We have just completed a 4000km journey around Thailand. We started by taking the car ferry from the island of Koh Samui across to Donsak on the mainland. From there we drove up to north eastern Thailand to visit a friend who lives in the Isaan area.
In the Chumphon area we saw lorry loads of what like huge hairy footballs and matted objects lying in the road which resembled rather badly made toupees. Closer inspection revealed them to be bunches of palm nuts destined for the local palm oil factory. The matted objects were bits of the stalk to which the palm nuts had been attached.
We drove along the edge of the Bangkok delta through Samhut Songhram with salt pans on either side of the road with orderly piles of salt gleaming in the smog light. Although this area is where there is a famous floating market we didn’t stop to visit it. We then drove round the Bangkok ring road and up towards Khao Yai area, which hubby had visited some years earlier when investigating the vineyards, past the Siam City cement works. Here there were lots of stone carvings for sale at the roadside stalls. At Sikhio, in the distance, we saw a huge new temple, gleaming white and gold and looking like a wedding cake. Around Nakhom Ratchasima we saw roadside stalls selling baskets of what looked like huge mushrooms. Later on it was sausage city on either side of the road. North of Khon Kaen (an area famous for dinosaur remains) the stalls were selling yellow and green marrows (or they could have been melons). The roads were generally very good and well signposted but you could be driving anywhere in the world. It’s beginning to look like America there with shopping malls and factory outlets. Overtaking on the road is done in both the inside and outside lanes, and motorcyclists often come from the opposite direction. We saw a couple of nasty accidents where vehicles had possibly collided, had lost their loads and had ended up in the storm drain forming the central reservation. We also saw a number of dead cats and dogs on the roads. More local colour was visible in the form of “Philippine” style trucks with pictures and lots of metal decorations, and coaches were vivid with scenes from Walt Disney films painted on them.
At one of the gas stations a woman was meticulously dusting packets of crisps. We saw white egrets in the fields and black birds like large swallows with forked tails, which I later discovered were called drongos.
Once we arrived in Isaan we went to see the rice fields. Red earth tracks lead across flat landscapes broken by eucalyptus trees and fields of sugar cane. If it weren’t for the galvanised tin sheds the landscape would be timeless.
Our friend and his girlfriend live in a very rural community in north Isaan, in northern Thailand. The house is at the edge of the village. A dirt track leads in front of the house to others and then out into the fields. Most of the houses are wooden, built on stilts under which there may be cattle byres or weaving looms.
There are some more substantial, concrete built, houses too. These tend to belong to wealthier people. Chickens, together with their chicks scavenge over the rubbish heaps, cows wander the streets. Old car tyres find a new lease of life as pot-bellied dustbins or planters for herbs. Women sit on the ground painstakingly removing tamarind seeds from their pods which will later be sold in the market mashed into fist-sized balls or the seeds may be roasted and chewed. One eye mama sits weaving at her loom all day and her husband makes beautiful baskets.
M took me to visit the ladies spinning the silk on to wooden “wheels” which will be used for weaving. Note the ecological re-cycling of large plastic bottles used as spools for the spun silk.
Suspended from the ceiling was one of the huge bamboo rockets (more than 5m long) which are fired during the rainmaking festival which takes place just before the rainy season, to bring rain to the area. Each moo (local area) and are there are 17 here, will fire a rocket. They try to outdo each other in how nice the rocket looks, how straight it goes and how high it goes. Next door we visited one of the weavers known as one-eye mama after being injured by a water buffalo. She was weaving one of the narrow braids used for edging skirts and making bags. She disappeared into the house and came out with 3 lengths of indigo/white silk cloth (which she had woven) and told me to choose one, which she gave me. Then we went round to the dressmaker where I was measured for a skirt.
The scarecrow figure is put up in front of houses where there are sons (there are very few sons born in the area).The Thais are very conscious of the spirit world and even more so of the vast numbers of ghosts (phi) that roam this world. The scarecrows are intended to keep them at bay.
to visit the village of Ban Chiang, a world heritage centre famous for the discovery of a Bronze Age settlement, dating from around 3000BC and for its clay pots, designs which are still used today.
We had a look round the market in and around the local temple.
On the food stalls were different foods from what we had previously seen and some of which really didn’t appeal to me.
When we got back in the evening M was preparing for an all night vigil for her daughter, who had been slightly injured in a motor cycle accident, who was to spend that night, all next day and probably the next night on a wooden bed, covered with leaves, over a couple of braziers in which branches from the same tree would be burned. This was to help heal the patient. Meanwhile friends and relatives visited, brought food and played a noisy game similar to roulette. We had a rather sleepless night!