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Songkran is the Thai New Year held early April a time of parties and good fun in the same way our New Year is celebrated. It is also a family time so for the many people who have jobs that take them away, especially here in Isaan, a region in the northeast of Thailand, this means travelling back home in a huge twice a year migration (our New Year being the other).

The family home filled up as my wife Gaun, older brother Jun and family arrived plus some cousins and friends. This was the best Songkran I have had in Thailand, a wonderful mix of parties, family events, water fights, Buddhist ceremonies and more. I will start the holiday period a little before the official start of Songkran with a monk ordination and a wedding.

I couldn’t resist.

8 April 2018 – An Ordination Party for Two Monks

Capturing faces is one of my most enjoyable photography subjects and Thais seem to have a more open range of emotions than us westerners so it is especially rewarding here. When Thais are having fun it really shows. These photos were from the street party that happened this afternoon for two monk ordinations in the village.

Gaun dancing.

Peng waiting for the two processions to arrive.

Happy? Maybe. She is carrying a plastic bag to collect small good luck items thrown out by the monks – more later.

Thais will come up to you and ask to have their photo taken. This little guy was an example.

What the hell is that white creature taking my photo?

Mama or grandma.

A monk to be, shaved and on his way to the temple. It is school holidays so he might only be there for a few weeks (he looks young but it’s hard to tell with Thais) or it could be an end of school time as a monk before starting work or university. It is unlikely he is becoming a permanent monk.

Monk number two.

Cowboy hats are always popular in Isaan.

I don’t know if these children are relatives but she has the look of a proud grandma doesn’t she.

Tea is a neighbour. He’s a lad….you’d never guess.

Yuan was kidnapped by the crowd and ended up at the temple. She didn’t seem to mind!

Isaan dancing is for all ages, male, female and ladyboys!

I scored a salute.

This is a neighbour and friend of the family. She doesn’t mind either a drink or a party.

The street party itself was brief but good fun.

The family sets up on the main street. Yuan is laughing because mama is trying a sweet wine sort of drink. In four years this is the first time I have seen mama drink anything alcoholic – Yuan too maybe 🙂

Peng joined the main group (she couldn’t do that before her operation last year) and Duk Dik, the world’s scruffiest dog, came along to keep an eye on her.

Yuan’s son Game is back from the army for Songkran (Thai New Year) Gaun’s older brother Jun and family arrive tonight. Half of Thailand is on the move as everyone returns home for a week of partying.

I can’t get enough of these wonderful colourful scenes.

Two groovers (younger readers will need to Google that expression!).

Songkran comes early. Iced water down your back certainly makes you feel alive!

Masses of kids because the monks throw out little packets, which have sweets and money (usually one baht) in them. See the girl in the middle with a yellow top? She has a bag-full. There’s a mad rush when they are thrown out and it’s not just the children!

A very small but noisy lum band provided the music for the second monk.

Heading off to the temple where the monks will be carried three times around the ordination hall (ubosot) before being taken inside for the final ceremony.

10 April 2018 – A Family Wedding

There was a surprise wedding in the family yesterday and not for the reason many surprise weddings happen  Gaun’s older brother Jun and family arrived from Bangkok way for Songkran and announced that their daughter would have an informal wedding ceremony that evening. As always with Isaan people, you only need to give a few hours notice and a party appears for hundreds as everyone pitches in to make it happen.

In this case, it was to be a small family and village friends affair only as there wasn’t a lot of money to spend. Bride and groom have both been married before and this was the formal handing over of Sin Sod, money saved by the groom and given to the bride’s family, 40,000 baht in this case. They have been together for a couple of years and he had been saving up for this moment. As the groom usually goes to the bride’s home for a wedding, however informal, this once a year trip to Jun’s family home in Si Bun Ruang provided the opportunity.

As always it is lovely to be included as part of the family and I thought I would share some photos to give you an insight into the evening.

Peng with the daughters of the bride and groom both from previous relationships.

My favourite village elder arrives to conduct the ceremony. She hasn’t been well so it was a treat to see her back in action.

Sin Sod money on display. From left to right – the brides mum (sister-in-law to Gaun), the bride and groom, Gaun’s brother Jun, mama, Gaun’s uncle and village elders.

As always the ceremony where a donation is made by guests and the good luck string tied.

The girls had been dancing to some farang music (our sound system on the left) and one of the guests gave me money to give to them!

Note the wai, hands in front of the face, a sign of respect. Cute. For farang who get all egocentric about this sort of stuff, remember that Thais have a general respect for elders. They wai you NOT because you are special, just because you are old 🙂

This is the first time I have seen this table being used for a board game.

I thought it was for checkers but, leaving aside they had big/small stones rather than black and white playing pieces, the rules were completely different. Peng on the right and her cousin (Jun’s son) on the left.

This is the groom’s daughter.

He was married to a Laos lady previously and this photo proves the close connection between Thailand and Laos. You couldn’t pick them apart from looks. Language, too, as Isaan and Laos are almost exactly the same and completely different from Thai. Most Isaan people speak Isaan and Thai and Gaun speaks English increasingly well too. She speaks two more languages than me!

Gaun’s uncle. Her dad died when she was five.

Regular readers will recognise mama.

The cooks working. People just turn up and get stuck in. It ended up being a meal for 30 people all cooked on two charcoal fires, a gas burner and a small BBQ.

Gaun’s older sister Paed and Apple, another relative.

Pork being BBQ’ed. Very nice it was too. A neighbour’s kid helping out.

Some of the guests. After three years here I can now look around a group like this and start to finally identify the various relationships. Everyone has a connection to everyone else.

Jun drove here, an eight-hour trip, in a small two-door pickup with himself, wife, daughter, two sons and son-in-law, two kids and two fighting cocks!

12 Apr 2018 – Dok Khun Trees

One of the pleasures of living here is hardly a day goes by that I don’t learn something new – mostly very small things but as time passes they all add up to a broader understanding of life here and my surroundings. Many westerners never leave their comfort zone of air conditioned house and local farang bar and I think miss out on so much. Each to their own, of course. Whatever rocks your boat.

This morning was a case in point and I am posting especially for a FB friend Ken Hulme. Ken these are Dok Khun seed pods, which are hanging in those beautiful yellow flowering trees this time of year. If you pick them and crack them open (with a hammer as they are super hard) you can plant the seeds and raise your own seedlings for planting out later. Gaun tells me that growing from seed rather than cuttings, mean you get a better root system but the flowers are delayed – year three, which is the age of our trees.

Aren’t they neatly packaged. Just like a bought one! Nature is very clever.

Gaun tells me that if the pods fall to the ground they soften, I guess in readiness to releasing the seeds. The disadvantage from the tree’s point of view is that there are small flies that can burrow in and they eat the seeds, which are quite sweet.

And later this morning Gaun was making good use of those seeds. Who knows where they will end up. The farm maybe because we have run out of space at home.

Gaun planted this tree (of course) at mama’s house two years ago. It was from a cutting and is flowering now as you can see. The ones we have in our garden were grown from seed and are three years old. This should be their first year of flowering but they haven’t started yet.

Me and Peng.

Mama in her no teeth no smile mode.

You can see a few pods hanging lower down in this tree. Gaun has now picked them and they are the ones in the earlier photos.

12 Apr 2018 – The Start of Songkran

Today is the official start of Songkran, Thai New Year, and the tradition which started with an annual washing of Buddha statues has spread to wetting just about everything else too.

I love Songkran in a small Isaan village because it is less “intense” than in the bigger centres especially where bulk farang get involved with mixed outcomes. Here it is mostly the local kids setting up water fight stands on the street and it is good “clean” fun with no alcohol enthusiasm involved. Go into the main town of Si Bun Ruang in the evening and it is all go with loud music and water fights between streetside groups and pickup trucks with bins of water. I will get some of those photos before the end of the festival but in the meantime here are some taken at our front gate. Good fun.

Peng in the thick of it. With no passing victims the group turned on itself 🙂

Good shot Peng.

The kids ask permission before a wetting. You won’t see that in Pattaya or Patong, especially from the farang! Note the phone held high.

An expression of pure joy.

It’s a good thing we have a great supply of water. I can see this becoming a daily event for the local kids.

Got ya.

Good shot.

13 Apr 2018 – The Battle for Central Si Bun Ruang

The Songkran water battle for central Si Bun Ruang happened this evening and I think that the troops on the pavement helped by two farang won the day. We were lucky to meet up with friends Doug and Pu who have a shop on the main street and were set up with water and buckets. The shop next door provided the music. Great fun. We will be back tomorrow for a re-run because Peng wants to get wet. That will certainly happen.

Pu and Doug. They have been in the thick of battle for two days now.

Doug has a farang sized bucket and used it to good effect on Gaun.

Not stylish Gaun but effective!

The problem with the drums of water in the pickups is that they quickly run out while the roadside containers are being constantly topped up with hoses connected to town supplies. It’s all about fun however, and the same pickups and motorbikes go up and down the main street just to get wet.

A happy Gaun.

Shy she ain’t.

It must have been a quiet moment.

Doing my bit.

They thought they were safe inside large plastic bags……

Think again. They ended up wetter than people in the open 🙂

Good shot Doug.

No mercy.

Gaun and friend.

I think this photo says it all. The joy of simple fun.

14 Apr 2018 – Washing Buddha Statues

Another full Songkran day. In the morning we went to the local forest temple – Wat Pha Sup Anun, to make a donation and wash the Buddha statues. The new timber main hall is coming along and with the money raised recently it should be well on its way to completion this year.

Meeting the monks. Most of these are part-timers. The abbot on the right.

I love this sort of environment because it is like you have turned up in their living room and everyone settles in for a chat. Super relaxed. The Buddha sized monk is a lovely guy. He has become a monk for the school holidays but at other times he almost lives at the temple and helps out in all sorts of ways. A permanent monk of the future maybe.

Some of the smaller Buddha statues have been moved outside to allow people to wash them. A lovely ceremony.

Gaun doing her washing ceremony.

And me.

I have covered this temple before so won’t add a lot of new photos. The roof is taking shape.

Some beautiful timbers.

A closer look. Trying to source timbers like this is not easy and very expensive. This wood has been donated by locals and other forest temples.

A very tropical toilet block.

If this follows the normal forest wat trend it will be semi-open at the sides.

The floor level with be above those concrete base-rings.

May your coffee be strong and your Monday be short – good advice for non-retirees!

Gaun’s donated plants continue to flourish. Someone is watering them because the dry season continues.

On the farm baby jackfruit are making an appearance. They grow close to the trunk because of their size.

I will finish here and work on Songkran Part 2. Some great photos in that one so keep an eye out for it.

Thanks for reading.