Aug – Dec 2004
When you rely on a single, 200 metre long stretch of 3/4 inch piping for your water supply your always going to have some problems . . .especially if your pipe also has to run under a 50 metre wide river estuary which happens to be in flood. The start of August bought very heavy rains over the mountains and as such the usually calm river outside our front door became more of a torrent. A torrent that swept away all of the debris on the river bottom, leaving only sand . . which was a good thing. But amongst the items washed out to see was our water pipe . . .which wasn’t such a good thing.
Luckily we had a 2000 litre water tank which was full and as it was pissing it down we also had plenty of rain water to use during the few days it took for the water level to die down and us to be able to connect a new pipe across the riverbed. The real plus side to all this rain was that after the floodwater subsides and all the debris has been washed out, the clean, clear river water was great to swim in.
During the first week of August our builders concentrated on getting the bathroom tarted up. As we’ll be living there the finish needs to be better than if it was being built solely for holidaymakers, therefore we’ve got the builders to do stuff slowly rather than slapping on cement & tiles willy-nilly. Unfortunately having them take a bit of time didn’t automatically equate to taking more care, so it took a couple of attempts to get everything up to better than Cambodian standard.
By the middle of the month the bungalow was virtually finished and the builders began to set about finishing off a dozen or so small jobs that had accumulated during the room renovation and which had been put off till the big jobs were finished. We also began to plan where the new footbridge, to link the house to the land through the mangroves would go and how much we could afford to spend on it. As our finances weren’t at their healthiest we went for a no frills footbridge; not designed to last a lifetime but built so that it wouldn’t fall to pieces as soon as the first ‘big-boned’ European set foot on it.
Late August and a potential hiccup was brewing – in so much as hiccups can brew – in the form of local government officials and boys in brown who have been snooping round our neighbour’s new riverfront bungalows. it looked like we would have to wait and see just how much trouble he was in or more likely, how much it’ll cost to get out of it before we started to build anything else.
At the very end of the month we’d just started building the new footbridge, which for the most part ran along the path of a long since collapsed bridge that served the house when it was first built. However, we didn’t count on our new neighbour, the Thai boss of OK Diving in Klong Prao, complaining this wasn’t fair to him as he wanted to build a bridge there too – even though he’d never shown any inclination to do so until this day – and going into a whole “Build it here and I’ll knock it down“, “I know lots of important people“, “You have a black heart” rant lasting for well over a couple of hours. It amused the hell out of our builders who shared my feelings that the guy had lost the plot entirely and was behaving like a small child whose Mum had told him he couldn’t have any more ice-cream. However, in the end we compromised and will reroute the bridge in an attempt to stop the endless whining and to avoid making this idiot our enemy.
September kicked off with an all out war of words between the neighbours over a land dispute. Apparently you aren’t supposed to keep your distance in this kind of feud and so both parties were asking us to take their side. Taking a leaf out of George W.’s book it was “your either with us or against us”. Both sides called up their friends of friends who knew people in moderately high places. One side bought a top army guy, plus entourage, to stay in their bungalows; the other had a visit from an old bloke who was obviously a ‘somebody’ as he had a guy who’s job it was to follow him around, carrying both his mobile phones for him.
Needless to say our footbridge plans, after being delayed earlier by the other neighbour, were still on hold as you never know which of the visiting dignitaries were good guys who didn’t give a toss what you were building and which would see a few poles in the ground as a money extorting opportunity.
Come the middle of the month there was a big meeting involving all the riverside residents regarding the dos & don’ts of building stuff on the riverbanks. Most of those present were severely pissed off of as what started out as they were now mixed up in what started out as a neighbourly spat. Top brass from the planning authorities, marine park, national park etc proceeded to tell the assembled masses how to live, what they could and couldn’t do and so on. As more than a few of the locals pointed out, there seemed to be some reluctance by the powers that be to enforce any of the “strict” rules on cashed up property owners and developers and a quick changes of subject were substituted for replies when direct questions about how and why certain hotels had been allowed to bend the rules into a pretzel shape.
As the scene rapidly descended into a farce, the high-ups decided that the poor never really would understand politics and so it was best to head off to a nearby seafood restaurant so as not to waste the entire day.
A couple of days later the ‘Pu Yai’ – a local guy who has the unenviable task of enforcing the wishes of the local ‘kamnan’ (headman) came around checking all the houses on the riverside. Everything was OK – he found no signs of any dodgy building, except for the places (our neigbour’s new bungalows) where he had been asked told to find signs.
The following day were in the car on our way to the ferry to go and visit Mam’s parents who were staying with her brother in Rayong. When we were on the ferry she got a call from her Mum. Her Dad hadn’t returned from his morning run on the beach. By the time we got off the ferry she knew her Dad had drowned.
The remainder of September and most of October were taken up with the funeral and family related stuff away from Koh Chang.
(As a postscript, this is the boss of OK Diving who borrowed money to buy the house & couldn’t repay the loan. So the lender took the house off him. In early 2009, we finally bought it.)
As we had now entered into a new era of friendly neighbourliness and had the green light to build our own private footbridge and so that’s just what we did at the start of the month. However, our stock of cheap wood had been ‘borrowed’ by another neighbour (Although he did promised to reimburse us at some undefined future moment in time. which hasn’t yet arrived.) So, we had the additional expense of having to buy yet more wood. So a third of the 70 metre long, one metre wide bridge is 6-inch planks and two thirds 4-inch. Looks OK though and makes life much easier. We can even ride a motorbike right up onto the deck.
Another couple of days were spent adding a wooden fence between our house and our neighbour’s as the Thai holidaymakers who occasionally stay there seem to be under the impression that they can wander round to our (far nicer) house whenever they feel like it.
We have been sitting on the balcony, throwing a few prawns on the barbie and a couple of complete strangers have wandered over and sit down in front of us without saying a word. That’s ‘Thai style’ I am told. Only it’s not. I’m banned from asking what they think they’re doing or asking if I arrived at their house in suburban Bangkok could I just walk into their living room without them calling the police?
Inside the rooms there were only a few small jobs to complete: fixing curtains, adding soap holders & rubbish bins etc. Outside we got to work on lighting up the bridge and deck.
From the opposite side of the river the house looked great at night. We have three hanging lights in front of the rooms, four slightly nautical lights on the balcony outside the rooms and the deck over the water is lit with low intensity spotlights.
Just when I thought the end was in sight, Mam decided that we couldn’t live with the current kitchen and that it had to be enlarged . . . and while we were at it we might as well get the builder to knock up a storeroom as well. So we’re back to living amongst debris again.
The original plan was to enlarge the kitchen – a 4 day job and then head into the big city (Trat) and buy some kitchen units. That was before our builder said he could make units if we wanted. There are a total of 21 cupboards and all of them have to have doors made from scratch which seems to take time . . . a lot of time. So before you knew it we were into week three of the 4 day job. At times it appeared as though there was no end in sight , with utensils, gas stove, crockery etc scattered amongst piles of wood at the back of the house. ” Where’s the coffee?” ” Look under the pile of wood where the kittens are.” (A cat who has adopted us had two kittens.)
While we were in Rayong in early December, we had a look round some of the wood shops just out of the town and found some nice teak garden furniture at a good price. I didn’t stop to think about how much teak furniture cots in the UK, USA etc but after a quick search of ebay I found that we paid less than 10% of the US price for equivalent furniture.
We also picked up some more furnishings for the house in Baan Nam Chieo – a small village near Trat. There are a few small shops which sell locally made basketry etc. The shop we go to is the cheapest and is run by a very nice old woman. One of the bedrooms is now home to a 1.5 metre diameter woven hat – which she let us have for 200 baht as her workers were busy making a truck load of them for a new resort in Koh Kood.
Bookings for the guesthouse had by now started to come in from people who were following this , then monthly, update on the original iamkohchang.com site. The other major expense was a new aircon unit for one of the rooms, as I figured that the sight of a blackened, slightly melted, AC unit in a wooden house might be a little off putting to anyone with an irrational fear or being burned alive whilst sleeping.
And that was pretty much it. Everything was completed by mid December 2004. The first people to stay were a Thai group who had planned to stay at the neighbours house but liked ours better. They were also the last Thai group to stay here. The ‘honour’ of the first visitors to stay here went to a Swedish family who opted to spend Christmas 2004 on Koh Chang instead of at Khao Lak, north of Phuket. On 26 December 2004, the tsunami wiped out the resort where they had originally planned on staying.
Stay tuned for the ‘Baan Rim Nam 2’ story. A new guesthouse we’ll build next door, as soon as we have the money to do it right and employ a builder who owns a spirit level.
2009 Update: In the meantime, (Nov 2009) we rented the house on the opposite side of us and fixed up a couple of rooms up and also rebuilt the deck area. So, we now we have 5 rooms and a two large decks for guests to relax on – one open air and one covered.