Just Another Day in Paradise

Now that I’m back in England my thoughts regularly drift back to the Land of Smiles and the place I miss most of all. Whether I’m working, relaxing on the computer or enjoying a quiet social beer (or two), my mind frequently has thoughts about my time spent in Wonderful Wi’s village in Udon Thani Province.

One of my pleasures while staying in the village happens most days around early evening time. When the clock strikes six I know that’s my call to grab my nine iron golf club, slide open the front gate and take a walk up the road which leads to the next village.

I rarely get past the end of our garden wall before our two largest dogs come bounding past me, tails wagging. They know the golf club means it’s time for walkies and their chance to let off a little steam. The golf club?, that’s for anything that might slither too near to me, but so far I haven’t seen any snakes. I often wonder how many have seen me.

We don’t stroll too far, our walk is about a one kilometre stretch and if I’m lucky I might see something to catch my eye on the way.

Regular readers may remember my post Thailand’s Scarecrows and Black Holes part of which documented the workings of two charcoal kilns (photo above right and below) just a stone’s throw from our village house. On one of my walks with our dogs Cola and Gaan during my recent May holiday I was lucky enough to find the owner of the kilns busy preparing his next charcoal supply.

The basic mechanics of the charcoal operation are quite simple. You can see in the photograph opposite the kiln owner is packing the inside with cut logs which he positions upright. The kiln will be packed fairly solid with logs and then a fire is lit underneath them.

The kiln opening is sealed shut and the wood left to smoulder and smoke for about three days. The end result is charcoal which is sold to households in the village and surrounding area. You can see from the photos the cramped working conditions and believe me the kiln was still very hot from the previous charcoal batch.

The road is straight and on the left are the barren rice fields waiting for the rainy season to empty a cloudburst on them. This year the rainfall was late coming and throughout May the fields remained mainly bone-dry and parched, with the odd rain storm filling the hollows and dips. Cola and Gaan always enjoy a good soaking in those on our way back to the house. Since my return to the UK the rain gods have delivered their rich survival source at a more regular rate. Sticky rice is the bread and butter of village life.

On the right of the road is a large plot of land where a handful of cows and chickens cluck, chew and muck their day through. Cola and Gaan are now both about eighteen months old and on my Christmas stay they would chase the chickens round and round. Thankfully they’re better behaved these days and a whistle or stern call brings them back onto the road.

The road is a place on which I plan and recollect my thoughts on things to do the next day and memories of the present one. Sometimes a truck or motorbike might break my musings, other times it might be a group of village kids wrongly wondering just how far the farang has hit his goddamn golf ball.

As I wrote earlier in this post, Cola and Gaan always enjoy a dip in some water on our stroll back to the house. I think it cools them down from the excitement of their walk with the nine iron wielding farang. It looks cool but I’ve never been tempted to jump in and I’ve got to admit it takes a few whistles to get them out.

On our return home I’ll normally grab a beer from the fridge and relax sat at the garden table. Another day in paradise and I can’t wait for the next one, although I do worry a bit about whether Cola and Gaan are giving those chickens the run around again. Wilai can’t whistle and she’s hardly got a stern voice, which brings me to a question.

Have you ever heard a Thai person whistle?, I can’t recall hearing one do so.

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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.

25 Responses

  1. Mike says:

    Martyn, that just about describes my average day here albeit a bit further south and so far minus the rain.

    In the UK I like too walk a lot and have a walking pole which somewhat older trendy walkers like myself favour. Try as I might I have so far been unsuccessful in my search for a similar device in the LOS.

    Now I haven’t actually seen any golf clubs either so I usually take a bamboo stick and my trusty catapult(anti-dog device). Unfortunately my neighbours dogs usually come too and dive in the first pond we pass which is none to fresh.

    Still it does seem to keep the ticks off them. Perhaps Cola and Gaan are doing the same?

  2. Boonsong says:

    Lovely pictures, great post.
    I’m at my most contented in Isaan too.

    Re Snakes: Do they see you? Almost certainly, which is better than you surprising them. If you keep moving neither quickly nor slowly in a moderately predictable direction they will not feel intimidated/frightened by your behaviour, and (hopefully/usually) will leave you to pass by. Stopping in areas of heavy bushes/grass/foliage where they might be resting can lead them to suspect that you’re seeking them out or looking for a meal. Such suspicions make them dangerous.
    Most of all, keep away from wherever you think they may be.

    Thanks for another great post.
    Have a good day, Boonsong

  3. Mike says:

    Martyn how remiss of me, my excuse is that Duen was nagging me to go shopping when I originally read the post 🙂 So to answer your question about whistling.

    Well I disagree with Jimbo(above)although in a way his answer might be linked.

    I think the reason Thais do not whistle(includes men) is related to that favourite of Thai subjects ghosts. You know the depth of superstition here, well Thais believe whistling disturbs the spirits of the land(add to that the house, TV and hongnam)so they don’t do it for fear of upsetting their spiritual friends who might well take offence and not supply the winning number to the next lottery. True, honest!

    This is particularly interesting to me since I whistle(out of tune) a lot. In fact I have taught the neighbours dogs to come to my whistle which can be fun since even a low whistle is audible to my canine chums.

    Not sure what the neighbours make of it though.

  4. Jimbo says:

    The reason Thai women don’t/won’t whistle is because they are taught from a young age that it is impolite.

  5. Paul says:

    Thanks for reminding me of Thai village life. I stayed in rural Phitsanulok for about five years, but when my son was born we decided to move. I now live on the ourskirts of Bangkok and sometimes miss the village life. Give me a good internet connection and I can live anywhere, but when it comes to edcuation for my son the villages can be quite limited.

    Very interesting pictures of the kiln. I’ve never seen one before.

  6. Hoo Don says:

    Mike I bought the nine iron in Nong Khai about 5 years ago and I used to knock a few balls about on Wi’s land before the house was built. I used to rummage, poke and prod about everywhere in the rice husk looking for my golf balls which had shot off in all directions. One day I discovered that the last place cobra’s had been seen around the village was where I was hitting my golf balls to. I haven’t smacked one in anger since.

    I’ve seen a few of the walking type canes here in the Northeast, I think (not sure) the big market in Nong Khai sells them. I’ll check it out next time I’m there.

    There’s a certain smell to a wet dog. I’m an asthmatic and the smell sets me off a touch, nothing too bad. A blast on my inhaler and a cigarette normally does the trick and puts me right.

  7. Hoo Don says:

    Boonsong, the photos don’t look too bad (on Google Chrome) and it’s not often I say that about my pics.

    Thanks for the tips on avoiding snakes because they scare the ass out of me. I’ve been lucky so far and have only really seen them from the safety of a car.

  8. Catherine says:

    Martyn, I also have a fear of snakes but I didn’t think of taking an iron with me on walks. Great idea.

    I’m hungering to get out of this city, so your well-written post was what I needed to get me through another week.

    The rains are in the city, so I have that at least.

    But I would like to stretch out wide without hitting something soft.

  9. Hoo Don says:

    Jimbo thanks for answering the question and your comment does make a lot of sense. Whistling as in “Hey you” is hardly a Thai kind of thing, though I’d have thought some of those pretty ladies were worth a whistle or two.

  10. Hoo Don says:

    Paul I bet you miss the quiet, relaxed ways of village life, time doesn’t seem to matter in the rural areas, although I’m sure it does to some.

    I think you made the right decision on the schooling for your son. Perhaps in years to come you can resettle back in rural Phitsanulok ( I’ll have to google that one).

  11. Paul says:

    Hi Hon Don, I think I’d had enough of it by the time I’d left. Once I left though I missed it. We still go back every few months or so.

    I love the quite rural roads. I don’t really enjoy driving this close to Bangkok. We just came back from our weekly shop and the traffic is a nightmare.

  12. Snap says:

    No…I can’t say I have…heard a Thai person whistle, that is.


  13. Hoo Don says:

    Mike thanks for an interesting insight into the Thai whistle, or perhaps lack of one. Your theory and Jimbo’s both make sense and I really can’t choose between either, like you say there could be a link between the two. The Thais fascination with ghosts and their absolute fear of them would appear a very good reason for them not wanting to disturb spirits with a whistle. This could link in with the whistle being taught at a young age as being impolite. A kind of gentle introduction to kids about the no no’s attached to the high pitched shrill.

    Perhaps one day we could have an out of tune whistling contest, I’d take some beating.

  14. Hoo Don says:

    Catherine does your taxi man whistle like hell as he drives you around Bangkok.

    Snakes…..You would get a few strange looks walking about Bangkok with a nine iron. Snakes really do scare me but I’ve only ever seen two in our garden. The first was during our house warming party over four years ago. There was quite a gathering of pi*s heads in the front garden (not much to it then) when for some reason a small snake decided to join the throng. One of Wi’s uncle’s took off his sandal and smacked the living hell out of it. Game Set and Match (currently watching Wimbledon. Nadal leads Murray two sets to love. Murray leads the third set four games to two). The second snake (couple of years back) was spotted under our front window and Wilai and I quickly retired to the house.

    Thanks. Now 4-3 to Murray, third set. Murray to serve.

  15. Hoo Don says:

    Paul the quiet rural roads from Udon Thani to our village house (65 km) have improved over the last year or so. They used to have more pot holes than a spotty teenager’s complexion but have been improved a lot since. They still don’t get too much heavy traffic and you kind of know you can relax a bit when you pull off the main highway and hit those country roads (take me home).

  16. Hoo Don says:

    Snap, crackle, whistle……I searched my memory bank long and hard, I couldn’t recall hearing a Thai person whistle. I’m sure some must do but then again I can’t remember hearing one stammer (stutter) either. Maybe there’s a Thai man or lady (I haven’t heard a western woman stutter) out there with a stuttering whistle.

    Thanks for the read.

  17. Catherine says:

    Martyn, I don’t remember hearing any Thais whistle. Very odd.

    With the places I’ve lived, and a son and a step-son (but not sure who was raising who), as well as being married to other people’s sons, I’ve experienced my fair share of snakes.

    One summer I came across a brown paper bag in the living room, on the floor next to where my father-in-law would sit.

    During that time I was always picking up after the male species, so I opened the bag to find a full-grown, coiled copperhead staring at me.

    An awake copperhead.

    My step-son TR had found the snake, whacked it a good one, and then, thinking it was dead, decided to play a practical joke on his grandfather.

    I slowly closed the bag and put it back beside my father-in-law’s chair. Smiling, I walked away.

    TR was always the practical joker…

    One summer while hiking in the mountains, we found a river fed pool. Being overheated – 90% humidity = hot – we jumped in for a swim.

    The pool also had a few snakes slithering in the cool.

    TR spent his time herding them in my direction. At first he was slow and sneaky. But when I wasn’t paying attention, he went for an all out attack.

    Laughing at my reaction, he called me a sissy and said that they were not poisonous. That he knew what he was doing as he studied snakes.

    (and he did have a fascination with critters as I’ve breakfasted with more than a few)

    On the march back we ran into a forest ranger who said that the pool was out of bounds for swimming as it was infested with water moccasins.

    I was eight and a half months pregnant at the time and to this day I swear it was the lime green bikini that kept me safe from harm.

    When my son was about ten he acquired a fishing snake (this was only after much pleading and many promises coming from his end – one being that he never let the snake loose in the house).

    It was entertaining great fun to have around. You could put a fish in a bowl and let the snake have at it.

    Only one day, when my son was showing a neighbour kid his new toy, the snake latched onto the kid’s finger and wouldn’t let go.

    It took forever to extract that kid from our snake (pliers were contemplated). And I spent a nervous few weeks listening for the hard knock on our door.

    Oh… and to end… There was one morning, when reaching over the man of the house to shut off the alarm clock, I came fingers to fangs with yet another copperhead. Only this one was neatly coiled around the clock.

    I didn’t take pause to yell for the man until I found myself out the door.

    So yeah, I’ve had my fair share of snakes. Men.

  18. Hoo Don says:

    Catherine, that’s one helluva comment. Brilliant.

    You have had a lot of dealings with snakes before and you’re a braver person than me. There’s no way I’d have even dipped a toe in that pool let alone taken a swim. They scare the living hell out of me and yet I love watching them on the TV. If I ever get the guts then one day I’m going to visit the King Cobra Village near Khon Kaen. One day…probably a long way off, but one day….

  19. Catherine says:

    Martyn, it was the caffeine… lovely stuff…

    Most of my snake adventures were when I was much younger. Now I just avoid the things so the King Cobra Village is not for me. Birds, cats, big cats. Those, I like.

  20. Talen says:

    Great read Martyn. It’s easy to see why you miss Thailand why you are away because you have your own little slice of heaven there.

    I have heard Pookie and her aunt both whistle so not sure about whats up with that.

    “The reason Thai women don’t/won’t whistle is because they are taught from a young age that it is impolite.”

    I don’t believe that for a second especially when I have seen the most beautiful Thai women pick their nose at the dinner tables.

  21. Hoo Don says:

    Catherine and Talen, sorry I’ve taken a while to reply but work has interfered with my life once again. Twelve hour shifts are so tiring.

    Catherine I’d rather face a big cat than a King Cobra any day. Especially if they are as docile as the Tiger Temple ones. Never really thought about birds before.

    Talen, Wilai has tried whistling but she can’t do it. Your revelations about Pookie and her mother both being able to pipe a tune has blown the whistle on this one. I’m a bit confused now about whether most Thais can or cannot whistle. Your women at the dinner table quote is a bloody good argument against the impolite theory.

    Thanks to you both and it’s time for me to get my head down. Work tomorrow, then a day off when I’ll get round to catching up on all the latest Thai posts from everyone.

  22. Lawrence says:

    A comment record, this one, Martyn? For people like Talen and me who are away from Isan at the moment, it has obviously brought us closer to ‘home’, so thanks for that. Nice looking dogs, I wish I could have one, but there would be nobody to look after it while we are not there. One day …

  23. Hoo Don says:

    Lawrence it’s not a record, I think one of my Pattaya posts had thirty odd comments. The figures are a little buffed up because I do try and reply to any comments I get, so 20 comments normally includes 10 replies from me.

    The two dogs are great boys and we also have two smaller pups as well, making four dogs in total.

  24. Siam.Rick says:

    Well, here’s Comment No. 24! Really enjoyed reading your day in Isaan story. It actually began to relax me as I read it, your grabbing the 9 iron, out the gate with the dogs and walking down the dusty road and seeing the kids on their bikes and looking at the fields. I needed that! No wonder sitting here in Canada, with nothing to do but work, sleep and read the forums and blogs. Thanks. (Eight more weeks of work, including this one . . . sorry Martyn!)

    Cat, what a great story about snakes. That’s as close as I want to get to them, thank you.

  25. Hoo Don says:

    Rick it’s strange how you think some posts won’t get much reaction and yet they get lots of comments posted. I didn’t expect this one to get much feedback at all, so the response is most pleasing.

    Your present day sounds similar to mine except for the forums, I’ve tried but I just can’t get into them.

    Cat’s comment deserves a post of its own. brilliant.

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