Songkran in Issaan

Well, after a week up in my GF’s home village in Khon Kaen province I have to say that I am glad to be back in civilization ! I have been in and around the North-East many times before, and previously had a girlfriend from Ubon Ratchathani who took me home to her village several times so it was not a complete culture shock to me, but this village is a step or two down the prosperity ladder from Ubon.

The week started with a 2am departure from Bangkok, driving up with her sister and  brother. Why we left at that time I have no idea but the plan involved my GF coming over the evening before, then the 2 of us getting a taxi back to her room over in Klong Toey to pick up her bag and her brother, and then getting another taxi over to her sister Daeng’s place (passing within 200 metres of my condo!) where the car was and then set off,  driving near my condo again ….not much planning went into their “plan” !

This was the first time Aoy had let me come to her apartment, and I can see why she was reluctant to let a farang see the area. While it was certainly not a slum, it’s a rather run down area, and rather smelly too ! It would probably look a lot worse in daylight too. Her apartment itself is ok, quite large in fact, but the whole area has not seen any maintenance for a while.

Anyway, after an hour or so zig-zagging across Bangkok we were actually on our way and after an uneventful 8 hours or so we arrived in her village, where I was overwhelmed by brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts,nieces, friends wanting to meet the farang. A week later I still had no idea where they all fitted into the family tree ! They also all wanted to be hospitable and give me beer and food …. a bit of food is OK, but beer at 10.30am ?

Luckily there are plenty of “resorts” close by, so we did not have to stay with the family. At 400 baht a night (or 180 baht short-time!) our air-con bungalow was absolute luxury compared with the family homes, it was no wonder that Daeng was more than willing to drive us to and from home so that she could enjoy a hot shower at the resort instead of a cold tap at home. The house of one of her brothers does not even have a bathroom or toilet, he and his 2 young daughters just use a cold tap in the front yard, and the scrubland opposite the house for a toilet Sad smile No Mike, you are not in Bangkok any more !

The village, and local transport

The village, and local transport

issaan_songkran-10 The family is not in complete poverty though, they do own a large amount of land, which is mainly used for growing cassava, with a couple of rai for sticky rice and a small plantation of rubber trees. Most of the land in the district is too uneven and hilly to grow the usual rice crop, and there is no irrigation for it anyway.

I seem to have an affinity for witch doctor’s daughters …. the father of my ex from Ubon was a mor doo, which basically translates as a faith healer/fortune teller/ mutterer of mumbo jumbo/ conductor of weird animist ceremonies, and it turns out Aoy’s father is also a mor doo. A large part of the main living area had a large altar/shrine area set up, with a huge Buddha mural on the wall, at first I just thought he was extra religious but not long after I arrived a woman turned up to see the father, who got dressed in his white mor doo outfit and then got out all his candles and incense etc, and started muttering mumbo jumbo over her. Hmmm….ok. Whatever turns them on. This was to happen most evenings while I was there.

The family was worried about what they were going to feed me, no matter how many times I told them that I can eat Thai food as long as it is not too spicy they kept muttering about ahaan farang (western food) so they decided to take me to the market in town to get food. So, they are worried about my stomach and they take me to a market where the meat is covered with flies, and has been out in the sun for who knows how long ? or perhaps they thought I might like some frog for dinner, or perhaps some take-away BBQ rat, or some ant eggs (200 baht for a couple of large handfuls!).

It took me all week to convince them that I could eat Issaan staples like gai yaang (grilled chicken) and sticky rice, or  Phad See Eu and Tom Kha Gai from the shop around the corner and did not need farang food. Although I must admit that when we did go to the 7/11 in town for beer or whatever, I did grab a toasted ham and cheese sandwich Smile  Even in the wilds of Khon Kaen it’s amazing how much takeaway food they stock at Thai 7/11s.

issaan_songkran-7

Talking of food, what do you think the above picture is ?

No, it’s not some kind of intestine !

issaan_songkran-8 Every morning Aoy would gather up these flowers fallen from a tree near our bungalow for her father. Put them into boiling water and you end up with something with the texture of seaweed  but without the smell or flavour, and apparently a favourite snack of his. They also sold these flowers at the market, 10฿ for a small bunch.

issaan_songkran-9 Songkran proper did not start until the 13th, but the local kids were already throwing water around when we got up there on the 8th. By Saturday most people had arrived home from Bangkok or where-ever, and the parties had started in earnest, along with the morlam music from all parts of the village for most of the day and into the night. Visiting temples in the morning and getting blind drunk in the afternoon seemed to be the plan for the next few days for most people. On the 13th the 2 young nieces wanted to “play Songkran’ so their father filled up a water barrel in the back of their pickup and drove around so they could throw buckets of water at everybody. Aoy and I sat in the back to watch over them, until Aoy decided that I was having too much fun throwing water too, and banished me to inside the car. Sad smile When it’s 35 degrees or more even 60 year olds can enjoy a waterfight dear !

After drying off, then visiting one of the nearby wats we ended up at the local “beach” on the shore of a dam along with hundreds of other people, where everybody was surprised to see me, a farang,  sitting on the ground enjoying the morlam music and an Issaan style picnic of grilled chicken, sticky rice and somtam, washed down with beer. Hey, there’s no need to stare …I’m just human, I don’t have 2 heads or anything !

On our last day there the family went to the Khon Kaen Zoo, which is actually a fair way out of Khon Kaen itself. The zoo itself is new and not fully finished, they are still building more enclosures but it looks like it will be quite good when finished. The enclosures are quite large, with walk through deer parks and bird aviaries. At only 100 baht for adult Thais and 150 baht for foreigners it is good value, especially as that also includes admission to the water park on the same grounds. 50 baht “farang tax” is a good deal compared to the extra 450 or so baht that Bangkok Sealife at Paragon mall charges us. Although I did wonder why the zoo went to the trouble of putting up a large sign saying “over 60s free’ in English, but then telling me it was only for Thais.

A few pics from the zoo:

Daeng and her car were staying a bit longer so we had to catch a bus back to Bangkok, and had to spend an hour or so at a service centre while the driver tried to repair the air suspension on the right hand side, to no avail, so we went the rest of the way tilted over to the right and limped into Mo Chit around 6am, after an 11 hour trip Sad smile

It was an “educational” trip, but not something that I am eager to repeat for another year or so. Aoy’s son is planning to “take the robes” and become a monk next Songkran after he leaves the army, as his mor doo grand father has decreed/read the signs that Songkran 2016 will be an auspicious time to do it.

I gather I will be expected to attend with Aoy…..

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About Mike

A recently retired "Baby Boomer" , looking forward to having more time for my photography and travel.
This entry was posted in Explorations, Food, Latitudes and attitudes, Thailand and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Songkran in Issaan

  1. Pingback: Where’s Nemo ? | Changes in latitude, changes in attitude

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