Buriram – chilling out in Ban Koksanuan, Isaan, northeastern Thailand
At the start of July I spent eleven days in Koksanuan village, Buriram Province, northeastern Thailand. Ban (village) Koksanuan is where my wife of sixteen years – Sunan, was born and brought up. It is a small rice-farming community about 20km from the town of Nang Rong, and about 40km from the provincial capital of Buriram City.
There are some notable sightseeing attractions in Buriram, two of which are Prasat Phanom Rung – a 1000 year old Khmer Hindu temple complex atop Phanom Rung mount (an extinct volcano not far from Nang Rong), and the large, golden Buddha statue atop Mount Khao Kradong. Even with attractions such as these, Buriram is still well off the tourist trail and it’s a good place to spend some time trying to capture a glimpse of the ‘real’ Thailand.
After having spent a busy week in the over-crowded and bustling capital city of Bangkok (400+ km away), Ban Koksanuan was a welcome retreat. Don’t get me wrong, I think Bangkok is an amazing city. But the noise and the pollution and the heat in the capital is relentless in July; and although it is hot in Buriram, at least it is quiet and the air is clean.
We arrived on the Friday evening and were welcomed into my wife’s parent’s house with genuine, heartfelt smiles and warm hugs. It had been a few years since I had last seen the in-laws and they hadn’t changed much with the passage of time, a little greyer maybe. They were ‘over the moon’ to see our two kids, especially my 16 year old daughter who lived in Buriram for the first 13 months of her life. Yai Rian & Dahling (the mother and father) spoiled our two kids with sweets and drinks and fussed over them all night.
for Buriram hotels see here
The next morning we awoke early to the soothing sound of the Ban Koksanuan, countryside choir: a dog barking in the distance, a cock crowing, a brood of hens clucking out in their bamboo pen. Not before long, the sound of children laughing and playing began to drift up from the gardens, so we got up and got organised. We had a big day ahead of us; the extended family were all heading out (in a convoy) to visit a sick auntie – Nin, who lived about 70km away in her husband’s village.
Auntie Nin had a mysterious illness. A few months ago she had been preparing dinner for herself and her husband when her legs gave way and she collapsed on the kitchen floor. Ever since then she has been unable to move. Auntie Nin is only 47 years old.
When we arrive at Nin’s house, she is sitting in the shade in a reclining chair with a glass of water beside her but she is alone. All the women in the group kick off their sandals and flip-flops and sit down on a straw mat on the porch where Nin is seated; the men stay out of the way, preferring to sit in the shade of a large papaya tree and talk about ‘Man’ things.
Yai Rian holds up the glass for Nin to take a drink; Nin leans forward and takes a small sip and then rests her head back on the headrest of the chair.
‘Sabai dee mai, nong Nin?’ Asks Yai Rian. (‘How are you?’)
‘Mai sabia…’ (no good), replies Nin.
Yai Rian smiles tenderly at Nin and squeezes her shoulder reassuringly. ‘Where is your husband, Nin?’ Yai Rian asks.
Her husband has gone to work, Nin tells Yai Rian. He has no choice; they need the money. Nin has no children. And when the husband goes to work Nin is left on her own. I can see the family don’t really like the sound of this arrangement but they keep to themselves any unsubstantiated assumptions they may have, at least until they speak to the husband.
As we wait, the females take turns to comfort and fuss over Nin; the men come in and say hello, and then go back outside to smoke in the shade. About half an hour later or so, the husband returns from the rice-fields and looks surprised but happy to see all the visitors.
I can’t speak Thai well and neither can my two children so we decide to go for a walk with Fan (8) and Men (4) – my two nephews; they can’t speak English but that doesn’t stop them trying, kids are great communicators, and this pair are a couple of comedians.
After our walk, when we get back to auntie Nin’s house, my wife tells me that the husband has agreed to let Nin go back to Ban Koksanuan with them. Nin needs round the clock care and the husband has to work; if he can’t give her the care that she needs then the family will – simple.
I feel a bit sorry for Nin’s husband but I can’t help admire the no-nonsense ‘she’s our blood’ approach by my wife’s family. The husband seems like a good guy and I remember meeting him years ago. He packs Nin a bag and then carries her over to one of the cars before lifting her in and strapping her up safely for the journey back to Ban Koksanuan. Everybody gives a bow and a ‘Wai’ and wishes the husband ‘chok dee’ (good luck); my mother-in-law assures him that he’s welcome to come and visit his wife anytime; the husband smiles and nods his head, acknowledging Yai Rian’s invitation. As we pull away I feel gutted for the guy but I’m sure he knows that what the family are doing is probably for the best.
Back at the mother-in-laws house I ask my wife if they have any idea what’s wrong with auntie Nin. My wife tells me that she has had loads of tests done but the doctors can’t find anything wrong with her. She glances around the room and then whispers conspiratorially in my ear: ‘…some people think she may have been cursed.’
‘Cursed,’ I repeated, a bit taken aback: ‘what do you mean?’
‘I mean’ – she paused for a moment – ‘…cursed – like a spell,’ she said: ‘…maybe someone jealous she and they put something bad on her.’
Aye, right! Pull the other one. I was open-minded but this was a bit far-out even for me. I knew that Thai people were superstitious and most of them believed in ghosts and spirits, but ‘witchcraft’ in 2016 – I wasn’t wearing that; if it was up to me I’d be wheeling her into the closest hospital for more tests.
Anyway, over the next week or so I was amazed at how devoted the whole family were to auntie Nin. The Thais have big strong family networks and they all live virtually next door to one another; directly behind Daling and Yai Rian’s house – a matter of feet, lived an auntie and an uncle, and behind that house was another uncle’s house, and behind that a cousin’s. There was constant motorbike and foot traffic up and down the little dirt track between the houses all day long, and everyone interacted with each other, from the old wisened, grey-haired owls to the cheeky-monkey children. They were all friends and they all helped each other, and although life was tough, they all seemed happy.
All in all we spent 11 full days in Ban Koksanuan; it was the most relaxing and peaceful time I have had in along time – there was no pressure to do anything from anyone; I was able to sit back with my feet up and do nothing if I wanted; if I wanted to work on my websites for a bit then I could do that too, but working wasn’t a priority. On the morning of day 12 we headed for Buriram City train station and caught a train to Bangkok before transferring onto the Surat Thani sleeper-train at Bang Sue Junction for the next destination on our itinerary: Koh Samui.
The last I heard about auntie Nin was that she wanted to go back home to live with her husband because she was missing him too much – I feel sad for Nin, and for her husband. There has been no change in her condition. Although I hear she is due more tests.
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Copyright © 2016 Raymond Carroll