My posts “Living in Isaan” 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. 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 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 late December 2017 to early 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.
25 Dec 2017 – Flowers
One of the joys of Thailand is being able to pick up beautiful cut flowers for not much. We have friends arriving tomorrow to stay for a few days so it was an excuse to get in some orchids. A five star look on a 1 star budget.
25 Dec 2017 – Christmas
Peng arrived home from school (business as usual here – school and most shops are open) and the ladies were in Christmas dress-up mode. Some of the family came over early evening for a quick drink to mark the day. As all of them are up shortly after midnight harvesting vegetables for the New Year rush so making a party of the evening wasn’t an option. Come my birthday party on the 27th – now that will be a different story (I hope).
26 Dec 2017 – My Birthday Party
Firstly a huge thank you to all of you who wrote to wish me a happy birthday via Facebook. Although my official birthday was on the 26th we celebrated the event yesterday with an Isaan buffet last night organised by Gaun and Yuan. It ended up being a big event with family, local friends and neighbours and a few village elders.
The delight was that there were no unwanted party goers – people invited to make up numbers. These are folk I see around the village and know by face if not name. Ming, who built our house, Nop, handyman extraordinaire and the supplier of our limes, Bun and Jan the two ladies who sold us both our blocks of land, Nit Noy, a terrifying but awesomely good Thai massage therapist, Noi, the village elder who acted in place of my mother for my wedding ceremony with Gaun nearly four years ago and so it goes.
A special treat was that two Aussie friends from Hong Kong were able to join us, which is why it ended up being put back a day.
A huge amount of food, drink and music so I certainly enjoyed it and am pretty sure everyone else did too. I think these photos prove that.
All the family bought me presents and some of the guests gave me money. As Thais don’t normally make a big thing of birthdays (Gaun didn’t even know what her family’s birth dates were before I arrived on the scene) it is touching that they make the effort to fit in with strange farang customs.
When I designed my house the draftsman called it a turtle house because it was single storey and sat on the ground where most Thai houses are raised up a few steps. The label stuck and you will come across a few turtles as you wander the garden. None quite like this one. Thanks Peng.
The meats are cooked on the raised section while things like vegetables, noodles and prawns are boiled in a broth that sits in that moat area around the rim. The juices from the meat run down and creates a beautiful soup at the end. This version is sitting on a table for the benefit of us ancient farang.
My thanks go to Gaun, Lud and Yuan for organising and paying for the entire event. Yuan and Lud even took the day off at the busiest money making time of the year to help with shopping and cooking. Gaun used her own money raised from a little income from last year’s sugar crop – not money provided by me. As always the kindness of my Isaan family is slightly overwhelming. A busy social time leading up to New Year so there’s no let-down post birthday. Happy days.
29 Dec 2017 – A Mix
A mixed day of photos. I hope you enjoy them.
Gaun has been out helping Yuan, Lud and their son Game starting 2:00 am all of them working in the dark with miner’s lights. Several huge loads like this one are being harvested, packed and delivered to market every day. The family are like walking zombies but in good spirits as the money flows in.
I haven’t seen a traditional village timber house being upgraded in such a practical way before. All they have done is concreted underneath, added a large covered deck to the old structure and It looks as if new cladding is going over the old. Hasn’t it been transformed even at this stage? As these old houses can be bought from 50,000 baht (A$2,000) and these extensions aren’t complex you could well end up with a modern looking place for not much. I will report back on progress.
These are old concrete rainwater pots used in the day when there was no running water. Some are still used as originally intended but many are just sitting around. $20.00 will get me one. There are people who specialise in moving them and I (Gaun) will flag them down next time we spot them in the village.
I have covered it before so won’t bore you but this photo captured the essence of why this is outside the norm. That’s not bare concrete but pebblecrete (small pebbles). Google Maps HERE:
The guy on the left talking to Gaun is a structural engineer and the builder and he has constructed this for his mum!!! I am not sure what she would make of it as she was probably living in one of those old timber houses that I showed you earlier!
She is the daughter of a single dad, who is a friend and neighbour of Gaun, currently working in Taiwan. She is being looked after by family but is a very shy person in a group of very outgoing kids. Gaun wanted to buy her something for New Year as she tends to be the quiet girl in the background and people don’t notice her much. I am sure she had never been given a formal present like this one before and she was treating it like gold on the night.
31 Dec 2017 – Travelling the Backroads
We spent a half day on local backroads with friends from Australia. Our plans included visiting two wats that I have covered here before and along the way we came across a couple of other finds that will be included in my list of “things to do with visitors”. A perfect day to take some photos of the moments of quite spectacular scenery hidden away off the main roads.
I’m not going to include specific location details as the vast majority of you wouldn’t be interested but if there are any locals who want to know please get in touch and I will give you GPS coords.
When we left he wanted to get in the truck with us! Probably had enough of temple life and wanted to see the bright lights. The monk made an appearance but he was far less friendly than the dog!
I have no idea what this temple is called officially, as it isn’t on Google Maps, but the “Dog Wat” will be on the list for future road trips.
1 Jan 2018 – Peng’s present
The mystery of Peng’s Christmas gift is finally over and I can share with the world.
2 Jan 2018 – Waterpots and More
The large water pots have been bought for the new garden as well as lots of plants and we celebrated the end of the New Year farm produce rush and also Lud’s birthday (yesterday).
4 Jan 2018 – A Photo Milestone
17 Jan 2018 – Visiting Lud’s Mum
Yesterday we had a family road trip south of Khon Kaen to a small very rural moo ban (village) to see Lud’s mum. As it was one of Thailand’s many holidays (Teacher day in this case) Peng joined us as well as Yuan of course so we had a full car.
Part of the formalities of such a visit is the exchange of gifts so the pick-up was loaded with two sacks of rice, cauliflowers, cabbages and heaps of other farm contributions. Yuan was also very worried about the basic conditions at mama’s house for a sensitive farang (which I’m not by the way) so chairs, a table, precooked food, water and ice were also packed for my comfort Am I spoiled – not at all!
We were eight hours on the road for a less than three hour visit but Lud seemed to be very happy with it all (Yuan was doing her dutiful wife thing more than having it on her to-do list). I always enjoy a day with my family, who chat, laugh, comment on other people’s farms, eat and generally have a good time on the trip. In typical generosity Yuan paid for the fuel (which will be returned in another form when I get the chance) and is bringing beer over this evening as a thank you. The trip also gives me a chance to see a little more of Thailand and I will share some of those images with you here.
Our moo ban in Si Bun Ruang also has a strong farming base but there are a lot of people who work in business and government as well. There is more money in the community as a result and we are moving slowly away from this sort of traditional house to modern (ugly) concrete alternatives.
I really like these sort of Australian outback buildings with their use of natural timber and rusted iron. Full of character and each one is individual. You can’t pre-order rust like that from your local DIY. Note the TV satellite dish. They’ve probably got a large curved screen TV in there
Back in the day buffalo were the tractor power for farms (Gaun’s mama had 16) they lived under the houses plus any other livestock. I have never seen this actively happening in the more “modern” moo bans but here this stick fence showed that it is still a go’er in more remote places. Could be cows or buffalo.
If you come to the north east of Thailand (Isaan) expecting lush green this time of year then you’ll be disappointed. Many treed areas are deciduous so trees are bare (rubber trees loses leave in the dry season), rice has been harvested (although there are some second plantings happening in areas with water) and the sugar is in the process of being cut. It is a dry, brown dusty landscape on the whole.
Thanks for reading and if you have enjoyed the stories why not leave a comment. It’s the only payment I ask for this blog.