Village Life – Holding Back the Years


I wonder how many years ago this type of transport was used in the country hamlets of England. Quite a few would be my guess. In Wonderful Wi’s village in Udon Thani this type of transport is mainly used for work but it’s not uncommon to see a family travelling this way on a trip to their local town or neighbouring  village. At times I have to pinch myself to realize I haven’t stepped out of a time tunnel into a land a long time back. Life in a Thai village is not quite Bedrock and the Flintstones, but definitely a village holding back the years.

H-tech mobile phones might ring constantly and brand new karaoke machines beat out their rhythms to knee-high voices, teenagers and drunkard herds, but it’s some of the other things which make me think this village is one that’s never stepped from the shadow of the past.

When your kitchen tap only runs with cold water you get the feeling you’ve stepped off the sidewalk of life’s easy street and hit the cobbled stones of its old town – the village tap water is not fit to swallow and the water most villagers drink has its own Thai season named after it. The dark, heavy clouds of Thailand’s rainy season provide drinking water for most Thai village folk.

Village families collect rainwater in large earthen jars (photo right), and plastic bottles and assorted containers are filled from it. It’s rare the village shop (our one) has bottled drinking water but according to the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) Thailand guzzles it by the gallon.

A report by the IBWA in 2008 placed Thailand in the top twenty rankings of per capita bottled water consumption by the worlds leading countries. Thailand was ranked 13th, and surprisingly, the only Asian country in the top 20, with 118 litres of consumption per person each year. Mexico (268 litres), Italy (245) and the United Arab Emirates (180) were the top three in the table. Germany ranked 5th, France 6th, USA 10th and Bulgaria 20th with a per capita of 105 litres. China had the third largest market but a lowly per capita consumption rate of just 17 litres.

However, I would strongly suggest Thai villagers annual bottled water intake is considerably less than the country’s average. Rainwater is a free resource which has nurtured rural rice crops and quenched workers thirst for centuries, and clever marketing campaigns from the big water companies isn’t going to change the village persons reasoning. That’s enough about water, let’s get back to Bedrock.

Living off the land and livestock is not alien to developed western countries even today, but its advocates are becoming thinner on the ground – unlike 50 years ago when the practice was as common as village muck. In contrast, Thailand’s villages are alive each and everyday to the sound of chickens clucking and the gentle thud of papaya fruit hitting the ground.

In Wilai’s village there are very few in-house kitchens with almost all cooking done outside – early evening the smell of spices and meats mingle together all around – the distinctive smells of the different spices and vegetables waft through the evening air from simmering woks and pots heated on charcoal fires and bottle-feed gas rings. The meats are a little more difficult to tell apart.

Most types of hunting are now banned here in the UK, even fisherman are lucky to get a chance to eat their tall tales. Thailand is a different kettle of fish altogether. The country’s rivers are cast for their seemingly never-ending supply of white meat and frogs, snakes, rats and birds are game too – the killer weapon sometimes being just a catapult.

Regular power cuts in Wilai’s village take my thoughts back to the UK in the 1980’s when the coal miners strikes hit the country’s power resources. Thai’s take the regular blackouts with a shrug and a smile. Life rolls on and the years roll back.

The UK has lost much of its skilled workforce to modern computerized industrial machinery which has stripped the nation bare in the basic skills of survival – skilled workers replaced by high-tech machines, and crafts like basket weaving, moulding and wood carving have been lost to many, and jealously guarded by those few who practice them but only teach their trade to a hand-picked few.The photographs (above) are examples of the fine craftsmanship which is still very much alive in villages throughout Thailand.

Weavers, furniture makers and all way of building trades are a few of the crafts which every village has among its people. A good village tradesman can lay a floor as level as any higher paid city contractor – he just might work a little slower. .

Entertainment in rural villages and small local district towns are another throwback to my own younger days. Travelling mobile cinemas park up a few times a year – mainly during big Buddha festivals, and a travelling fair’s number one attraction is usually an ageing Ferris wheel that looks like it’s had its sell-by-date recycled more than once. I remember those back in the 60’s in England.

If the villagers haven’t got their own stock of food there’s always trucks topped full with fruit and vegetables passing through each day as well as pedlars selling fish, meat, and everything from tiger balm to sandals. Sometimes a local man returns with his afternoon catch of small tiny fish and will sell a good handful for a few baht.

Slowly but surely modern brick houses are replacing older creaking wood-stilted homes in Wilai’s village but for most the change is many years away – even the karaoke machines blast more to the sounds of Isaan’s luk thung country music than the popular music of today.

The much used jargon, ‘out with the old and in with the new ‘ doesn’t really stand up in Wilai’s village,  ‘if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it ‘ certainly does. Thai village life is a throwback to years gone by but it’s a real sweet way of life and a refreshing break from the big city concrete jungle.

© 2010 – 2014, Martyn. All rights reserved.

13 thoughts on “Village Life – Holding Back the Years

  1. Martyn an enjoyable read that sparked a few childhood memories from rural England in the 50’s and early 60’s.

    We did live off the land more in those days(my Granddad was a gamekeeper) and even collected rainwater albeit for the garden and washing clothes(before automatic washing machines).

    Although Prachuap is hardly rural Issan the locals do many of the things you mention. They are also very generous when it comes to harvest time with fruit and the like.

    BTW the water storage jars are made from concrete here and quite common. I would be reluctant to drink the water from them or the tap for that matter. We buy large plastic bottles of treated water at 15 Baht a throw.
    .-= Mike´s last blog ..Wat Huai Luk-วัดห้วยลึก-Prachuap Khiri Khan =-.

  2. Martyn,I was spell bound from the get go , you have such a wonderful way of telling a story , that you had me hanging on every word , I love to compare the old and new and more often the things that bring a smile to my face and a quick awaking to my mind are the things of the past , I feel the same as you in our village sometimes , even here just a few kl. outside our small village it’s like getting out of that time machine that you’ve been riding in this whole post( I hope you had you seat belt fastened) . I must say also that the pictures are great too and look sooo familiar to me too, as I could snap some of the same scenes here in Whang Pho , . Aren’t we blessed to have been one of soooo few, folks in our countries to have been, for some reason or another to have been introduced to Thailand and the wonderful LOS , I’m sooo glad that you like me , LOVE IT.Maybe we’ll get together this trip . Malcolm
    .-= malcolm´s last blog ..A LONG , LONG AND WINDING ROAD ( BUT IT WAS WORTH THE RIDE ) =-.

  3. Mike I thought the post might bring back a few memories to you. Washing clothes in those days must have been quite a chore.

    I wasn’t sure what the storage jars were made of and concrete is probably right. I’ve had water from them myself in the past without realizing it. When we stayed at Wi’s mama’s house there used to be lots of pure water bottles in the fridge but they turned out to be old ones which were refilled with the rainwater. It took me a few trips before I found out. The big jars are treated every so often with something to stop any viruses and mosquitoes, I’ve see one of the village local government workers apply whatever a few times now. Wi buys the big 15 baht containers of water sometimes as well, they’re excellent value compared to the bottles.

  4. Malcolm I’m glad you liked the post, I really got into it, with my seatbelt on of course. I adore the village life, I reckon it must have been great to have lived in England 70 or 80 years ago, living off the land and everything. Thailand or Siam all those years back must have been a very basic place to live and I would like to find out some real hard facts on those days. No success so far.

    The photos aren’t too bad and I do have lots and lots of village life ones with more to come on my forthcoming trip. I’m afraid this trip won’t be taking in the charms of Kanchanaburi, it’s four days in Pattaya and then up to Udon Thani.

  5. Wow. Martyn, what a fabulous post! This is one I’d pin to your sidebar for sure. Five stars.

    The contraption in the top photo is (I believe) called a Chinese Buffalo in Myanmar (they come in all shapes and sizes), but I’m not sure what it’s called in Thailand (as usual, I’ll ask and get back to you).

    In the olden days (not too long back) Thailand rode on the backs of buffalos. But the cheap engines from China soon replaced the lumbering animals.

    Thais hold buffalos in high regard, which is why you won’t find buffalo meat as often as you’d think.
    .-= Catherine´s last blog ..Successful Thai Language Learners: Stuart (Stu) Jay Raj =-.

  6. Wonderful read Martyn. The top photo really brought me back. I have ridden on the Thai tractor a few times. Mostly in the fields but we did drive it one day to town to pick up some supplies.

    The water jars are definitely made from concrete…several in Pookie’s yard are older and broken and you can see the rough concrete inside….with the outside surface being so smooth you wouldn’t think that they were made that way.

    Pookie’s Aunt’s farm does have a well but they still collect and drink water from 2 large jars next to the house.

    Being in rural Thailand is definitely taking a step back in time but one that is easily taken. Much simpler way of life.
    .-= Talen´s last blog ..Children at Play in Rural Thailand =-.

  7. Martyn, I loved this post. Nothing like a bit of nostalgia to grab my attention. Phana is losing some of this but it’s surprising how much remains. And you give more reminders of the ingenuity of rural Thais.

    The multi-purpose vehicle at the top is called a tak-tak here. Obvious where the inspiration for that came from.

    At our house we always drink rainwater from a big jar like the one in your photo. The first few weeks of the rainy season it is not collected to give the roof a good wash. And you can see the nylon netting sieve under the lid that filters bits and pieces. It supplies us enough for 6 months but when we stayed longer a cople of years ao we had to buy well-water from a village nearby. They put it in big jars and sell it off the back of a truck (OTOP).

    A long time ago (back in the 1970’s) Pensri did quality control for Coca Cola in BKK. She tested bottled water and tap water twice a month. Frequently the bottled water contained more bacteria, mostly because the tap water was chlorinated (so drinking it didn’t taste good). The test didn’t distinguish harmful bacteria from harmless, though.
    .-= Lawrence´s last blog ..Picnic in Phana turns political =-.

  8. Catherine I have never heard of the Chinese Buffalo before but that’s a really unique name, it makes a lot of sense. A couple of years ago Wilai and I went to Loei for four days to visit the annual flower show at Phu Rua. One day on a trip to the show we stopped at one of the many flower gardens/centres en route and parked up was an older style contraption of the one in the photo. Wilai couldn’t stop laughing at it and said she had to take a photo to show her uncle who’d find the antiquated (my words) machine amusing. She kept referring to it being Burmese and not modern like Thailand’s version. I must admit I couldn’t tell much difference between the two. Perhaps what Wilai saw was the Chinese Buffalo and this one in the post is a more modern version. Maybe. Thanks.

  9. Talen I have also ridden to town in the back of one of the Thai tractors. There’s a bridge and a raised road which separates a river running alongside Wilai’s village and the road leads to the village entrance. Every year during the rainy season the river’s water rises and covers the entire road knee deep or so in water. The road becomes a bit tricky to pass. I once took a trip during those conditions to the local town in the back of the cart. Great fun.

    You have reaffirmed Mike’s comment about the jars being made of concrete so that concludes that one. Like you I love the simple ways of village life, it’s so much more laid back than the hustle and bustle of the west.

  10. Lawrence my pleasure with the link and hopefully you’ll get a couple of hits out of it, but to be honest my village posts don’t tend to send the hit counter too crazy.

    The tak tak seems a very appropriate Thai name for it. I like some of the short names Thai’s attach to their things. Tuk tuk being another obvious one. As you drink the rainwater yourself then maybe you’ll know a little bit about what they treat the water with. I’ve seen some kind of local government worker come round and treat it once before. The water certainly didn’t do me any harm and I do drink it sometimes now.

    Working in the pharmaceutical industry as I do I know that a clean looking water outlet is not necessarily so. A lot of germs can still be there and lead to bacterial contamination of the water. The bottled water containing more bacteria doesn’t surprise me one bit. As Wilai always says about the rainwater ‘ people drink water from the sky many many years now and everybody okay. Is good mark mark.’

  11. The rainwater? Nothing is added to it by us or anyone for us. Same with the deep-well water that the nearby village sells. We’ve been drinking the rainwater for as long as I have been in Phana and never had any ill-effects.

    Actually in Phana the piped water supply is probably safe to drink (I always clean my teeth using it, though I know some foreigners who won’t. The pipes are plastic and only 2-3 years old and the treatment plant is that age too and very eficient-looking. Taste because of purification additives is the problem, but that is so in lots of parts of UK too.
    .-= Lawrence´s last blog ..Pic of the Day 5 April – 11 April 2010 =-.

  12. Lawrence, the water in Wilai’s village is or was either treated or perhaps tested by some kind of local government worker. I’m fairly sure (incident was about 5 years back) the person put something into the water to stop mosquitoes and anything else from passing on whatever. I do use the tap water myself to clean my teeth but I’m pretty careful not to swallow any if possible.

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