Days forty-six and forty-seven in Thailand – 2015

For newcomers: this post continues with my journey, currently in the north near Pai, on Tacomepai farmstay.

Day 46 – Mon – 20th July:

Up today at 8.15am ish, there was no breakfast set out in the kitchen so I walked up to the house. Grandma was sitting out on the porch as normal, she motioned for me to go into the kitchen to collect the pot of rice (which is, I will explain, the same as yesterday, in a plastic tub like a wine cooler and then in a thin fabric bag within) and metal pot of red curry. The lady of the house (wife of the owner Sandot) was there, getting ready to leave for work in Pai.

I took the food back to the kitchen and then after breakfast Jep (the name of the Thai man who I have seen around the farm several times, he showed me the huts on the first day, and he cooks all the food), came and showed me where we would be working.

It took some miming but in the end he demonstrated the we would be clearing the field adjacent to the one I started (unfinished) yesterday. 

We used the same traditional tool which was hard work and after a while I noticed that the plants were so loose it was easier to pull them up by hand. I started to do this and after a while Jep did the same so it must have been a good idea.

We dumped all the cleared bean plants over into the next field segment, (this field btw is one eighth or twelfth, I didn’t actually count, of one normal sized English field, so quite small for a farm really). The whole field is cut into retangle sections, declining, so that the water drains down the field and waters all the crops.

I then followed Jep back up to the farmhouse, where we spent half an hour or so looking at seed. It was very confusing for me but I now know that this was rice seed.

Now yesterday Carine (the French girl, another volunteer) was telling me about the problems with ‘bad seed’ and that the traditional Thai farmers don’t test the seed or select correctly. The method they use here, I discovered, is to toss the seed like a giant pancake in a shallow tray and then half the seeds fly out onto the floor. I think this is because the ‘lightest seeds’ the seeds with no insides will fly out. Problem is this doesn’t really work. I looked at the seed in the ground later and it was a 50/50 mix of dud empty seed cases and normal seed.

But what do I know? I know nothing about agriculture.

Anyway it was very funny to see them tossing the seed like this. Grandma did it too. Jep then got out an extension cable and plugged in a leaf blower and tipped it all out on the ground (on a tarp) and started blowing it away! This seemed crazy, maybe the tossing would have removed some empty seed cases but the leaf blower was more than strong enough to blow all the seeds alway.

It certainly didn’t look like it was working very well.

I must have looked very confused…

I helped him pour the seed that was left back into the bowl it came from and then he motioned for me to go for lunch.

Then I had lunch and about 2pm Jep came and found me. First he showed me a plastic tub of live frogs which he proceeded to put into a bag poor things. Then we got in an very old truck that was parked in the drive. The glass was smashed and the truck was full of holes. It was the worst condition I have seen so far here. Probably because it was used for heavy and dirty work on the farm. The Songtheaws are normally in good cosmetic condition, maybe the Thai drivers have learnt that westerners won’t pay to get in old bangers.

We drove about 10/15 minutes to a place which I think was owned by his parents or friends. An older man greeted Jep and proceeded to show him the trees in the orchard. Jep also gave him the bag of live frogs. We then sat on a bench for a while, waiting for somebody?

This turned out to be a lady, around the same age as Jep, but it was hard for me to tell. After she arrived Jep led me to a large pond/small large, surrounded by a grassy bank. The bank was high and we sat on the edge and dangled our feet over. He gave me one with a reel to use but interestingly he fished with just a long stick and thread!

She joined us shortly and she spoke some English, and again, she (like Grandma) didn’t understand much of my Thai, possibly due to the northern dialect being different to the south (where I learnt).

She helped me set my line but I still didn’t catch anything. We crouched down on the bank and I told her where I had visited in Thailand etc. We used some kind of animal gut as bait, I’m not sure what. I had to carry the caught fish to the other side of the pond/small lake to where Jep had the net bag of fish. It was very wriggly and the lady found my attempts to hold onto it very funny.

We, I say we, they, caught about eight fish between them and the fish was kept alive during fishing in a net bag hung under the water. 

On the walk back to the car Jep stopped in one of the orchard style areas in the farm, the trees were neatly in rows and motioned for me to help. We picked the fresh, smallest green leaves from about six trees. He said the leaves were ‘aroi’ อร่อย (delicious in Thai) and ‘gin’ กิน (eat in Thai) implying that we would be eating them?

Back at the farmhouse (his friends farmhouse, not Tacomepai) the lady we had been fishing with offered me a Dragon Fruit, picked from a tree nearby. They had a wide range of fruit trees and bushes, but only one or two of each. Probably just to feed themselves, not being produced to sell. The dragon fruit is a lovely pinkish fruit the size of a large orange and it has wavy leafy bits on the outside like dragon scales. Inside it is white with tiny black seeds and is very sweet with not a lot of flavour. Very refreshing.

She also offered me some water. She said ‘gin nam’ กินน้ำ which is ‘eat water’. A lot of Thai people don’t say ‘drink water’, ‘doom nam’ ดื่มน้ำ but ‘eat water’, ‘gin nam’ กินน้ำ. This is just part of the slack use of their own language. They also say ‘cow’ ขาว which means ‘rice’ instead of ‘gin’ กิน (eat) because rice is the staple food and if you are going to eat you most likely will be having ‘cow’ ขาว ‘rice’.

After Jep drove us back to the farm we went to prepare dinner. I chopped the fish outside the kitchen. Out the back there was small stone veranda. I used a slice of a wooden stump as a chopping board. 

This involved chopping the heads and tails off, scraping the scales off and gutting them. But then only chopping them into chunks, not de-boning them. This is for ease of preparation but makes it really hard to eat the fish. This was frustrating for me as I like to shovel my food and not nit pick it but you really had to be careful with the bones.

The fish guts where thrown to the chickens pecking about below the veranda.

He put a couple of fish in the fridge for tomorrow and the rest he cooked in a stew with some vegetables. He gave me a plate which I took down to the kitchen to eat.

With hindsight I think I may have been rather confused when we first got in the truck and went off, not knowing where we were going. On the other hand, that is what I would have expected to feel but I don’t remember being at all concerned and just went with it. I guess I have adapted to taking it as it comes. Especially when half the time you cannot commutate to ask what is actually happening.

I don’t know what will happen to the frogs in the bag that we gave to the man on the other farm but I’m afraid that whatever their purpose is, they won’t live through it :(.

While I was resting late afternoon, on the bench outside my hut, I heard some people talking. I got up and saws group of backpackers, complete with full bags, walking up my front path. There was a guy and two girls. They asked me if their friend was here? They said he arrived today. I knew there had been no new volunteers but I didn’t want to put them off so I asked how many nights he was supposed to be staying. They said just one, so I knew then they must have the wrong farm (there is a three night minimum at Tacomepai).

I said I hadn’t seen any new volunteers today but that they were welcome to stay if they wanted and that we had just started planting the rice fields. Well I tried my best to get them to stay but it wasn’t very easy. Their friend wasn’t here and also it was hard to explain what ‘programs’ and ‘organised activities’ were running (there weren’t any..).

There certainly needs to be some changes made around here if they want the volunteer program to continue?

 Sand water filter barrel and bamboo cups and one of the many eco promoting signs around the farm.

Sand water filter barrel and bamboo cups and one of the many eco promoting signs around the farm.

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Day 47 – Tues – 21st July:

Breakfast appeared on the table as normal and as no one was around, I spent a couple of hours peeling the bean pods.

Jep came round with a petrol powered grass trimmer and was clearing the paths, which, being just dirt tracks, get overgrown with plants to the point that they completely disappear.

After a bit he motioned for me to have a go. He taught me (all miming) how to work it. It had a string pull cord and was very simple.

I cleared a few paths but I wasn’t very confident on it because, A it sometimes flicked up large stones that were amongst the plants and also B simply because I hadn’t had any training on it and I don’t think my insurance would cover it.

It was backbreaking work, the engine was hung on a single strap over the shoulders and then from the engine there was a long pole and at the end the large trimmer blades.

Carine said later when I spoke to her, that she thinks Jep doesn’t like using it because it is very uncomfortable. She explained that it is very hard to explain to him when she doesn’t want to do something because, for example, I couldn’t say in Thai, I have no insurance (I can now but this event happened weeks before I returned to the Thai school). Sometimes she has to say no to a task, but cannot explain why.

Carine also said she knows the trimmer is ment to have a double shoulder strap and that one is much harder to use as it only has the one strap.

Anyway I stopped after a while and went for a shower (it was hot work).

I went for a walk out of the front of the farm and to the right. There was a good convenance store, locally run and I bought some bug spray, biscuits, some toilet rolls and an ice lolly!

I walked past the farm in the other direction and ate my lolly. I bought a smoothy from a local food stand that was by the road. There didn’t seem to be much more that way within walking distance so I headed back.

I sat in the ‘school room’ hut and used the Internet (the wifi was only available in that spot).

I spent a hour or so trying to clear a bit of one of the field sections but gave up when it started to rain.

That night there was a heavy storm right above us. I ate dinner and shelled beans in the kitchen in the dry and watched the rain, it was very peaceful being so far from any city’s or towns.

During the night the white cat visited me and wanted me to let she her in but I didn’t want her climbing all over me so she had to sit outside, she wasn’t there in the morning.

 

The organic waste disposal machine (the piggy) and another snap of the kitchen area.

 
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Next up: days forty-eight and forty-nine.

Previously: update on my return home and how to support the blog.

Previously: days forty-four and forty-five.

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Days forty-two and forty-three in Thailand – 2015

Day 42 – Thurs – 16th July:

I wanted to spend some time in rural Thailand, I had previously emailed a bunch of places about volunteering, a couple of farms, a couple of animal shelters (there is a large stray animal, mainly dogs, population here), and a monkey sanctuary. No one had replied so this time round I emailed about 20 places with the hope that at least one would reply.

Surprise surprise, several emailed back quite promptly, but due to what happen before I had already said yes to the first farm that replied. I then also made a provisional plan with the monkey jungle sanctuary for the following week, as their program sounded good.

The farm that I will be going too (in a couple of days) is in Pai, North West of Chiang Mai. Pai is a place many people have recommend to me. It is ‘supposed’ to be a more authentic town as not as many tourists venture past Chiang Mai.

Thinking of my budget I decided to move hotels again. Using trip adviser I found a decent looking hostel with private rooms for only 251 a night, (their price is 250 but due to booking online and conversion rate it is 251, this happens sometimes). It was called the Cumpun Guesthouse and I walked there from the Royal Guesthouse using the paper map.

I would be departing for the farm on Saturday the 18th, so I had two days to spend in the city, I didn’t really see a lot of it when I came last month, as we were only here for two days.

I had a look at the leaflets in the lobby and on trip adviser. I discovered a zoo very near about 40 mins out of the city. I hailed a Songthaew, which asked for 100 baht to the zoo as I was the only customer. Normally they charge about 20/30 baht in the North.

When I arrived the taxi driver pointed me towards the joint ticket counter where I could get a combined ticket to the zoo and aquarium.

The first enclosure was some crested cockatoos! My fave bird (I even have a little tattoo of one). The zoo was laid out like a small safari park with the enclosures quite widely spaced apart, but they were in a sort of theme park style with concrete painted to look like wood etc, see pics.

Theme park style exterior decor at Chiang Mai Zoo

Theme park style exterior decor at Chiang Mai Zoo

The birds didn’t look that happy, nor did the monkeys, whose enclosure was the worst in the whole park. But as I walked on (past the shuttle bus, which you had to pay more for) the enclosures got bigger.

I fed the hippos, who had a nice pen with a pool. You could buy large chunks of carrot to feed them and they knew what was coming and stood there with mouths wide open. See pics. It was actually quite comical. There was a whole group of people there and the carrots sold out very quickly.

It poured with rain for about ten minutes and I stopped next to the hippos to talk to an American couple who were doing TEFL in China and had a three week holiday which they were spending in Thailand.

After the rain stopped a Thai man came to refill the carrots and I fed the hippos too.

Feeding the awesome hippos at Chiang Mai Zoo - they knew the drill

Feeding the awesome hippos at Chiang Mai Zoo – they knew the drill

As I moved on, past some fibreglass animals (much like Blackgang Chine in the UK, on the IOW), I found two giraffes, in a decent sized pen with other herbivores, like goats.

I fed these too and at nearly every enclosure you could pay 10 or 20 baht for a plastic tub of chopped vegetables, and in the big cats cage, you could buy raw meat on a stick to poke through the bar! Yes this is true! I have never see this in a zoo before.

Edventually I came to the aquarium, which had a massive fibreglass sharks head protruding from the roof. It was a decent enough size but you could only go in one tunnel as the other was under construction. The tunnel I did go in had a very fancy conveyer-belt that would take you round (but the power was turned off, maybe they turn it on during busy periods).

After the aquarium I walked round the last third of the park (you could walk all the way round on the concrete road) and then reached the entrance again at around 4.30pm, which managed to concede with some other people leaving in a songthaew.

Back at the hotel my room was now ready (it wasn’t this morning at 10am when I arrived), so I collected my main bag, from where I had left it in reception (quite safe).

I walked out about fifty metres to a street food stall, where I had a lovely chicken salad (this is English chicken salad, as in Thai food a salad is a complete different dish), but a disgusting orange squash, which I didn’t finish.

I then visited the night market and replaced my flip flops with a new pair and bought a few souvenirs. The last stop of the night was of course, 7-11.

A flavour of the animals at Chiang Mai Zoo - Thailand

A flavour of the animals at Chiang Mai Zoo – Thailand

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Day 43 – Fri – 17th July:

This morning I chatted to a Silja on facebook, she and the others were off on their three day jungle trek today. I told her about my plans for the Farmstay.

Then I headed off to find several museums that I had found on trip adviser (and which were vaguely marked on my paper tourist map).

My first stop turned out to be to buy a pair of those baggy hippy traveller trouser (you can buy them all over Thailand). I had been considering a pair for a while and my justification was that I didn’t have a pair of trousers that I could use for messy activities on the farm.

Then very shorty I came across a lovely temple. It was very calm and peaceful, they were playing some oriental music from speakers set high in the walls.

The trouser shop where I bought my baggy trousers, and the first couple of temples I visited.

The trouser shop where I bought my baggy trousers, and the first couple of temples I visited.

I moved on and aimed in the generals direction of the museums. On the way I stopped at another temple, this one had quite large buddha statues and was set in a small area of grounds with a seating area. They were also playing music.

I had an early lunch from one of the street stalls, there where quite a few Thai people eating too. It felt like people used this daily, much like a canteen crossed with a local park.

There were quite a few stalls dotted about selling the usual souvenirs. One lady showed me a necklace she claimed was crocodile teeth, which at the time I didn’t believe (most of these teeth are moulded resin) but you will see in a later post, having been to a crocodile farm (in a few weeks) it is quite possible that this was true.

I was a bit lost so I asked a local (in Thai) where I was, and he spent ages pouring over my map. After a while a couple of ladies came over to help and we came to conclusion that the temple we were standing in wasn’t on the map!

Of course they found this very funny, most simple things will get a Thai in stitches, but they pointed me in a vague direction. I didn’t hold out much hope for this as the Thai people seem to be very inaccurate when it come to directions.

I found the Architecture Centre/Museum and another nice temple next too it. There was also a young monk school here as the area (and the public toilet) was full of mini monks (boys around 7 to 11 years old).

Then I found the ‘Chiang Mai Historical Centre‘ which was much more official looking, with a leaflet and map not unlike the museums in England, but it was very small.

There was a farmers market on today outside the museum, just a handful of stalls, I had a glance but there was no point me buying anything as I had nowhere to store it.

I was just reading the history of Chiang Mai in the museum when the lady came over and asked if I had paid and where was my sticker (they always sticker you in Thailand). Oops, the architecture museum had been free so I had assumed.

Anyway I went back out and paid my 90 baht entry fee (foreigner price lol, the sign is literally labeled price for Thai 20 baht and price for foreigner). I was given a sticker to wear and a paper ticket as well.

The museum was air conditioned and very modern. I read quite a bit about Chiang Mai’s history but I have forgotten it all now…..

Down in the basement they have some (not greatly exciting) archeological remains of an old ‘Wat Phra Kaew’, from the Rattanakosin Era.

I also found an interesting statue of ‘TheThree Kings’, the legendary founders of the City of Chiang Mai.

The lovely seating area outside a temple, my fave buddha of the day, some religious hangings swaying in the breeze though the temple door, 'The Three Kings' statue, the legendary founders of the city.

The lovely seating area outside a temple, my fave buddha of the day, some religious hangings swaying in the breeze though the temple door, ‘The Three Kings’ statue, the legendary founders of the city.

Got a Songtheaew back to my hotel as I had been walking in the heat all day.

Tonight I met Daniel, Silja’s friend from Denmark, he hadn’t gone on the jungle trek with the others and was planning to spend a week in Chiang Mai and then we made a provisional plan to meet up after my week on the farm.

He came and collected me from my hotel and we explored the two larger night markets and tried lots of different street food. As well as Thai street food there was a lot of world-food available.

I also booked my bus to Pai from the hotel for tomorrow lunchtime.

 

Next up: days forty-four and forty-five.

Previously: days forty and forty-one.