Living in Isan – January 2019

Read about everyday expat life in a rural Isan village.

Stories posted so far this month

In this unique blog You will find many stories about my life in Thailand, the good and bad. Not just a list of tourist destinations but stories about REALLY living here. I hope you enjoy sharing my experiences of settling into a new country and culture as much as I am living it. 

Sunday- 20 January 2019

Another beautiful sunny and warm morning in Isan with temperatures in the very low 20’s as I made my first morning coffee. As is often the case Gaun suggested we take a walk around the garden with coffee in hand to enjoy the many separate areas that have now been created as a result of the rapid growth of all the plants. It was such an invitation to take a few update photos this time using a wide-angle lens to try and give you a real feel for the changes that have occured in the last year. I will start with a few before photos, taken exactly one year ago and then a few random ones from today’s photoshoot. Also today you are invited to meet some cows and join me for some meditation.

Before and an after shot below.

Me working on painting hanging pots. The same area today in the photo below.

That pergola has now disappeared behind greenery.

Hard to believe this is the same area as the photo above.

My version of Jim Thompson discovery paths, for those of you who have visited his house in Bangkok.

Looking back to the house from the new garden.

What will end up being a rather tropical graceful avenue.

From one of the seating areas looking towards the old Isan rainwater collection pot in the distance that is such a feature.

And this is that seating area looking the other direction.

The Isan fishing boat we moved has settled right into its tropical plant ‘water’.

Tall golden palms and several shade trees will change the character of paths like this one over time as the sky gets covered by greenery making for a cooler environment underneath. 

The rice hut is slowly disappearing behind plants as intended. You will come apon it by surprise if wandering the garden.

A second coffee at the farm as usual. The sound of cow bells in the distance was an giveaway that a few cows had been moved onto the vacant paddy land. Remember that this is what passes as winter in Isan, so brown fields, dusty and super dry. Almost an Australian scene.

I love these cows. They have real character. If in Isan pick up a few of those cows bells for 50 baht. They make great presents back home. The sound will take you right back to an Isan farm! 

I know I keep taking photos of the bougainvillea and you’re saying to yourself “not another one’, but I can’t help myself. They are such a riot of colour. This is their third full year.

Early afternoon I dropped into the forest wat I use for meditation called Wat Pa Silawa. Friendly monks and a peaceful location just ten minutes from home. Forest temple don’t normally have these traditional red, white and gold Ubosot (monk ordination) halls but this one does for some reason. 

I am lucky in that the monks invite me to use the hall, which is normally closed to the public. It is a very simple arrangement inside.

Saturday- 19 January 2019

Most mornings start with a proper brewed coffee at home and then we hop on the motorbike for a 1 km ride to the farm to see what is happening there and another ‘coffee’. I have some reservations as to the coffee component of this drink as it is what’s marketed as Nestle 3 in 1, but it’s easy to make and although very sweet I don’t mind it as long as one isn’t expecting a coffee flavour 🙂

We normally get to the farm around 9 am by which time Gaun’s younger sister and husband, Yuan and Lud, have been working for several hours. Very often they are in the last stages of preparing and packaging fresh vegetables picked that early morning to deliver to customers at the local markets. I sometimes feel a little guilty turning up to just observe when they have been and are working so hard but they are always pleased to see us and if I don’t make it for some reason Yuan phones Gaun to ask where I am that morning.

Although I do my own non-physical thing at the farm, Gaun is currently busy tending to and expanding her third and fourth gardens. She never stops and the beauty of everything she touches is a testament to her hard work and love of gardening. 

We passed this truck on the way to the farm unloading concrete buffalo. More on this slightly odd photo later.

Last week the family took time off from other activities to rebuild a docking area that had rotted, which is used for my floating sala (hut) called Isan Grace. This photo shows the new dock, the boat and across to our new rice hut.

This is an example of others working while I take photos. Lud here ploughing a new field for vegetables. 

Some of this field used to be a small pond, which was originally created in 2013 when we moved 200 truck loads of soil from the farm to our recently purchased (at the time) land to raise the levels. When the extension of the farm lake happened in 2018 this soil was replaced and the pond filled in so that it could be farmed.

Yuan and Lud have been pumping water from the pond to flood this new area to make it easier to plough. This is the simple pump used. When in action it is attached to that small diesel engine Lud is using in the above photos and this powers the extraction of water.

When we relocated another rice hut to sit over the water at the farm Gaun took on the creation of her fourth garden and this is how it is looking as of today.

This is the challenge Gaun faced late last year. The new garden area covered with the dismantled rice hut.

Looking across Gaun’s garden back the other direction towards the farmhouse area. This has been achieved in a couple of very part-time working months.

A small display area Gaun built. I left the design of this garden entrely up to her.

The view from the rice hut looking across the wooden platform Yuan and Lud used to wash vegetables to the new dock for Isan Grace.

Inside the rice hut. I have recently added a stained glass window to the corner to add interest and light. These are all Isan fishing baskets in various forms.

The pathway to the entrance of the rice hut.

This morning I had some writing to do on a blog article and this seemed like the ideal place to do it with a ‘coffee’ on hand!

The view from the author’s desk.

The view as we arrived at the farm this morning of the beautiful avenue of bougainvillea lining the entrance driveway to the farmhouse.

Even the entrance to the farm is a stop and take photo opportunity and people on the way to a wat at the end of this road often do exactly that.

Gaun working away at defeating the weeds, whch grow here just as well as the plants you want to keep.

Yuan working alone while Lud ploughs the field at the back of the pond. She is removing weeds from this bed of newly sowed vegetables. It’s a patient, endless task.

As we rode back home the buffalo were settled in their new home at the entranceway to a community area being developed by our village.

This pond is central to the development and it flows into a series of community vegetable plots used by locals who don’t have access to their own land.

Breakfast in the garden was no hardship on this lovely sunny morning.

Just perfect.

A small addition to the garden. This handmade wooden pushbike and plant was bought at a garden centre in Nong Bua Lamphu yesterday. A simple yet attractive addition for the equally pleasing price of 100 baht or around A$4.00.

Friday – 18 January 2019

Every year starting 18 January at our provincial capital of Nong Bua Lamphu a festival is held in celebration of an Thai king called Naresuan who reigned Siam 1555 – 1605. A very important historical figure impacting the modern borders of Thailand and much respected by its people. You can read more about Naresuan HERE.

I always try to get along to this event, which is a 30 minute drive from us, having really enjoyed my first time there in 2016 when I was blown away by a street party involving hundreds of Isan cowgirls bootscootin to the music of that ancient traditional Thai group “Boney M” and their disco hit of the 70’s “Gotta Go Home”. You can read about that terrific day HERE.

Unfortunately since then the occasion has been much smaller and today was no exception. Still a few photos to be had as a taste of the afternoon plus Gaun spotted a timber house being built and knowing my interest in them you won’t be surprised to hear that we pulled over for a look-see.

Thais love marching bands although the musical ability sometimes lacks a little cordination 🙂

They love uniforms too. These aren’t military but government employees. If I had a uniform like this when I worked for the Australian governemnt I never would have left!

Many parades have a social message built into them like anti drugs, drinking and smoking but this was the first time I have seen an anti begging push. It is super rare to see people begging in this part of Thailand anyway so the message must be working!

Only two main dancing groups this time unfortunately. I can watch them all day. Beautifully presented and so graceful.

This group had the better costume. Love the red. Don’t expect to see the famous Thai smile at these dance events. Maybe it isn’t the done thing or maybe they are all just hot or shy but for whatever reason it is unusual to see that light up the day LOS moment.

The guys get a pretty smart get-up too complete with umbrellas in this case.

A few more photos to commemorate Thai beauty. The dance routine had a moment where the ladies did the wai, that graceful sign of respect.

Equally colourful from the back.

Focus.

The Chinese influence is strong in Isan and Nong Bua Lamphu has its own Chinese temple plus a cultural centre. Chinese New Year 5 February is celebrated.

I am always disappointed that the beauty of the costumes at these parades is offset with Thai commercial ugliness as a background. If only they were held in an environment that matched the ladies and their dresses.

No street party would be complete without several of these huge speaker systems piled on the back of an ancient farm truck. All powered by diesel generators sitting on the tray at the back.

Gaun spotted this new timber house as we headed home.

External timber taken from a traditional village house now being used in a modern structure.

Very unusually internal timber cladding is being added and very nice it is too.

Terrific detailing. 

It is a little hard to spot but this photo shows the gap between the original exterior timber wall and the new internal cladding. In my case I would fill this with insulation and achieve a cool house for very little extra cost. Insulation is a mystery to most Thais and many farang too so it wasn’t happening. A shame.

Old hardwood supporting timber being boxed in.

It is also unusual to see gyprock or plasterboard being used in a Thai house. A bit of protection on the window frames would save a lot of work later.

Central timber columns holding up the roof are enclised to look as if they are supposed to be in the middle of the room.

Nice presentation. I could live in that with insulation.

Well that’s my first attempt at a Facebook style ‘what I did today’ post. I hope you enjoyed it and we will see if I can keep ’em coming.