Occasional news and details from Gecko Villa, among the rice paddies of rural Northeast Thailand. Other Thailand travel information may also be posted here, as may photographs from the vacation villa, from visitors or from events at or near the Thai villa. If you would like to post pictures of your Thai holiday at the villa here, please feel free to contact us by email.

Posted By Gecko

The newly published guidebook to Thailand, Tao Guide's "Thailand - the Original & Sustainable", has featured Gecko Villa as one of its most recommended places, with specific commendations for our environmental, social and cultural efforts.

Published in Paris, this French language guidebook to Thailand does offer a genuinely different list of places to stay across the kingdom, with additional offbeat suggestions of places to eat and unusual activities. If you are a French speaker, pick up a copy and discover some hidden choices!

 
Posted By Gecko

Gecko Villa in Fah Thai magazine

Bangkok Air's inflight magazine, Fah Thai, featured Gecko Villa as its top eco lodging choice in Udon Thani in its current May - June edition.

Having recently launched flights between Bangkok's international airport, Suvarnabhumi, and Udon Thani, they had scouted for unusual properties in the province that met both their eco credentials and their own "boutique" style.

The article was titled "The Green and the Gold" to reflect gold star green lodgings - and in our own case is especially apt as these are the two colours that dominate the countryside in the rice harvesting and planting seasons.

 
Posted By Gecko

Thailand monks

The ordination ceremony for our eldest sons at the local village temple was a colourful affair that blended Isan traditions with Buddhist rites.

Above, the ordination ceremony has just been completed and our sons are about to then start their seven days of life as Thai monks in the village temple gounds. The white, cloth-coloured items on their backs are their new alms bowls, which they will put to first use on their alms gathering rounds the following morning.

Festivals, ceremonies and traditions in Thailand offer rich material to keen photographers aiming to catch some of the numerous indigenous ways of life around Gecko Villa.

 
Posted By Gecko

Thai monk ordination isan

A Buddhist Monkhood Initiation ("Buat Phra")in a Rural Thai Village

Last night, a freak electric storm with tree-rending winds - and rain reminiscent of waterfalls - hit our village. The winds downed a major high voltage power line, and the entire region, for kilometers around, sank into darkness.

For Note and Joy, our two eldest twins, it will be a night to remember - as it was the eve of their Buddhist merit-making ceremony. 

This morning started early as we prepared food for the hundreds of guests - villagers, friends, relatives and local officials - who started to arrive in the morning. Whisky and beer started to flow. At midday, under a cerulean sky and a relentless sun, Note and Joy each sat on a chair, holding a lotus leaf in front of them. Friends and respected elders then took it in turn to briefly wai them before cutting a small bunch of hair from the head of each and placing it in the lotus leaf.

Gradually, their carefully-crafted carefree coiffure dissipated, until a cutthroat razor was used to finish the complete shave of the head and eyebrows... They then dressed in white, were positioned atop a pickup truck, and paraded slowly through the village, surrounded by well-wishers who danced around the vehicle to the tempo of morlam songs.

This evening, for those still sober, suckling pig will be served and more alcohol consumed, and at dawn  tomorrow morning a procession will be arranged for our sons  to the village temple. Here they will dress in Buddhists' traditional saffron robes, observe the hours, tenets and restrictions of temple life, and call the temple home for the next seven days.

In Thailand, nearly all young men will at at some stage go through such an ordination ceremony, to make merit for their parents, and particularly for their mother. Karma remains a reality in the Isan spirit, where we believe that both good and bad deeds follow a man as surely as does his shadow.

 
Posted By Gecko

Thailand military service conscript 
lottery

Thousands of anxious villagers  in the Udon Thani subdistrict of Prachak Sinlaphakhom (where Gecko Villa is located) slept fitfully, if at all, last Sunday night. It was not the heat that kept slumber away, nor  distant thundestorms. It was the thought of how tomorrow would inexorably change their lives. Parents, relatives and friends were only too aware that early on Monday, the young men of the region faced the dark algebra of the Thai army conscripts'  lottery.

One of our eldest sons was amongst those who attended the selection. Registering early in the morning, he was processed together with the crowds of other young men, none of whom wished to spend two years performing military service. After all, they had each had the opportunity to elect to sign up to the army beforehand - and had each declined it.

A number was written on the forearm of each young man of eligible age, this number being linked to their village, name and ID. Under the relentless April sun, once the throngs had been processed, they were told to report back at 1p.m. to draw lots. At the grounds of the local sub district, they then filed into the restricted area and were made to sit in rows, aligned by number, facing the ominous green box at the front of the hall - the box that would decide their fate.

The army officials explained the process, which they videotaped and photographed. In our son's "lot" from our village, 146 nervous youngsters had calculated the chances of drawing a "red card" were around 1 in 3. They were all hoping for a black card which would exempt them from the 24 month military service - be this in the army, navy or air force.

In turn, they were called up to the army green box at the front of the hall, where they were guided to reach into a sealed box to withdraw one tightly packed straw. This they then gave to the army official who removed the paper from inside the straw and then, as the young man waited nervosuly - sometimes with false bravado, sometimes trembling - read out over loudpseakers whether he had drawn a black or red card. A black card would grant him immediate freedom, whilst a red card would mean imminent service, and the details of  the branch and location of the armed forces to which he would be attached would be announced.

As the process played out throughout the afternoon, groups of young men, often with friends or families, could be seen in bunches around the grounds - some with broad smiles and cans of cold beer, others with dropped heads and disbelief, attended by tearful mothers.

A seasoned village policeman viewed the scene and commented quietly: "Today it's freestyle. How can we intervene? We just have to prevent complete chaos - but other than that, one eye must be blind in compassion."

Our son, much to his disbelief, drew a black card. A wide grin exploded across his face and his eyes widened as he feted by friends and family. "Mount Fuji has just been lifted from my chest!" he declared.

 
Posted By Gecko

Thai basil varieties - holy krapao, sweet basil and lemon basil

Deploying the correct type of basil in Thai cooking often confuses those learning to cook Thai food. Specific dishes call for specific varieties to ensure authentic flavours and fragrance, so the following brief summar of choosing the right basil may be of interest - and will help in picking the right herb from the gardens at Gecko Villa.

Of the three types of basil used in Thai cooking, two are the most prevalent. The first is Thai holy basil (Bai Krapow, or Ocimum Tenuiflorum), the most widely used form of basil in Thailand. This has somewhat hairy leaves and is essential in preparing spicy stir fried meats with basil (pat krapow) or Drunkard's Noodles (pat ki mao.)

The second is the purple-stemmed Thai sweet basil (Bai Horapha, or Ocimum Basilicum), used in making the famous Thai green and red curries,and the basil that is most redolent of the herb in Italy or Europe.

The third type is the narrow-leaved Thai Lemon Basil (Bai Maenglak or Ocimum Citriodorum), a fundamental herb in preparing Khanom Cheen noodles and certain Thai curries and Isan dishes.

Two dishes that may be prepared to highlight the differences between Thai holy basil and Thai sweet basil are Pat Krapao Neua and Neu Joom respectively. This first, spicy chopped beef stir-fried with holy basil, garlic and fresh chillies, is a well-loved dish at lunchtime, whilst the second is an Isan beef hotpot with slices of meat cooked in a broth infused with sweet basil and pickled garlic.

 
Posted By Gecko

Thailand Villas Pink Lotus lake free boat trip
Book a three night stay or more for any dates in January 2012 at either Gecko Villa or our traditional Thai villa Green Gecko  - and enjoy a free boat trip on the stunning pink lotus lake.
January is the perfect month to experience the beautiful wetlands, carpetted in blossoming pink lotus flowers. This secret and magical wonderworld hides behind the giant snails and thick elephant grasses by the banks of the "Talay Bua Daeng" or Pink Lotus Lake near the villas.  Our traditional wooden longboat will take you out through this curtain of long reeds and grasses, to the vast pink expanse of clear waters and lotus flowers beyond, as inqusitive swallows dart by, and fishermen cast their circular nets in a serenely peaceful setting. Simply relax and soak up the calm and beauty of this hidden tropical paradise, or gather some lotus stems to make a spicy, fresh salad for lunch!

Homer's Odysseus related how those tasting the lotus fruit saw any thought of returning home simply evaporate: ‘On the tenth day we set foot on the land of the lotus-eaters, who eat a flowery food.... Then straightway we went and mixed with the men of the lotus-eaters, and so it was that the lotus-eaters devised not death for our fellows, but gave them of the lotus to taste. Now whosoever of them did eat the honey-sweet fruit of the lotus, had no more wish to bring tidings nor to come back, but there he chose to abide with the lotus-eating men, ever feeding on the lotus and forgetful of his homeward way. Therefore I led them back to the ships weeping, and sore against their will, and dragged them beneath the benches, and bound them in the hollow barques. But I commanded the rest of my well-loved company to make speed and go on board the swift ships, lest haply any should eat of the lotus and be forgetful of returning." 

Perhaps the "swift ships" are today's airliners, and once you have visited the lotus lake you will indeed be "forgetful of returning!"

 
Posted By Gecko

Thai Holy Basil Krapao

2 tbs chopped garlic
2 tbs chopped shallots
2 tbs chopped mixed red & green bird eye chillies
1 teaspoon green peppercorns, whole.
¼ cup fish sauce
2 tbss palm sugar
1 cup roughly chopped holy basil leaves (bai krapao)

Half a cup of sliced, small hot peppers
1 cup sliced spring onion
1 pound finely chopped beef

This tasty beef and basil dish is a staple of Thai lunches - a dish often prepared a la minute at both roadside stalls and expensive retaurants. It is generally served over rice with an optional Thai fried egg. It is important to use the correct type of basil - Thai Holy Basil (Ocimum Sanctum.)

Chop the beef finely (we do this with two cleavers used simultaneously, but you could use very fine beef slices or even mince.)

Pound the garlic, shallots, peppers & peppercorns in a mortar. Put this paste into a very hot oiled wok, and stir briefly.Now add the other ingredients with the exception of the spring onions, and continue to stir until the beef is cooked through. Add the spring onions, mix and and serve.

 
Posted By Gecko

Gecko Villa's zingy Thai seafood dipping sauce

 

This simply prepared seafood dipping sauce makes an excellent, fresh and spicy accompaniment to Thai food dishes such as fried fish, grilled prawns, grilled squid or scallops, or steamed crab. At Gecko Villa, we omit the garlic that is traditionally incorporated into the dipping sauce, as we find doing so evokes a fresher, more purely zingy aroma. When preparing this Thai dipping sauce, your fingers will come into contact with the ingredients, so avoid rubbing your eyes until you have washed your hands!

 

4 to 6 fresh bird eye chilies, pounded and finely chopped
5 tbsp fish sauce
2 tbsp lime juice
1 tsp palm sugar (optional and to taste; you could substitute brown or white sugar)

1 tsp of finely chopped red onion/ shallots

A good handful of fresh, roughly chopped coriander leaves and finely chopped stems

 

Roughly chop the chilies, place in a mortar and pound briefly (the idea here is to release the flavours, so you are looking for a bruised/crushed effect, rather than a smooth paste!) Add the remaining ingredients and mix. The fish sauce, lime juice and amount of chilies can be altered to taste. Serve in a small communal bowl or in individual condiment dishes. A variation of the above Thai seafood dipping sauce may be made by adding 1 tablespoon of chopped garlic with the chilies.

 
Posted By Gecko

Free Rice Logo

Gecko Villa invites you to play a word game and help the United Nation's World Food Programme to donate rice to those most in need. Since the launch of the game in 2007, thanks to players such as yourself, Freerice has helped raise enough funds to feed over  4 million people in countries such as Myanmar, Cambodia and Bangladesh.

 It's free to play! Simply visit our Free Rice page and start playing this word game - it is simple to start with, but quickly learns to challenge you. 

Teachers: why not get your classes involved? They will enrichen their vocabulary and provide rice for others with every correct answer...

 
Posted By Gecko

Crying Tiger Beef Thailand

 

This simple dish adds zing and sumptuous depth of flavour and bite to a simply grilled steak. The meat is best flame-charred on the outside, and still very pink and juicy on the inside. It makes a perfect "kap khlaem' or "drinking dish", to be nibbled with a long cold beer. The dish's spiciness should be intense - or else the tiger will not cry!

- Combine 2 large, finely chopped garlic cloves, three chopped roots of coriander, and 1 tbsp each of of fish sauce & soy sauce. Marinate approx 400g good rump steak in this, preferably overnight.
- Brown 3 tbsp of  uncooked jasmine rice grains in a dry pan for approx 10 minutes, stirring frequently to avoid burning. When golden, cool and grind to a coarse powder (with the consistency of roughly cracked black pepper.)
- Remove the steak from the marinade. Brush with peanut or sunflower oil and grill (or preferably BBQ) on a high heat till rare or medium rare. Set aside for ten minutes.
- In a bowl, mix together 5 tbsp fish sauce, 6 of lime juice,  1 tbsp of palm sugar,  and 2 tbsp of coarsely ground roasted dry chilies (use Thai style dark red chili flakes rather than insipid bright red powder!)   

- Cutting against the grain, slice the steak  into thin strips. Add 2 tbsp thinly sliced shallot rings,  approx. 10 big mint leaves, a handful of fresh coriander leaves, and  two finely sliced spring onions. Add the ground rice to this, as well as the steak and any juices.  Mix and serve alone, or with raw cabbage leaves as serving cups. The chili-fearing may prefer to serve the sauce in a bowl to the side.

You could substitute lemon for lime, cane sugar for palm sugar, and store-bought Thai ground rice powder for the home made variety, although when preparing Thai food the original ingredients are the most harmonious! 

 
Posted By Gecko

Thailand to Laos Vientiane Udon Nong Khai border

Many guests travelling to or from Gecko Villa combine a stay at our country pool villa with a visit to Vientiane or Luang Prabang in Laos, given the proximity of the Thai / Laos border. Here we list some travel options from Udon Thani  to Vientiane.
Train: Train 69 leaves Udon Thani at 07.14 and arrives in Nong Khai at 08.25. Delays are frequent. From Nong Khai train station, you can transfer to the bus station to head over to Laos. There is also a once daily train service from Nong Khai to Thanaleng, which is in Laos but about 13 kms from Vientiane.
Bus: There is an international coach service from Udon Thani to Vientiane, although we would only recommend this if you have your Lao visas issued prior to arrival in Thailand. If you have these, this alternative is fairly straightforward and inexpensive (approx THB100 per person.) Buses generally depart each way at 07.00, 09.30, 15.00 and 17.00 If you plan to get a Lao visa on arrival, you can take a coach from Udon to Nong Khai. A shuttle bus runs from the bus station across the Friendship Bridge to Laos every 20 minutes throughout the day ( fare about THB30).  It stops at Thai immigration 5 mins after leaving the bus station, where you need to get your exit stamp,  then crosses the Friendship Bridge to arrive at Lao customs & immigration some 10 mins later (a visa on arrival is available for Laos at this border point).  You now remove your luggage from the bus luggage hold and go through Lao customs.  Then take a tuk-tuk to your chosen hotel.
Car: Private Thai vehicles are not allowed into Laos  without a special license. This means you need to get to Nong Khai in one vehicle, go through the various passport and customs controls, take a third party bus across the bridge, go through Lao immigration, then take another bus or taxi into Vientiane. Guests of Gecko Villa  may book a fully licensed car in advance for the transfer between Gecko Villa and Vientiane (in only the one vehicle, and without border  issues.) This is the quickest and most independent option but is more costly, at approx THB3,500 each way.

 
Posted By Gecko

As we move into the dry season, the emerald green rice  paddies around Gecko Villa will metamorphose to yellows & golds, and will soon be ready for harvest. Scarecrows in ragged old tee shirts will cede their place in the fields to villagers with straw hats and scythes. Rice is the mainstay of the local economy and - in good years - sustains  villagers throughout the year. In Isaan, rice is generally limited to one crop a year, making bountiful provisions all the more susceptible to the climate.

I know its a rice field - but where's the rice?

All our guests have eaten rice in their home country, but many  seem embarrassed to ask where the rice grains might be found, and  "under the water?"  is a common guess!

The Rice Cycle

Around May, farmers use either the traditional water buffalo or “Kubota” motorized ploughs to prepare the soil for sowing. Seedlings are grown in a waterlogged rice paddy until they have developed into sprouts of about 1ft in height. (You will see many of these seedling paddies near our local lake, as adequate water is more readily guaranteed here.)

The rice sprouts are transplanted into the ploughed & flooded rice paddy. They are replanted in rows by hand, in a process known as casting. This may look easy, but if you try your hand you will soon suffer from the constant bending, and will  be surprised by the weight as you carry just one long stick of seedlings through the waterlogged mud to the paddy for planting.

The rice is left to grow for the next 3 to 4 months. Rains cease and the weather becomes hot and dry, and gradually the rice turns golden brown.

When fully dry & golden, the rice is harvested  by hand. This is a time of much merriment as a supply of rice is being guaranteed for the approaching year. Much joking and drinking usually takes place during the harvest, in which all villagers participate. Even villagers who have migrated to Bangkok or elsewhere to work will return for the harvest, much to the despair of their employers.

Once harvested the rice is threshed (either by hand with sticks, or by machine) to separate the rice grains at the head of the plant from the stems, before loading the rice grains into sacks. So, the rice grains are much like wheat: they are found at the top of the golden blades, not under water!

Finally, the rice grains are milled, removing the husk (to be used as pig food or fertilizer) and preparing the rice for transfer to market for polishing and sale.

The rice grain is made up of 3 main layers. The hull or husk is the outer hard protective layer which people cannot eat. This is removed when it is milled. Underneath the hull or husk is the bran & germ layer. This gives brown rice its colour. White rice is when the bran and germ layer are removed. The bran is the outer layer and the germ is the inside layer. The endosperm or kernel is the inside of the rice grain. It is hard and white and contains lots of starch.

Thailand_Rice_Diagram

 

 
Posted By Gecko

A British family based in Bahrain recently stayed at Gecko Villa, and during their trip visited the local primary school, where they made generous donations to the school and children in attendance. During their trip they also kindly gave gifts to villagers in their homes or in their fields -- surprising the locals who were just going about their daily village life.

The guest later thanked the family that runs Gecko Villa noting that "they were really delightful people & the food was fantastic & healthy. Wish I could cook like that!"  At Gecko Villa, Ten said "The guests were very generous and really went the extra mile to ensure that their donations went to those who were most in need. I think their son was very surprised by the difference between his own school and the one in our village. The least I could do to thank them in return was to try to feed them well!"

Many thanks for your kindness - from all at Gecko Villa and from the villagers.

School-donation-responsible travel

 

 

 

 
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