachers.

He paid 300,000 baht (A$12,000) sin sod to the bride’s family, a donation made to offset the loss of potential “superannuation” income the daughter would have provided her parents in old age. The higher the class or income potential of the bride the more the sin sod paid.

This is a ceremony for the groom before entering the house where the formal part of the wedding will happen. Prayers are said by the spiritman, a person leading the ceremony, and then the groom will have his feet washed (more donations to the ladies!) before his next entry test.

A bridesmaid.

Working his way through. Some of the ladies were making him do small tests to gain entry. Each on got an envelope with some money.

Just a moment captured.

This is the formal couple’s photo taken before the wedding day, which involves hiring more costumes and getting makeup done. This is then displayed at the entrance to the wedding on the day.

You can see the one we used for our wedding four years ago at the left of this group shot, which now hangs in our home.

The bride waiting for the ceremony to get going.

Beer for breakfast. You just can’t trust the water here 🙂

Regular readers will spot Lud helping out. Gaun is hidden away there too. The marques, 20 tables, the chairs, tablecloths and a big music system cost 7,000 baht (A$280.00). You can see why the cooks do such a great job. A big crowd and this was only some of the them.

You can tell the quality of the wedding by whether Hong Thong is included on the tables! Isaan whisky cost 110 baht a bottle (drink quickly before the glass melts) while Hong Thong is around 250 baht.

Now THAT’S what the tray in a pickup should be used for plus water fights at Songkran or both!

A couple of shots on the way home.

It must be umbrella day.

21 April – Yet More Pond Photos

And of course today’s update on the pond (now a lake) project. All finished this afternoon. A blank canvas that we (Gaun) will landscape in time. I think we will wait for the wet season June – October, which is cooler and obviously wetter to plant new trees and shrubs. It’s just too hard to get things started here ATM.

Bring on the rain. They scraped away the soil leading up to the dock just in case the water level was low (like now!) and the floating sala ran aground before reaching the shore 🙂

They have tiered the sides very neatly. The family should still be able to walk around the shallow area to collect snails 🙂

I’m going to have to do something more sturdy for the dock foundations. Concrete piers I’m thinking before the water comes.

This is that old pond neatly filled in. Being new soil it will produce good quality vegetables.

Yuan surveys the lake to be.

24 April 2018 – Jun’s New House

I have been following Guna’s older brother Jun building his own house on his part of the family farm. He and his family still work away from Si Bun Ruang so this is a interim base, which will only be used the once or twice a year they come home. P.S. Aug 2018: They have moved in permanently.

It is a small basic Thai house but will do the job of providing shelter and storage, the main priorities of a home no matter how expensive.

Watching it go up so quickly and cheaply makes me wonder sometimes about the excessive complexity we demand in our construction. Are the building standards of this house up to our super regulated demands? No. Will it do the job? Absolutely. I think Jun will bring this in at around 400,000 baht (A$16,000) or less. Mind you he and family are doing most of the work.

If I had to build a basic place with very limited funds the only changes I would make would be insulated concrete blocks, single layer, instead of the basic ones used here, lots of insulation in the roof and ceiling, probably more electrical for maybe an extra 100,000 baht. Leave your ego behind and you’d end up with a small but comfortable home for around $20,000 – put one on your credit card rather than pay it off over the next 30 years.

This is how it looked just before Songkran (early April). To get to this stage labour and materials cost 78,000 baht.

Jun employed contractors to do this bit, because they were working in Bangkok. 

You will be pleased to hear that Thai builders stuff things up for other Thais. They don’t just reserve incompetence to farang! This concrete column has been turned the wrong way. That rebar (steel) ties into the concrete blockwork used for walls and there’s no wall on this side. A 90 degree turn would have fixed the problem originally.

And Jun was unhappy with the roof frame welding as well, leaving gaps like this. He is going to redo it himself.

No way would these above ground footings pass our regulations. Will they support the walls? I have no doubt that they will. The concrete slab is poured on top of these so you get extra strengthening.

The walls go up post Songkran. Jun is using a team made up of himself, his wife, daughter, son and son-in-law. Our bit of the family kick in to help when needed.

These blocks are standard for many Thai houses. 4.5 baht each. 

Laid pretty roughly because it is all covered over with a thick layer of render. Insulation properties – almost zero. On a day like today, where we are close to 40 degrees, put your hand on these and they will be hot to touch and will continue to radiate heat overnight.

And the house this morning. Concrete framing to the windows. Two small bedrooms, a living area for the motorbike and an outside Thai kitchen and bathroom.

The two kids spend most of the day on-site and do not much. The Thai ability to cope with boredom is way above ours.

Rebar around the windows to give strength and determine the exact opening size for the windows once they come to be fitted.

For regular readers this is Jun’s daughter Thare who was married in a small family ceremony prior to Songkran, covered in my first Songkran post HERE. Is your daughter this useful? Bricklayers in Australia looked nothing like this unfortunately 🙂

This is Thare out of bricklaying clothes! For the unmarried guys reading note the reference made to Thare’s wedding above 🙂 Sorry.

26 April 2018 – Noi’s Kitchen

After a few really hot days it was cooler today so we headed out for lunch at a new eating place (for us) about 20 minutes from Si Bun Ruang called Noi’s Kitchen. We hadn’t met Noi before but her husband Greg dropped in to see us with another Facebook friend Chris Kay recently, which is how we found out about this place.

For any locals I can recommend not only Noi’s Kitchen but also the drive there, which is a very rural and scenic backroad through small moo bans and what will shortly be new rice paddies. There is also an optional return loop, which takes you up to a dam for something a little different and then back to Si Bun Ruang via a different road.

Noi’s kitchen is a small place with a very homey and welcoming feel and enough greenery around to give it a tropical atmosphere. Noi has a big range of Thai/Isaan dishes and a small menu for us farang. A good place to chill out so add it to your very short “places to eat in SBR” list 

Thank you Greg and Noi for hospitality and mangos. We will see you again (and we have!)

And it was a very genuine welcome from Greg and Noi.

Lovely to see furniture other than red plastic in an eating place.

All good for Gaun. I enjoy this sort of covered, open design because in this climate isn’t that what you want? Not to be locked inside a concrete shell.

Gaun had already eaten so a small plate of chips and a bottle of beer was her order.

Just to give an idea of prices for farang $1.20 to $8.00

Lunch and beer in this setting is not too shabby.

Greg enjoys his music and we hope to see him and Noi in action one evening.

Steak and chips!

This is Gaun’s photo. She is on a mission to educate me on the mangos of Thailand.

Coming as I do from a western supermarket mango choice of one (yellow and sweet) I am amazed at the vast array available in all sorts of shapes, sizes and from sweet to sour. These are large almost round ones that I haven’t seen before.

Paddies are being ploughed ready for rice planting and so the cycle of farming continues.

The optional lake view return trip. Nothing widley spectacular but it is unexpected. Greg tells me you can hire a boat to take you across and there’s a climb to a hilltop temple on the other side. Something we will try in the cool season.

The lake is created by a small dam and this is the moo ban (village) on the other side.

A field of lotuses.

Noi’s kitchen. Locals will understand this location (maybe).

If not these coords will get you there.

27 April 2018 – More Bugs

I have photographed this guy before but then never seen his type again. There could be millions of them around and you’d never pick them their camouflage is so good. This fella is in wind down mode and I think will be meeting up with Buddha tonight 

28 April 2018 – A Mix of Photos

Every time I don’t have my camera handy I regret it as there’s always something I see that I want to record. This morning wasn’t one of those occasions!

Feed our koi fish in the mornings is a routine I always enjoy. 

This white koi in the photo above was the only one that would come up to be fed by hand. All of them were bought small for around 20 baht (A$0.80) and like everything else in Thailand in three years are now big. You would pay 800 baht each for these now, which is a pretty good investment! P.S. Aug 2018: Sadly we had our pumps stop overnight and the white koi was the only one to die. None of the others has taken his place in coming up to be fed.

Guess where Peng is going? 

This is a morning routine where clothes and colour coordination are carefully selected and makeup and hair done for………her exercise routine on the treadmill we have. Peng uses this religiously twice a day for over an hour as part of her recovery process from the operation last year and also I suspect to maintain an already very slim figure! “Swy mai” is often the question asked “beautiful?”….I think so Peng 🙂

A banana shake was my breakfast this morning. No idea why! A couple of hands donated by Paed and Tham’s farm.

I sometimes see these huge bumble bees flying around but this is the first time I was able to get a photo of one stationary. Tropical colours.

Gaun’s brother’s house continues to make progress. Most of the walls are up and they have moved to doing rendering inside, as it rained yesterday with more likely today. These will become two small bedrooms.

This may not look much but adding mesh to the column/blockwork joins is high tech by Thai standards and something you rarely see here. Jun works in construction in Bangkok and tells me (Gaun) that they have a higher standard there than in the sticks like us.

Jun has hired a local to help out as his wife and daughter are away cutting sugar cane. Son and son-in-law on the left.

Jun likes our pearl white colour scheme and evidently this is what this house will be painted. Not often you see a neutral colour here so it will stand out.

I am guessing that long beans (snake beans) is the harvest happening on the farm 🙂 These are usually cut up and used raw substituting for green papaya in that classic hot and spicy Isaan salad dish.

I start to become more farming orientated the longer I stay here. This is beautiful dark, rich soil compared to farms further out from Si Bun Ruang, which are a lighter soil even up to being quite sandy looking. Geoff Kelly one for you Aussie farmers!

The comments from regulars give me the incentive to keep on keeping on (thank you ) They are so much enjoyed at this end of the typewriter! As always I am amazed at the number of opportunities that pop up to share photos and their associated stories. Edition 15 will be out shortly.