Random, disorganized thoughts seem to be what I am best at generating, so I present the following collection for your enjoyment!
We Bought Some Land!
That’s right! Mai and I are now landowners! We’ve been dreaming a lot lately about building our own house, and as luck would have it, a close friend of Mai’s family offered to sell us a piece of land she owns that is currently used for growing rice. She offered us an excellent price and then said she wouldn’t sell any of the remaining land because she wants to continue to farm it and she wants to leave it to her two sons. We couldn’t believe our luck! We bought two rai, which is the Thai measure of land area. One rai is 1,600 square metres, or 40m x 40m. Our property measures 40m across by 80m deep.
Click on the thumbnails below to view larger images
We both want a small house on a large property; two bedrooms, a bathroom, kitchen, living room and maybe a small office for future ventures, and in a style that would be a mix of traditional Thai and modern architecture. It would be built up on stilts in the traditional style, but not too high. So far, we’re just making sketches of what we would like.
The photo at left above shows the approximate size of the property and the surroundings. The dump truck you see in the photo at right is bringing in fill to raise the level of our property to match that of the road. The fields will be under several inches of water during the rice growing season. We have a rubber plantation in the background, and when the rice is growing the fields surrounding the house will be beautiful and green!
This will be a multi-year project. We acquired the land and will raise the level to where it needs to be. This summer or fall we will plant the trees we want (coconut, mango, papaya, tamarind, durian and others) and then let everything sit while we pay off the car loan, get Mai’s older son through university and start up a small business or two. We’ll start on the house in a few years when finances permit.
The contraption you see above is a tuk tuk, a three-wheeled
death trap vehicle that serves many purposes in rural Thailand. The main function is that of a taxi. So Phisai has about a dozen of them and they’ll take you anywhere in town for about 30 to 50 Baht (about $2.50 Canadian). The passengers sit on two inward facing bench seats in the back. Ideally, it would hold four adults, but I’ve seen many more than four packed in there!
Tuk tuks also make dandy pickup trucks, capable of carrying more than you think would be wise to cram in, including grass cut on the side of the road to feed the family water buffaloes, firewood, bamboo poles, bananas and coconuts. You name it and you’ll soon find a driver willing to transport it for you!
Click on the thumbnails below to view larger images
Scooters are everywhere in Thailand. There are probably more scooters here than cars. Their numbers are followed closely by scooters with aftermarket sidecars, as seen in the photo above at right. These sidecars vastly increase the scooter’s carrying capacity, both in terms of cargo and people. It’s not unusual to see three, four or more people sitting on one scooter. That’s because, given the average income in rural Thailand, scooters are often the “family car”. In fact, you will see them referred to as such on the Honda and Yamaha scooter sales websites.
The way people and materials are transported here is fascinating and over the next month or so I’m going to make it a point to create a photo essay of the various machines people use over here. I think you’ll find it interesting, entertaining…and a little horrifying at times! Stay tuned!
As a transplanted Canadian, there are a few things that I have come to miss about home. Number one are my family and friends. Even though most of our communication when I was living in Canada was via e-mail and text messaging I really miss the chance to get together for a meal or a meal plus a movie. Other things I miss, in no particular order:
- Beef, in any form. I really miss a good burger or a steak. Mai doesn’t eat beef and that’s all the reason I need not to insist on buying some, but there are other reasons. The domestic beef industry in Thailand is microscopic, if there even is one. Beef is imported from Australia and New Zealand but it’s expensive. It also just isn’t available out here in the country. Our local grocery store carries fresh fish and seafood, chicken and pork. That’s it. Burger King and McDonald’s can be found in Udon Thani, but that’s 2 hours away and Burger King is only at Udon Thani Airport. I’m adapting.
- Efficient services. A trip to the bank, post office or any government office means taking a number when you arrive and sitting and waiting a long time to be served. To me, there appear to be a few reasons, the offices are understaffed, there’s little computerization and all government offices close for at least an hour at noon for lunch. Mai was expecting something important in the mail recently. A few days after it should have arrived she called the post office to see if they had seen it. They said they had, it was waiting for her in the post office. When asked why they hadn’t delivered it they told her “Well, it’s been really hot outside”. I’m trying to adapt, but it’s not always easy.
- Winter and cold weather. Call me crazy, but I miss snow and freezing cold weather. I’m adapting to the hot temperatures and enjoy not shoveling snow, scraping off my car and slipping and falling on ice sidewalks, but next to my wife a snowfall is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen!
- Amateur Radio. It’s complicated, but being from Canada means I’m not eligible to get an amateur radio license in Thailand. I read the rules and was sure I would be able to simply write their amateur radio exams and get a license, but I read wrong. There’s no way for me to get on the air here, and I really miss it because it was one of the things I was looking forward to doing most. Nowadays, it’s now possible to set up a transceiver anywhere in the world and operate it remotely via the internet. It’s just like sitting in front of the actual radio, only you can do it from anywhere. I’m looking into this. I have most of the equipment sitting in storage back in Toronto. What I need is to find some nice person who will act as a host and let me set up my gear in a corner of their basement and put a small antenna outside. Anyone? 🙂
Nongkhai is a lovely city located on the banks of the Mekong River, about an hour’s drive from here. With a population of about 500,000 it’s about the same size as Hamilton, ON. Our routine is to drive to Phon Phisai (halfway) and stop at Café Amazon to pick up an Amazon Extra (large iced coffee) and then continue on to Nongkhai.
We go there to shop for things we can’t get in So Phisai, to buy my prescription meds at deep discount prices (insulin at 25 to 30 percent of Canadian prices), take Max to see a movie, and to eat pizza!
Nongkhai has a compact, old style downtown section filled with lots of tiny shops. There’s also a beautiful concrete “boardwalk” that runs for almost 2 kilometres along the shore of the river. It’s lined with shops, restaurants and bars with a perfect view of Laos just across the river.
So, what’s so interesting about Nongkhai? It’s the traffic. You come into town on the highway from Phon Phisai or Udon Thani and there are traffic lights every several hundred metres so people can make turns onto and off of the divided highway. No problem. But drive into the downtown area with its busy, narrow streets and there’s not a traffic light to be found!
There’s the occasional stop sign but those are generally ignored because stopping isn’t going…stopping slows you down! A recipe for multiple fender-benders, right? Nope! Well, everyone must regard intersections as four-way stops, right? Nope, see my comment about stop signs. Imagine two rivers that meet at right angles. The water from one river flows into the intersection and out again as if nothing had happened. Ditto with the second river.
It’s fascinating to watch; people approaching the intersection will slow down as little as possible and maybe divert a few feet to the left or right to avoid a collision, but everybody keeps moving as if the intersection wasn’t there! And need I say you can forget your silly notions about Right of Way. There’s no honking of horns, no road rage. People just get along!
(Sorry, no photos of Nongkhai. I’ll remedy that in the next few months and have something for you in the summer)
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