Our Cambodian wedding photos

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This is such a fun souvenir to make with your friends or family while you’re in Siem Reap. If you have a few hours to spare in your day, you can get Cambodian wedding photos done at several studios around the city. Ladies take about an hour and a half to do makeup and hair Khmer (Cambodian) style.

It’s $15 US for one outfit and $25 US if you choose to dress as an Apsara character (like my friend on the left of the top picture). They don’t do much work on the men but put on the traditional outfit. Be warned, don’t ask to change into several jackets of different colours, because they charge extra for that.

My friends and I went to the studio right across the street of Lucky Mall on Sivatha Road.

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My original face.

My Cambodian face.

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Adventure saturation

Road in Siem Reap.

I sometimes feel like I have become the kind of tourist that I used to mock when I was in Cambodia. You know, the type who gets easily frustrated at small or big inconveniences. I sometimes scold myself in my mind and say, “Don’t be a self-entitled tourist.” I am ashamed because it is such a privilege for people to have the opportunity to travel and it should not be taken for granted because most people in the world aren’t able to leave their communities let alone their countries.

It took me months to develop strong relationships in Siem Reap and I was very happy when I got to the point where I had enough friends to always have someone to hang out with and even having an adopted Khmer family to always be there with me to make me feel like I always had a home base in Asia. I also had the wonderful guesthouse staff who let me use their Wi-Fi anytime, my morning sandwich lady, my vegetable lady, the Cambodian hair wash place and other go-to places.

Even after eight months in the small city centre in Siem Reap, there are still new experiences I had. Even when I came back to the city for 2.5 weeks after being in Laos, there were still adventures to experience. I cycled new bike paths with my Khmer (Cambodian) friend around his village, had lunch at a wedding during our bike ride, went to my first Khmer engagement party and went for the opening of my friends’ new restaurant.

But when I started going to different countries where I didn’t know anyone, it was sometimes hard to “restart” in many ways. Figuring out where things are, trying not to get scammed, finding people to hang out with and so on. I became like a tourist who I used to laugh at when I was in Cambodia catching myself with thoughts like, “In Cambodia, I can just get a SIM card anywhere, everything was so easy,” or, “Why is it so hard to find reliable Wi-Fi? In Siem Reap there are coffee shops everywhere.” The I feel ashamed of myself for feeling like the world has to be at my convenience at times.

Fresh sugar cane juice in Siem Reap. It’s $0.14 to $0.25 US depending where you buy it.

I knew deep down though as much as I loved being in Cambodia, I had to push myself to keep exploring new places in Asia, meeting people and getting out of my comfort zone. And when felt alone and down sometimes, I had to learn to be present with those times and know they all happened for a reason.

Of the past 11 months I’ve been traveling, 8 months was in Cambodia, mostly Siem Reap. The remaining 3 months in Laos, Indonesia, Taiwan, Thailand and Philippines was filled with countless connections, adventures, spontaneity, sightseeing and reunions with friends. As someone who thrives on adventure and randomness, even thrills have a saturation point and it feels like I’ve experienced everything I wanted to and more.

My experience is like someone who starts a new drug and everything is exciting and new. Then you need to have more of it to feel a high. But once you’ve experienced everything, it’s not exciting anymore and you don’t feel as happy no matter how much you take after consuming it for a long time.

I’ve been so fortunate to be able to move wherever I want to go and see what I want to see, but I’ve often been antsy at the same time the past few months because I haven’t worked on a meaningful projects in a long time since my volunteer term ended in October. Even when I was still in Siem Reap, I felt I had a purpose to help around the house with my adopted Khmer (Cambodian family) or give my time to visit people to learn more about their lives.

One of my good friends recently asked me, “What do you think your purpose is right now?” And I replied honestly, “I have no purpose right now, I’m trying to find one.”

Hanging out with friends in Kralanh, 60 km from Siem Reap city.

There comes a point where no beautiful beaches, jungle treks or bike rides in new cities will make me as happy as seeing my friends and Khmer family in my Asian home Siem Reap. At the beginning of January, I was seeing signs that were pulling my heart to see friends in Siem Reap: First, I was sleeping for most of the two-hour train ride from Bangkok to Ayutthaya. Then I woke up for a bit to see the view outside and it suddenly changed to rice fields and coconut trees that look exactly like the landscape in Cambodia.

Secondly, I don’t hear much from my Khmer friends because they are busy with their projects and one of them just said “miss you nas” (miss you very much).

Thirdly, today I spent hours busing around Bangkok to try and get to one of the islands and when we finally took the bus, I ended up in the wrong part of Thailand. Since we had to wait 11 hours for our next bus, we decided to spent the day in a coffee shop. I found out in the hour that the staff member who was serving us is Cambodian and I practiced speaking Khmer with her. Later I found out most people in the city speak Khmer because they are so close to the Cambodian border. They also had the same openness of Khmer people.

Finally, I haven’t heard from Konnitha, my adopted Khmer mom in awhile and when we were just chatting briefly online she said, “I miss you so much.”

I’ve never been as homesick with Vancouver, Canada where I left for Asia as I have been with Cambodia. Of course I often miss my family and friends the most but I haven’t thought, “I can’t wait to go back home” since I’ve been here. When I left, my mind and heart were open to the unknown and ready for the best and worst in a completely new place.

I’m always meeting new inspiring people in Siem Reap. A few of my Cambodian friends cycled 500 km in Cambodia to engage youth to get involved in their community and raise money for the Angkor Children’s Hospital. This photo was taken at the Angkor Wat temple at the end of their ride.

When I am alone, my thoughts drift most often to one of my closest Khmer friends Konnitha and wonder how her and her family are doing because they have been the most part of my daily life in the months I was in Cambodia.

When I was staying at her family’s house, I would often go for a bike ride or check my mail and come back to prepare lunch with the family and eat together. I got so integrated with the family I started feeling guilty if I didn’t have dinner with them almost every day. Whenever I was away for a few days in another city, Buntha, Konnitha’s husband, would text me to check on me to make sure I got to my destination safely, which is really sweet. My mom in Canada feels better knowing people are looking out for me.

It’s taken me over a month to get used to waking up to completely silent mornings. While most people love and appreciate silent mornings, I enjoy waking up to the sound of chanting monks, the family getting getting ready in the morning or prayers coming from mosques. When I started waking up to completely silent mornings in Bali, Indonesia, I was even missing the annoying rooster that would crow every day at 5 a.m. in Cambodia because it was too quiet.

I never liked totally quiet environments since I was small and that’s why I can sleep through most noise, and I’ve slept through music blaring between two stages 24 hours a day, people talking in the morning, and even a jackhammer during a renovation. Maybe the sounds just show me there is life and people outside starting their days and the world is waiting for me to interact with it.

My beautiful Khmer family at the pagoda.

As much as I’m having a wonderful time in the cities I’ve been, I’m looking forward to returning to Siem Reap for a few weeks to spend precious time with my friends and my Khmer family one last time.

Of all the beautiful places I’ve been, it’s not the sights that I remember the most, it’s the people I spend time with that are forever engraved in my memory and heart. I remember the times they made me laugh, their silly jokes, when they helped me get somewhere, cooked with me and told me about their dreams.

I knew before I left Vancouver that there are many people that I was meant to be friends with and I feel I’ve connected with most of them. Our paths were meant to cross.

 

600 km motorcycle adventure around Mae Hong Son

One of many endless beautiful mountain views along our four-day journey through Mae Hong Son mountains.

I admit, I’m quite lazy when it comes to doing any kind of research whether it’s for school or for travel. I’ve been very fortunate that every place I’ve been this past year, there’s been someone who likes to see the kinds of things I like to so I’ve followed them with very little planning.

When I was skimming through my friend’s Lonely Planet book, there was a section of the top 25 things to see in Thailand and the first suggestion was a writer who wrote about the Mae Hong Son loop and said, “This is one of the best motorcycle rides I’ve ever done.”

Done. I’ve been itching to do a long motorcycle ride for awhile so that immediately was on my bucket list for the north. This mountain loop is a fully paved road with endless sights to see and places to visit, including waterfalls, geysers, hippy towns, farms, quirky places and villages. If I ever did it next time, I would spend a month in the mountains and suggest other people to stay longer as well. You can easily make connections with really open and very well-traveled people in addition to locals with wonderful smiles.

Sunset in Pai.

I probably should have planned it a bit more but being in Asia for 10 months has taught me that having open days and the belief that things will work out is the best preparation someone could have. I had good faith from the little research we did that we would find accommodation along the way and ask people where to go.

When you’re traveling, even if you did all the online research, you always find people who have suggestions along the way and it’s best to be open to changing your “plan.” No matter what country I’m in, I can think of many times that the best days I’ve had have been completely unplanned. All we packed were some clothes, cash and our Mae Hong Son map and then we were off.

Our 200 cc Honda Phantom

Tonys big bikes

Because the roads were very windy and there were quite a few hills, we wanted to rent a good bike. By luck, we ran into some tourists who referred us to a store called Tony’s Big Bikes, right in the city square in Chiang Mai.

In case you’re not a rider, most scooters are between 110 cc to 150 cc and more powerful street motorcycles range between 250 cc all the way to 1000 cc. If you’re a beginner rider, most people start with a 250 cc bike. People with bikes between 500 cc to 900+ cc are riding pretty damn fast.

We were amazed how good the price was because most shops were renting out small 125 cc Kawasaki bikes for 600 baht day (about $20 US a day) while Tony’s Big Bikes lent us their new 200 cc Honda Phantom for 550 baht a day. We got their new bike with saddlebags and bungee cords.

One of many unique sights we saw in the mountains.

We also bought a good Mae Hong Son map at the store for 250 baht and it was well worth it because it was our guide for our entire trip. It’s also laminated so it can’t easily get ripped.

This is the first cruiser bike I’ve ridden for a longer period and it was so comfortable and I see why people like these bikes for long rides. I’ve never done a multi-day motorcycle trip before and it felt amazing to just be cruising on open road on the highway then going through the windy roads of the mountains. We passed beautiful and diverse green landscape along the way.

My only goal for the four days was to just ride the bike for a long time because I haven’t ridden a manual bike for months. Everything else was a bonus.

Organic coffee, waterfalls and geysers

On our first day out, we wanted to end up in Pai, a city famous for its hippy culture. We were going to stay at Tacompai, recommended by a friend we met at another farm. We took the 107 route and followed road 1095 that would lead straight to Pai. We stopped anywhere that looked interesting along the way.

We first stopped at a small family shop for some delicious noodles. Wherever I go, I like to support small businesses, preferably in more remote areas that aren’t flooded with tourists.

Our next stop was at this cute place called Pankled Coffee where they grow the coffee beans on their land and we stopped there for a pre-birthday chocolate cake and tea for my friend.

Delicious Thai tea, my addiction in Thailand.

A perfectly rich chocolate pre-birthday cake for my friend.

We made some new friends.

We saw a waterfall sign that my friend wanted to check out. It costs about 20 baht for parking and 100 baht entrance fee to see the Mork Fa waterfall and well worth spending some time in.

In addition to the waterfall, you can also check out a small cave and do a 500 m nature walk to get back to the parking lot. This kind of area reminded me a lot of the temples in Indonesia that were surrounded by beautiful jungle areas and landscape.

We saw geysers with temperatures of 90 to 100 degrees Celsius.

We were hungry so we cooked 3 eggs for 20 baht in the geyser.

How do you like your eggs done in a geyser?

Delicious!

I couldn’t believe this guy jumped the fence and was hanging in the middle of the geysers.

Because we still had about 40 km to go to get to Pai through windy roads, I suggested we keep driving until we found accommodation before dark. Up until that point, most of the roads have been pretty straight and smooth so we could cover many kilometers.

An inspiring two days in Pai

After we finished with the geyser we wanted to get to Tacompai farm that was recommended by our friend. But as the sun slowly started setting down, it was getting cooler and I wanted to just go for the first accommodation we saw because it would have been another 30 km to Pai, which takes a lot longer to drive when the roads are windy.

Love Strawberry food and accommodation  on the way to Pai.

As we were looking for the farm, some large strawberry displays caught our attention. It was called Love Strawberry, which had a restaurant and accommodation. I checked out the room and it was like a cute cabin with a hot shower (heaven!) a bed and fan. It looked perfect and it was 500 baht ($15 US) to share between the two of us. But since the farm was only a 2 km away, we thought we’d check that out first and then we could use this place as a backup.
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I’m glad my friend kept pushing us to keep going and thankfully we found the farm and were kindly greeted by their knowledgeable and humble owner Sandot. He gave us a mini tour of the farm and let us choose which bungalow we would like. For 100 baht ($3.30 US) per person per night, we had the room and access to the hot shower.

Sandot is the founder of Tacomepai vegetarian and organic farm in Pai.

When our friend at Mindful Farm recommended Tacomepai to us for our short-term stay, I didn’t realize how many people around the world travel to learn about Sandot’s sustainable and organic farming practices. I felt bad for only staying two nights and I know next time I would stay at least a month to be able to learn, which is actually already completely self-sufficient without workers. I met one volunteer who has already been there for nine months on the farm. You can see my full conversation with Sandot in my previous post.

We chose the room that was above the classroom where Sandot teaches about permaculture, which is basically about creating sustainable ecosystems and uses nature to provide, food, fuel and any other necessities for a community.
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We settled in around 6:30 p.m. and Sandot kindly invited us to dinner that was already cooked by the other guests in the wonderful outdoor kitchen. I was completely exhausted after a full day of riding, so after we ate by the fire I just wanted to sleep.

We ate all of our meals on these beautiful bamboo plates.

After a few hours, I woke up to the beat of a djembe. The sounds traveled through the trees and into my room and I couldn’t help but walk towards the music by the fire. Two guys were drumming, singing and playing guitar beautifully. I wasn’t planning on going out that night but they invited us to go to an open mic café where people sing and jam together.

We all hopped on our bikes and drove into town. The other guys drove so fast that we lost them and we looked for the place ourselves. One of them was nice and actually drove out to find us and led us to the cafe. The city centre is such a funny place, it’s unfortunate we didn’t have time to look around in the daytime. It was full of hippies from around the world, had a variety of music and interesting products.

It’s always so nice to wake up within a peaceful mountain. My friend and I promised to help guests cook in the morning for everyone. Generally the guests can either participate in the farm’s activities that are pretty much monitored by the people who volunteer there. The only reason Sandot built bungalows is to accommodate his guests who want to learn from him or stay at the farm.

Tacomepai farm.

One of my favourite things to do with other people is cook and it’s been a great experience to cook and chat with people on the two farms we’ve visited in Thailand. Especially when everyone does something to help in some way. Guests have to make a fire in order to cook because there are no ovens.

It’s entertaining to watch Westerners trying to make a fire sometimes because most of the kitchen ends up smokey before we can cook anything. The kitchen really is for the guests anyway, not for the local people who live there. I was wondering how my noodles would turn out in the high heat pan but improvising seemed to work.

Solar panels on Tacomepai.

Nothing is wasted on Tacomepai and plastic is forbidden. It’s really amazing to see Sandot’s knowledge put into practice in so many ways from making a homemade water filter, creating watering systems for plants without wasting any water and making dishes from bamboo. He also uses solar panels which costs about $60 US dollars and produced in Thailand.

On our last night, I was fortunate to have the chance to talk more with Sandot about why he built the farm the way he did and h  is history, which was really fascinating. You can read the extensive post about our full conversation.

Guests cook food that come either straight from the farm or local markets. They carry baskets and boxes to bring back the food because plastic is not allowed from the farm because it creates more garbage if it can’t be reused.

His family has been in Pai since his grandfather’s generation until he took it over. He has a background in electrical engineering and could have made a lot of money. He had past ambitions to make a lot of money in engineering and travel. But while he was in Dubai, he said “Everyone is chasing money and I realize money doesn’t make people happy. It is not the right way.”

When Sandot returned to the farm, he didn’t used to get good prices for his food so instead of selling his food to make little money to buy other food. So he has since been growing food for himself and his village for the past two decades. He said, “I don’t follow economic times. Whether GDP is up or down, I don’t care, I have food to eat.”

Sandot has learned everything from his father since was a young boy about surviving in the jungle, creating ecosystems, planting and many other things we didn’t have a chance to talk about. “My father was my Google. He was a blacksmith and  I learned everything from him,” he said.
Sandot was even able to start planning in the desert in Dubai with the droplets of air conditioning. He has a remarkable imagination that he loves to use to figure out how to plant things and use whatever materials are around him.

As many materials are reused to reduce waste like these bottles that are used to grow plants.

One volunteer told me that Sandot used to teach a lot of theory but many of the past guests could barely pick up a shovel. So he focuses a lot less on theory now and does hands on teaching because he believes strongly in practical learning.

Finally, we said our goodbye to our lovely farm family. Sandot told us to stay longer very sincerely.

Ride to the next accommodation

We had to be back in Chiang Mai to catch our bus to Bangkok in two days. That’s why we had to make sure we rode at least 200 km this day until we found a reasonable accommodation.

We realized we already went through the hardest roads in the first part of the loop with all the switchbacks and hills. I stalled twice and started rolling backwards in two parts of the hills until I learned how to adjust my gears properly when going up the mountain. Learn by doing.

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We rode for 7.5 hours with a two-hour lunch break. It’s very tiring after a few hours of riding so I took a nap after lunch and then we went on. Once I’m riding though, I feel very zen and you can easily get in a trance and just move with the bike and the road.

Our goal was to find accommodation by 5 p.m. but there was not even a village for at least 20 km, let alone a guesthouse. Because it was getting cold riding as the darkness set in and the winds got stronger, we were just going to stay at the first place that looked half decent. I was ready to pay whatever price they said by that point because it was so cold. There was nothing but hills and trees for what seemed like endless kilometers.

The very comfortable village guesthouse.

Nevertheless, I always felt very safe in northern Thailand. Even though it’s a completely new area for me to explore, there is a peacefulness and sense of community in the areas we visited. You can really get a decent feel for a new place when you first land and get a sense whether you need to learn more about it or play it really safe at first before venturing out. There were always good mountain vibes in Mae Hong Son.

Then finally we arrived at a village and we ecstatically saw a “24-hour guesthouse” sign. When we asked how much, if they said 600 baht I would have paid it, but they said it was 300 baht ($10 US) for both of us so of course we agreed. When we saw the cute wooden guesthouse, we were very happy to see real beds and closed walls, which we haven’t slept much in the two weeks prior. And it even had a TV!

We went out to see the four restaurants that were around and enjoyed a 40 baht fried rice meal before going to sleep.

The highest point in Thailand

A wonderful, peaceful and silent mountain breakfast.

We woke up to peaceful silence again in the mountains and I enjoyed a slow walk to the restaurant while watching the sunrise behind the foggy mountains.

The owner was just getting set up and it was so nice to enjoy a fried rice meal and soup to start the day. We waited until about 9:30 a.m. to ride because it was too cold. We only had about 150 km left to ride and my friend wanted to check out Don Inthanon temple if we had time, which is a popular spot for people to visit.

Owner setting up the restaurant in his village.

As we rode for an hour, even at 10:00 a.m. it was still cold. We stopped at another restaurant and I relished a hot soup and drink until it started warming up again.

After going on so many windy roads, you come to really appreciate straight roads. I put the bike in top gear to go at its fastest to cover more ground whenever we had a chance. The road to Don Inthanon was easy and beautiful among the trees.

The road to Don Inthanon.

We enjoyed a coffee in the area, which is the highest point in Thailand. Unfortunately we didn’t have enough time to actually go to the temple, which required a 1.5 hour guided hike to see the temple. There may have been a chance we wouldn’t see it anyway because it was foggy. But I would strongly recommend people take a trip to see it if you have a few days in the north. From Chiang Mai’s city centre, the temple is only about 88 km, which would take about up to 2.5 hours to ride by scooter.

Don Inathon sign

Then finally we rode our last leg to Chiang Mai and return the bike. The last 30 km felt like a long time and it was weird riding with traffic after spending days riding among the quiet mountains.

600 km can be done in three days but to really enjoy the mountains, I recommend at least a week so you can take some time to just enjoy the people, farms, scenery, and nature’s wonders in the mountain.

It was the people, once again, not the places we visited, that made the journey most meaningful.

Cost summary in US dollars

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Aside from meals and accommodation, my friend and I divided everything in two.

  • 200 cc Honda Phantom rental for four days: $73 (split 2 ways)
  • Gas: $20 for 91 fuel in total to travel 600 km (split 2 ways)
  • Mae Hong Son Map: $8 (well worth it)
  • Entry fee for waterfalls and geysers: $6 (split 2 ways)
  • 2 days at Tacomepai farm homestay: $10 per person for accommodation and three meals a day ($3.33 per person per night for accommodation and $1.67 per day for three meals a day)
  • One night stay in a village guesthouse: $5 per person including a bottle of water for each of us.
  • Meals: $5 to $7 per day

Total cost per person: $96 for four days

How to make charchoal with coconuts

Sorry for my delay in posting, I’ve been busy catching up with old friends and have a lot more to share in the coming weeks. My friend and I spent 8 days in Marinduque, an island that is at the “heart of the Philippines.” I will write more on our dubbed Jungle Master Ian, a very intelligent 16-year-old boy who can do everything from climbing coconut trees, making kites, and of course making charcoal out of coconuts. I had no idea coconuts could be turned into charcoal that is great for cooking and can save families a lot of money if they know how to do it themselves.

Why I’ll be offline for the week

There are at least 20+ blog posts I still have to catch up on but I’ll have more time to do that when I return back to my Asian home in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

I won’t have Wi-Fi at the farm I’m staying at in Marinduque, Philippines. We’re staying with my friends’ brother for 10 days and I am officially in charge of taking care of their water buffalo Rebecca. I’m also looking forward to meeting their dogs named Nokia, iPad and Samsung and trying coconut wine.

This will be interesting.

Koko’s recommended stay in Chiang Mai: V.R. Guesthouse

Our energetic and wonderful friend Potae, owner of VR Guesthouse

My friend and I booked VR Guesthouse in Chiang Mai, Thailand because it was a good price, had good reviews and was right in the centre of the city. We booked a shared room with four beds for 125 baht per person per night (about $3.75 US) and the price included free coffee, water, great Wi-Fi, clean beds and a hot shower.

We’re so happy we ended up here because we instantly liked the very hospitable young owner Potae. When we first met her she said, “My name is Potae. Like potato but without the “to.” She made us laugh all the time.

Potae is the most accommodating guesthouse owner I’ve met in the year I’ve been in Asia. She conveniently arranged a scooter for us when we needed and answered any questions we had. She told us, “I like to make people feel at home and I love running the guesthouse. I want people to give honest reviews on TripAdvisor about their experience. I don’t ask people to say good things.”

But not only did she provide exceptional service, she went way beyond the usual duties of a guesthouse owner. One day when we had to pick up our big bags from a friend’s house about a 20-minute drive away and we were planning on taking it on a motorcycle. Instead, she kindly offered to close the guesthouse and use her car to pick up our bags at the risk of losing new customers.

And on our last day, I needed to pick up a card around 8:00 a.m. before our bus came and I asked if I could use her scooter. Instead she offered to drive me right in the morning even while she was busy helping other guests with their motto rentals.

We were lucky to spend time with her outside of the guesthouse and she took dancing close and helped us get around town. She is always funny and energetic and it was great to spend time with her.

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On our last night there she helped us get a taxi to our bus station and she said, “I’ll miss you. If you have any questions while you’re in Bangkok, you can call me.” And we did. When we arrived back in Bangkok around 9:30 p.m., we had trouble communicating with our taxi driver. So we called Potae and translated for us. Before we said our last goodbye, she said, “If you have any other questions, call me.”

At any given moment, she’s busy taking the sheets to the laundry, booking tours for people, arranging scooters and prepping the rooms for upcoming guests. Despite having very busy moments with a million things to look after, she said, “I love my job.”

If you’re in Chiang Mai, please visit Potae for us and tell her Meesa and Zu say hello.

“My father was my Google,” Sandot, founder of Tacomepai farm

Sandot head shotWhile I was at Mindful Farm in northern Thailand, one volunteer recommended that we stay at the Taomepai farm since we were going to be in Pai in the Mae Hong Son province, about 143 km away form Chiang Mai. Our friend was staying there for awhile learning about organic farming methods a from Sandot, the farm’s owner who has spent much of his life building this farm, reforestation and creating a thriving and self-sufficient ecosystem.

People all over the world travel to Tacomepai to learn from Sandot about permaculture, which is basically a philosophy of working with rather than against nature to build natural ecosystems to sustain the environment and its inhabitants by producing food, fuel, shelter and more. Tacomepai’s guests learn how to plant vegetables in the forest, build huts, weave baskets and make their own eating utensils.

What’s funny is that he’s been practicing permaculture for most of his life and when a group in Thailand found out what he was doing and wanted to learn from him, he asked them, “What is permaculture?” And they said, “It is what you’re doing.”

Sandot’s family came from China and his grandfather moved to Pai after he could not afford to pay the land taxes in Chiang Mai. Sandot eventually took over managing the farm and used fertilizers before. The farm also had much less diversity in the system. He said that he felt, “bad and dirty” when he used chemicals. So he transformed the farm and only used organic methods to reforest and grow plants that supplies enough for his village and his many guests that come and stay at the farm year round. His village currently has over 30 families.

Minimizing waste

Bamboo cups.

Unlike many parts of Thailand where most people use packaging and produce a lot of waste with takeout food, natural materials are used to produce what people need and items like bottles are reused to minimuze waste at Tacomepai.

Everywhere around his farm you can find cups, homes and plates made of bamboo. Bringing in plastic is a big no no on the farm. There is no recycling system in place so whatever cannot be used on the farm gets burned. When guests buy food, they bring their own container and buy as much raw food to use up rather than packaged things like noodles.

Conversation with Sandot

It’s unfortunate I only had a two days at Tacomepai. On my last night there, I thankfully got a chance to learn more about Sandot’s story while we had our last dinner.

Growing up, I lived a very simple life. We had no car and no mottos. We just an ox care haha. I learned how to plant and how to survive.

My first schooling was seven years in primary school at a temple, taught by a monk and teachers. Then I did three years at secondary school. Afterward I went to college to study electrical engineering then I was in the army for another two years and I was 21 years old at the time. All of the boys had to go to the army. After work, I worked in Dubai.

Before, I felt like I could make money to travel. People were not much friendly and I realized that money didn’t make people happy.

Thailand was copying the Western style with and building more factories. I thought this is not the right way. What I learned when I was a boy was the right way. I learned how to grow food, how to survive and it is more permanent than destroying land.

Before we had no Google. My father was my Google. Google doesn’t teach you how to use a machete. My father was a blacksmith and knew how to do everything.

When I returned, I started the farm from empty land. Before I tried to sell my food to the Chiang Mai market, but they didn’t’ give me good prices. I like to learn things on my own so I drove to Bangkok to learn more about the market. If I didn’t sell, the food would go bad. I spent so much time trying to sell my food just to get little money to buy other food.

I realized I had to go back to the basics. If I liked rice, I will grow rice. I like chili so I will grow chili. I don’t care about the market and not waiting for the money. But now the market comes to me and they say, ‘Oh your mango is so healthy.’

I let things grow and happen naturally. I let the insects eat and insects cut wood for you. If you use chemicals all the time to get rid of insects, you’ll go crazy. Let them do the work for you.

I don’t need to listen to economic times. No matter what’s happening, I have food. We focus so much on growing money and GDP but I want to know how to grow happiness. When money is involved, people are not as happy.

The farm runs itself now and doesn’t need workers. I learned everything from my life.

[Foreign volunteers] started coming by accident. Tourists went the wrong way and ended up at my farm and asked what we were doing. We started building the houses so they had a place to stay. We keep the culture of the hill tribe of each house and every house has its own traditions.

When Thai TV people interview me, they call me crazy because I am not following the Western way and modern society. More kids are going to the city and less of them are working on the farm. Older people will get tired and will have to sell the land.

If I could change one thing, I want to change education in the world. We put our children in a cage. We teach them not the real things like how to plant rice, water, how to survive. Technical knowledge and how to use things is important.

I’m always using my imagination. I was able to start a forest in the Saudi Arabia using air conditioning. When the condensation dropped to the ground, it got me thinking about how to begin planting. Then everyone started copying me and every building had air con.

While I was in Malaysia it was very sad they cut all the trees to make palm oil. This is not the right way, we need to go back to simple living and taking care of the land.

One day a British company bought and cut trees by [our] farm and the forest and water disappeared. So we must reforest. There was a Japanese company who moved work away from Thailand to Laos because the labour was cheaper and Thailand cried. I say, ‘Don’t cry, just plant.’

Sandot has said that the traditional way is being lost and some groups of local people are responsible for burning down forests, which supplies much bamboo that can be used to build many things. He often gets emotional when he speaks to people about how some communities don’t take care of the environment that can sustain them.

So whenever someone is willing to learn how to farm naturally whether they are from Thailand or another part of the world, he is very happy to teach them and always shares his positive smile, positive energy and happiness.

Sandot uses solar panels that were produced in Thailand.

Sandot’s adorable mom who spends much of her time weaving baskets. She teaches guests how to weave at Tacomepai.

Plastic is banned from the farm because it often can’t be reused and burning it is toxic.

This is how guests are informed when their meal is ready.

The delicious food that is cooked at Tacomepai is either grown on the farm or bought from local markets nearby.

This is a natural water filtering system built by Sandot that uses rocks, gravel, sand, charcoal and ash. The filter is renewed every six months.

Bamboo plate.

Bottles that have been reused to grow plants to minimize waste.

A watering system where excess water is redirected to the blue container (bottom right) to be reused. The plants are held on slanted bamboo so the water trickles through all of them.

This is one of many bungalows that Sandot built to accommodate his guests. My friend and I also slept in the rooftop for two nights during our stay in Pai.

The classroom where people learn about permaculture.

Where I brushed my teeth by our room.

Volunteers’ schedule.

Where we have our nightly fire.

The wonderful outdoor kitchen.

Tea time.