WWOOFing in Thailand: A First-Time
by Megan S.
(New York, NY)
Front of the farm, facing the main house and road
In September of last year, I embarked on my first solo traveling adventure. I quit my full-time job, moved out of my apartment in Brooklyn, bought my first backpack and pair of hiking boots, and booked a one-way flight to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. The plan was to volunteer for some local nonprofits, learn the language, and make some professional connections that would enable me to eventually live and work there.
I had fundraised for about a month, but hardly saved enough for the amount of time that I wanted to stay. I made arrangements to have my food and accommodations taken care of for three months, but had no idea what I was going to do afterwards. I had $400 USD in my wallet.
December was fast approaching, and though I had accomplished what I set out to do (and more), I had no intentions of bringing my traveling to an end, but I was out of money and ideas. My sister suggested that I check out WWOOF.org (acronym for “Worldwide Organization of Organic Farming”); she had done this in France and while it is difficult work, the exchange for food and accommodations saves money and allows travelers to be fully immersed in the local culture. I explored the options and decided to try my luck in Thailand.
I searched the hosts, found a few that sparked my interest, and soon enough received a reply from one in Krabi. Trying to figure out the safest, most interesting, and cheapest route there, a fellow volunteer pointed out that flights to Singapore were only $20 at this time; I bought a ticket, couchsurfed through Singapore and Malaysia for a couple weeks, and eventually found my way to Krabi, Thailand via bus.
When I finally made it into the town of Krabi, the farmer was already there, waiting with his wife and two children. They were Thai but spoke some English, their six-year old daughter being most proficient of them all. Their house was far from the main part of town, but it was on a beautiful plot of isolated land surrounded by palm trees and swamp waters that made me feel as if we were in the middle of a jungle. I stayed in a hut next door to their house—both built by the farmer's own two hands, made entirely of mud and stone.
Most days were exactly the same. Around 8 am, I awoke, and went to feed the chickens and ducks. Then we spent the next hour or so planting banana trees and sugar cane. He often became frustrated with me because I could not dig a hole as deep as he would like, or could not lift a heavy bag of rice. “This is man’s job,” he would say. Even when I nearly chopped my finger off with a machete while cutting banana tree, he laughed at my reaction while I gushed blood (luckily, I only nipped my nail). When my body was infested with red ants and termites while planting, he ignored me. Was I overreacting?
As the weeks progressed, my inclusion on the farm lessened. I felt like a burden more than a helpful volunteer. If I accidentally slept in, nobody bothered to wake me. I would work for an hour, more or less, until the farmer asked me to watch the children. But I wanted to farm, not babysit! They were feeding and housing me, so I felt that I couldn’t argue. This arrangement continued for the duration of my time, and I kept quiet. The wife even asked me to accompany her over the holidays to help with the children as they traveled to visit relatives, so I swallowed my pride and took a painstaking 15-hour train ride to Bangkok with them.
Finally, before New Year’s Eve, my time as a WWOOFer was officially over and we went our separate ways. I never complained to the family, or even gave them a poor review. But I often wonder: if I was not a female, would I have been put in the position I was in? If I was male, would I have been treated differently?