Thursday, March 17, 2011

Isaan Odyssey, Part 11: A Night In A Country Home

The full moon rising over the treetops in rural Isaan

[This is Part 11 of a series. If you found this via a search or just happened upon it some other way you can find parts 1 through 10 by scrolling down the Labels in the right-hand column and clicking on "Isaan Oddysey".]

After leaving the corner market it wasn't far at all to the home of Suphot's brother, Tong. We rode along the paved country roads past farms, fields and traditional houses on stilts - many with the resident families now sitting and visiting beneath them as the day drew to a close. I rolled down my window and took deep breaths of the warm, fragrant air as we rolled along; it was rich with the aroma of vegetation and felt good on my face when I leaned my head out.

The sun had sunk below the horizon and the sky was bathed in a deep orange glow that was beginning to dim as we pulled off the road and into Tong's driveway. Another hundred yards brought us to the house, and Pot shut off the motor. Other than the tick-tick-tick sound of the engine as it began to cool off there was complete silence, and opening the door sounded strangely loud as I clambered out of the car and tried (unsuccessfully) to close it quietly. Soon I heard the sound of chickens nearby, scrabbling about in the dirt - and off in the distance there was the unmistakable whine of a motor scooter, but it was peaceful, other than that.

I should point out that where we stayed was not the building you see above, but a very nice three-level home on a large plot of land. The small structure was the temporary residence Tong lived in while he constructed the house - doing quite a bit of the work himself, along with the assistance of some hired help. It's since become just storage.

The sound of the motor scooter grew louder and I could see the headlight cut a swath across the wide, flat field as it approached the driveway and turned in, carrying Tong. He parked the scooter beneath the house in the car port and came to welcome me as I stood there looking around, Pot having already gone inside to say hello to his mom and deliver the food we'd brought. "Welcome to my home," he said, smiling.

It was, to say the least, more than I'd expected. This "country home" was a country mile from the traditional buildings on stilts I'd envisioned; it was a much more finished, Western-style home - but built in the open Thai style. There were three levels of rooms and open areas of social and private space, obviously arranged with a lot of forethought and planning, and views from several vantage points, such as the one below from the open area on the second level...

The area was a bit brown because this was nearing the end of the dry part of the year. I can only imagine how green and lush the area gets during the rainy season.

"You're going to stay in my room," Tong said, picking up one of my bags and heading up the stairs from where I'd just taken the photos for the panorama above. I picked up the suitcase and headed up behind him to the third floor, a bit puzzled. "Your room? Where will you stay?" I asked and he replied "Pot and I will sleep on the floor downstairs," somewhat matter-of-factly. "That doesn't sound fair to me," I began, but he stopped me and said "You're my guest. I'm giving you my room for the night." I thanked him and shut up.

He opened the solid wood door and led me into a large room that could easily have been one in a guest house, as you can see from the photos of the (East) bed side and the hong nam side below. There was even water in the refrigerator - everything but a room safe and a phone to call the front desk. Peeking out of the jalousie windows behind the headboard (stocked with books in English, no less) I could see his barn and livestock area (pictured to the above left).

The East side of the top room. The louvered windows allowed a view and circulation.

Morning sun cast a golden light onto the West side of the "penthouse" room

I set up shop on the small desk and transferred some photos onto my laptop, took a quick shower to freshen up a bit and then went down to the second level, where dinner was being set out on a large wooden table made from a finished slab of tree trunk.

With a gentle breeze keeping us cool we sat and talked and had a leisurely meal while the insects sang in the trees around us. Tong and Pot translated for their mother so she could join in, and we really had a delightful visit.

Pot pulled out his map book to set our course for the next day, and Tong - who owns a home nearer our final destination in Udonthani - made suggestions.

It had been a long day, and I was pretty well wrung out by the time dinner was finished. After all, we'd really covered some ground this day: waking up in Lopburi, a morning spent visiting the monkeys, making merit at Phra Prang Sam Yot and seeing the ruins at Phra Narai Ratchanivet, followed by an afternoon driving up the side of the volcano where we climbed the stairs up to the temple at Phanom Rung, shopped a local market and settled in at Tong's. Seriously... I was done in.

A full moon was rising over the treetops as I said goodnight and went up to my room for the night. I debated whether to lie down for a few minutes and then prepare things for the morning but I realized if I got horizontal it was going to be sleep time, like it or not; so I got undressed, turned on the fan and got into bed, pulling the sheet up over me. I might have been awake for another full minute, but I sincerely doubt it.

[Next up in Part 12: Prasat Muang Tam, and North to Udonthani]

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