In late February 2016, I pursued a new experience on my travels in the form of a permaculture farm volunteering retreat. I want to explain why this experience was worthwhile, and why it was a good decision during my travels in terms of Experience, Money and Time.
Decisions have to be made on a regular basis while traveling to maximize the enjoyment of an experience, while also minimizing the cost, and all within a restricted period of time. I call these my travel trade-offs, its like figuring out an equation:
Amazing Travel =Max(Experience)/Min($)/Time
Welcome to Sahai Nan Permaculture Farm
Sahai Nan is an old cashew farm tucked away in the North of Thailand between two National Park mountain ranges. The local town is called Thung Chang; a one road town barely on the map and certainly not a tourist destination. I was the only tourist on the bus and the staff kept asking me if I was knew where I was going. We are talking remote Thailand.
The permaculture farm is near an indigenous tribe village hidden away in the mountains. The proprietor, Sandot, is also from an indigenous tribe called the Lua. Sandot welcomes volunteers to the farm throughout the year; he provides beds in wooden huts with mosquito nets, three amazing communal meals a day and awesome excursions. It costs 200 baht/day ($5USD), so for ten days it cost me 2000 baht or $60 USD. That’s a pretty awesome deal and great travel value!
He also teaches a permaculture course at the beginning of every month running for ten days. It costs about $300 USD, you get a nice certificate when you finish!
The volunteering – Learning how to farm
The permaculture farm is a community that requires many different jobs in order to function. As a volunteering retreat, these tasks vary from farming activities: Sowing seeds, harvesting crops, trenching the rice patties and watering fields . To construction projects: Building a fence, cutting down bamboo and framing a deck. There are also a number of other tasks vital to the community: Cooking the daily meals, brewing tea & teaching English at the local school. Trust me, the work isn’t hard, its very interesting to learn the basics of permaculture by actually doing it. There is something for everyone to learn going back to our roots of self subsistence!
The Excursions – The village Life
Day to day life on the farm requires some hard work, so the volunteers all take a day off to explore the surrounding villages and trek a little farther into the Thai wilderness. One day, we all took the day to visit the children at the village school and trek up a river for lunch at the base of a waterfall deep in the mountains. The monk that teaches at the school helps the volunteers scavenge for food like bamboo shoots, river shellfish and herbs during the trek. He also teaches acupuncture & eastern herbal medicine; he has an herbal remedy for all sorts of aliments.
On another off day, the excursion was to the Local Saturday Market for a taste of the local wares, cuisine and lively community atmosphere! After shopping, the volunteers are invited to the home of the previous owner of the farm for a potluck; It`s all finger food so I recommend buying some sticky rice for the curries, pastes and dips.
Sahai Nan is very relaxed, its a retreat after-all and you are free to leave the farm whenever you want. So I along with my volunteering comrades took the opportunity to hunt down a most precious commodity: Coffee. We had heard a rumor that a roasting facility was located nearby… We tracked down a 70 year old blacksmith, a ‘Coffee Shepard’, who led us to coffee paradise! Espressos and freshly roasted beans! One of the few souvenirs I brought back were two bags of this local roast.
A Global Community
I invite you all to check out Sahai Nan on your next trip to Thailand. The people I met were inspiring and amazing! Its a true local Thai experience that will connect you with nature and the local community. Sahai Nan is very affordable and can accommodate any length of stay. Now, I have a small global community of farm enthusiasts I can nerd out with about all sorts of nature loving ideas.
I am going to take the time to write in further detail about my own experience at Sahai Nan. So stay tuned for more!
Photos contributed by Louis Kilgour & Emilie Perot