I have always wanted to travel differently as oppose to luxurious travels. Getting to know the locals and truly immersing into the culture is something which I always look forward to whenever I travel. I was part of AIESEC, the largest youth run organisation in the world and in which I see lots of students heading to different countries for a 6 weeks exchange experiences.
The experiences these students share when they are back are priceless. These are memories created through things you experienced. Being part of AIESEC definitely motivates me to go for an exchange but I ended up not going for it after my graduation. I should have done it but the first thing that came into my mind is 6 weeks is too long and I need to be working right now. So I ended up scrapping off the idea of exchanging.
Fast forward 9 months later, I was not really happy with work and the thought of working the entire life was just too overwhelming. I would regret if I did no truly travel and do something which I truly want to. So I decided to take a short gap from work and plan for my solo trip for 2 months.
Here is the thing, I do not want to just travel blindly. I want to meet people, and really experience the culture of the place. I tried couchsurfing when I was in Indonesia and Thailand and it was a really good way to meet new people. But prior to my travel, I have been doing tons of research and I stumbled upon this platform called Workaway.
Introduction to Workaway
Almost similar to AIESEC, it’s volunteering based where you travel to your host country to volunteer. But I did not join the exchange from AIESEC as I am only having a short gap. But I would definitely recommend AIESEC if you are still a student. Anyway, workaway is a platform that allows you to volunteer at the host country you visit and contribute back. In return, you learn something from the experience, meet new people, understand the culture, and the list goes on.
You join the platform and search for projects which you want to be involved in, usually ranging between a few days to months depending on your availability. There are projects such as teaching English, helping the local business, digital marketing help, farming and etc. You do not get paid. However, you do get rewarded with a free accommodation and meals too. Definitely must try if you are looking for a free accommodation when you travel.
I created an account and browsed through several projects and eventually found one volunteering in mindful farm which is located in North Thailand. So i messaged the host, Pi nan who was a former monk and got accepted to be part of the community for 5 days. This is not exactly volunteering but more of a place to learn the values of being present, experience the nature and vegan eating which is pretty cool.
Traveling from Chiang Mai to Mindful Farm
Mindful farm is located quite a distance away from Chiang Mai, a place called Samoeng. So I took a yellow bus from Wararot Market which only leaves once a day. The journey is approximately 3-4 hours long and it cost 100 baht. We have a hard time locating the farm as we need to walk there by foot.
We were greeted by Pi nan and other volunteers who have already arrived at mindful farm before us. There are 10 of us including me and the cool part was, we are all from different countries. Okay almost all of us. There is Allyn from Ireland, Kiki from Canada, Baran from Turkey, Thor and Phu from Thailand, Mayuko and Ayakka from Japan, Carla from Bolivia, Ann from China and Xuyen from Vietnam. What better way to spend 5 days but with these people.
The entire experience was great except the part where i cut my fingers with a knife. I would share a photo but I was disgusted by the photo myself. Over the course of 5 days, our routine is pretty flexible.
Daily routine practising mindfulness
The thing about my experience here in mindful farm was that it was not really a volunteering experience but a place to learn from the community. Pi nan was a former monk who opens this place to introduce mindfulness, meditation, organic farming and vegan eating to the volunteers. So it felt more like a 5 days getaway living by the nature.
You can already expect our daily routine to be filled with healthy activities. This was how our typical days look like. We woke up every morning and head out to the lake for a morning meditation session. Just sitting still and enjoy being in the present moment. I don’t recall how long it takes but once we were done, we head back to prepare our vegan meal together. We literally head out to the farm to pick our vegetables and fruits and make a meal out of it. It may sound err normal but the meal was beyond amazing.
After breakfast, we usually head out to the farm to help out. While we were there, we planted strawberries in which Pi nan said will be ready for harvest in 9 months (if i remember correctly). Lunch will also be prepared by us, similar to our breakfast.
We then head back in the farm for a quick farming. The schedule was pretty flexible and you are not obligated to farm the whole day. There were some of the volunteers who do not farm and will be doing more of the cooking. Sound like a camp now. There were days where we head out to a lake nearby for a quick swim. Not a fancy lake, but a dirty lake. Thinking back, I was amazed that i actually jumped in for a swim.
We usually end the day with night meditation.
Self Sustaining farm
I find it rather interesting that it is self-sustaining. Where volunteers come over to help out and consume what they plant. The one thing I would miss the most is the avocados, which cost a lot in Malaysia. I get to eat it for free when I was there.
In short, we spend most of our times learning about organic farming, meditation, cooking vegan food and just spending time talking to each other. I really enjoyed the experience. There are 2 days where we were visited by students from Maejo University in which they are here to get to know more about our experience in Mindul farm which shows that this farm is really getting attention from the public.
Where did we stay in mindful farm
Here comes the interesting part which was the place we actually slept in. There was no fancy room with aircond and private bathroom. The whole purpose of this experience was to experience nature, something which we don’t get to experience everyday. Our accommodation is a basic hut with mosquito net. That’s all! You wake up to the beautiful nature.
Are you ready for this experience? Not everyone is up for it. It takes a couple of days to get used to it. Imagine living in the woods where the cricket’s chirp the entire night. Truly a different experience to be able to be by the nature.
Key Takeaway from the experience in mindful farm
Overall, the entire experience in mindful farm is pretty amazing. I have met lots of new people from all around the world. But as much as I love meeting new people, the most amazing takeaway from this farm is learning about ‘mindfulness’. There are days where things get rough but by practicing mindfulness and being in the present, you will have a calmer mind and realize that things will eventually past.
This is not a mediation class of mindfulness class but I got interested with practicing being mindful and meditation every morning throughout my travels in Thailand. Sadly I have stopped. I will definitely start practicing it again soon.
So in summary, here is what I love about my workaway experience in Mindful farm:
- I have met tons of people from different parts of the world. Some I still keep in touch with till today.
- Coming from the city, I get to experience living by the countryside, waking up to sound of nature.
- Throughout my stay, let’s just say I am a vegan for 5 days and it is not that bad. The food is just amazing.
- I began learning about mindfulness. I do not really know how to explain what it is but in short, just staying in the present.
- We planted groundnuts and strawberries. So yeah, I learned a little on organic farming.
- I learned a little on cooking too which I have forgotten. Honestly, I didn’t do much of the cooking. More of the washing.
Downside of the experience in mindful farm
With every experience, there is the good side and also the not so good side. Here is some things which I do not really like from mindful farm.
- I hate spiders. And they are everywhere. But well, you cannot take spiders away from nature. So after living there for 5 days, I can conclude that I am still afraid of spiders.
- Bed Bugs!! I got tons of bed bugs bite from the farm. Perhaps only me. But not really a big deal but it was my first time experience it so I was terrified.
- I got a cut on my finger which was a pretty deep cut. Imagine living in a jungle for 5 days with no supply to clean water and medical supplies. Which is why you need to always have a mini first aid kit with you which is in the list of things you need to have when you travel.
- The toilet err. Let’s just say not the best thing you ever see.
Having said that, I am glad I have experienced both the good and not so good part of the experience. Every experience is valuable and I am glad that I stayed in the farm. This is why I love traveling differently. These are experience you will not be able to get if you live in a 5 start resort or joined a travel tour.
It is all these small memories and experiences that will be worth looking back. If you are interested in such program, you can try out Workway. Or if you are a student, AIESEC has a exchange program which you can actually participate in. Of course there are many other platforms out there that allows you to search for wonderful volunteering opportunities.
So have you experience something similar?