This blog entry is out of sync as I have several topics still to write about based around Phuket and Bangkok. However I felt motivated to catch the moment fresh and have an afternoon free so there you go.
I am writing this sitting on the edge of a rice field bank under a tree while a group of Isaan farmers are working away ankle deep in water harvesting young rice shoots to replant in the fields.
Gaun and I flew out of Phuket having said goodbye to my brother Richard and partner Sam who we leave behind in Phuket before they fly back to Australia. My step daughter Sarah came with us to the airport as it was the end of her eight day stay with us and she was catching a plane to Bangkok so she could connect to a flight back to Australia.
My time in Phuket was always intended to be a holiday period outside of my “research” time in Thailand and gave me the opportunity to catch up with four lots of visitors, which was wonderful. It ended up being a little longer than I had planned as I changed arrangements to celebrate my step-daughter’s birthday on the island. Leaving felt like the end of an era and the beginning of something new and very different as we headed to inland Thailand – first stop Isaan.
Gaun and I were able to get a direct flight with Air Asia from Phuket to Udon Thani (about A$90 each one), which is in the North East part of Thailand and about two hours from Gaun’s family farm who live in outside a small town called Si Bun Ruang. Gaun normally takes the bus and doing it this way the trip takes a day and a half. Flying cuts this down to under two hours.
We arrived in Udon Thani to light rain, a man with a Mr Tony Eastmead sign for my car and a GPS that refused to recognise where our hotel was. Thankfully Gaun being a local was able to get us reasonably close. She then phoned a niece who met us on her motorbike and with the help of residents and shop owners got us closer again. We then phoned the hotel and the manager hopped on his push-bike and guided us the rest of the way!
We headed out for dinner almost immediately, as Thais are permanently hungry, and once again the advantage of travelling with a native became obvious. In Phuket and Bangkok most signs and restaurant menus are in both Thai and English, with Russian thrown in sometimes. Here in Isaan everything is in Thai script. Even simple things like ordering a meal would be a total adventure mostly likely ending up with a serving of roast frog and a double helping of chilli.
Where in Phuket steamed rice is served with most dishes here it is always sticky rice which has a consistency of semi-dried cement. You could build houses with this stuff and they would outlast the pyramids.
We also popped in to see Gaun’s niece (the one who helped us find the motel) who works in a mini market to pick up some supplies to take to the family. I had a reminder of the dual nature of pricing over here when Gaun had a watch battery replaced at a cost of 160 THB. Later we discovered the niece had one replaced at the same place for 40 THB. In future Gaun can go alone and I am keeping well out of sight.
An excellent three land highway took us out of Udon Thani with very little traffic. I’m not too sure about the speed limit but 100 seemed to be about right.
One thing I noticed is the number and variety of roadside food stalls. These are obviously set up to cater for the endless need of Thais to graze 24/7. See what you want, pull to the edge of the road, open the window and the food is passed in and money out.
The other thing I have noticed is that there doesn’t seem to be any order to Thai eating habits either. Gaun decided that a couple of bags of wild pink, heavy duty fairy floss (pure sugar) looked pretty tempting. This stuff is wrapped in a warmed pancake thing, a stack of which you get with the purchase. It’s an unusual combination and probably no worse for you than a MacDonald’s thick shake, which is essential wake-up food when I drive from Canberra to Sydney. Chicken was the next stop. Freshly BBQ’ed and served with sticky rice. A bad choice as a little further down the road they had roast pork – Gaun was most upset! We should have waited. The third stop was to pick up water.
The road changed from three to two lanes and finally into a decent one lane heading into Si Bun Ruang. A little before the town we pulled into a resort catering to foreigners as, although I am looking forward to the rural experience, cold water showers and hole in the floor toilets aren’t on my to do list. The resort is owned by an Englishman and his Thai wife, neither of whom were in residence. I think it is his attempt to create a Butlin’s (big one stop family holiday resort destinations in the UK) holiday camp in the wilds of Isaan for some reason.
A stack of money invested and I’m not sure who stays here as this is not a tourist destination in any form. As far as I can see we’re the only people here apart from heaps of staff. Lots of little self-contained cabins, large pool with a water slide originating from a lion’s mouth, shop, mini market and children’s animal patting area (Gaun’s first experience with sheep). Slightly surreal feel to the place set in pure Thai countryside surrounded by rice fields.
When we turned up yesterday to swim we had the pool to ourselves, the water slide was turned on for us and we even had our own personal life guard.
On a final note I can report that, as part of my exhaustive research into the cost of living here, Cornetto’s are 25 THB here compared to 40 TBH on the beach in Phuket. Life is good.
My next post will be posted soon and will cover my initial impressions of living in a rural Thai village and the farming experience.
Thanks for reading.