Bright stars and woodsmoke: A week on a farm in Thailand

Coffee beans drying in Thailand

It doesn’t matter what I do. My hands are still dirty.

After a week on a farm in northern Thailand, it’s become difficult to let go (a multitude of soaps be damned). I woke up this morning expecting to be back in the Dome, a big bamboo hut in the yard, to look up and see tiny pinpoints of sunlight sneaking in through the thatched walls like tiny constellations…but found myself in an old hostel room.

Instead of looking out the window to see bright mist rising off the fields, there was just the hint of a sunrise emerging between apartment blocks.

I spent two hours catching up on e-mails, but became irritated by the insular, tunnel-like feeling of staring at a screen, and stopped working early to get back to a book.

Today, I’m back in Chiang Mai, a sizeable city of about 170,000, after a week on a farm in a small village out west. Chiang Mai usually feels like a small town, but now it feels as riotous as a capital. While the population at the farm got up to 20 people during my time there, there was still enough quiet to go around. In the morning, whether it was coffee in the house or meditation in the fields, there was a stillness as we woke up slowly – and I’m finding it hard to adjust out of it.

Morning mist over the fields in Thailand

Chicken coop on a farm in Thailand

Cooking on a farm in Thailand

Terrace farming in Thailand

Our farm spoiled us, forcing no obligatory periods of work, but rather giving us the freedom to choose our own projects. If there was hard work we had planned, we’d do it before the heat of the day. The patriarch of the farm was a local ex-monk, so our hardest project with cramped hands and cramped backs came from building a series of meditation platforms in the forest.

We cleared bamboo, carved posts, cut steps and built supports, with no-one as the leader, everyone just working together and figuring it out as we went along.

Clearing a hillside for construction in Thailand

Finished bamboo steps on a farm in Thailand Steps in progress on a farm in Thailand

Rickety bamboo bridge in the Thai countryside

With the construction plans for the day finished, we’d head back to the farm (long paths in the forest, speckled with sun, over streams with the black beads of tadpoles swimming back and forth) to help cook lunch. Some would pick greens from the garden, others would set out the tables, and the remainder would help cook over the two wood-burning stoves.

Tea boiling over a wood fire stove in Thailand

Preparing food on a farm in Thailand

Traditional Lanna food in Thailand

Mealtime at a farm in Thailand

Traditional Lanna food in Thailand

Afternoons were our own. We could weed the garden, take a walk to the village, or try and pin down the head-honcho to talk Buddhism and learn about the medicinal qualities of the farm’s herbs. Feeling inspired by all the vibrant, intricate mandalas around the house, I picked up their son’s coloured pencils to draw.

I'm not so artistic with my hands...

Those afternoons, for the first time in my life, I saw fresh coffee beans. We ground the red pods to separate the beans and skin, then soaked and let dry for three days. After shelling the dried beans, they were thrown over the fire to roast and brew later with ginger and lemongrass.

Fresh coffee beans in Thailand

Roasting coffee beans in Thailand

Roasting coffee beans in Thailand

Some afternoons, maybe the yoga-teacher-turned-volunteer would lead a workshop, ironing out vinyasas and reminding us to plant our shoulder blades and engage our core.

There was music at all times from the house, whenever someone felt like grabbing the drums or guitar or ukelele, so you could even practice a few chords if so inclined.

At the farm, there was never an opportunity to be bored. There was constantly the opportunity to learn.

Children talking in Thailand

Strange furry orange vegetables on a farm in Thailand A mandala and the king in a farm kitchen in Thailand

Laundry and mandala on a farm in Thailand

In the evenings, depending on the availability of electricity, we could sit inside with tea hot from the boiler, or alternately slave for a hour trying to make one damn fire to put the kettle over. If we faltered, the family would rarely come to save us – they wanted us to figure things out for ourselves. This was a trait that I appreciated…though there were many points at which I’d glare stubbornly at my damn fire that kept going out, thinking ‘My home state burns to the ground every year…how can this be so hard?!’

And every night, the stars blazed. Out of the city, we were reunited with the riot of the night sky.

Playing cards by candlelight on a farm in Thailand

Sauna at a farm in Thailand

One night, we set up the sauna, cramming eleven people into one tiny white dome, and completely shut ourselves into darkness. Our master of ceremonies poured water mixed with sage onto the hot stones, and as the temperature rose, our breathing deepened, became louder, and gradually rose as a chorus of vibrations from every end, oms and hums, wrapping around us entirely, leaving our throats and diving straight back into our chests as the energy grew upwards and out.

It was trippy. And gorgeous.

Dome bamboo hut on a farm in Thailand

Girl blowing dandelions in Thailand

Local temple and flowers in Thailand

Every single day on the farm represented a multitude of new opportunities. At any point, I could try something, do something, learn something new. There was a community there, sharing skills and ideas, trading information and answering questions.

I wish I could have stayed for longer. I so, so desperately wish I could have stayed for longer.

Tomorrow, I head back to the countryside, but in a different direction, for a different experience – a permaculture course, to be exact. Being back in the city feels strange, and there’s a pressure to hold on to everything I learned, to retain that curiosity that I felt every day, and cultivate it now that I’ve left.

I don’t think it will be difficult. There’s still so much out there to explore.

Getting there:
There are an abundance of work and volunteer opportunities on farms in Thailand, especially up in the northern region around Chiang Mai and Pai. Tacomepai, the Panya Project and Rak Tamachat are some of the bigger ones, but if you’re looking for a smaller experience like the one described here, check out WWOOFing and Workaway for the best selection!

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43 Responses to Bright stars and woodsmoke: A week on a farm in Thailand

  1. This Battered Suitcase 10 February, 2013 at 15:06 #

    What an amazing experience – and what a beautiful post to describe it. Your words really brought me back to Thailand on this chilly Canadian night, so thank you for that. I always feel so inspired after reading your blog! xx

    • na-o-mi 27 February, 2013 at 16:05 #

      Ah, my friend, the feeling is mutual! ;)

  2. Time Travel Plans 10 February, 2013 at 16:46 #

    I’ve been contemplating farm stays – not in Thailand, but just in general. Thanks for sharing your experiences, and great pics!

    • na-o-mi 27 February, 2013 at 16:06 #

      Do it. It’s such a good learning experience…but hopefully you can go for longer than just the week I spent!

  3. Zena 10 February, 2013 at 17:08 #

    gorgeous photography! may i ask what camera you use?

    • na-o-mi 27 February, 2013 at 16:07 #

      Canon 600D! It’s serving me well.

  4. Audrey | That Backpacker 10 February, 2013 at 19:55 #

    Sounds amazing. :) I can see why you are aching to get back to the countryside.

    • Naomi Alyssa 17 April, 2013 at 18:38 #

      It gets to you. I used to be such a city girl, but after that I felt so strange waking up between concrete walls…

  5. Flora the Explorer 10 February, 2013 at 22:36 #

    Wonderful Naomi!! I’m so glad you found such an inspiring farm to work on :) And I’m assuming you’ll be heading back there in the near future..?!

    • Naomi Alyssa 17 April, 2013 at 18:39 #

      Oh yes…I’m back now ;) Where are YOU?! xx

  6. Katherine 11 February, 2013 at 04:30 #

    Wow, your words and photos transported me from a chilly February winter in Ukraine to the gorgeous idyll of the Thai countryside. This really was a supurb entry, well done! I hope you’ll get the chance to do something like this again soon : )

    • Naomi Alyssa 17 April, 2013 at 18:39 #

      Aw, thank you for the kind words, Katherine!! I’d absolutely LOVE to visit Ukraine some day. It’ll happen; I have faith. Hopefully not in the winter, tho… ;)

  7. Anne 11 February, 2013 at 12:32 #

    Amazing experience and photos! :) It makes me feel inspired to get away and find a place off the beaten track and feel truly at peace.

    • Naomi Alyssa 17 April, 2013 at 18:40 #

      Thank you!! I’m really glad to hear that. It’s easier than we think to get off the beaten track and discover something beautiful…though, of course, beauty exists on the beaten track as well!

  8. tanja 13 February, 2013 at 20:05 #

    this post is amazing. you made me miss thailand and the nomad life even more.

    enjoy our stay.

    tanja, denmark

    • Naomi Alyssa 17 April, 2013 at 18:41 #

      Thank you, Tanja! You were nomading, as well? Where did you go, and what are you up to now? :)

  9. Kim 15 February, 2013 at 22:46 #

    How I wish I was back in Thailand… if only to taste the food once more!

    • Naomi Alyssa 17 April, 2013 at 18:41 #

      Oh, Kim…I feel you. Especially the street food :9

  10. Jonathan Look, Jr. 19 February, 2013 at 17:59 #

    I have been in SE Asia for four month now but haven’t tried this yet. Looks like fun!

    • Naomi Alyssa 17 April, 2013 at 18:42 #

      DO IT. There seem to be a million opportunities all over Southeast Asia to work on farms!

  11. Shalu Sharma 21 February, 2013 at 22:29 #

    Spending a week on a Thai farm is very tempting. You have taken some great photos of the place. I really like the hut.

  12. karablythe 22 February, 2013 at 09:50 #

    This looks amazing! What a unique experience. I’ve done some WWOOFing-esque farming in Europe (it was through HelpX, which is also a good “work in exchange for room and board” organization — though I don’t think it’s very popular in Asia), and it was one of my favorite travel experiences.

    Your pictures are what really do it, though. Beautiful shots. What type of camera do you use?

    • Naomi Alyssa 17 April, 2013 at 18:44 #

      Cool! I haven’t tried it anywhere else yet. I use a Canon 600D. It’s pretty fun :)

  13. Becci 25 February, 2013 at 07:24 #

    What a beautiful experience. Thankyou for sharing your wonderful stories. I loved the sauna part- amazing!

    • Naomi Alyssa 17 April, 2013 at 18:44 #

      It was really an experience. One I’d be happy to repeat…maybe the farm I’m on now needs a sauna built ;)

  14. Suzie 28 February, 2013 at 10:46 #

    Really enjoyed reading your post..made all the better by the great set of pictures. There is something really satisfying about experiencing life at a grassroots level in a different country. No wonder you felt a little stifled when you returned to Chiang Mai!

    • Naomi Alyssa 17 April, 2013 at 18:46 #

      I definitely agree, Suzie. It’s far different from what we usually experience while travelling, I think!

  15. ashree 9 April, 2013 at 09:14 #

    Good post! Feels like I’ve been visiting Thailand. You seem enjoying your time there. I want to have one too.

    Regards.
    http://www.jakpost.travel/

  16. Austen 23 May, 2013 at 16:46 #

    This sounds so amazing! i will def look this up as part of my thialand travels :D Thanks!

  17. Morgan 23 July, 2013 at 08:54 #

    You make working on a farm sound like sweet bliss! I’m totally down now.

    • Naomi Alyssa 23 July, 2013 at 13:57 #

      It IS…when you only have to do physical labour for a few hours ;) I really, really miss it…

  18. Tushar 21 September, 2013 at 04:10 #

    Ur experience sounds amazing…
    i was thinking of doing something similar in November…
    infact ur thing sounds perfect, just the kind i was thinking off…

    could you tell me who to contact?
    or tell me the project/farm name.. maybe i can find something online.

    • Naomi Alyssa 7 November, 2013 at 21:03 #

      Yeah Tushar! Feel free to e-mail me at naomi [at] anywhere-but-home.net and I’d be happy to dole out the info you need!!

  19. objek wisata 12 February, 2014 at 16:10 #

    Wonderful Naomi!! I’m so glad you found such an inspiring farm to work on :)

    And I’m assuming you’ll be heading back there in the near future..?! :D

  20. Miles of Happiness 16 September, 2014 at 10:26 #

    What an amazing experience!!!!

  21. Patricia 9 February, 2015 at 19:44 #

    Hi Naomi! My name is Patricia (i’m froma Spain) I’m going to Thailand on augost and I’m looking to go to a farm there. I was wondering if you could tell me the name of the project, if I can see more info on internet and how to contact them. I read your post and it’s exactlly what I was looking for.

    Thanks a lot!
    Regards,
    Patricia

  22. Julie 28 February, 2015 at 20:30 #

    I really love the simple lifestyle and idyllic setting in a farm. I’m a city girl, but I can survive in the farm for months.

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