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Thailand: The Choice is Mine

I’m living on an organic permaculture farm in Northern Thailand.

I discovered it online while looking for a cheap place to stay near Pai. It’s the right price, and only a little more if I want to participate in the communal meals. Today? I’m in. Tomorrow? Well…I’ll decide in the morning.

I was looking for a place with options; the freedom to wake up in the morning and decide what I would do on any given day. Tacomepai offers this luxury.

My day usually starts by waking up to the sun and walking over to the still-under-construction yoga house. A session led by whoever has the most experience begins while listening to birds chirping, chickens scrounging for bugs, and leaves swaying on the peaceful days–motorbikes, chainsaws, and blaring Thai music on others. Sometimes yoga ends with hugs. It’s that kind of place.

It is also the kind of place where people walk barefoot and eat with their hands; when women stretch it would be surprising not to see body hair, and people are dirty from the sooty pots in the kitchen or toiling in the garden. A place where people talk about sleeping on the floor while trekking through Myanmar, biking and hitchhiking through Laos, and spending weeks of silence meditating with monks at mountain monasteries. Telling people of my interest in mycology and how I want to learn to identify Thailand’s wild mushrooms didn’t bat an eye.

Tacomepai’s owner, Sandot, has lived in this area, six kilometers outside of Pai, for his entire life. He remembers walking two days to Chiang Mai–80 kilometers away–as a child once per year to buy a bag of salt that would last until the next. Practicing permaculture before it became trendy, Sandot does many things the same way his family once did but is also living a modern life, using the internet to attract volunteers and guests to his property, and motoring around the area in a 4WD Jeep.

The farm produces enough rice for Sandot’s family and all guests throughout the year. There is also a small vegetable garden, but the property is primarily a food and medicinal herb forest interspersed with houses built in the style of Northern Thai indigenous groups. All accommodations have a shower and compost toilet, but otherwise no two houses are alike. Sandot, gives weekly tours of the property, pointing out plants used for traditional foods and medicine.

I spend days helping on the farm, relaxing, biking into the city, exploring the countryside, or learning something new (classes about permaculture are usually offered in the afternoon and range from how to make soap from leaves to designing a bicycle-powered water pump).

One day Sandot invited guests to a hot spring along the river. His knowledge of the area allowed us to avoid the crowds (and entry fee) of the “real” Pai Hot Springs. We lay in the cool water while our snack of hard boiled eggs cooked in the adjacent spring. Interns at the farm played guitar and harvested wild greens along the riverbank while we reveled in the river as the sun went down, adjusting the temperature of our swim by finding the sweet spot where the hot spring stream and river stream intersected.

On a whim, I signed up for a bamboo workshop. While hiking through the forest, we picked wild plants and caught frogs (well…I wasn’t fast enough to catch one) for lunch, using machetes to make bamboo cups, plates, and spoons for our meal.

Although I enjoyed many activities at Tacomepai and the nearby area, my favorite was cruising through the hilly terrain on my motorbike. Each crossroad signaled a new opportunity I could choose to accept or decline. The choice was mine alone to make.

On my supposed-to-be-final day I was easily convinced to change plans, pack my mosquito net, and join a group to visit another farm over an hour away. After helping on the farm the next morning, the owner drew us a map of the surrounding area where we took a beautiful motorbike ride on a dusty road. We rode to an idyllic house on a lake used as a retreat for monks in the wet season, through valleys of rice paddies below hillsides of pine forest, and villages with smiling and waving locals that gave us reason to wave and smile back.

It hasn’t left my face yet.

About the Author: Jeff Stallman grew up in Seattle, Washington where he also attended college and worked as a public servant after graduation for four years before quitting his job to travel. He has traveled independently the past year through America, Taiwan, and Southeast Asia and writes about his experiences when inspiration strikes. He can be reached through his Facebook Profile.

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