A Thousand Ways

As a continuing part of our travel/life philosophy, as well as a means to literally get our hands in the dirt, we have been weaving in stays at organic farms wherever it makes the most sense. At the last minute, we had an opportunity to make sure Thailand was no exception to that rule.

Our trusty steed, pictured above, spirited us - ok, bounced us - up and out of Chiang Mai for a few days around the 12th of November. We were headed to a place called PunPun, just northeast of the city and about 50km out. We would be part-time volunteering - paying a small amount to have our room and food covered while working about 4 hours a day. Eli and I were looking forward to some time out of a city, however small, and the sight of hills and dustier roads was welcome. As the vegetables, dry goods and random bags of supplies were emptied out at each small village stop, the back of the truck got roomier. We felt much like happy puppies in a pickup bed must, ears flapping in the breeze and eyes squinting into the sun.

The title of this post is borrowed from the poetic Thai meaning of PunPun. As an "organic farm, seed saving operation and sustainable living and learning center", which also focuses on natural building techniques and application, the name illustrates the philosophies and approach to living that PunPun embodies. As we settled in to our first afternoon, we got even more excited to spend a few days digging in and learning as much as possible about it all. Here are just a few of the terraced plots, currently home to many lettuce and tomato plants:

A group of twelve dynamic individuals are the human power for this living project - a heap of personality and knowledge rich, culturally diverse folks from Thailand, Burma, Scotland, the US and probably a few we do not have the specifics on. Each individual brings skill and intention to the table and is committed to seeing (and helping) this place succeed. Though we were only there a brief time, it was inspiring to be around a collective of people that manage this well. The myriad complexities of community living floated through my mind often as we participated in many of the ways that help PunPun tick. How exactly are these people self-wrangling? Community meetings, clarity of tasks, shared goals and philosophy, and the overall desire to be exactly where they are - and this, I'm sure, is just part of the puzzle. Now - I'm also not making any claims to having found utopia in the rolling hills of Northern Thailand. This is the result of a lot of work - and the continuous input of such, as well as the constant openness for and ability to change. Since PunPun works regularly with local individuals and farmers, there is consistent conversation about what role they play in their greater community, what education/skill-building workshops benefit all & what the future might hold. All this makes for a tasty brew, as wells just makes a whole lot of sense to the two of us.

Since the specifics of what they offer is outlined wonderfully on their website, highlighting what stood out the most to us (besides what has already been noted) is better than offering a play by play of our time there.

First, the lay of the land - a great and natural network of paths between houses, common areas like the kitchen and meeting rooms, bathrooms and showers, and planting areas. These buildings are all naturally built - mostly adobe, straw, clay and bamboo structures that have emerged over the past eight years. Our stay for the last two nights in the VIP room - which is more of a small home, minus the kitchen, felt downright luxurious:

Next, The seed saving operation here is vibrant and incredibly ambitious - and working well. To see a small refrigerator full of heirloom seeds in the middle of a jungle is both bizarre and encouraging somehow. Spreading the word, and seeds, of these special varieties ensures more diverse farming and, hopefully, more awareness of the need for a more organic approach. Additionally, the watering is all done by hand - which is an amazing forearm exercise for anyone looking for a new move to try. One watering can in each hand, each bed covered twice, equaling very sore arms and very happy plants. What is fantastic about this is the water holding tanks strategically placed throughout the property near the beds, making it quite simple to access it for watering. You can spy a few in the picture of the beds above. It is first held in collection tanks at the top of the hill or pumped up from a small nearby pond. Additionally, the shower water is heated entirely by the sun - which is possible when you live someplace with such reliable, year-round sun. Regardless, the water systems worked efficiently and simply and gave us lots of ideas:

Finally, the food! Oh Lordy, were we spoiled at this table. Fresh veggies everyday, some soup or curry, all full of flavor and spice, cooked up on rotation by a few members of PunPun. Happily, we got a chance to work in the kitchen on a few goodies one afternoon. We made some tasty fresh salad, used the gigantic mortar and pestle, grilled on the clay stove and learned some things: Butterfly pea juice, which is bright blue until you add sour and it turns more purple, is delicious with a little cinnamon in the mix. Mushrooms just look cooler when they are pulled into strips by hand. And sticky rice cooked en masse, steamed properly in a basket, can be flipped in a giant lump if you are talented enough. Basically, we had a lot of fun,even though everyone looks so serious in these pictures:

If we could have, we would have stayed longer - PunPun had a month long internship/workshop coming up a few days after our departure. For now, we are just happy to have spent the time we did. The people are incredibly open, engaging and full of knowledge. The land is evidence of hard work, attention to the details and lots of love. The thousand ways are constantly multiplying, with each eager set of hands that shows up.

Location:Mae Taeng, Chiang Mai, Thailand