Shortly after confirming my role in the new company we had started to look for places to live. We started off by looking online. Most of the property in Chiang Mai is managed by a handful of big estate agencies. I was amazed at what we could get for our money. The price I was paying in London for our two-bedroom flat could have got us a six-bedroom house, with swimming pool, aircon, tennis court and an apartment in the back of the house for a live-in maid. Slightly different to our lifestyle in the UK.
We headed out to look at a house that we found online, just east of the city, and much more modest than the one mentioned above. We pulled up to the three-bedroom house, with a huge gate, perfect garden and pristine neighbouring houses. Sadly, it was already taken. As we got back on the scooter we spotted a small sign on the railing of the house next door. We phoned the number and the owner raced to meet us. The current tenants, three TEFL teachers from South Africa needed to move out. One had split with his girlfriend, the other had lost his job and the only one remaining just wanted to go home. Within two hours we’d signed the contracts and the house was ours.
To celebrate we planned a short break away to stay with our family in Bueng Kan. Although it’s possible to fly from Chiang Mai to Udon Thani and then either bus or hire a car. We decided to take the overnight bus. It was as uncomfortable as any of the other night busses in Thailand. The aircon is always either blowing our stale, warm air or ice-cold air, so cold you need to ask for blankets. This bus was the latter. We arrived in Udon Thani nice and early, so early this small town had not woken yet. We jumped into a tuk tuk to take us to a hotel we could get some rest in until lunchtime.
Once we’d woken up we got in another tuk tuk to try and find a car rental place. And after sitting in an office (living room) with two cats, three dogs and an elderly Thai woman for nearly an hour the owner arrived with a little Mazda hatchback. Which was surprisingly new and clean considering the office (living room) we’d been waiting in. We gave her the paperwork and with a hand-drawn map headed north to Bueng Kan. From there the route would rely entirely on my wife’s memory. The last time she made this journey she was six years old. I didn’t hold much hope…
We hit Bueng Kan, and as this was the closest town to our families house, we booked into a hotel. The, got back on the road for the short drive to the village. Once in the village we asked some locals to point us in the right direction and a few hours after leaving Udon Thani we had arrived.
It was great to see them again, and to visit there small and humble home for the first time. This was also the first time I would meet my new brother-in-law, Foamy (12). He was unable to make the long trip south to Koh Tao for our wedding due to a busy schedule of exams at school. The first time he saw me he was shy. He hadn’t seen many farang (foreigners) before, let alone a 6’1″ guy that’s now married to his sister. But, by the end of the day we were playing badminton on a patch of dirt with a ripped up net and DIY rackets. He won. Convincingly.
One thing I quickly learnt about my new family was that they love to eat. Or at least loved to offer me food, all the time. Language was a barrier, food was a bridge. We sat and ate food that they’d made all day. With friends and villagers coming and going to meet me and see my wife who they’d not seen for many years. It was a great day!
The next day we drove the short distance to our latex farm. A huge expanse of latex trees, each with a small cup hanging from a peg that is hammered into the tree to collect you seeping liquid latex. Our family have 750 trees which my are cut very early every morning by my mother-in-law and father-in-law. It’s a huge amount of work for a fairly small reward. To add and extra income they’ve also got two huge fishponds, each slightly bigger than a tennis court, which provides fish to sell at the local market.
That night we drove everyone to Bueng Kan for a music festival. It was much like any festival in the UK. But this one cost ฿40 each (about £0.80) to enter. Inside they had market stalls selling everything, televisions, socks, beds, furniture, gadgets, knifes, ballons, food, drink… everything. We worked our way to the main stage and laid down a mat to sit on before the crowd got too big. We sat and drank whiskey with our family and various friends and villagers who had joined us while the children went to play on the fairground rides. It was the perfect end to a great trip.