Wandering Through Wonderfruit

So, while I�™m still catching up on my ridiculously delayed 2016 travel recaps, I just can�™t wait to start sharing my big trip (thus far) of 2017. So I�™ll be jumping back and forth a bit again. Apologies for any confusion, my friends!

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As we near the halfway mark of 2017, I look back and already can pull out one of the clear highlights: finally attending Wonderfruit Festival in Thailand. Combing my passion for festivals with my favorite home-away-from-home destination? Pure bliss!

Like Burning Man, I really can�™t define Wonderfruit as a simple music festival. I didn�™t know a single act on the lineup before arrival �“ and it didn�™t matter. What did matter was gathering eleven of my nearest and dearest fellow Southeast Asia expats for four days of amazing art installations, creative food, funky music, sustainability-focused workshops, and fruit-filled good times.

Wonderfruit 2017 Thailand Festival Review

This was Wonderfruit’s third edition, with the fourth is coming up already this December — the passing of Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej postponed the festival from December of 2016 into February of 2017 due the legally mandated country-wide mourning period. It also affected some acts who couldn’t reschedule, and was rumored to affect attendance numbers, though we had nothing to compare it to personally having never been before.

While there were some stumbling blocks along the way that I hope Wonderfruit will be striving to improve for future editions, we had an overall fantastic experience.

Boutique Camping at Wonderfruit 2017

After kicking around Pattaya for twenty-four hours, we arrived at the Wonderfruit gates not long after the camping area opened at 4pm on Thursday. After a brief foray though security and sign in, we made our way to our chosen tents. We’d all decided to splurge on boutique camping, which I was thrilled with — no hauling tents or sleeping bags, and all kinds of fun glamping perks!

I’ll have more details about the boutique camping in my upcoming budget breakdown, but suffice it to say I would book it again in a heartbeat.

Boutique Camping at Wonderfruit 2017

As the sun set, we couldn’t wait to get out and explore the festival grounds. However, we found that much of the festival was still being set up and the crowds were so small it was hard to get that festive feeling. There were no scheduled activities and very few musical acts on the stages.

Later, we’d reflect that Friday was the perfect warm-up size crowd, while Saturday was wild and Sunday was hot on its heels. In retrospect, I’d strongly encourage Wonderfruit to take a page from Tomorrowland’s book and host a small gathering for on-site campers the first night, either in the campgrounds themselves or in a small sectioned-off area of the festival grounds.

Boutique Camping at Wonderfruit 2017

Wonderfruit 2017 Thailand Festival Review

That said, we didn’t regret arriving Thursday in the slightest — because it meant we got to wake up in our tents Friday morning! We got up early, threw on spandex and headed over to Guavafruit, a tent sponsored by the Classpass-esque GuavaPass.

Unfortunately, we arrived to find… a bunch of other people in spandex, and a photographer who insisted on taking photos of our disappointment as it slowly dawned on us that this Bootcamp class was not happening. One of the girls in the group told us she’d also come an hour earlier for an alleged Tabata class that also didn’t happen. We were bummed because we would have happily gone to yoga with some of the rest of our crew had we known that the morning classes were cancelled.

After that failed attempt at activity, we gave up and went to the lake!

Lake at Wonderfruit Festival Thailand 2017

Lake at Wonderfruit Festival Thailand 2017

After watching Wonderfruit promo videos and talking to past attendees, I was super excited for the lazy day parties at the lake. However, they never quite happened — the water levels were really low, which I think maybe kept people away? I’m not sure exactly the reason, but we had fun cooling off there for a few hours, even if we had it totally to ourselves.

Lake at Wonderfruit Festival Thailand 2017

Lake at Wonderfruit Festival Thailand 2017

Later, we continued our day of chill with a quick trip to the Wonderfruit spa — more on that later! — and donned spandex again for our second attempt at fitness. This time, we were headed to Liv Lo Yoga.

While the class was pushed back half an hour and the location was changed, we were just thrilled to finally be moving as we flowed through a sweaty and funky vinyasa class led by our energetic Singaporean instructor inside the Rocketfruit tent, one of my favorite spaces from the festival. It was great!

Wonderfruit 2017 Thailand Festival Review

Wonderfruit 2017 Thailand Festival Review

Yoga at Wonderfruit 2017

After, we rushed over to the Solar Stage, where our larger group had made plans to congregate. This would become our afternoon meeting point for the next four days, with shady spots all over the playground-like structure and some of our favorite acts performing beneath us. The music of the moment was the Filipino reggae artist Red-I, who would become one of my top discoveries of the festival.

Wonderfruit 2017 Review

Solar Stage at Wonderfruit Festival 2017

Solar Stage at Wonderfruit Festival 2017

That night, we started to take our dress-up duties seriously. After all, we had packed fruit flair for days!

What to Wear to Wonderfruit

What to Wear to Wonderfruit

Wonderfruit had so many amazing spaces to explore at night, and they really started to come alive on Friday. The Moon Shack was a speakeasy-esque, hidden-away little gem sponsored by Sangsom, where we listened to a live jazz band and split a hammered-metal bucket of Thailand’s favorite whiskey.

Next, we hopped around the stages that looked totally transformed in the evening’s colorful lights before making our way over to Forbidden Fruit, Wonderfruit’s first LGBT party hosted by one of Thailand’s top drag queens. Yes! Wonderfruit is fierce.

Wonderfruit 2017 Thailand Festival Review

Wonderfruit 2017 Thailand Festival Review

Eventually, we hopped on over to The Quarry, which is a brilliant idea — a hidden jungle late-night-only stage that is short shuffle away from the rest of the festival grounds, keeping the most intense beats from from the camping areas, and lending a cool “afterparty within a festival” vibe to the whole affair.

Though I have to say that personally, I hated it. Deep house is so not my vibe, and I fled quickly after both my short forays down the quarry. That’s just a me thing, though — tons of Wonderfruiters were obsessed with The Quarry! I was much happier back at Forbidden Fruit, joining a catwalk contest cattily-narrated by a drag queen — though nope, I didn’t win, ha ha.

Wonderfruit 2017 Thailand Festival Review

The third day of a festival is always when recovery starts to be really essential. Luckily, Wonderfruit had us so covered with its onsite massage tent. Heather, Amy and I went straight for the full hour of indulgence and sat back to relax, recharge, and — duh — gossip about the festival so far.

Massages at Wonderfruit 2017

After, we felt ready for a few hours of exploring. We were pretty much melting while doing so — the normal festival month of December is a bit cooler than February, and we were definitely feeling each of those extra degrees of heat.

One really fun moment of the day was wandering by the Living Stage and hearing the night’s headliners — Rudimental! — doing a sound check. How often do you get to have such a behind-the-scenes experience at a major US or European music festival?

Eventually, we sought refuge in the Rainforest Pavilion; by night, an intimate dance party, by day, ground zero for sustainability workshops and talks. I chilled in the shady space while enjoying three brief presentations: Plastic Detox by Bangkok-based Madeleine Recknagel, Shark Tales by Andy Cornish, and The Fourth R with Indonesian entrepreneur Kevin Kumala, who invented a plant-based but plastic-like substance that gained notoriety when a video of him dissolving a “plastic” looking bag in water and drinking it went viral. After the festival I went on to Bali where I saw his #iamnotplastic straws being used everywhere — which made it even cooler to have heard him speak!

Wonderfruit 2017 Thailand Festival Review

Wonderfruit 2017 Thailand Festival Review

One of my favorite thing about Wonderfruit was the amazing amount of workshops, talks and classes. While I think their greatest area of improvement would be to facilitate them running more on time (or alerting festival-goers to cancellations and schedule changes via the otherwise-excellent Wonderfruit app), they really did represent amazing value as all are included in your festival ticket.

I’m so bummed I didn’t make it to workshops on silkscreening, raku ceramics, wood carving (which I tried to go to, but it was pushed back an hour and I had made plans to meet friends), mandala making, beadworking, hand lettering on plants, and more. If I returned for another year, I’d love to focus on making it a creative, hands-on festival for myself!

Many of the art-based workshops took place in The Sharing Neighborhood, which along with Rainforest Pavilion were two of the areas that were most consistently running on-time and as-scheduled.

Soon I was back at my favorite afternoon spot, The Solar Stage, this time for Thai-filipino artists Jess Connelly + Lustbass. This was one of my favorite sets of the entire weekend — there was so much great music to discover, and I loved how many of the artists were Thai or, more largely, Southeast Asian.

We also learned from chatting to fellow Solar Stage fans that the structure was built by regular Burning Man artist Gregg Fleishman, and had actually been transported all the way from The Playa to Pattaya just for Wonderfruit! The stage was made entirely out of sustainable wood panels slotted together sans screws.

Lust Bass at Wonderfruit

Lust Bass at Wonderfruit

Wonderfruit 2017 Thailand Festival Review

And then we were off to prepare for a big Saturday night… and a surprisingly eventful Sunday. Stay tuned!

Wonderfruit 2017 Thailand Festival Review

Does Wonderfruit sound like your kind of festival?

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I received a press pass to Wonderfruit, however all other expenses were my own, and I will outline them in an upcoming budget breakdown. 

Twenty Four Hours in Pattaya (Without a Prostitute in Sight)

So, while I’m still catching up on my ridiculously delayed 2016 travel recaps, I just can’t wait to start sharing my big trip (thus far) of 2017. So I’ll be jumping back and forth a bit again between two timelines — this recent trip and the old ones I’m still catching up on. Apologies for any confusion, my friends. One of these days I promise to lock myself in a dark room and not travel again until I’ve published every past trip in my drafts folder, but that day is not today. 

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In all my time in Thailand, I was absolutely vehement there was one destination to which I would never go: Pattaya. I’m not normally one to write off a destination with a fake gagging gesture, but what can I say. The seedy, sex-tourism capital of Thailand just isn’t for me — and everyone I know who’s ended up there somehow has been horrified by their time there. Just Google “Pattaya is disgusting” to see what my fellow travelers have to say! (To clarify, it’s the tourists that make it so repulsive, not the residents.) I literally could not think of one, single, teeny tiny reason I had any interest in ever so much as passing through such a hell-hole.

Until I decided to attend Wonderfruit, a festival held in the countryside forty-five minutes outside the city.

Wonderfruit 2016 Review

Okay Wonderfruit, you got me — and more on that festival coming up soon. After weighing up dozens of plans for getting my crew all the way from Koh Tao to our camp site, we realized that it was going to be a heck of a journey, and we might need a night to chill before heading into party mode.

So after an overnight ferry to the mainland, a private shuttle to the airport, a cheap early morning flight to Bangkok, and finally being picked up by another private shuttle at the Bangkok airport, we were on our way down to Pattaya, DIY paper cup mimosas in hand! The nine of us who had traveled together from Koh Tao were joined by my frequent travel buddy and honorary Koh Tao Crew member Heather, who flew in from Bali to meet us.

(Technically we could have ferried from Koh Tao to Koh Samui early in the morning and caught the once-per-day Bangkok Airways direct flight from Koh Samui to Pattaya, but that particular flight was out of the price range of most of our crew.)

Wonderfruit 2016 Review

Wonderfruit 2016 Review

Our first stop was one that will ring of enormous excitement to expats on tiny thirteen square mile islands everywhere: a proper grocery store, in the form of Central Pattaya’s Tesco Lotus. We had a couple missions here: get groceries for the next twenty-four hours, buy whatever snacks we wanted for the festival, and stock up on booze.

The latter become a major issue when we were casually strolling the aisles and an employee came up and breathlessly alerted us that alcohol sales were halted at 2pm, which was in approximately seven minutes. (Technically, alcohol sales are banned in the after-school hours of 2-5pm throughout Thailand, though it’s not enforced in Koh Tao). CUE PANIC! You have never seen farang pushing shopping carts with such unbridled anxiety as we did until we were safely through the checkout six minutes and fifty-nine seconds later. Crisis averted.

Next stop, our villa for the night! One bonus of Pattaya’s popularity is the market is flooded with cheap villa rentals — we nabbed this four bedroom for a mere $139 per night. Well, that’s the price we paid after having the $50 cleaning fee refunded because, ya know, we arrived and the place wasn’t cleaned. Frankly, we didn’t mind the discount! For $13.90 each per night, I was more than happy to fluff a few pillows upon arrival. Want to score a similar deal? Get $40 off your first Airbnb booking by using my coupon!

Jomtien Airbnb Rental

Jomtien Airbnb Rental

Yeah, the villa was a bit tired and the downstairs hadn’t been cleaned when we arrived, but we were thrilled with it, considering our very low expectations. It was located on Jomtien Beach, just far enough south from the prostitution circus of downtown that we could pretend we were somewhere else entirely.

Jomtien Airbnb Rental

Jomtien Airbnb Rental

After an afternoon of unwinding from eighteen hours of travel, the boys cracked into cooking a feast for dinner while the girls wandered the hundred meters down to the beach for a sunset drink on the seawall.

This was far and away my favorite moment from our brief time in Pattaya — marveling at the sight of skyscrapers on the beach, watching the sky turn from brilliant shades of blue to pink, and gossiping and giggling with some of my favorite girls.

Twenty Four Hours in Pattaya

Twenty Four Hours in Pattaya

Twenty Four Hours in Pattaya

Back at the house, the boys had outdone themselves! I’ve mentioned before around here the irony that because expats on Koh Tao eat out so regularly (it can actually be cheaper than cooking at home!) and have relatively small living spaces, it’s actually the biggest treat of all to get to share a big home-cooked meal together.

While going out to a big dinner at a restaurant might be the highlight of a vacation back in our Western homes, the ability to make one for ourselves is something to celebrate here in our adopted one.

After dinner, we toasted to Janine’s birthday — the second in a row we’ve celebrated with a big group trip! — and turned in early to prepare for the big events ahead.

Twenty Four Hours in Pattaya

Twenty Four Hours in Pattaya

Twenty Four Hours in Pattaya

The next morning, our crew of ten grew by two more, our friends Ryan and Bron, fresh off a flight from Australia! With several hours to kill between checking out of the villa and checking into the Wonderfruit campsite, I’d done some serious research into activities in the area that didn’t involve red-light districts — and to my surprise, we planned a really fun day.

Wonderfruit 2016 Festival Review

After nixing, much to my heartbreak, a day at the largest waterpark in Thailand, we settled on two much drier stops — first, a short stroll around Buddha Mountain, and second, a tour of Silverlake Vineyard.

While Buddha Mountain didn’t hold our attention much beyond a simple group photo-op, it was a very cool variation on the typical Southeast Asian Buddha statue and made for a quick and quirky stop. (Though not, admittedly, as quirky as the Upside Down House Pattaya, or the Pattaya Sheep Farm, where real sheap mingle with their statue counterparts, both of which we also passed en route.) Bonus, Buddha Mountain is free to enter!

Buddha Mountain Pattaya

Next up, the real star of the show — Silverlake Vineyard. As many of you know, I’m on a mission to visit every winery in Thailand, and so visiting this one was a major motivation for tacking on extra time in Pattaya pre-Wonderfruit.

So you can imagine my annoyance when we arrived to a notice that the winery was currently closed. Great. Well, we were there anyway, so with no option to take the full winery, vineyard and tasting tour (for 250B) we settled on taking the vineyard and grape juice tour (for 100B), and buying a couple of bottles of wine to try with lunch.

Silverlake Vineyard Pattaya

Silverlake Vineyard Pattaya

Silverlake Vineyard Pattaya

I’m not going to sugarcoat it — the “vineyard tour” was a bit of a joke. I’d gleaned from the research I’d done that this was going to be miles away from the stunning and sophisticated vineyards we’d visited in Khao Yai and in Hua Hin. But this was even more of a bizarre celebration of kitsch than I’d expected, with about half a dozen wordless stops at strange photo-props followed by a quick glance at some grapes before being dumped at a grape juice processing plant.

Thankfully, I had a group who made the absolute best of it, and we had so much fun you wouldn’t believe we hadn’t cracked into the wine yet.

Silverlake Vineyard Pattaya

Silverlake Vineyard Pattaya

Silverlake Vineyard Pattaya

Silverlake Vineyard Pattaya

Can you even imagine a better crew to tour a fake winery with?

Silverlake Vineyard Pattaya

Silverlake Vineyard Pattaya

At least, I must admit, the grape juice was delicious. We peeked into the temporarily-closed winery building next door, and the tasting room did look quite nice.

Silverlake Vineyard Pattaya

Silverlake Vineyard Pattaya

After the tour, we had a lazy lunch at the winery’s onsite restaurant, where we ordered a carafe each of the shiraz, rosé, and sauvignon blanc to do our own DIY tasting. The restaurant was a good call — the wine was nice, the food and service were good, and the prices were reasonable.

It really was a shame that the winery building wasn’t open — I think it would have balanced out the silliness of the “vineyard tour” with some explanation of what were a couple decent wines. But, such is life. And there wasn’t much time to mull it over — we were en route to Wonderfruit!

Silverlake Vineyard Pattaya

Silverlake Vineyard Pattaya

Will I be rushing back to Pattaya? No. (Though the checklist-lover inside of me is tormented that I didn’t technically visit the Silverlake Winery. Curses!)

But we really did make the most of our twenty-four hours there. Between quirky quintessentially Thai attractions, quality time with my favorite crew, and a bargain of a villa to rest our heads in at night, it was the best trip to Pattaya a girl not interested in go go boots could ask for.

Silverlake Vineyard Pattaya

Stay tuned for my next dispatch from Wonderfuit!

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