I’ve now moved from Italy to Thailand, which has been quite the transition to say the least. It’s much warmer here, the people in general are friendlier, and the principal religion has shifted from Catholicism to Buddhism. Thus far I have no complaints! I have met wonderful people everywhere I’ve gone (mostly other travelers, but a few locals as well), enjoyed a little time in the Big City (Bangkok), a beach paradise (Koh Phangan), and finally spent the last two weeks working on an organic farm in the jungle of southern Thailand.
While my first two weeks in Thailand were incredible, and filled with delicious food and adventure – including eating a scorpion, seeing a pingpong show, braving a night ferry, and biking around the ruins of Ayutthaya – I will try and keep this post focused by making my time on the farm the point of discussion. I am working here through Workaway (the same program I used in Italy), but the farm is also part of the WWOOFer organization, so most of the other volunteers found it through that.
The farm is located just outside of Narathiwat (very southern Thailand). Before coming here I was slightly nervous as there is a travel advisory for the area due to continual violence, but upon arriving I found that much of this is overplayed by the news articles and travel advisory board and it is probably no more violent than many US cities. However, there is a noticeable presence of army men driving around with AK47’s in their arms and a distant gunshot or bomb can occasionally be heard from the farm, but never near enough to cause any alarm. The town of Narathiwat itself doesn’t boast much to do, but is interesting in it’s difference to the rest of Thailand in that it is a very Muslim community, unlike the majority of Thailand which is Buddhist. It’s an odd change of pace after being in highly touristed regions, to come to an area with an entirely different culture that isn’t used to a lot of farang (foreigners) passing through. Everywhere else people are very friendly, often smiling and waving in passing, and I would so much say that people aren’t friendly here, but rather than smiling or waving many just seem to stare. That said, I’ve also met exceptionally friendly people here including “Elvis,” a performer at the restaurant we get our food from, who inquired our names, where we’re from, and what we are working on at the farm, and a family who was eating in a restaurant that I was sitting in (waiting for friends). They came up and asked if they could take a picture with me, I allowed it and before I knew it they were offering me food and beer and trying to recall every English phrase they knew.
But anyway, on to the more exciting stuff… the Farm! It is only about 10 minutes outside of town, but it really is in the jungle, you’d never know we were so close to the city if we weren’t able to hear the prayers being sung at the mosque throughout the day (beginning at 5 am and not stopping until 10 in the evening). We grow just about every type of plant… corn, cucumber beans, peppers, papaya, potatoes, cocoa, mango, etc., and there are chickens and goats, and a kitten named Lemmy. We wake up at 8, water all the plants with our 2 little watering cans, which generally takes about an hour, and then cook ourselves some eggs and toast for breakfast. Around 10 we get to work on various tasks: sowing seeds, planting, building frames, clearing land, weeding, etc. We take an hour break for lunch – rice – (provided by the restaurant across the main road) and keep working until about 5, when we water again before taking showers and sitting down to relax and listen to the jungle come alive.
During the day I am aware of the birds, lizards, snakes, spiders, and rats that occupy the area, but it isn’t until the evening that I’m fully aware of the number of animals that I’m surrounded by. We’ve given names to the most common animals based on the noises they produce: farty frogs, laughing lizards, ping-pong birds, and snoring birds. The farty frogs are probably the most amusing, but I believe it will be the lizards with their little laugh that stay with me the longest since they crawl about the walls of my room cackling into the night and, therefore, I never really escape their noises. However, to me I am more entertained than annoyed by the many sounds of the jungle in the evening, and the only things that gives me a bit of anxiety are the spiders which seem to always pop out of nowhere right before I’m about to walk into them. Their pretty big and have black and yellow stripes covering their bodies which just makes them look even creepier to me. I also had the lovely pleasure of finding a fat black one hidden in my shower the other day as I went to rinse off.
Despite the occasional annoyance of the spiders (and red ants… and mosquitos), I absolutely love working on the farm. It’s incredible to see how much has changed just in the 2 weeks since I’ve been here. We’ve cleared a section of forest by the river, cleaned off a section of river (which is covered in weeds and grasses), built a rock garden, put up a few new fences, and planted a lot of seeds. I think I am much more willing to sow seeds and work with plants here because it is so much easier to see the fruits of my labors. Things grow instantly here. Since my arrival the corn stalks have doubled or tripled in size and I have planted beans which are now about a foot tall.
It’s a nice change of pace whilst traveling to stop for a bit in one spot and settle into a daily routine. The things that I don’t even realize I’m missing while traveling, such as three meals a day or a task that needs to be done (besides laundry) provide a bit of comfort and allow my body to relax from the constant on-the-go of traveling. However, that said, this “break” has refreshed me for travel and made me realize that I am in no way ready to head home yet. I was exhausted every evening and found myself already bored with the routine after my 16 short days here. The time flew by, but I am by no means ready to go back to a normal schedule and face the real world, full of so many tasks. So it’s onwards with the travels. Tomorrow I will head to Malaysia for a short tour of the northern islands before heading back up to visit the west coast of southern Thailand before returning to Bangkok and on to an orphanage in Mae Sot.
(Unfortunately it appears many of my pictures of the farm and my previous traveling are too “large” to fit into this post… If I can get them to work later I’ll add them in)