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Author Topic: Life in Upcountry Isaan (Part 1 of 2)  (Read 15524 times)

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February 21, 2016, 07:21:13 PM
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Life in Upcountry Isaan (Part 1 of 2)
« on: February 21, 2016, 07:21:13 PM »
Sun 21 Feb 2016, 12:34 pm

Many thanks for HHmedia for permission to re-publish Richar'd superb post from the Hua Hin Forum

Enjoy and comment, please!

In 2 parts.  This is part 1 of 2


Postby richard » Tue Sep 22, 2009 3:46 pm

Expat life living in a village in Isaan

My introduction to Isaan

My name is Richard and I am in my 60s. I have travelled and lived in many parts of the world but finally fell in love with Thailand. So moved here lock stock and barrel. After sampling Bangkok and exploring the islands in the south I came to Hua Hin to see a friend and decided that this is where I was going to settle.

With the expat community and a mixture of Thais I found it was easy to mix Western and Eastern cultures. The facilities are great and there is always something to do. I lived in a rented house surrounded by middle class Thais. A minute walk to the beach and 10 minute walk to the town centre. It was just right for me. I soon accumulated lots of friends both Thai and farang and life seemed idyllic for several years. However Hua Hin was changing and with the explosion of development and the increasing number of Bangkok Thais descending at the weekend’s life was getting more hectic and resembled a holiday resort.

I had many Thai girlfriends but eventually got caught in the Thai lady fishing trawl and settled down with one girl who moved in and took care of me. I should explain. I suffered a DVT attack some 5 years ago so my mobility is hampered. Suddenly out of the blue my girl asked me if I would like to visit her family in Isaan. Well the explorer blood in me agreed as to me this was a new adventure.

Now bear in mind my exposure to Thais so far were mainly middle class Thais living in westernized accommodation and some of them spoke a little English.
So off we went. Car to Bangkok, flight to Khon Kaen and then pickups to the village. We were met in the Khon Kaen passenger lounge by a horde of dark skinned Thais of all ages. Our baggage was seized and we proceeded to the car park. Two broken down pickups awaited us yet with more Thai villagers.

I was seated in the front with a beer Chang and some barbecued chicken for the journey to the village. After leaving Khon Kaen I was amazed at the superb road infrastructure and hardly any traffic. After 20 kilometers things changed dramatically. We turned left and suddenly were on a road partly concrete and partly dirt. The sides of the roads were Old Thai homes and all the way to the village cattle and buffalo were on the road. The countryside was a sea of rice and sugar cane fields as far as your eye could see. We passed through many small villages and got waves and cheers from all who dozed in their hammocks during the midday heat. After a one stop visit to a local shop and market to buy up supplies ( sweets for the kids, Crates of beer and some toiletries) we arrived at a small village at the bend of the road and went down a narrow dirt road to an old Thai house where we disembarked.

More Thai faces appeared from the surrounding bush and I was ushered into the house courtyard to meet the immediate family and the wife’s father. When this little old man appeared in his Thai clothes there was an eerie silence descended. My wife and her sisters went face down on the deck with high wais to her father. He approached me and gave me a once over inspection. He then gave me a high wai and came over and shook my hand. The rest is covered later but as a visitor you are treated like royalty.

Back in Hua Hin I had a trauma. I have just been to real Thailand. Hua Hin, Phuket, Pipi, Bangkok. They are not Thailand. My mind pondered the situation. Could I live there? What about health, what about internet connection? What about food? What about friends?

So I stayed a resident in Hua Hin and every now and again I would go and stay in the village for a week to chill out. Yes chill out. If you think Hua Hin is chilled out try a spell in the wilds.
So that was my introduction to Isaan and now I will elaborate on life in an Isaan village

My life in Isaan

Well I finally moved to the village. Why?. Still wondering. I have been on the move from house to house, country to country since I was 5 years old. Never figured myself a slippers by the fireside guy. Life is too short and there is more to learning by travel than you get from books and university. Plus I was getting bored with Hua Hin. Conversations revolved around the credit crunch, visa situations and I am a born optimist.

So here we go. Bear in mind the no 2 villages are alike. They all have their own sub cultures and rituals.

Well I arrived in the village and took up residence in the wife’s father’s home. The wife inherited it as the youngest daughter when he passed away. Traditionally the youngest daughter must look after mother and father before wedlock. The upside is they inherit the house and plot on their expiry. I had had the house rebuilt to satisfy my needs. The workforce involved were family and for more technical bits a so called reputable local builder. All the teak and wood was restored and used so the only changes were a new roof, some concrete pillars and of course a shower and western toilets. Plumbing was improved too. Had a room built on the side and for me only. Computer gear, memorabilia and a place I could go to for my space. Internet access solved. No chance of a landline without a fat wallet. Satellite deemed to be expensive and unreliable. Solution? Nokia phone link to AIS. Oh relief!. A western toilet, internet connection, good hospital 1 hour away and limited farang food 10 kilometres away.


Just as Thais differentiate between a tourist and an expat the same applies in the village. I was once a visitor now I am a resident and treated as a village person. No more red carpet and no more allowances for western behavior

Does not mean I am an accepted Thai. Even if you have lived here 20 years, have Thai children, speak Thai and speak Lao you will always be a farang outsider.

Some years back 2 other farangs came to live here. Both were ostracized. One because he built a high wall around the house and allowed no one in. The other for his noisy behaviour. Both used to sit at the bar near the roadside and shout and get drunk. The headman approached me and asked if I could have a word. Thais avoid confrontation in case of loss of face. I agreed. Knowing one of them quite well I asked him to sit for a chat. He is an ex Coldstream Guard and had a habit of riding round the village singing Beetle songs and generally acting like a naked to the waist yobo. Tried vey diplomatically (for me) to explain that his actions were startling the villagers and he needed to calm down and soak up their culture. He took it well and thanked me for the few words.

The word integration has been raised many times on website forums and bar conversations. When one is totally outnumbered and alone integration is a must. It is their country we are mere visitors or guests and MUST abide by their rules, civility and culture

The family

The wife has 12 brothers and sisters and all have children, grandchildren and out of wedlock children. At the last count there were 67 family living in the village and many more scattered across Isaan and Bangkok. So the majority of the village are family.

Her father was considered to be a wealthy and influential man. Every time a child was born to him he bought a plot for them to live on. He owned cattle, buffalo and rice and sugarcane fields. His downfall was the loss of his wife and his reversion to drinking Thai whiskey and gambling. All was lost except the property given to his children.

The village

The village is primarily family but is ruled by the temple, headman and chief of police. The temple is a working temple and used as a place of worship, gatherings, care of the sick and elderly and to a degree schooling. The head man is a man that almost dictates laws for the community (more in my bit on rituals). When to build, what to buy and banisher of bad spirits. The chief of police is in charge of local policing which doesn’t really amount to much. Anything serious is the responsibility of the regional police. The village is very much a commune. All is shared.

Work in the village

Just about everybody works the land. Rise at 4am and work until 6pm. Whilst the men go to the fields or tend the cattle the women take care of the home, take care of the kids, weave baskets and straw matting, harvest and process silk worms.

During the season women will get up at 3am and go looking for mushrooms and dress them up on banana leaves and sell them on the roadside. The men will also craft furniture and just about anything required for the family and be done with material from the bush. Their skills in turning something out of the bush still amazes me. Some of the younger more attractive girls leave for Bangkok or many of the holiday resorts. Ones with a reasonable education and knowledge of English may swing a job in a shop or restaurant. The rest! Well we know what happens to them but all will send money home to support their families.

The children

All happy and play together. No computer games or TV. Outdoor life is their thing. They are all very resourceful when making things from the bush. Catapults, blowpipes, kites, buggies, spears and fishing rods to name a few. At night some of the older kids don wellies and a night torch worn on the head and venture out into the bush armed with machetes catapults and blowpipes and fishing rods to catch night game. They arrive home at dawn with an array of catches. Fish, eels, frogs , beetles and bugs and snakes. All for the cooking pot

Isaan village food and drink

If it moves or grows they eat it. They eat very healthy food and always little and often. The children are beginning to lean towards fatty food and all have a sweet tooth. Western influence again.
All manner of meat (cow, buffalo, pig, duck, chicken, rat, snake, frog, dog, turtle, ants, lizards, wild boar if they can spear it) DON’T anyone tell me they do not eat dogs in Thailand. They do
All manner of vegetables and greens growing in the wild and leaves from numerous trees plus fruits
All manner of spices and herbs
Sticky rice and sticky rice and sticky rice

Their diet is superb and would almost fit into many alternative medicine theories. Meat in small portions, vegetables in abundance and of course copious amounts of sticky rice. Always followed by fruit.

Most of their food is boiled or steamed with occasional barbecuing. Sometime though the meat is raw and that takes some stomaching. I have been given raw heart, liver and intestines and it is supposed to be an aphrodisiac. Most women will not eat beef and turtle. In fact for a woman to watch a turtle cook will make her barren. Many old wives tales but I will cover that later.

Drink. Well as a rule most of the village drink water, Leo and soft drinks BUT many take the killer. The two most common causes of death here are motorbikes (no helmets of course) and drinking the killer. What’s the Killer?. In mild form it is bottled Isaan whiskey. In village brewing form it is a pot of fermenting rice which turns it into pure alcohol. This is washed down with Red Bull and honey. When your eyes cross, go to sleep after drinking a litre of water. More said about that in my personal experiences.

Village superstitions

All villages are rife with superstition. Don’t ever crack a joke about ghosts. They believe in them. Readup on the Buddhist thinking and you will know why.
These are based on personal experience so may vary according to the village. Snake found in the bathroom, killed and taken away to eat. Next day Headman arrives with a monk to re bless the house and rid it of evil spirits. House or extension to be built but permission must be given as to the right day to commence. Cleansing of spirit. Wife washes ones feet and dresses you three times in a sarong. Prayer for faithfulness. Wife on bended knee kissing feet and reciting the gospels. The list is endless and means a great deal to them.

Village events and celebrations

Celebrations are very important to the Thai villager. Time to let ones hair down and get drunk and party. Of course the recognized events are paramount although sometimes extended. SongKran here lasts 7 days and nights. Local events are too numerous to mention. All involve a parade round the village with monks at the head and copious amounts of booze consumed.

At one event I was in the crowd taking pics and the parade stopped. I was ushered over to the monk’s pickup and told to mount and sit with the monks, headman and police. Duly installed I ended up surrounded by junior monks who spoke English and wanted to learn. They, including the top monk consumed my fags and I ended up throwing sweets to the kids.

Monks in the villages are different to those in towns and cities At songkran I was sat on the tailgate of a pickup. Usual parade but monks on foot. I was told it was permissible for me to throw water on a monk. Sure? Yes. Number one monk approached so I alighted and in true Yorkshire fashion poured a bucket of water over his head. The crowd were in hysterics the wife was fuming. I was the told it should have been a trickle down the left shoulder. A high wai to the monk and said I was sorry. He beamed at me came over put his hands on my shoulders and whispered in my ear “don’t worry, you are still learning my farang brother. Here is my mobile number but don’t tell anybody I speak English”
Phew, so much to tell.

Thai special events and rituals

A funeral

The wife’s fathers funeral was immense. As an influential man he commanded a good send off. I missed the funeral but caught up with the wake. This lasted 3 days and nights and was a real education. The first day is the assembly of the direct family and I was honoured to be included and a general muttering about his goodness and much drinking during the night. The second day the village descends and the monks to take prayers and accept gifts and much drinking during the night. The third day is celebration time. The disco rolls up (thought Pink Floyd were playing) and its movies for the kids in the afternoon. In the evening the music starts. Full pelt. Now I am slightly deaf and I was 60 metres away from the stage but still couldn’t hear myself think.
The noise went on until 4am. Bivouacs and bonfires lit for those unable to move. The police had shut the road and countless women had provided floral displays and food to feed at least 150

A Wedding and Birthday party

Well this was a double event and it involved me. My Birthday occurs in Songkran as does my son in law. The headman had researched my birth and found I was born in a special year relating to Buddha time

The wedding was typically Thai. No paperwork involved so not valid for a farang. For a Thai villager it’s a status jump. The way it works is simple. A girl must marry above her status level, On a point system one to ten this is how it how it works. Marry Thai above status 2 points, meet farang up 5 points, marry farang up ten points, farang has built house and has SUV up 20 points. Thailand is all about status and face.

The stag night was during the day and involved me walking round the village in my special Thai shirt and white sash accompanied by Thais pouring copious amounts of drink down them and me. Then back to the Ban which was decked with flowers. The bride still hidden.

The village elders and monks turn up and I am escorted by them into my home. On the way my feet are washed by young village girls and I duly slip them 20 Baht. At the foot of the stairs I meet my bride. Absolutely transformed into a Geisha girl. With pipes and cymbals we ascend the stairs with the headman muttering chants which I and I alone must repeat. Well a short phrase was not difficult but the long phrases I just went mumbo jumbo. The Headman laughed. The ceremony was conducted by the headman a monk and me and the missus sat round a floral display. Lots of mumbo Jumbo and bowing and then the string came out and we all got tied up. Finished? No everybody wanted to place a string bracelet on me then you and your bride are guided to the bedroom amid cheers and left to it

Shit. Married again!!!!!

End of Part 1.  Continut next post for Part 2 ....
« Last Edit: February 21, 2016, 07:23:05 PM by admin »

February 21, 2016, 07:22:27 PM
Reply #1


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Life in Upcountry Isaan (Part 2 of 2)
« Reply #1 on: February 21, 2016, 07:22:27 PM »
Part 2 of 2 . . .

Personal experiences

The Kill

It was the wife’s fathers funeral and as previously stated he was an important man so the family had splashed out. Tonight was the ritual kill of a buffalo and I was invited. The wife said it was too dangerous. The hunter in my blood said “I am going”.

The party arrived. All young family males no women or children allowed. We proceeded through the bush to a clearing where the biggest buffalo was tether to a tree. The tree didn’t look very strong. Then the wife’s words came to me “it is dangerous”. Sure it would be if that male buffalo got mad and broke away from the tree. Oh I’ll be alright. Everyone had a selection of machetes, knives and axes and one guy had a gun. My mind wandered back to my days in Africa where looking for lions and elephants we came across a pride of lions but no male. The heavily armed guide said he was behind us. Which tree was I going to shin up if the lion got the guide?.

The buffalo was quietly chewing the cud when 4 youths with clubs set upon beating it into unconsciousness. The animal went berserk and he and the tree almost parted company. The beast had enormous horns and was eager now to use them. Almost in a frenzy the Lao Khow fuelled youngsters continued in earnest jumping to avoid the horns. I was puzzled. One shot from the gun would do it. No not the Thai style.

Eventually the beast sank to the ground. Then 2 men per leg as it was still kicking and a third with a long slim sharp knife plunged it into its heart. The blood spilt was mixed with whisky and honey and all imbibed as good luck and strength. I then realized I was living in a savage world and I had to get to terms with it or leave. I was the handed a knife and asked to start the skinning. I said I didn’t know how so under guidance I commenced with a hoof. A giant blanket of banana leaves and various pots and pans had been laid out. The buffalo was skillfully skinned and one skin was the result. The axe man came onto the scene and every part of the animal was stripped from the bones. Every part of that animal was of use except the bile which was fed to the dogs. It was all carried back to the village for boiling. The bones were to be ground up and used as potash fertilizer. Wow. What an experience and prompted me to think never make a Thai mad

The wife’s pet dog

Well the village has soi dogs as in Hua Hin but with a difference. They roam and scavenge but have a home to go to where they know they can rely on scraps from the table. We had 5 and all were well behaved and waited till the table was cleared.

Of course you have favourites and there was one little chappy who became the darling of the family and of course he got special feeding. One day he turned and bit a child. This happened several time and the persons bitten were not family. That means money for treatment. Eventually he was tethered up and he went very remorseful. l I was told he had to be put down and I said I would do it with a gun cleanly. I knew by then how Thais kill. “No you are a farang”. I was sat on the porch a few days later with Spike hiding under a table and a pickup turned up with 5 strong Thai youths. They proceeded to lasso Spike and drag him on his back to the pickup which drove off. Asked the wife what was going to happen? She said with tears in her eyes that they would take him into the bush and let him go. If managed to survive the snakes he would be ok. Well to me that was bullshit. 24 hours later the pickup came back with 3 plastic buckets for the wife. What are they for I asked? She said that they had killed Spike and chopped him up and sold him to the noodle vendor. Which noodle vendor I asked. The one you eat at every day. So I had eaten my dog.

The builders

As mentioned before the house was built by family and some so called reputable builders. One morning at 6am the builders arrived and I ventured over to join them sat on the ground having their breakfast. I was invited to join them and eat. The food was raw meat and a very spicy dip with of course sticky rice washed down with rice whisky and red bull. Well I got into it and was pissed by 7am. The wife came out and gave me real earache and said “ You stupid farang. That will make you sick”. All the workers dissolved in laughter. Sure enough I was sick for 2 days.

Well that is my account of experiences gained living in an Isaan village. Every bit true and no embellishment. I sincerely hope you enjoyed it. If you are brave or mad enough to try it, do so, it’s an experience I have enjoyed. I am still learning so there may be some more from me soon

Pics attached

[Sorry, pics not available  cry2]

Image : Finished my Thai stag day and arrive home ready for the ceronomy. All were pissed and in party mood

Image : Just a few of the family kids

Image  : Wifes haul during the night and ready to be sold at the roadside

Image  : Yet another village parade. I ended up in the pick up supplying the monks with fags and throwing sweets to the kids

this will shortly printed in the Observer. Anybody suggest other places to send?



It’s none of my business what people say and think of me. I am what I am and do what I do. I expect nothing and accept everything. It makes life so much easier.

October 19, 2017, 05:02:56 PM
Reply #2


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Re: Life in Upcountry Isaan (Part 1 of 2)
« Reply #2 on: October 19, 2017, 05:02:56 PM »
An article about [Rural life in the East is very good.


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