If you don’t build a nice place for the chickens, they will leave

This is a continuation of our road trip around the north-western part of Thailand. To read from the start, click HERE.

Day 13

Screaming cats awoke me with a jolt, and also startled the cocks who began to crow earlier than normal. Where was I again? Oh yes, Tomato. I fell back asleep, now used to the sound of shrieking man-chickens, and awoke several hours later at 8.00 a.m.

Breakfast was served at the home stay, prepared by the wife of the proprietor Ben – a woman whom we never learned the name of. Rice grown on the family farm was laid out, alongside a delicious Shan-style pumpkin dish, a pork stew, and stir-fried vegetables. Nearly everything up in the northern hill villages is locally grown, and so the food changes with the season. Rice can only be harvested once a year, same with garlic, and so dry goods such as these are stockpiled.

We spent a little bit of time on the family farm, which was a five-minute drive from the home stay. Ben was hammering together a chicken coop that was almost as big as his house.

“If you don’t build nice place for the chickens, they will leave,” he said matter-of-factly.

A hawk appeared and cast an imposing shadow over the farm as it glided in search of prey. Hawks and people have at least one thing in common: they both love the taste of chicken. Ben let off a few homemade rockets and successfully scared the predator away, then started chopping down some enormous bamboo. His wife and a farm helper were busy sawing things in half (we didn’t learn what), and we spent our time with his daughter Saeng, pulling weeds from a chilli patch, and planting corn on a hillside.

A large banana flower was hacked down at the farm, and that evening we helped Saeng prepare it into a stew for dinner. The slices of flower were chopped, salted, washed, then soaked in water. On a hot wok over a fire, Saeng fried pork with a smashed up mix of chilies, garlic, onion and prawn paste. The chopped banana flowers were added along with their salt water, and a small amount of stock. We ate that for dinner on rice, along with a jackfruit curry, prepared by Ben’s wife. Both dishes were heavenly, and we feasted until we could feast no more.

Ben's farm

Ben’s farm

Caroline and Saen

Caroline and Saeng (and the farm mutt – one of four)

Planting corn seeds

Planting corn seeds


I eat your face, human.

Caroline preparing a banana leaf

Caroline preparing a banana flower

Banana leaf stew and jackfruit curry

Banana flower stew and jackfruit curry

We did a second night of teaching, and once again I was thrown into the deep end. Ben, the regular teacher, headed off after one minute of class (to read a book, it turned out) and left me with 22 Thai children. After an hour I had pretty much completely lost their attention, although I did have them successfully screaming animal names at one point. We had a break where I gathered my nerves, and then for the final half hour of class I attempted to run an anagram-solving contest (Caroline’s idea), while the kids loudly called me names in Thai and cackled at each other hysterically. Chalk was thrown. Desks were sat on. I was glad when it was over, and had a newfound respect for teachers. Of course, being able to speak Thai would have probably helped me. How on earth do you explain what a word means in English if you can’t speak Thai? Charades?

Caroline’s class were apparently angelic by comparison. Saeng, the regular teacher, stayed in the class to help Caroline translate a few things, and she reported that the kids were attentive and well-behaved. She even had a favourite student, who was a slightly eccentric, talkative, cute, smart boy. She never caught his name, but she did know he was from a Hmong hill tribe, and Caroline really liked that name – ‘Hmong’.

After only two nights teaching, I was eternally grateful that I hadn’t signed up for more. Some people are born to teach. Other people are like me.

 Caroline's class, hard at work.

Caroline’s class, hard at work.

Saying goodbye!

Saying goodbye!

Instead of staying another night at the homestay (“stay for one month if you want!”) we pitched our tent among pine trees at the Pang Oung reservoir, swam in the lake, and slept in a peaceful darkness, with only the soothing sounds of crickets breaking the silence.


To continue, click HERE


Just an ordinary train