When I first arrived in Ubon Ratchathani in 2004 I was met (yelled at) by a guy at the train station before the train had even stopped. Actually, there were 20 guys yelling at the passengers and the foreigners seemed to be the top prize, though large groups of people also seemed to be targeted with the loudest shouts.
I noticed this guy because he had a smiling face… while the other guys were nuts and yelling. I thought this guy must need the money, as he wasn’t dressed all that well and I felt bad for him – he wasn’t as young as the other guys, nor as aggressive.
I talked to him outside the train and he spoke English a little bit, more so than the other guys there. He wasn’t rude, so I decided to go with him to Ubon town and find a place to stay there for a while. He told me that he had a place for me to stay, did I want to go see his house?
I was a bit leery. I was new in Thailand and I wasn’t all that sure that guys with trucks don’t take farang into the countryside and torture their ATM numbers out of them and then kill them. Who knows? Though I’d read hundreds of pages of forums and stickmanbangkok.com stories before I cam, I had read little about Isaan and rural Thai people.
Ubon the city is big. As big as Surat Thani, but spread out a bit. There are a lot of people there in the city – maybe 200,000 and yet it doesn’t FEEL like a large city at all. People still treat each other with a lot of respect… more so than here in Surat or other places I’ve seen: BKK, Pattaya, Chonburi, Phuket, Krabi, Nakhon si Thammarat, Samui, etc.
The people are NICER here. It’s such a cool atmosphere for foreigners to visit – and even to live if you can stand the simple life.
Anyway, the point… Here is the guy’s “new” house (3 years ago). It has tile everywhere on the floors. It’s nicely done from appearances, though you’ll see some weird things that don’t make sense if you are actually there and looking at it. It’s a decent home – 2 floors. In the upstairs he has 3 bedrooms with a shared bathroom. Downstairs on this level is a master bedroom that is small, but has it’s own shower and toilet.
The guy bought most of the materials himself to save money… and the grand total for this home 3 years ago in Ubon Ratchathani??? 1 million baht. That WAS about $25,000 USD back then.
While he was at it he built another building behind this house, which has 10 rooms that students can rent out. This building was also 1 million baht. Beside these homes he has a dormitory (hoang chow) of 10 rooms with bathrooms in each that he rents to students for 1500 baht (2 girls or guys per room usually, though some stay 4 in a room).
Behind THAT he has another dorm – older, also with 10 rooms that he rents out for 1500 baht per month each.
Between those two hoang chows he has 4 wooden, one room ‘houses” 2 meters off the ground that he also rents out – 500 baht per month. They are HOT in the summer I’ll tell you.
This guy worked in a mental health facility for a long time – as a caretaker type guy. He was kind of like security and yet he helped with the patients when he could. He retired from there and started to drive a taxi. His wife worked as a teacher at a school in the countryside.
He also moonlights selling insurance for A1A.
He is 62 years old and he’s still quite fit and gets around well. He still drives the truck taxi, though somedays he is just not up to it. He has a son and a daughter in Bangkok, they went to good colleges and both have jobs now, I imagine they are sending money home for him too.
So – not EVERYONE lives in the village in Isaan. There are cities. This guy is doing OK for himself, but he’s not even in the top 5% of those with money here. There are some people with BIG money here, though I’m not sure what they’re doing for the most part. If cars are any indication, the BMW’s and Mercedes seem to be driven by those that have government jobs in town. I’ve taught students that were daughters of a guy who owned a MASSIVE pig farm that did well. I know there are some successful rice farmers around. But, there are a LOT of people with money in Ubon and there must be more going on -but I’m not too aware of what it is.
If any of you are considering settling down in Ubon – you can still get a nice, new, small home for 1 million baht. The land is dirt cheap and the people will always be better than the big cities… There are quite a few expats that have settled down in the villages surrouding Ubon. You won’t see many foreigners in the city unless you happen to go to a shopping area, some make their rounds everyday out of boredom… drinking coffee and reading newspapers… (I DID!)