Love traveling? Try volunteering!

Having a lot of spare time always gives me the idea of thinking what I actually should do when I have plenty of time to kill. It mostly happened when I am on break with literally nothing to do. One day, after I finished my master study, again I thought what I should have done to kill the time I had. Then I got enlightened: “Why don’t I just volunteer?” while my classmates were looking for a (new and better) job, interning, or even getting back to their old job.

Then I remembered that I have met some people during my previous travels – including a former neighbor in the foyer in Geneva who spent their time WWOOF*-ing. All of them went to a different country. So, I took it also as an opportunity to travel at an affordable price in exchange with lots of experience!

Then, why wwoof-ing?

There are of course plenty of volunteer options! What attracts me to wwoof-ing is the part where I can learn about organic farming. Despite my recurring problems in keeping my plants alive, at least I would like to learn appreciating the work of farmers.  It has also been quite popular for people to consume healthier options of foods or even grow them in our very own garden! Also, it does not necessarily relate to plants, some hosts are livestock farmers, guest-house owners or sanctuary managers!

Where to wwoof?

WWOOF basically connects farmers, gardeners and alike to volunteer  — called “wwoofer”, who would like to learn about organic farm. Many countries have wwoof network in it. At first, I wanted to go to Bali as they have their own method in growing rice. However, I changed my mind and went to Thailand instead. I mean….Thailand is only a short distance from Jakarta. I could then travel to Indochina after the volunteer was done.

My part of vegetable garden to water
My part of vegetable garden to water

The next thing I knew was I paid a good EUR 45 to be able to access the database and booked my ticket to Bangkok. A few hours after looking around, I found Pom & U, a sweet couple who have organic rice field and organic garden in Suphanburi.

What did you get in return?

 

Le squad
Le squad

In exchange with the voluntary work, the host provides us with three meals a day, accommodation and lots of knowledge! In my case, I had the opportunity to stay in a traditional Thai house by the river in Suphanburi. Pom cooked lunch and dinner for us. Sometimes we had special breakfast too. Fruits are always there, and I have always loved them as they are refreshing.

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Never thought steamed fish with herbs from the garden could be so yumm!
Never thought steamed fish with herbs from the garden could be so yumm!
This is it! Sautee water lilies a la Pom!
This is it! Sautee water lilies a la Pom!

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Our lovely chef, farmer, host lady!
Our lovely chef, farmer, host lady!

Pom & U also provided a room which I shared with Anniek, an amazing wwoofer from the Netherlands! Often, we exchanged recipes (well…. I got recipes but I forgot giving any, unfortunately).

How was the experience?

It was a m a z i n g!

Herbs.
Herbs.
Rosella -- hybiscus
Rosella — hybiscus
Just found out it can be eaten!
Just found out it can be eaten!
I am pretty sure it's kale. But maybe it's cabbage? o_0
I am pretty sure it’s kale. But maybe it’s cabbage? o_0
Long bean
Long bean

Pom & U have paddy fields, vegetable garden, a pond, and a couple of chickens, four cats (whose name I kept on pronouncing wrongly), and a dog named Mam. As the house is facing the river, they also have a small boat to paddle to the (not so-close) market.

The rice was just harvested by the previous wwoofers. Hence, the main work required during my arrival was to “water” and help maintain vegetable garden twice a day – depending on the humidity of the soil. Then I thought to myself, “How hard could it be?”

I took back what I said immediately when I started watering. While it is a garden for their consumption alone, it is pretty big to be watered manually. It would have been easy had the water hoses had not kept on disconnecting. Due to the size of the garden, we need to connect several hoses altogether. At the time, I understood why Pom told me to bring a friend to volunteer when I made inquiry!

Anniek and I divided the watering work. Her jurisdiction was the back yard garden – including a pond, while mine was the one facing the river. Anniek worked really really well and hard! She’s also like one of the kindest persons that I ever met! She would help me ensure my water hose connection did not break whenever she finished her work before me.

Is that all?

Of course NOT! On our spare time, we (or I?) would be helping Pom (or Anniek) baking cakes in the kitchen. As I was the least talented in cooking, I voluntarily washed the dishes or made the table. xD

MY bread pudding! xD
MY bread pudding! xD
Anniek's carrot cake and cream cheese with a hint of lemon. Lekker!
Anniek’s carrot cake and cream cheese with a hint of lemon. Lekker!
Caramel Pear Tart!
Pom’s Caramel Pear Tart!
Anniek's specialty: Dutch pancake for breakfast.
Anniek’s specialty: Dutch pancake for breakfast.
Pom's pumpkin and custard. The pumpkin was fresh from the garden and it tasted great!
Pom’s pumpkin and custard. The pumpkin was fresh from the garden and it tasted great!

We also prepared medium to plant seedlings. We had to make sure that the dirt was fertile and moist enough. When the medium was ready, we planted corn and lettuce seeds. I felt so satisfied when I saw the sprout after few days!

Planting the seeds.
Planting the seeds.
Look! They sprout!
Look! They sprout!

Another time, Pom taught us to make fertilizer balls. We had to mix several components including dirt, fermented organic water, banana tree trunks and chicken manure. Knowing the ingredients, you would understand how nice it smelled! Pom told us that the smell would stay on our hands for several days. Never had I become so obsessed with washing hands before then!

Mix it! Mix it hard!
Mix it! Mix it hard!
Fertilizer balls: making you hands smell since no time!
Fertilizer balls: making you hands smell since no time! In Picture, Mam the dog who had to make sure he participated and was counted to be a part of our daily life. 😀

Other than that, I also learned how Pom & U had minimum waste at their home! They used organic waste to be fermented as fertilizer.

My favorite cat -- he loved sitting on my lap. Such a privilege!
My favorite cat — he loved sitting on my lap. Such a privilege!
Sunset by the river
Sunset by the river
Another sunset when watering...
Another sunset when watering…

What I really enjoyed the most would be harvesting the vegetables (as it took me walking without watering xD), staring at the sunset when I (almost) finished watering and playing (well, it was mostly chilling) with the cats! Sometimes, we also accompanied Pom to the traditional market. It is an interesting one for what were sold were something that I never see in the traditional market close to my home in Jakarta. It is even more fun when Pom bought us mango sticky rice and lots of fruits! *drooling*

Local delicacy: (raw) shrimp for apetizer!
Local delicacy: (raw) shrimp for apetizer!
Mango sticky rice to die for
Mango sticky rice to die for!

 

Really? No more?

Anniek and I also managed to paddle Pom & U’s boat along the river (where Anniek did most of the paddling – sorry!). Our destination was the market as Pom told us. Sadly, we never made it to the market as the river was full of plants hindering us to paddle through. Getting stuck and tired, we decided to go against the river’s flow to get back home. If I were to paddle alone, I would have been still moving the boat in circle.

Paddling master!
Paddling master!
Fresh water fisherman
Fresh water fisherman

The next day, we went to the temple close by. While it was closer if we paddle, we thought it would not be a good idea to paddle considering our paddling experience the day before!

A part of the temple
A part of the temple
Anniek's specialty again. I forgot the name, though. Mousaka? Zaksouka??
Anniek’s specialty again. I forgot the name, though. Mousaka? Zaksouka??
Steam boat for dinner. :))
Steam boat for dinner. :))

When Pom & U were not home, we took over the kitchen and cooked or baked something fancy (at least that was what I thought) as a treat after watering! Also, we treated ourselves with lots and lots and lots of iced coffee to bear the heat!

 

*WWOOF : World-Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms

 

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Lesson learned: A Simple Guide to Chiang Mai’s Lantern Festival

If I did not write this article, I would not be realized how time flies! It is already September though it feels as if 2016’s New Year’s Eve were just yesterday. However, there is this one thing that we can long to see as the closer we get to the end of the year. It is called: Yi Peng Sansai!

Float lanterns, float!
Float lanterns, float!

Yi Peng is actually a religious ceremony for paying homage to Buddha. It occurs at the same time as Loy Krathong. The two events involve lights. For Loy Krathong, people will release lotus-shaped vessels made to bodies of water for good luck.  Meanwhile, for Yi Peng, people release fired paper lanterns to the sky. So, you can already imagine how amazing it is!

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Yi Peng is mostly common in northern part of Thailand. In Chiang Mai, it is breathtakingly festive! The exact date could be tricky as it is announced only a week before. However, normally it is held in November each year, depending on the full moon phase. The mass lantern release can be seen in two events. The free and crowded one is usually held in the yard of Mae Jo University of Chiang Mai. The other event will cost you around USD100. While I am not sure where the paid one is held, I am pretty sure that it will be more convenient as the committee does have a quota of people.

I attended the (free) festival two years ago (and I’d still like to go again! Anyone?). While the reason why I attended the festival was very childish, it was very memorable. Even now, the images are still vividly running in my head. If I ever go back again, these are the points I will take into account:

  1. Make sure of the date

    Guidance of the event
    Guidance of the event

Again, this is the trickiest part. You must be proactive in looking for the date! This year, this site says that Yi Peng is to be held from 13 to 15 November 2016. However, it is held only on one of those dates. For the rest of the dates, you could either float your own lantern at the square of Chiang Mai or do other activities available around the city. It would be best if you could stay for the whole week so that there is not even a chance for you to miss it!

  1. Book your means of transportation to Chiang Mai early, really!
Bus Ticket from Don Mueang to Mo Chit
Bus Ticket from Don Mueang to Mo Chit

Yi Peng is a big festival attended by so many people. It means, bus providers are extremely busy by this period of time.

if not…be ready for the consequences!

I remember that my train ticket to Chiang Mai from Bangkok got cancelled because some parts of the tracks were being repaired. However, had I gone with such train, I would not have made it to the festival because I only spared a day before the festival. It was a wrong move because I arrived in Bangkok. I found out the exact date right only few days before I left for Bangkok. Later, I tried to book overnight bus but all online tickets were sold! Consequently, I went directly to the Mo Chit bus terminal right after I landed just to buy the bus tickets.

Being a cheapskate, I did not want to lose the opportunity to use the room at the hotel that I had booked. I managed to have a name and take a shower. However, drama begins at the evening when Bangkok’s traffic jam was so cruel that it did not let my taxi go through. I arrived at the station after the bus left. I was furious and sad. But few minutes later, one of the station’s officer approached me and told to get on one of the buses. In the middle of the journey, the driver told us to get off and changed to another bus. I did not have any clue where the bus was heading to as there was no sign that its destination was Chiang Mai. I could not sleep because of it. During a stop, I asked where the bus heading to. Luckily, one of the Thai passengers explained to me that it headed to Chiang Mai. The written destination was different because it was additional bus operating during high season. 😀

  1. Stay somewhere close

I managed to book a room at a residence close to Maejo University. Hence, the university is within walking-distance. If not, you could also go with a songthaew (it is like a van with specific route, in Indonesia it is known as angkot) or tuk-tuk (tricycle) to reach the university. If you have a big budget for this, you can also hire a car or taxi which waits for you.

Staying close to the venue is also useful as it would be difficult to get a means of (public) transportation. It was and will be very crowded after the event. It was very difficult even to walk.

  1. Come early

    Space to choose. :D
    Space to choose. 😀

People are welcome only until 5 pm. If you come early, you can choose where you want to sit. Do note that there are many tourist agencies arranging tour and taking plenty of space for their guests.

  1. Take plenty of water and snacks

    Sunny side up, anyone?
    Sunny side up, anyone?

Seriously, you could use the waiting time for picnic. It can be really hot during the day and the event itself will finish late so you may want to have something to eat. There will be a small bazaar outside the venue. However, once the gate is closed, you can no longer access the bazaar as it is located exactly outside the gate.

Fresh pressed orange juice!
Fresh pressed orange juice!

If you managed to go to the bazaar, though, you could taste varieties of Thai snacks. My personnal favorite would be their pressed orange juice which is very refreshing!

  1. Don’t bring lanterns bought outside the venue
    The kits
    The kits

    Huge lantern is fired!
    Huge lantern is fired!

Though the event itself is free, the lantern is not. I paid around THB 250 for a lantern from the committee. We cannot bring lanterns from outside though they are cheaper. Maybe this is how they raise their fund. But it is okay, I think. The price is also not so bad as the lantern can be for 4-6 persons.

  1. Wear something polite yet comfortable

I understand that the climate could be very warm, but please remember that this festival is a part of religious ceremonies. Pay some respect by not wearing tank tops or see-through clothes. This way, you are helping yourself from wasting your time and money as there will be officers at the gate reminding how you should dress.

  1. Bring a sarong as substitute of picnic mat

    Our mat and snacks!
    Our mat and snacks!

Whenever I travel, I always bring my Balinese sarong. It is light and useful, especially as I can use it as a mat. People who do not have mats can also use newspapers. Or….you can also sit directly on the grass if you do not mind getting a bit of dirt on your pants.

  1. Don’t go alone

As much as I encourage people to travel solo, I would really recommend you to go with your friends. Even better, with your significant other as it is such a romantic festival. If you are planning to propose your SO, the floating lanterns can make a mesmerizing background building the right moment to say yes!

...and at last I see the lights!
…and at last I see the lights!

Lastly, enjoy the view and experience! Do it at least once in a lifetime!