A new home in Thailand


Chai puts fish in the sun to dry Chai puts fish in the sun to dry

Endlessly resourceful and energetic, here Chai is preparing field-rations for farm-working. He was helped by the wife of an old man who works for him on our land, with whom (as with many) he has become friendly, and who regard him with respect and affection.
Chai, 2001 Chai, 2001

He's looking untypically chubby here.
Winter scene from top of our land before planting Winter scene from top of our land before planting

Looking more like a building site than a farm, our few acres await planting and the first rains of the new year. The bulk of the land is off to the left of the picture. Within a few months of this picture the whole scene had been transformed: irrigation in place (from a well at the bottom of the hill) and extensive planting of fruit trees and shrubs and flowers.
Summer 2001: our first sight of the land Summer 2001: our first sight of the land

Our piece of land actually starts from the banana palm visible above the foliage on the gate post. The hillside is planted with a crop of non-paddy rice. The group is led by my teacher friend, Khun Dao (through whom we were able to buy the land), followed by dear Thai friend Pravich, with Chai in the rear.
The Maekok plain from the crest of our land, winter The Maekok plain from the crest of our land, winter

We did not originally have possession of the top of our hill, but a villager offered us his two rai along the summit crest, and we quickly agreed. It
Three views of our new, rented home just outside Chiang Rai Three views of our new, rented home just outside Chiang Rai

Chai had already found himself a small apartment in this village before I went at New Year 2002. Just across the street was this lovely, three-bedroomed house in a small, attractive garden. We took it and completely furnished it in a day. Parked in the drive is the pickup we hired for a couple of weeks. We'll be buying something similar as soon as I arrive.
Great views from high on our piece of land Great views from high on our piece of land

This part of Thailand is sometimes known as 'Little Switzerland' (for obvious reasons!) It is where the King's late mother (a much-loved and remarkable lady) built her summer palace, after falling in love with Switzerland when she was there in her younger days.
Flowers for Buddha Flowers for Buddha

The first duty was to offer gifts to Buddha at the little makeshift spirit-house at the entrance to the land (wonderfully eclectic is religion in Thailand). Water, beer, two boiled chicken (later retrieved for eating); flowers; incense sticks and orange candles were reverentially arranged and attended until the incense had burned out.

Here Chai arranges the flowers in the bamboo bungalow on the land.
A big one arrives at the farm A big one arrives at the farm

A fine specimen of plaa nin arrives at the farm as stock for our pool.
The first of the puppies The first of the puppies

I'm happy to report that Chai's approach to small animals around the house is affectionate but robust: they spend most of their time outside and are not allowed to hang around the table at mealtimes; they have a couple of sessions of play with the adults each day and otherwise are left to their own devices.
The new vehicle on the street outside our house in Koggalae The new vehicle on the street outside our house in Koggalae

On the first day, going for a short familiarisation spin with Chai, we ended up driving nearly all the way to Chiang Mai, covering lengthy stretches (60km or more) of precipitous, winding mountain roads, and doing nearly 400km at one go. It was a spectacular trip and a great initiation for the vehicle and for me driving it. (We stopped en route to buy 10kgs oranges from outside the orchard where they'd been growing: I've developed a great liking for sweet, fresh orange juice.)
Higher levels of insurance Higher levels of insurance

It is commonplace in Thailand to seek a monk's blessing for many everyday activities and relationships, not least for new vehicles. Chai was keen that we should follow the custom. We drove to the makeshift home-cum-temple of a local, lone monk; took offerings of lotus flowers, incense, food and water and the vehicle was given a thorough spiritual service, inside and out. The roof inside has a number of Buddhist inscriptions on it, written in a white paste with the monk's finger, and there are three white dots on various key items inside (the steering wheel column, for instance) and in the engine. Round the steering wheel column is tied a shank of cotton strands. Holy water was scattered on every side of the vehicle and on the two owners.
Car inside blessing Car inside blessing

The interior is given serious attention.
The farm team at the pool The farm team at the pool

Here Chai is with the old man who is our permanent worker on the land. He lives most of the time in the bamboo bungalow which Chai built, and does most of the serious hard work: digging hundreds of holes for the young trees; watering the existing crops from the well; feeding the fish; keeping the land clear of weeds. He has a house and family in the village and friends and relatives who help when there's a particularly big job on.
Chai reels one in Chai reels one in

Fish form a very important part of Thai cuisine, and fishing a very popular part of Thai pastimes. Chai loves fish and fishing, and here we were spending a day at a commercial fishing park, where you can fish and eat and drink in almost perfect peace for as long as you wish. You pay by weight for the fish you catch and want to take away. On this occasion Chai had four fish weighing about 8kgs between them. Untypically, we didn't eat them (or invite the neighbours round for a barbecue), but took them in a tank of water to the farm and put them in our own pool.
Chai's sweet and sour fish Chai's sweet and sour fish

This delicious, aromatic meal is typical of the food Chai prepares. He turns out to be a wonderful cook, and is absolutely spoiling me with 5-star cuisine every day. Another memorable meal was a long, fleshy, fresh-water fish called plaa chon (serpenthead), which had been alive in the market until about ten seconds after we bought it and two hours before we ate it. (At 90 baht (
Green bananas growing at the gate to the farm Green bananas growing at the gate to the farm

I'm still delighted and amazed to find tropical fruits growing all over the place
Hugman at the party Hugman at the party

Chai is very loyal to his Lao ancestry and blood and is most comfortable in Lao attire an in Lao mode. He likes me to follow suit, and here I am in one of my several typical local outfits, a choot mahom. They are very comfortable, cool and practical. Among the many people who wear them are elephant mahouts.
View from the top of our land View from the top of our land