Thailand At Work – Village Noodles

Village noodle shop

Village Noodles is the final part of my three post series about working life in Thailand. Pattaya Bar Girl and Isaan Hotel being the first two stories which have both received a lot of positive reviews. This final part of the series is set in a rural village which is very familiar to me as it is the home and birthplace of my girlfriend Wonderful Wi. Ban Norn Chad is located 40 kilometres from Nong Khai and about 65 clicks from Udon Thani city in an area awash with rice fields where the sun beats fierce and work is scarce.

This story is of a lady who has moved her life and belongings from the mountains of Muang Loei and bought a 50% share of land on which she now lives in an old wood stilted house to be nearer her family. After years of hard work in the mountainous province and her latter years spent working in Bangkok this year was the time to return to her roots. Thailand At Work – Village Noodles, cooking a dream.

Sawn’s Story

SawnSawn is Wi’s aunt and I know her quite well having met her a couple of times in the past. She’s quiet but bubbly and a pleasant lady who is excellent company to be around although her English is a non starter from the language blocks but then again why should it be. Sawn is divorced with two grown up children and unlike many other elders here she receives no financial support from her offspring, hardly surprising now they have their own families to care for.

After working for many years in Muang Loei, Sawn headed south to Bangkok and worked for three years in a factory producing flower pots. Working hard and making full use of the overtime available Sawn saved enough money to buy a half share in Wi’s mother’s land and ownership of the house on it.

SawnIn January this year Sawn moved to Ban Norn Chad with thoughts of living in harmony amongst her family and earning money selling food from her new home. A bowl of noodles and a plate of red hot papaya pok pok sets you back ten baht each, cheap food and a two piece menu, so how does she make it pay. Sawn does but  in very small amounts.

Nowadays earning a crust by baking one is hard enough in our recession hit world but in a village where good times and hard times are separated by a small fistful of baht, eking out a living is always difficult no matter the state of the dollar or level of yen.

A ten hour working day will earn Sawn on average around 200 – 250 baht but after taking out costs her profit is slightly over half of that. An average month sees the ex Muang Loei mountain girl coin between 3000 – 4000 baht profit, a distant cry from the 9000 baht she regularly earned in Bangkok. Long hours and little reward for Sawn who despite her years of hard graft still retains a youthful look for someone not too many sunsets off fifty. On a tight budget the party nights will have to be put on hold.

Village home

Dreams…we’ve all got them it’s just that some peoples are much simpler than others. Sawn’s house (pictured above) was built 25 years ago and is in need of renovation. Its wooden structure creaks, the tin roof leaks and a mountain sized pile of shredded papaya is needed to put it right. The cost of building the brick structured downstairs living quarters that she so desires will be around 100,000 baht, oodles of noodles and a few villagers will have to be enticed to turning their curves into fat.

In recent months Sawn’s frustration over her low income has grown and she has hinted at returning to her former work in Bangkok. Her day sometimes starts at 7 am with a three kilometre trip to the market in the nearby town and finishes early evening, a three dollar day and no headway to realising her simple dream. Sawn tried mixing the menu but had to submit to the villagers wish for a ten baht dish that’s cheap, plain and simple. The only carte seen in this village has a buffalo pulling it along.

Each day the ever smiling Sawn can be found under her wooden structured house serving customers or more often patiently waiting for the next one. The weekends are busier and on the finish of school days a short flurry of kids add a little ring to the tills but for Sawn it’s never enough, the mountain girl is learning to take the rough with the tough.

The one table restaurant’ is rarely full with takeaway being more the villagers way. Noodle cook, political guru and friend are some of the guises needed to turn a two piece menu into profitable ways. The long hours of Sawn’s day are spent waiting for the next ten baht order from a hungry customer with the promise of more and another brick in the wall. Good luck Sawn.

I interviewed Sawn during my village stay in May this year. In early June Sawn returned to Bangkok and her old employment at the flower pot factory. She is hoping to return to Ban Norn Chad sometime next year with enough money to start her house renovation and fund a more financially viable business plan.


I'm a sixty-year-old Englishman living in the town of Swindon in rural Wiltshire and I have a real deep desire to retire in Thailand one day. If you don't have a dream then you won't have a dream come true.

11 Responses

  1. Malcolm says:

    Martyn, what a great story of a determined lady , working hard to live her dream of being self supported and a place to live out her golden years of her own, and in what she wants to be a confortable place too. and what a willing heart , of hard work to make all this a reality in a year or so . I’m so gald she has not given her up on her dream ,as so many do. GO SHAWN. MALCOLM
    .-= Malcolm´s last blog ..LONG LIVE THE QUEEN and HAPPY MOM’S DAY =-.

  2. Hoo Don says:

    Malcolm thanks for the read and comment. I have since added a paragraph that I somehow left out in my final draft. A bit of a hurried post that I should have done better justice to Sawn with but the dreaded work has once again forced me to rush. Sawn really is a hard working always smiling bubbly lady. Thanks again and give my best wishes to Ciejay.

  3. Mike says:

    A great story which once again makes me reflect on how luck I am. Its hard to believe that in a 21st century world so many people all over the world subsist on a few dollars a day.

    I hope she is successful, but even in BKK its not exactly a living wage is it?
    .-= Mike´s last blog ..Kathoeys and Swine Flu. =-.

  4. Catherine says:

    While Thai women making 6,000 baht plus are considered quite well off in Thailand, women who bring in as little as Sawn (4,000) amaze me. Their long hours for so little, their continued cheerful outlook on life, their ability to get through problems that would floor me, are all humbling.

    And now I want noodles. Go figure.
    .-= Catherine´s last blog ..Final Results: Top 100 Language Blogs 2009 =-.

  5. Talen says:

    I’ve seen many like Sawn in my travels. Some selling just cooked corn others selling tadpoles or red ant larvae (this is a bitch to get from the red ants).

    They seem to take it all in stride but it is a hard baht earned. Pookie does odd jobs that pay around 200 baht a day ( seems to be the going rate for everything) and she sells fruit at the market when they have a space available for her. Long hours and few sales can make for a bad day.
    .-= Talen´s last blog ..The Joys of Blogging =-.

  6. Hoo Don says:

    Catherine a woman like Sawn can survive in a village on just 4000 baht but its treading water the whole way. No satelite TV, air con or mod con keeps the bills low and there is always family to eat with and share those lonely evenings. The Thai nation all seem to have that happy go lucky, never mind outlook on life. When you make your village trip you will see exactly what I mean.

    Mike you really are lucky struggling along on 45000 baht a month and I really do think that if you wanted you could trim 10000 a month off that with very little effort. Then again you have worked hard for what you have so enjoy it and I’m sure you do realise how fortunate you are.

  7. Hoo Don says:

    Talen I’ve never seen the red ant larvae and it would make an interesting post from you. Good on Pookie for doing her best in trying to earn a buck or two. I can imagine the long ‘fruitless’ hours she would pass just waiting for the next sale but they all seem to take it in their stride with a smile and a optimism that is beyond most of us western souls. Wilai has now taken up the reins of the noodle shop and extended the menu to include fried chicken, BBQ and even a duck dish. Sales are up and some days she hits the 300 baht profit mark…’hus….band me wery, wery tired. Long day and money nitnoi but I enjoy.’

  8. Dutchie says:

    Good to hv an insight from very nearby, Martyn.

    In the 1960’s my Dad made S$ 200 p/mth – never enough to support 7 kids. My mom had several part time jobs to double the income n still it was hard. In our teen years, we all had a part time job after school n worked full day in the weekends. I hv always enjoyed working a full month during the december holidays bec it meant having enough to buy the school books for the following year. I can therefore, empathise with Sawn. Pity that her kids couldnt ease her burden. My parents had a small pension. Thank goodness there’s so many of us to ensure that they live a comfortable old age.

    With the boom of the past decade, Singapore is seeing a gap between the rich n the poor. It’s very disconcerting. Charities r doing a good job helping them. However, it’s imperative that kids hv their education, to prepare them for the challenging world.

    Here in Europe, it’s sad that illegal immigrants finds themselves at the bottom of the totem pole bec they came ill-equipped in a fast track society where high education is a must to survive. I volunteerd as an asylum-seekers-buddy for some years (until it petered out) n was surprised how naive most of them were. They thought being able to work hard with a pair of strong hands would yield them a small fortune to take home, eventually. They realised soon enough that the cost of living would deplete their moderate pay cheque !

    A small percentage of these immigrants r well educated n they soon find themselves in good jobs. It always gives me a lift in my heart to see them succeed n be a particpating member of our community 🙂

  9. Hoo Don says:

    Dutchie your parents are now reaping their just rewards from years of hard work and 7 kids who are looking after them in their pension years. I have worked with many immigrants over the years and 99% of them have been damn good workers. For most it’s their failure to truly grasp the English language that holds most back and keeps them at the lower end of the pay scale. Over time however plenty master the language skills and better paid work opportunities open up to them and with their hard work ethics they progress quite smoothly. Have no worries about Sawn, she’s happy and will survive.

  10. Robert says:

    This post and the other two in the series were extremely enjoyable. Any chance of some more along the same lines?

  11. Hoo Don says:

    Robert thanks for your comment it is most appreciated. I don’t have any definite plans to add to the series just a couple of idea’s kicking about. I travel to Thailand tomorrow for a 14 day break and will be looking at many possibilities for future posts. If I do add to Thailand At Work then October would see the first of any additions. Thanks again.

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