Volunteering in exchange for accommodation is an excellent way to have a meaningful experience while keeping travel costs low.
Recently, we had another farming experience. For a little over a week, we helped on an organic farm and stayed for free at Faasai Resort & Spa, a peaceful eco-resort located a few hundred meters away from Kung Wiman Beach in Chanthaburi, Thailand. It is owned by a New Zealand-Thai couple who live in Bangkok during the week and manage the resort on the weekends. The friendly Thai staff, with whom we spent a lot of time, run the show during the week.
Since we are traveling long-term and are on a tiny budget, we normally wouldn’t stay at a nice place like Faasai, so I’m glad I could experience a stay in exchange for work. The grounds are meditative and relaxing. They put forth efforts to be eco-friendly like collecting and using greywater, making compost, and installing solar panels, but it wasn’t what I expected. I was under the impression that we’d be deep in the forest and using only plants from the farm, but the resort is right off the main road.
It’s within walking distance of the beach, which is a nice and quiet area that fishermen frequent. The area is not heavily touristed. If anything, the beach appeals to locals looking for a respite from the cities. So foreign travelers can enjoy a more “authentic” Thailand.
There are a few types of rooms to choose from for guests. We stayed in the bungalow which was immaculate and comfortable… probably the “fanciest” accommodation we inhabited on this trip. It would have cost eight times the rate we usually pay for a guesthouse, but value is reasonable compared to western rates. Guests can enjoy free breakfast, a pool, spa services, recreational sports (ping pong and volleyball), or roam around town with a scooter or bicycle available for rent.
Every day, we woke up before sunrise and worked on the nearby farm, called White Lake. The farm has a small rice field, abundant fruit trees, cows, herbs, peanuts and vegetables. Everything is organic. We had various duties that got our heart rate up while learning about organic farming practices.
We created gigantic compost heaps from rice husks, cow & chicken manure, wood chips, fermented liquid and food waste collected from Faasai’s kitchen. Compost is excellent fertilizer for the soil. When people assume I’m leading a luxurious life of travel, I will tell them I spent some days splashed in cow diarrhea. Yup.
One day, we muddied up our boots by tilling a sizeable field before digging and planting hundreds of peanuts. We labored heavily in the Thai sun, making me appreciate every peanut ever grown. Wish we could see the fruits of our labor, but we will be long gone from Thailand by then.
We also helped with general maintenance like weeding, digging, planting, collecting wood, maintaining banana trees, planting peanuts, and moving piles of leaves. Let’s say that spending hours moving ant-infested leaves made me not like leaves as much as I usually do…
Sustaining a farm is physically laborious so farmers have my highest appreciation. Everyone should experience at least a week in the shoes (or should I say rubber boots) as a farmer. Perhaps people will be less likely to waste produce or discard “ugly”, but perfectly edible, produce. I know I have a newfound appreciation for every plant I consume, especially peanuts.
The owner gave me the duty of making several pizzas using the wood fired oven and teaching the staff how to make pizza. When I inquired about tomato paste, Sula reached for the ketchup. I take for granted that not everyone has a love for pizza! Sula claimed that she didn’t like pizza, but she seemed to like mine as she kept on nibbling. Glad to have opened her world to the magicness that is pizza.
Sula is the woman who runs the show. She works from 6am until 10pm every day at the resort and is responsible for feeding us volunteers. As her assistant in the kitchen, she taught me how to make phad thai, green curry, noodle soup, and how to cut a pineapple properly. I hope that I helped her improve her English with conversation practice. She’s a tough woman with a soft heart.
On our day off, there happened to be a celebration up in the hill behind the resort to honor the Mother of the Sea. The staff and volunteers ventured through the forest up to the celebration. About a hundred people gathered in front of a group of monks, who led chants and praying. There was also an exciting lottery where people threw baskets of individually wrapped candies. Everyone competed to grab as many as possible like after a pinata is torn apart. Some candies had papers attached with prizes like toothpaste, a bottle of oil, flip flops… Adam and I didn’t know what was going on so we just grabbed one coconut candy each and enjoyed observing people’s faces light up when they won simple prizes.
The people were welcoming of us foreigners and offered us a feast. I filled my plate with little bites of everything: green curry, noodles, fish, rice cakes, fruit, boiled eggs, sweet rice porridge… a bit too much, especially after breakfast, but I always have a need to try new foods no matter how full I am.
Vanessa & Inaki made a video explaining the celebration as well.
Cultural Exchange with Volunteers
Not only did we get a taste of Thai culture, we learned about Switzerland and Spain from fellow volunteers. I didn’t know about the revival of the Basque language after it was forbidden during the dictatorship. It is a difficult and uncommon language, but people in Basque country take pride in it and continue to educate in Basque along with Spanish. I also learned that Swiss German is quite different than “high” German, so Swiss German speakers must alter their speech when conversing with Germans, and that isn’t easy. Swiss German isn’t a written language, either, so official papers are documented in high German.
The Spanish couple volunteered their time to make a professional promotional video. I posed as a guest and had my debut as an actress. When can I get my Oscar? Adam and I show up about half way into the video.
Volunteering at Faasai was a great experience to get some exercise and sun exposure while learning about organic farming, Thai cooking, and behind the scenes of an accommodation business. It was also an added bonus that our bungalow was comfortable and food was fantastic. A bunch of adorable cats and a loyal dog live there as well, which made my days even more bright.
This experience was quite different from our first time volunteering on a farm with a Thai family, but not necessarily better nor worse. I learned from the expeience and would do it again!
A video created by Vanessa.
If you are interested in staying at Faasai Eco-Resort and Spa, check out the website.