For the past 13 years I was living in Southern Thailand, on the island of Phuket. For many foreigners and Thais alike, Phuket is often viewed as not really representing Thailand due to the now massive Western influence and in order to truly understand Thailand and the struggles most Thai people face you really do need to move north … I mean north as in the very top of Thailand.
My wife has been pestering me for over 3 years to move back to her home village in Ban Saeo, Chiang Saen, Chiang Rai; I continuously avoided this as I really couldn’t see myself living in the middle of nowhere and in a dwelling that most westerners would consider nothing more than a shack.
Finally, due to economic issues; that being the wife lost her job and my income from my home bargains website is scant to say the least, we decided that moving north was the only viable option.
In the early hours one Saturday morning we packed up all our belongings, loaded them onto a truck and began the 33 hour journey north.
Look carefully at the image above … you can see they’ve used tarpaulin to cover the sides of the lorry all but one space; that space is where 7 people will be camping out for the entire journey.
What the guys did was to build a mezzanine floor thereby storing all our belongings below while all the people could sit above for the trip. I know what you’re thinking … why didn’t you fly? It really came down to cost and at £200.00 each it simply wasn’t in the budget. For all our belongings and for us to travel the cost came in at £500.00; £40.00 of that included us travelling with the lorry so it was a massive saving.
I really can’t explain what it’s like to travel in the back of a lorry for 33 hours. There was a two man driving crew who took it in turns to drive and they stopped every couple of hours for food and the use of toilets. Getting any sleep wasn’t easy as the lorry bumped along the roads but in the end pure exhaustion took over and we did manage to sleep for about 6 hours of the entire trip.
The photo above is the inside of the lorry on the mezzanine floor; this was shared by 7 people and at this point in the journey most had been dropped off at various locations along the way.
Would I do it again? No! It was tiring and uncomfortable but it certainly was an experience of how the majority of Thai people move around the country and the sights along the way were incredible. I am certainly glad I did it just so I had the experience but unless it was absolutely necessary it’s a journey I wouldn’t want to take again.
We finally arrived and it was a bit of a shock to the system. While the house was basic the real shock came due to how quiet it was and how little traffic there was on the roads. Driving around Phuket is akin to a demolition derby … it’s basically a free-for-all with traffic on the inside and outside of you and it’s not surprising that Thailand has the second highest rate of road fatalities in the world.
In Chiang Saen however it was completely different as traffic was almost non-existent and that which you did see didn’t tear around like they were F1 drivers. This was extremely peaceful although remote.
The house is basic – you can see from the photo above that I’ve sent up a little workspace. This is the upper level of the house and it’s all wood. There is no glass in the windows only wooden shutters. The eaves of the roof line are also open to the elements; it’s going to get cold in the winter when temperatures drop to 8C and below.
On the left hand side you can see our bedroom with a mattress on the floor. This is how it is in rural Thailand although having a mattress is a luxury most can’t afford.
To the right is where my wife’s parents sleep along with my wife’s 8 year old son with just a makeshift curtain giving any privacy… yes it’s a strange concept but life in rural Thailand is all about making do with what you have. I am planning to put up a partition wall at some point to give them all more privacy and to provide the little one with a space of his own.
The photo above gives a better view of our bedroom. The pink bundle on the bed is the mosquito net that is vital – malaria and dengue fever is prevalent in Thailand and it’s not something you want to contract … I’ve been there with dengue fever and it is without doubt the most horrific experience you could imagine.
The windows at the the back of the room look directly down onto the lower level where the kitchen exists.
Going back to the level of traffic … well there isn’t much to speak of. This road leads to Chiang Rai City and is a brand new dual carriage way. We’re right in the middle of the rainy season so the monsoon clouds gather ominously and it’s not long before the downpour begins.
The back roads are equally as quiet although the road surface is in desperate need of maintenance. I’m a biker … I just love getting on my bike and exploring and trust me there is no better mode of transport when you want to get out and about and really experience the open road. I plan on doing a lot more exploring especially up in the mountains but that will have to wait until I know my way around.
Our house is approximately 500 meters to the banks of the Mekong River. It’s an awesome sight to behold that’s for sure. It’s not only very wide but it’s flow is very fast. The tree line you can see on the other side of the Mekong River is Laos.
You can literally drive for miles before you see any real traffic and on the back roads it rare to see anything but farm vehicles. Now when I say farm vehicles I don’t mean tractors or other such associated with western farming. What you seen is makeshift flatbed trucks with an exposed engine … unfortunately I haven’t yet managed to take a photo of one.
It’s certainly green and beautiful here. Chiang Saen is not a big place and the village were in (known as a ‘Tambon’) consists mainly of small farms that grow corn, rice or tobacco. The photo above is a typical scene with the Chiang Rai mountains as the back drop … it really is a stunning sight.
I used to hate riding my bike in Phuket. It really was a chore and indeed extremely dangerous but out here it’s just a joy and with all the twisting roads and the mountains to explore this really is a motorcyclists paradise and I’m amazed more bikers haven’t discovered it.
Above I’m just getting ready for a little exploring. Now I know that any biker reading this will be shaking their head wondering why I’m riding without gloves … I’m not! I just hadn’t put them on yet but I do ride with as much safety wear as possible … you’d be stupid not too.
I do get some very funny looks from the locals. Motorcycles here are the mainstay of transportation because they are cheaper to run and buy compared with a car or pick-up truck. 99.9% of them don’t bother wearing a helmet so wearing other safety clothing such as a jacket, boots and gloves is out of the question. The normal attire are shorts, t-shirt and flip-flops – again with Thailand’s track record of deplorable road safety and deaths you would think they would learn but sadly they don’t.
My little bike is an 8 year old Honda CBR150R … OK I know that many bikers will scoff at this and wouldn’t even consider a bike being a bike unless it was 500cc or above … it’s all I have and I can’t afford a new one. If the cash was available I would buy the new Honda CB650F and yes it would be more suited to what I do on a bike but ultimately it’s what you can afford and so far I’ve had 8 good years out of this bike although it is showing it’s age.
Farm Life – Chiang Saen, Chiang Rai, Thailand
As a westerner I’ve come to appreciate that most things in life are simply taken for granted. A job with a salary, the house with double glazing, the two cars in the garage and the big screen TV in the living room … these things are but a dream for rural Thais and in fact most won’t even think about such simply because there is no point … in other words no matter how hard they work they are never going to enjoy what we might consider the basics.
My in-laws have a small farm where they grow rice, raise a few chickens, ducks and have a little fish pond. In the image above this is the road leading to the farm and indeed many other small farms in the area. The road is full of potholes and the Government is now promising to resurface the road and would you believe it even install electricity.
After parking the motorbike at the top of the road it’s time to walk down to the farm; the photo is of my wife as we head off to see her parents working.
It’s about a 5 minute walk up the farm path in-between other rice fields farmed by others. Image 3 I thought was just a storage shack; in fact it’s where the in-laws sometimes live in order to protect the ducks, chickens and fish they are raising.
Image 4 and 5 gives you a better idea of just how scant the living quarters are. It’s bad enough in the rainy season but how on earth they survive when the temperatures plummet to 8C is beyond me. There’s no electric so lighting and heating is by camp fire. There’s no running water so showering and going to the toilet is out of the question; they come back to the main home for those purposes.
This is the view of the house from the back side of the fish pond and a corrugated metal roof at least keeps some of the rain out. The only thing you can say is that the location is just stunning. Rice fields everywhere and all surrounded by lust tropical mountains … I could live here!
Fish for your supper! My father in-law pulling in his net so that fish can be eaten that night. He actually caught two and they were of a reasonable size so it’ll be a feast. The issue is that they are having to spend more nights in the farm shack because the pond, chicken and duck coup keeps getting raided and there is no possibility of them being about to replace them. Everything farmed here is sustainable; that is they ensure that the chickens, ducks and fish reproduce and never kill anything they won’t eat.
Fishing is a family effort although it’s been a while since my wife fished. Here her mum is helping her out so that she becomes reacquainted with the techniques of catching fish by net.
Watching on I found the whole process a little laborious especially the preparation of the nets; these folks have real patience but ultimately it comes down to cost, that is they have to maintain and look after the little and basic equipment they have because buying new equipment is just not an option.
In Image 11 this features the back of the pig sty … unfortunately there are no pigs and the sty isn’t finished. They had saved up so money over several years to build this and buy a couple of pigs but the last rice harvest didn’t really produce so it hasn’t been finished and the pigs haven’t been bought.
Image 10 gives you a lovely view of the in-laws rice field and the mountains to the left. To me it’s just idyllic but to the in-laws the view is lost on them as there is no time to stand back and enjoy it; this is their place of work and it’s 12 hours a day and more.
Image 9 is of the current Duck and Chicken pen but it’s far too cramped and not fair on the livestock hence the new enclosure they are building. Now you might be wondering why they don’t just let them roam free. At one point they did but the ducks have a tendency to roam into the other rice fields and eat the shoots; the other farmers complained and so a makeshift facility was built.
Image 6 is the in-laws building the new duck and chicken pen. They managed to scavenge and recycle some old corrugated tin panels; the rest of the structure including the back fencing is bamboo they harvested from the mountains.
It’s back-breaking work and it doesn’t provide any income. Essentially they live from day to day feeding themselves off the land.
In the very early hours they are up and off to the mountains to forage for mushrooms and bamboo; this is what they will eat for breakfast. After that it’s off to the farm to tend the livestock and rice fields all of which provides food on the table and occasionally sell some in order to pay for the electricity at home.
Image 8 is of the storage shed; well not really a shed as it has no walls. There wasn’t sufficient wood to make the wall but it does at least help keep some of the tools dry.
Most of us just don’t realise just how tough life can be. Oh sure we moan about our daily commute to work in the car and we moan about the job itself and of course the salary is never enough despite having our homes filled with every conceivable gadget and convenience.
I think it’s fair to say that most people appreciate that others have far less but without doubt we’re detached from it. We live in a world whereby we have almost become immune to the hardship of others and I’m hoping that this article will at least give you an insight of just how fortunate some are while others struggle just to put food in their stomachs.
I’ve been asked if I regret moving here but the truth is my wife and I didn’t have a choice. I mentioned my website http://bucksme.com above which I toil away at in the hope of turning things around; currently as I write this I made a total of £5.00 in July 2016 and this month I’ve not earned anything.
From my experience here so far my own concerns have been put aside. What I would like to do is to help the in-laws; even if it’s just a case of finishing off the pig sty and buying a couple of pigs.
I’ve decided, in order to help the in-laws and other members of the community to initiate a fund-raising campaign … please see – https://gogetfunding.com/farm-project-rural-thailand/
If you’re not in the position to donate you can still help … all we would as is that you visit Bucksme.com – click here. Bucksme.com is a place where you can find some truly outstanding bargains. We generally list about 100 new offers a day and we’ve got just over 300 retailers. The retailers do not pay for advertising but rather pay us a small commission for each item we sell.
If there’s nothing you see that you need or want that’s fine but we would ask that you simple share Bucksme.com on your Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or any other social network that you have and ask your friends to do the same – this will help grow the website and generate an income that will help towards making the little farm more productive.
I’ll be using the donations and any revenue from Bucksme.com to help fund the farm project for the in-laws and the community as a whole – this is after all now my home and it’s good to help others.
That’s about it. We hope you enjoyed the article – please share it if you did. We also hope that it gave you an insight into rural life in Thailand. I can tell you that it is spectacularly stunning and would recommend a visit. If you need any more information leave a comment below and I’ll do my best to answer.