I've been back in Thailand for a while now and I don't know where to even begin with everything - I've had the most incredible and peaceful two weeks at Gaarawe Village in Khao Sok National Park and some amazing days in Bangkok too. After a night in Bangkok, I took an overnight bus to Khao Sok in Southern Thailand and got the driver to stop in the middle of nowhere and let me off on the side of the road. It was maybe 10 in the morning and already hot, but after walking up and down the road for a little while and then asking a local woman, I found the little dirt road leading to Gaarawe Village - the small permaculture farm I would be working at for the next two weeks. And Gaarawe exceeded all my expectations. It had started off by being the only Workaway out of five that had replied to me and a cheap way to meet up with Axel (who I first met on the other farm in Northern Thailand), who was back in Thailand with his friend Tom. And it was really really good to see Axel again, who together with Will had become a second family the last time we were in Thailand together. And luckily Tom and I quickly became friends as well, from the get-go having loads of fun together (and loads of discussions too). On my first day, I met all the other volunteers that had arrived only a few days before me: Zuza (Zuzanna) and Monica from Poland, Ada (Adriana) from Poland, Mauro from Italy and Dimitri from Russia. A few days later Leila from Germany would join our team as well.
Picture (from left to right): Lele's ex-wife and friend, Axel, me, Tom, Zuza, Ada, Leila, Monica
There was also the local cook, who made our food, Ta - the cook's sweet 16-year-old daughter, whose food was even better -, Ta's sister, Sin - a happy and sweet local woman about my age, who came by to practice her English regularly -, and of course Lele, the kind and funny Italian dreamer, who had started the farm from nothing.
Lele was always involved in the work, showing us how to do everything, checking up on us and helping. He lived in the same kind of tiny bamboo hut as some of the more long-term volunteers got to sleep in (most of us slept on a big open bamboo deck), used the same shower as us (which was a big bucket of cold water we could pour over ourselves), the same toilet as us (we flushed by pouring water into the toilet from a bucket) and ate every meal with us. It was refreshing how he always felt more like just one of us volunteers and he was very fair in the amount of work he gave us.
Picture: the dogs slept with us, this is Shiela my favorite
The two weeks at Gaarawe flew by way too fast. A typical day looked something like this: We woke up somewhere around 6.30-7.30 am, when the dogs (Penguino, Shiela and an unnamed stray that had been there for three years now) started to move around, the birds started chirping and the sun became too bright. I fed the chickens in the morning and then went to help Axel water the nursery if it needed it.
At 8 am we sat down together for breakfast and then started work around 9 am. It was hard work at the farm. It was always way too hot and humid, soaking us through in a matter of minutes and mosquitoes, ants and other insects was a constant annoyance. I spent a lot of time weeding the different vegetable crops, usually working in a team with Ada and Leila. We planted lettuce and other crops as well, planted new seeds in the nursery, made compost, gathered leaves, harvested vegetables, covered the vegetable patches with hay and much more. It was good work and I learned a lot from it. Axel and Tom mostly worked on the watering system and Dimitri and Mauro painted the water tower.
Usually, we worked from 9 am to noon, ate lunch and then relaxed until around 4 pm (because of the heat). We then worked again from 4 pm to 6 pm, ate dinner and went to bed early. Most of the days it would start raining spontaneously though and we would have to run for cover and wait out the storm before starting work again.
We watched a lot of movies together in the evening, pushing our mattresses together on the deck and gathering around Zuza or Ada's computer - Aladdin, The Green Planet, Lilo and Stitch, the Killing of a Sacred Deer, The Way Back and more. One night we played cards, some nights we just talked and one night we had a party. On my third day at the farm the water pump stopped working (it pumped water from the river for our shower, toilets and plants) and so when a big afternoon downpour came we all ended up showering together in the rain, laughing and having fun. It was one of those moments I think I'll look back on a lot. On the 17th of October Lele decided to take all of us for a little trip and so we finished work at 10 am and got in the back of his pickup truck. We first drove to one temple and then to a beautiful cave and temple where we fed the fish in the river.
The whole area around Gaarawe is unbelievably beautiful. We were surrounded by the national park and mysterious fog was always covering the towering limestone formations jutting up behind the trees. Especially in the night, when the fog thickens, the place looks otherworldly. And the drive in the pickup truck was in itself as much a part of the experience as the sightseeing.
Tom, Axel, Leila, Zuza, Monica and I all took the day off on the 18th since Monica and Zuza would be leaving soon after. We rented three scooters from Lele and then drove a long long (and beautiful) way to Singkhon Cave temple, reaching it around 11 am.
It didn't seem like a place that got many tourists and so the friendly monk that was in charge of the place approached us and ended up taking us all around the place. He took us up 1400 steps through the beautiful cave and then outside and down the 1200 uneven steps through stunning overgrown nature, speaking in very broken English the whole way. He then proudly showed us around his garden and gave us bananas straight from the tree. We had to cut the walk short though, running back to the temple for cover as a big downpour hit.
We were stuck at the temple for hours, waiting out the storm, but Zuza, Monica and I had a great time, eating fruit and having a girls' talk, so I didn't mind too much.
When the rain had mostly stopped, we drove to a local hot spring close by and jumped in.
We then drove to the blue river for a look around, but after the rain, the blue river wasn't very blue and there was a depressing amount of trash lying around the area.
We drove towards home, on the way stopping for food in a small town with a food market and temple.
We reached Gaarawe in the afternoon, just sitting down for a quick coffee, saying hi to the new guy Kolby from Canada and getting our sweaters, before driving 30 minutes to Khao Sok Town for a cosy dinner.
We went for an evening walk in town before driving back, all exhausted from the long day (I took a bit of a nap on the back of the scooter, while Axel drove).
The 20th was a fun day at the village. After a long morning of gathering palm leaves and bamboo and weeding a bush of blue flowers, Lele gave me a machete to cut down a bunch of young palm trees. And even though it was hard work I absolutely loved it. It was extremely satisfying to work and I felt super badass chopping down branches left and right. I could've kept chopping all day. By lunch, we were all soaking wet from sweat and the sun was still beaming down, so we all went and jumped in the cool river, jumping into the water from a branch, climbing around and letting the current carry us downstream. We got up at an empty resort of some kind and the kind worker there cut down coconut upon coconut for us to drink out of, expecting nothing in return. Because it was sadly Zuza and Monica's last night at the farm, I baked a lemon coconut cake and they made polish potato pancakes after lunch, all of us having fun together. When work started again in the afternoon we were all exhausted, but I soon took over Ada's job of turning over the soil on the new field that Zuza and Monica were clearing and although the work was really hard I had so much fun with Monica and Zuza that I almost didn't want to finish when it started to get dark. I really found an amazing friendship in those two girls - we often laughed so hard we couldn't breathe and had incredible talks about religion, women's rights, the environment and LGBTQ+ rights. After dinner we ate their delicious pancakes and my cake and stayed in the kitchen for a long time, listening to music, chatting, playing games and drinking a horrible rice wine that gave me flashbacks to Vietnam's "Happy Water".
The next day I said goodbye to Zuza and Monica and then spent the day hard at work. Mauro, Kolby, Leila and I all worked on fixing the chicken fence in the morning. Then everyone gathered to finish the new field in the afternoon, planting papaya, coffee and eggplant together. It was incredible to see the field taking shape so quickly and we all worked until it got too dark to see.
On the 22nd Lele gave us all the day off since our team had finished everything he had planned for us so quickly and so Axel, Tom, Mauro, Ada, Kolby and Leila jumped in the back of Lele's pickup truck.
We said goodbye to Leila, who was meeting up with her boyfriend in Khao Sok and then all went on a hike in Khlong Phanom National Park. There was no one else there and we spent around 2-3 hours hiking around the big hill. There was a lot of uphill climbing, I was soaking wet from the heat and humidity and mosquitoes were eating us alive. But the hike was beautiful and the viewpoints on the way and the 'Big Tree' were incredible.
We got back for a late lunch and jumped in the river to cool off. Tom was bored in the afternoon so we walked to the shop close by together to get snacks. Just as we were walking back Lele arrived in his pickup truck and it started pouring down. We helped him fill up the back with water jugs and coconut shells and then got a ride to Gaarawe, sitting in the back of the pickup and getting as wet as if we had jumped in the river. It was an adventure though and we laughed all the way, playing in the rain a bit when we got to the farm.
Around 6 am we set out on the scooters again, driving to Khao Sok for a last dinner with Ada and Mauro. Axel and I raced Tom home on the empty road and we all watched Lilo and Stitch together when we got back.
The next morning Axel, Tom and I drove to the famous Ratchaprapha Dam, found a second, less busy pier and met up with Leila and her boyfriend Igor there. We got a boat together and set out on the beautiful blue lake for two hours, snaking our way in between the incredible limestone formations and stopping at some bungalows to take a swim. It was an amazing day and great to see Leila again and we slowly drove back towards Gaarawe in the afternoon.
On our last full day at the farm, we really wanted to finish the field, even though Lele had given us the day off. So Axel and I set out to finish it in the morning but had to stop because of the heat, so we wouldn't damage the plants. Around noon we all decided to jump in the river (even Dimitri, who is always very quiet and to himself) and played around for a long time. A French family arrived in the afternoon and we all showed them around the farm. Then Tom, Axel, the French dad and I went to work on finishing the new field. And just as we started working the rain started pouring down. But we got soaked through so quickly that we decided to just keep working, now that we were wet anyway, and so we finally finished the field, getting very muddy and very wet in the process, but also having lots of fun in the heavy rain.
Here's a couple of extra photos from the farm:
Picture: Axel and Ada were shooting a video from the farm
On the 25th Tom, Axel and I left the farm in the afternoon. We tried to hitchhike to Surat Thani, but within 10 minutes the bus from Khao Sok to Surat Thani drove by and stopped for us and so we decided to just hop on that. We got tickets for the night bus to Bangkok and then went to the nearby night market to eat dinner. Axel and Tom tried fried insects which was gross, but besides that everything was delicious and we had lots of fun.
We arrived in Bangkok at 5.30 am on the 26th and walked to At Khaosan hostel. But when we rang the bell to be let in, a very very angry Thai woman opened the door, screamed and cursed at us about the time and closed the door in our face. So we waited outside a little before walking to an open restaurant on Khao San road and eating breakfast there.
We spent the day relaxing, walking around and visiting the Queen's Gallery. I found a little local vegan eatery down by the canal for lunch that was delicious.
Dre from our dorm told us about a much more local market, and so we got a grab to INDY market in the evening, eating dinner there amongst mostly young Thai students.
We shared rice wine in the dorm and then went to Khao San road with Dre, jumping from bar to bar and having a great night.
We were up pretty early the next morning but had a lazy morning. Around 1 pm we took the train to Ayutthaya - the old capital - and made a good deal with a tuk-tuk driver to take us around the ruins for three hours.
We saw lots of beautiful temple ruins and ended the tour just around sunset.
We took the train back in the evening, Axel and Tom trying to teach me how to roll my r's the Spanish way the whole way back (I still haven't succeeded). We found a place that still served food and went to bed after dinner.
And before I knew it my time with Axel and Tom was over and we were on our way to the airport in the early morning. I waved goodbye to them and hello to Julie (my childhood friend), who I will be spending my last two weeks in Asia and Thailand with. It was so good to be back with Julie, I think we are gonna have the absolute best weeks together. I didn't realise how much I've missed talking to someone who also knew me before I started travelling - in the last few days we have had some amazing talks. We really just get and know each other so well, having known each other our entire lives.
We spent most of our first day together just walking and walking and walking around the old area and Khao San area, chatting and catching up. In the evening I took her to the INDY market where we ate dinner.
Picture: I should've never said yes to spicy
On our second day in Bangkok, we had a lazy morning and then took the ferry to the flower market.
We went to the beautiful cafe there that I had found last time I was in Bangkok and sat talking for hours.
Then we walked to Chinatown and strolled all the way through the huge market and then out onto the big main street. We ate lunch at the little local vegan eatery that I had also discovered my first time in Bangkok. It was nice to be able to share all of it with Julie and come back there again.
We took the ferry back and relaxed at the hostel before going for a cosy dinner across the canal.
And today was our last day in Bangkok. We were up and out by 9 am this morning and walked to the Grand Palace. Julie explored the palace grounds, while I sat down at a cafe and started writing. We walked back after a couple of hours, got our bags and some food and by 6 pm we were on our way to Krabi Town in the far South of Thailand.
And I am so ready for some days at the beach and winding down before going home. It really has started feeling scarily close and I must say that I'm having a bit of a hard time with the thought of going home. For almost 7 months travelling has been my every day and now it feels a bit scary to go back. But I also know that it is the right time, I have so much to look forward to and I can't wait to see all my friends and family again. And then hopefully it won't be too long before I am off on my next adventure.