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I have always loved the timber rice storage huts you see in the garden of just about every rural house in Isaan. Somehow they are essentially Isaan and each has its own character and history. In the days when everyone grew their own rice this was where it was stored to provide essential food for the family over the course of a year. My own Isaan family still use theirs and our supply of rice comes from their hut. These days rice farms are being converted to sugar and less people are growing rice, although it is still an essential part of the seasonal crop cycle for many people. As a result some of the huts now stand empty and I have heard of them being used for firewood. Part of my plan for the new garden we have been developing this year was the installation of a rice hut, which I wanted to renovate to make it like a mini-example of the Jim Thompson House in Bangkok, link HERE if you haven’t been there. This is the story of achieving that vision.

8 June 2018 – Searching for a Rice Hut

Today was supposed to be a catch-up on some computer work but it wasn’t to be (yet). I am back onto finding a rice storage hut to place in the new garden and I asked Peng, my stepdaughter, to make me a “wanted” poster we could distribute, which she did a couple of nights ago. I was in no particular hurry but today Gaun suggested we call into her uncle who lives in a village ten minutes away and see if he knew of any huts for sale and if not we would give away the posters. Uncle threw himself into the task and after a couple of no-go’s we hit the jackpot.

Uncle’s village is more basic rural than ours, with a lot of older timber houses and less concrete updates. I had to take a few character photos before focussing on rice huts. I just love this one.

So Isaan rural. This is uncle’s rice storage hut at the back (not for sale).

There are a lot of these very basic dwellings in this village. Nice timber and I like the idea of a raised, covered veranda. Regular readers will recognise the ong, water pots in the foreground, three of which we moved into the new garden.

I am after some old feature timber too and this hardwood was lying under some rusted iron. Enquiries were made, as several villagers were involved at this stage, but not for sale.

A smaller hut, which might have been for sale but I was after a three panel version (bigger).

This is now mine! 5 x 3 metres, built from hardwood and in good condition. 6,000 baht or A$240.00. It would cost you that for a couple of those posts back “home”. It will cost more to move and rebuild it than to buy it but the overall cost will still be less than $1,000.

Gaun was talking to some villagers who thought I was “bah” – mad – to be spending money buying a rice hut. These are often burnt as firewood as they have no other value for locals. Anyway. One has been saved today.

Thanks for the size reference Gaun.

Very little termite activity and none of it recent. The planking is pretty good..

Once this timber is treated it will come up a treat. This wall will become a floor…read on.

We have feeler out to get someone to move it, which will be a dismantle and rebuild. I will report back on that cost. The hut is going behind the feature wall in front of the clothes drying area facing into the garden.

This will be the view from the hut. You can see one of the three waterpots I mentioned before.

I am changing the design of the hut so that it is enclosed on three sides with one wall removed and the timber saved used to make a veranda.

As Gaun isn’t very visual on concepts I made this detailed, scale model of what I wanted to happen using a Sang Som box (Thai Rum). This seemed to be totally appropriate as I intend to consume a few of those in the hut once it’s moved 🙂

This will have a pergola over it and flow into the garden. The timber walls mean I can display some artwork I picked up in Bangkok, once I make some frames. This will be a great addition to the garden and provide yet another sitting area if I ever had the time to do that.

I was also after a water pot to catch rainwater from the roof.

Gaun was in seek and buy mode at this stage and a we picked one up for 150 baht (A$6.00). Yuan and Lud came in from the farm to move it. Once it is cleaned and sealed it will add character to this bit of the garden as it replaces a plastic garbage bin!

12 June 2018 – Getting the Hut Ready to Move

The guys were well underway by the time we got there this morning. The gaps in the wall timbers were covered with strips of metal to keep rain out and rice in. I will be using wood.

Some old termite activity on a couple of the supporting timbers, which will be replaced. The hut was originally owned by this guy’s wife, who sold it to raise cash and it was moved by her hubbie. Now it has been sold again and he is undoing his work and will be rebuilding it at our place starting early tomorrow.

I can’t wait to sand these back and see how they look with some natural oil. 50 year old hardwood.

The floors are in great condition. It was only after the old rice was sweeped away that I could see what I bought. Thick hardwood and once again once stripped and oiled they will have real character. I just love timber and to have a garden room made from it will be a real treat.

We called back late afternoon and everything was finished and ready to move. Funnily it couldn’t be moved today because it is a Buddhist holy day and you can’t transport timber!

Leaving rice huts behind, this is one of the entrances to the wat with a moat that runs next to the road.

I have published a similar photo previously but everything has grown a lot. These are all cuttings donated by Gaun and planted and maintained by a couple of ancient ladies from our village.

More of Gaun’s flowers.

The scene at the back of the temple. So Thai. New rice, which will be transplanted to these empty paddies in a few weeks.

The roof is slowly going on. It is mostly being done by a couple of villagers and the monks so it will take a while.

A massive job for a small team.

14 June 2018 – Moving the Hut

Our rice hut arrived at the house yesterday morning and by the end of the day the eight foundation holes had been dug and concreted.

Today the contractor (I love that word – in an Isaan context this means a guy who normally does something else but has the time to do the job you want!) has gone off to put money on some Bun Bang Fai rockets being launched south of Si Bun Ruang. Back at work tomorrow,

The hut arrives on the back of an old farm truck powered by one of the multi-purpose diesel engines you see everywhere in Isaan.

It doesn’t look much at this stage does it?

The project starts. Our “old garden and the house are on the right outside of frame.

I tested oiling a piece of the flooring to compare before and after. An improvement I think!

I have decided only to do this to the wood inside and leave the outside a natural gray colour. None of these rice huts are treated so to do mine would be out of context and make it all a bit too farang! Inside is a different story and there I want the timber richness of the Jim Thompson house in Bangkok.

15 June 2018 – Rebuilding Starts

The second day of rice hut building and good progress made. The guy doing it has been very meticulous about trying to make a jumble of old timbers fit together as well as possible. It was such a pleasure to see something being created from wood rather than concrete and steel. So much character and, even at this early stage, the hut seems to have settled into the location and looks as if it belongs there.

I had the columns cut to lower the hut. Those concrete rings have a base of poured concrete, which were used to establish the levels.

Rice hut construction details for the enthusiasts out there!

You can see that the posts are sitting on a concrete base. This will be filled with concrete once the frame has been made to fix them in place. The timber you can see in the left corner with the groove cut into it is for the walls. The wood for them is quite thin and fits into this groove at the bottom. The floor then butts up to it on the inside.

The walls.

I was originally going to use some of these to to build a deck in front of the opening to the hut but obviously that wouldn’t work with this wood. Today Gaun negotiated for the guy to build a 3.5 x 2 metre deck for us where he supplies the timber for 2,500 baht (A$100).

This is the floor timber and you can see the difference in thickness. This is what my deck will be built from. Old timber so it will match.

Afternoon and the roof frame is going on.

The space between the columns on the far right will have a wall and the window you’ll see in the next photo. I changed my original design and there will be one wall across the front on the right. The other two openings won’t have walls and the deck will be built at the same level the width of that space and coming out 2 metres.

This is a cheap DIY Global House window (A$14.00) but I had the local glass guy add traditional, patterned and coloured glass – 100 baht per pane.

You will see this style in some of the old timber houses. I want to have this one fitted to the front of the hut where the morning sun will shine through it and make a feature.

I was busy supervising as usual. I cope with the stress here pretty well.

I love this old timber. You can’t buy character like this from a shop.

Gaun was the real supervisor. She gets totally involved and is my connection with the builders for any questions they might have. You can see how well the hut fits this area. That’s our undercover clothes drying area at the back and a garden shed.

Peng returns from school with Duk Dik the family’s mutt. The school “bus” drops her off at mama’s house and she walks over, something she couldn’t do before her operation last year, which you can read about HERE.

The floor joists start to happen. With most of the detailed work done today we should be well on the way to finished, less the deck, tomorrow.

18 June 2018 – Buffalo Yokes

When we were being helped to find a rice hut by Gaun’s uncle, he told her that he wanted to give me a couple of buffalo yokes as he knew I was interested in old Isaan items.

Although they don’t look too exciting they must have such a history of hard work (yakka for you Aussies!) by both buffalo and Gaun’s uncle in the day. They are super heavy, made from hardwood of course, and smooth with years of use. I am delighted by have them and they will join my small Isaan trophy room in the rice hut once it is completed.

I have also included a couple of photos showing how even what might be thought of as lost timber can be transformed.

The yokes in real action.

Gaun grew up with buffalos as the tractors of Isaan. Her mama had 16 of them and ploughed the family farm in exactly this way. Gaun and Yuan used to ride out to the farm on them, chest deep in water during the wet season, after school.

Although these look like the same timber, once I stripped them back more recently they are completely different underneath the dirt.

When we had the rice hut lowered they cut the big supporting timbers, which left these bits of hardwood. Although they were previously buried in the ground there is still some beautiful wood under the grime and not rotted much at all.

Cut through the surface, given a coat of anti-termite stain and what looks like a piece of rubbish is turned into a feature.

We bought four of these pots today with plants included at 80 baht each (A$2.50) from the nursery in Nong Bua Lamphu I mentioned recently. Each one will end up with a stand like this example. I had a comment on my Facebook page from a regular reader and he stated the truth when he wrote:

One of the things I love about Thailand is the wonderful exotic woods they have here in abundance. I’ve lost count of the number of pieces I’ve saved from being tossed on the fire – I just can’t cope with the thought of burning something so beautiful

18 June 2018 – Progress

The rice hut was almost finished today with the roof and walls mostly done. Tomorrow there is some detailed work to do and a start on the decking extension. It is still very rough of course but it won’t take much to turn it into a decent outside room.

This was taken Saturday with work on the floor starting.

Most rice huts have these simple “doors”. They are pieces of wood that slide into a slotted frame. Padlock the top one and the door is locked as you have to remove the top one to release all the others.

My daily “looking useful” photo.

This is still Saturday and here the roof is going on. They asked if I wanted to turn the iron sheeting over to hide the rust but no way. You can’t buy character like that in a shop!

5mm foam and silver foil insulation going under the roofing. Although the hut is mostly in the shade you can’t have too much insulation here and it is so cheap why not? The foam also reduces the noise of falling rain, which in a tropical storm stops conversation.

Yesterday no work happened as we were in Dan Sai for the Ghost Mask festival. Today as of this morning the flooring went in and the walls have started to go up.

We needed some strips of wood to hide the gaps between the wall boards so a visit to the local timber merchant had them cut while we waited at 12 baht a metre (hardwood).

The single wall on the left and the two space gap giving a view of the garden. The deck will flow straight from this space to extend the seating area.

It looks as if it has been there for 50 years doesn’t it.

  • The costs so far:
    Rice hut 6,000 baht
    Remove and rebuild 12,000 baht
    1 metre of sand and gravel 1,000 baht
    12 concrete rings 1,080 baht
    3 bags of concrete 360 baht
    Delivery 200 baht
    Wood strips – 120 metres 1,440 baht.
    Insulation 24 sq mtrs 1,720 baht
    Extra timber 300 baht
    24,100 baht or A$990.00.

By the time I bought some extra timber, stain and the window I think the final cost will be about 26,000 baht.

19 June 2018 – Finished

The rice hut was completed today with its veranda extension and we celebrated with an Isaan buffet this evening. A very appropriate way to christen the new addition to our estate!

Tomorrow I will start to make it less of a rice hut and more of an outdoor living space. Gaun will start on landscaping.

The view from the deck over the garden.

Rough but it has potential.

It has settled in very nicely.

A Isaan BBQ buffet – Peng’s request, my stepdaughter.

A charcoal fire and then the meats and veggies are either cooked dry on top or boiled in a broth around the edge that Gaun is pouring in here.

A great space even in these early days.

20 June 2018 – Cleaning

This afternoon the pressure wash of the wood on the rice hut revealed beautiful colours underneath the grime of decades. Very rewarding. Yuan and Lud came over this evening to toast the new addition to the garden, and after more SangSom (Thai rum) than normal my life is looking a little blurred and I hope my spelliog is OK! The fish basket lamp shade was a hit too.

Wow. I wasn’t expecting that. The vibrant colours underneath years of rice storage was very exciting (it’s the small things!!!)

Before and after pressure wash – no stain.

Me and a bottle of SangSom. Life is looking good.

My best friends Yuan and Lud. How lucky is that – get wonderful wife plus bonus terrific Isaan family for free?

22 June 2018 – Slow Progress

As always you can spend a full day working on projects and at the end you think why it all took so long! Steps and a handrail were installed to the deck area (the latter for Peng and me after a few SangSoms) and the window has gone in complete with an Isaan window box 

The staining starts tomorrow and thanks to everyone’s suggestions I will stick to the natural wood. I will share photos then. Speaking of SangSom……………………

Gaun has already started planting. Those new shrubs at the front will be deck-high in a couple of months.

It all fits in nicely.

Once the staining is finished I can start of the internal detailing.

I spotted these in town today and picked up a couple. They are fishing baskets. The idea is that you capture the fish inside, if you’re quick enough, and then remove them through the hole in the top.

Being used as intended! An historical photo (obviously not mine!)

Needless to say I had a totally farang concept for them and they are going to be experimental light shades for the rice hut. I think they will be in character and give a warm characterful lighting at night. I will report back. 180 baht each (A$8.00).

I want to find a timber base for this to get it off the ground but you get the idea. It will end up a feature in the rice hut.

An Isaan window box. Who would have thought?

Janet May a good friend in Australia made a comment about the shade on the rice hut and I thought I would share this photo taken at midday. The whole hut and deck area is in shade provided by a large mango tree. You can see that some ideas for landscaping and upgrading the hut has happened already even though we have been out most of the day. Back to it now.

28 June 2018 – Update

Good progress continues to be made on finishing the rice hut conversion. It all takes longer than one thinks it will mainly because I am doing the work! It all goes a lot quicker when I am the supervisor 

There is still more to be done to finish the detailing, sanding and more varnish on floors and walls, which are too rough, and hooking it up to electricity. The photos give you a taste of how the finished article will look like but some of the furnishings are just there to fill the space and will be improved over time. I think it will end up exactly what I hoped for. An outside garden room with character.

This photo was taken a couple of days ago. The contrast between bare wood and even a single coat of varnish is dramatic. Those colours haven’t faded in time as you will see in the next few photos.

The walls only have a single coat of varnish and most of the floors two. I will sand them back again and add at least one more coat to give a more finished look. The table not a stayer! I have some beautiful raw timber in mind to make my own.

The window has worked well in giving extra character to both inside and out. The gaps in the walls will be covered soon!

The handmade money boxes I bought at the Ghost Mask festival in Dan Sai recently – blog post coming.

The rug is from a small Welsh village outside Cardiff, just to add an international flavour. The pot is from a wonderful place that makes them between Chiang Mai and Rai. The fish basket lamp shades work hanging I think. The six floorboards at the end only have one coast of varnish so you can tell the difference that an extra coat gives.

I bought these small silk prints from a shop just outside the Jim Thompson House in Bangkok, which is appropriate as the rice hut and garden inspiration came from there.

The fish basket ended up being hung as a lamp shade and I didn’t go with a base. The frames are locally bought. Rice hut, Thai silk and a fish basket. How Vogue is that  I have a friend visiting shortly and his wife has ordered two of these “lamp shades” to be brought back from his trip!

Cosy at night, although cosy isn’t quite what might want on a warm Isaan evening. More ice in the beer required.

Some of the newly blooming flowers just outside the hut.

This has been a rewarding project and the process of transferring a simple rice hut from the fields to our new garden has been an exciting journey. I am sure that the hut will provide another place in the garden to stop and do not much for many years to come.

Thanks for reading.