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Years ago, I watched the documentary Taking My Parents to Burning Man, and I thought, um… hell no. Burning Man is a lot of things, but an experience I wanted to share with my mom or my dad was not one of them.
However, years later, things changed — sort of. My friend Kristin was visiting me in my hometown of Albany, New York, and she really hit it off, as I expected she would, with both my mom and her fiancé Miller. Kristin is a Central Tennessee native and had hosted me for my first Bonnaroo, which music maven Miller had been green with envy over. Kristin and my mom bonded over the fact that they both married former housepainters who now love renovating their old houses, and Miller jokingly offered to help paint Kristin and her husband’s place if they’d host him for Bonnaroo someday.
Except, it wasn’t really a joke. Kristin loved the idea, and we all vowed to reunite at Bonnaroo 2017. When friends raised their eyebrows at the idea that I was heading to a festival with parents in tow, I realized that it was a fairly unusual arrangement. But I wasn’t nervous in the slightest — after all, Kristin’s whole family attends most years!
As the sun set on the final night of the festival, I couldn’t have been more thrilled with how it all turned out. Intrigued by the idea of doing the same? Read on for ideas on how to make it the best experience possible!
1. Stay Offsite
Unless you all grew up camping, or your parents are super hardcore, you might wish to ease into your family festival-ing by staying offsite for the first one. We were lucky — we had the world’s greatest hosts in Kristin and Scott, who live nearby in said beautiful old Victorian they’re currently renovating.
But otherwise, we would have definitely opted for a hotel or an Airbnb (get $40 off your first stay using my coupon code) over camping. Normally you’d have to drag me kicking and screaming to stay offsite for a festival — but in this case, creature comforts are well worth it to set skeptical or skittish first time festival goers at ease.
2. Bring Buddies
In our particular case, this was kind of a given — Miller was really the driving force behind wanting to go to Bonnaroo for my mom, and we were the guests of one of my best blogging buddies, so we really had a built in group. And it was perfect!
Having a group meant that we were free to break off into various combinations throughout the weekend — at times I went off with my mom and Miller, other moments they were off on an adventure and I was hanging with Kristin or another friend, and other sets still I was on my own and they were hanging with the rest of our crew! Being in a group meant that everyone had plenty of breathing room, and we all got to do what we wanted to do with minimal compromising.
If you love the idea of taking one of your parents to a festival but are worried it might be too much pressure one-on-one, put a group together. Whether it’s one of your best friends and a parent of theirs that you know yours would click with (my college best friend and I infamously set our moms up on a friend date, and now they adore each other!) or a group of family friends that you know your mom or dad would love to rock out with all weekend, festivals are truly a more-the-merrier kind of situation, especially in this case.
3. Plan a Few Other Adventures
Typically, when I’m at a festival, I’m totally immersed and don’t come up for air until it’s time for the decompression party. I knew that would be a little intense for my mom, and so I was thrilled when we paused for a morning to go for a walk in a nearby state park.
Don’t be afraid to take a little time out of your busy set schedule to do something you think your mom or dad might love in the area. Yes, stopping to do an architecture tour of Palm Springs when you’re itching to get to the festival grounds might be a bit of a compromise — but come on, how cool is that your dad wanted to go to Coachella?
4. Indulge Accordingly
Again, back to the compromise. Frankly, Bonnaroo has been on the tamer scale of my festival experiences overall — even for my first ‘Roo, I was staying offsite and I was super into the health and fitness aspects of the festival, and I had an absolute blast even while practicing some serious moderation.
But regardless, even if my first Bonnaroo had been a wild explosion of hedonism and bad decisions, I would have put a lid on it when showing my mama and her man around. Yes, of course, we had a few drinks — our hosts keep the world’s best stocked home bar, after all — but I kept the all night benders and doing shots off the bar for another trip, thank you very much. It’s not that my mom doesn’t know I party — the cat is very much out of that bag — or that she doesn’t like to have a good time herself. It’s just that there’s a time and a place for everything and it’s more fun to stay more or less on the same level.
5. Make a Plan — And Stick To It
Frankly, this is good advice for any festival. That said, if your friends don’t show up at the pre-planned meeting time for Tomorrowland, you’re likely to shrug your shoulders and go off and have a good time. If you don’t show when you’re supposed to meet your mom, you’re so getting grounded!
Okay just kidding — I’m assuming you’re past that point — but chances are she won’t take it as lightly as some of your friends might. And again, I’m guessing that in this scenario, you’re the festival savvy one, and your ma is probably just getting used to the idea. In Bonnaroo’s case, cell phones rarely work well on The Farm. Be a good festival guide and meet up at the Food Truck Oasis when you say you’re going to.
6. Think It Through First
Really evaluate if your parent is going to be down for this adventure. At Bonnaroo and Burning Man, there’s a lot of nudity (top half only for the former, full monty for the latter). At Tomorrowland and Electric Daisy Carnival, there’s probably going to be a lot of drugs (and, uh, electronic dance music, which some might find even more offensive). At Coachella or Lollapalooza, you’re likely to battle crazy crowds (and not, believe it or not, of other parent child combos).
But that’s not to put you off — most festivals I’ve been to have been more multi-generational and welcoming-to-all than I ever would have imagined, and you might find yourself surprised at how easy-going and open-minded the people that made you can really be. A lot of my friends commented that they could never go to a festival with their mom or dad even though they loved the idea; I think in a lot of cases they might be selling their parents short. If going to festivals has brought you joy and happiness, it might do the same for them too! And how cool would it be to share that?
If you’re unfamiliar with a festival and wondering how dad-friendly it might be, check if they have family camping or resources geared towards guests with young children — that should be a pretty good indicator of how welcoming an environment you can expect.
From dancing in the silent disco to riding the ferris wheel to singing along on the mainstage to watching the worlds of my family and friends collide, Bonnaroo with my mom and soon-to-be stepdad was an experience I’ll never forget.
Here’s to the next family adventure!
I received a media pass to attend Bonnaroo. All other expenses were my own. All non-selfie shots that I’m in are likely courtesy of the talented Camels and Chocolate!
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!
It�™s one of the biggest questions on any ravers mind when they start flirting with the idea of a new feather-clad festival adventure. How much is this going to cost me?
One of the biggest excitements for me in attending Wonderfruit was getting to experience a festival produced at international standards but priced in Thai baht. While compared to the cost of living and traveling in Thailand Wonderfruit is surely still an enormous splurge, if held up to the bottom-line bills of festivals like Tomorrowland, Bonnaroo, and Burning Man, it�™s a bargain. Here�™s my baht for baht breakdown that includes four nights onsite at Wonderfruit, one night pre-festival in Pattaya, and two nights post-festival in Bangkok �“ and would reflect the week-long vacation that international travelers might expect to center their trip around.
Ticket: 4,950B or $138US
Full four day tickets to Wonderfruit are 5,500B, though we were able to take advantage of party pass pricing for bulk orders of six tickets, which worked out to 4,917B per person. There is a ฿26.75B service charge for each ticket, which works out to less than $1USD.
Tickets are slightly cheaper during the very early pre-sale phase and slightly more expensive at the door. Children under 12 are free, and there are reduced price tickets for kids age 12-19. Dog passes are available for 800B (possibly my absolute favorite aspect of Wonderfruit?) All tickets are sold in baht. There are no VIP options available �“ how refreshing!
(Note: I received a press pass to this event, but I am putting in the party pass price that I would have paid otherwise.)
Boutique Camping: 5,000B or $140US
There are multiple different options for where to stay at Wonderfruit.
Regular camping in which you bring your own tent is included in the ticket price. If you go this route and don�™t want to fly internationally with camping supplies, look for cheap tents available on Lazada, Thailand�™s sort-of answer to Amazon. The regular camping area looked sparsely attended compared to the boutique area, but residents reported clean showers and toilets, secure lockers, and charging stations.
There is also boutique camping available at three levels. Prices are for four nights, and all tents sleep four people. The boutique camping area is totally separate and across the festival from the regular camping area, so if you�™re coming as a large group, you�™ll all want to choose one or the other together. You can get a great sense of the size of the boutique camping area from an aerial shot in this post.
• Safari tents with air con: 40,000B
These fully-furnished, stand-up tents almost went a little too far for me. I still like to at least pretend I�™m roughing it. But for those craving the ultimate comfort, you�™ll have two real beds, lighting, power strips, a lock box, air conditioning, and a tent big enough to stand up and walk around in. One thing I did really like about these were the two lawn chairs set up outside.
• Bell tents with air con: 30,000B
These beautiful and spacious bell tents came equipped with air mattresses, lighting, power strips with four outlets, a lock box, a large mirror, small trash baskets, and air conditioning. The lock boxes were enormous and easily fit four sets of valuables with room to spare. These two pricier options were the first to sell out, so hop to it if those are the ones you�™re eying!
• Bell tents with fans: 20,000B
Identical to the option above but with fans instead of air-conditioning. This is the option we went with, both for budget and sustainability purposes.
The prices are very reasonable when split by four people. If you�™re coming as only a pair, the prices are a little tougher to swallow, so bring friends! The fact that you can get a very VIP experience for only 5,000B a person is seriously wow-able if you�™re coming from the European or US festival scene. That�™s $35 US per person per day!
We were thrilled with our choice. Overall, I give the boutique camping team huge props, with some exceptions and issues. The bathrooms were fantastic, with cement and bamboo showers, real flushing toilets, and towels provided in every tent. There was shampoo, conditioner and soap provided in the bathrooms but the shampoo ran out by the last day of the festival, so you may wish to bring a small backup or be prepared to ask your neighbor.
The air mattresses deflated slightly over the weekend but the staff were more than happy to come give them a boost. I found them very comfortable! As with any festival, earplugs and eyemasks are an absolute must. The festival grounds are fairly compact and so the late night stages will absolutely project into your tent �“ if you�™re noise sensitive, pick a tent as far from the festival entrance as possible. They gave us a choice of tents when we checked in, which I greatly appreciated.
As I mentioned, the lock boxes in the tents, with locks provided, were enormous, which was much appreciated for our many cameras and other electronics. There are additional lockers available, but they are located on the opposite side of the boutique camping area from the festival entrance so only use them for things you won�™t need access to throughout the weekend �“ and you�™ll need to bring your own locks for those. Really, with the lock boxes being so large, it�™s doubtful you�™ll need them.
Remember, you�™re still camping �“ it�™s very cold at night, and extremely hot during the day. We weren�™t expecting the cold in the evenings but slept in several layers! During the day the fan only went so far to keep cool, and it was often better to nap in one of the shady chill tents inside the festival during the day, where there was a bit of a breeze.
Our one major complaint about boutique camping was that power was shut off from 4-8pm. With the sun setting at 6:30pm every night, I literally can�™t think of a more inconvenient time to close it off. We always wanted to be back in our tents getting ready and changing out of our sweaty day clothes either immediately before or after sunset �“ before, it was boiling without the fan and after, we were stuck in the dark.
The boutique camping area had a dedicated check-in, a private bar and lounge �“ which was always fairly low key �“ and a coffee truck. Unlike other festivals I�™ve been to, people didn�™t really just hang out in the campgrounds, but they were an incredibly comfortable place to recharge and get ready for the festival every day.
Overall, while I hope they might consider the electricity-off hours for future editions, we were thrilled with the boutique camping experience.
Wonderfruit also has an option for RV camping! Four day RV passes are available for 15-16,000B depending on when you purchase for sites with electric and water hookup, and 8-9,000B depending on when you purchase for sites without hookup.
The RV area is separate from the other camping areas. There are RV rental companies in Bangkok �“ I would totally do this if I was coming back another year.
There are also offsite hotel packages available, but with each located a 30-60 minute drive away and the camping being such a fun and integral part of the Wonderfruit experience, I can�™t imagine taking advantage of them.
Wonderfruit takes place at Siam Country Club, about 45 minutes outside Pattaya. You can technically fly into Pattaya airport but it�™s not much closer than Bangkok�™s Suvarnabhumi Airport. Flights to Bangkok�™s Don Muang airport will likely be the most affordable option from within Thailand and from some neighboring airports �“ check flights to both.
Since we are based in Thailand, and domestic travel within the country is so cheap, our transportation prices were insanely affordable. If you�™re coming from much further, read this post for tips on how to score a bargain international flight.
Transport to Bangkok: 1068B or $45US
After nixing the once-per-day, $138 ferry and flight from Koh Samui to Pattaya –the fastest and most direct route, but also by far the most expensive — we settled on an overnight ferry from Koh Tao to Surat Thani (600B), a private transfer from the pier to the airport (165B), and a flight from Surat Thani to Bangkok (843B). Nok Air includes free checked bags, which was perfect for my extra festival stuff.
Note that I�™m only including one-way of travel here, as I flew onward from Bangkok to Penang post-festival. Most of my group returned to Koh Tao by overnight bus and ferry combo ticket, which is 1,100B, or $31.
Villa: 668B or $16US
We spent one night pre-festival in Pattaya. Our villa in Pattaya cost 668B per night each, and was a great way to kick off our group adventure with some serious camaraderie and recharge from our overnight transit from Koh Tao.
Private Driver: 953B or $27US
We hired a private van and driver to pick us up at Bangkok�™s Don Muang Airport and drop us at our villa, stopping for groceries en route. The next day he brought us to Buddha Mountain and a winery before dropping us at Wonderfruit. On the final day of the festival, he picked us back up at boutique camping and dropped us at our hotel in Bangkok, stopping as we wished along the way. It was the same driver we used for our wine tour last year.
The driver worked out to 833B plus a 120B tip per person. That included three days of his services and included the van, gas, tolls, etc. It�™s a really good deal, even for Thailand, and I was quoted up to double when researching other transportation companies in Bangkok and Pattaya �“ so really sniff around before settling on the first quote you get.
If you�™re in a group, hiring a private driver is the way to go. Otherwise, you�™ll need to take a taxi to the Bangkok bus station, catch a bus to Pattaya (about 150B), take a taxi to the Wonderfruit shuttle meeting point, and then take one of the official Wonderfruit shuttles (150B) to the festival site �“ and then do it all again in the other direction.
Bangkok Hotel: 1183B or $33US
We also spent two nights post-festival in Bangkok. So many Wonderfruit attendees live in Bangkok, the festival site is easily reached, and Wonderfruit doesn�™t really require the extensive preparations and breakdowns some festivals do, so for many this won�™t be necessary. However, in our case, Ian and I were flying to Penang two days later so it was the perfect buffer, while everyone else stuck around mostly to take advantage of being off the island and in a big city to run errands.
I booked Hotel Icon because it was in everyone’s budget and expected to feel very meh about it but — but found myself pleasantly surprised!
Meals and Entertainment En Route: 2,930B or $82US
Basically, all food consumed between leaving Koh Tao and departing Bangkok — that weren�™t at Wonderfruit. I spent 735B on snacks (let�™s be honest �“ mostly airport fast food), 475B on my share of groceries for our two big meals in the villa (we bought too much and left a bunch behind), and 300B on lunch at the winery.
We also went on a winery tour in Pattaya and went to a movie in Bangkok.
Campsite Food and Alcohol: 1896B or $53US
This is the one category that really makes me cringe �“ we went way overboard. The Tesco Lotus in Pattaya was surprisingly pricey, and I ended up spending 2,071B on my personal festival snacks (fruit, granola bars, etc.) and booze for our night in the villa (some of the leftovers of which may have made their way to the campgrounds…) Everyone in our group agreed they were totally shocked when they got to the checkout counter.
Costumes: 2,390B or $67
As usual, I had fun buying some fun personal and group costumes for this event �“ though I did have a shocking number of fruit related outfits prior to even being aware of Wonderfruit�™s existence.
Platinum Mall in Bangkok has a wealth of ridiculousness on its accessory floor, and I stocked up on beaded headbands (650B), fruit headpieces (400B), flash tattoos (300B), and fruit earrings (40B) a month before the festival. Wonderfruit definitely won�™t be their last appearance either!
My friend Will and I also surprised our group with custom Banyan Fruit t-shirts (Banyan is the bar that everyone in our crew is either an employee, owner, or obscenely loyal customer of). I bought the shirts for 1000B, and Will generously provided the designs and printing.
One funny note… the controversy over Native American headdresses has NOT hit Thailand. They were literally everywhere and in every direction.
On Site Purchases
Food and alcohol: 10,570B or $297
So this is where I went totally crazy. Oh well! With Wonderfruit�™s relatively strict policy on bringing in outside food and alcohol, this is the most I�™ve ever spent onsite at a festival �“ including pricey festivals like Tomorrowland!
But I�™ve always had expensive taste when it comes to food and booze, preferring fancy cocktails over beer and hipster cafes over street food. I also have Millionaire Syndrome when I�™m drinking and do things like dropping 700B on a golden bucket for the group in the Moon Shack bar. Oops.
Prices, as at any festival, were inflated from what they�™d be in the �œreal world,” but they weren�™t particularly offensive. It was a lot of fun to eat at Wonderfruit. There were beautiful stall, well-curated food trucks and tents that almost became venues in themselves (I�™m looking at you, day-time dance parties in RocketFruit!)
A lot of our favorite trendy Bangkok restaurants had little outposts at Wonderfruit, and we found a few new obsessions, too. I was particularly in love with my morning acai bowls, the late night cheeseburger I couldn�™t stop talking about for days, and the entire menu at Straight Outta Thonglor — and I�™m still haunted that we didn�™t get a charcuterie board at the cheese tent.
You could find a meal for as low as 100B a plate and as high as 800B, though they generally fell in the 200-400B. Drinks ranged from 80-300B. I was a bad blogger and didn�™t record any particular food prices (too many golden buckets, ya know?) but here are a few examples I was able to glean from menu board photos:
Cold pressed juice from Fabb Coffee and Juice Bar: 135B
Whapow Coldbrew from Fabb Coffee and Juice Bar: 120B
Kai Jiew Egg dish from Egg Picnic: 100B
Thai sticky rice wine from Sato Bar: 100B original, 150B strong
Grilled camarelized bananas from The Thailand Young Farmers: 80 baht
Thailand�™s version of ginataan from The Thailand Young Farmers: 50B
Isaan pad thai from The Thailand Young Farmers: 185B
Ice cream from the reggae bus: 180B
One thing to note is that Wonderfruit is completely paperless �“ you�™ll have a band that you load baht onto and then pay for everything with a tap of the wrist. I was annoyed to learn there was a significant surcharge for credit card top-ups, which forced me to use cash (I hate using cash, as it�™s much harder to track.) If you have any credit left over when you’re ready to leave, you can get a cash refund from the top-up stations between 12noon on Sunday and 12noon on Monday.
One major Wonderfruit highlight? Free water refill stations throughout the festival and campgrounds. Considering the festival�™s commitment to sustainability, it was essential �“ and as a bonus, it saved us from having to buy multiple bottles a day.
Splurges: 2,725B or $76
I splurged on a glitter application in the Wonder Salon for 500B, a rhinestone-encrusted antler headpiece for 1,300B, and a beautiful pair of handmade earrings for 350B. I only wish I was patient enough to get my hair and makeup done more nights �“ it was so much fun! I also spent 575B on pool floats, which considering how little time we spent in the lake was a bit excessive �“ but yet I can never regret a pool float purchase.
Massages: 1,600B or $45US
I had one 45 minute foot massage for 700B and one 60 minute foot, head and shoulder massage for 900B in the cutely designed massage tent. Higher than typical Thai massage prices? Of course. But well worth it for restoring and refreshing �“ and escaping the sun!
Here�™s the full spa menu:
45 min foot reflexology: 700B
60 min foot, head and shoulder: 900B
45 min back and shoulder: 700B
60 min Thai massage: 900B
60 min oil massage: 1,200B
90 min foot reflexology + Thai massage: 1,350B
90 min foot reflexology + back and shoulder massage: 1,450B
90 min foot reflexology + oil massage: 1,600B
Wonder Feasts: 1,500B or $42
Wonder Feasts are beautiful ticketed meals prepared by some of Bangkok�™s top chefs. There were four Wonder Feast options: two dinners with free-flow wine for 3,000B, and two brunches for 1,500B. I wasn�™t blown away with my experience.
Total cost for the four day festival:
31584B or $885USD per person
Total cost for the full seven day trip:
37,433B or $1,061USD per person
I would say that I experienced Wonderfruit at the top end of the spending range �“ I did VIP camping, bought whatever food and drinks I wanted, and freely splurged on things like massages and a Wonder Feast. For all that, Wonderfruit clocked in at $220 a day. Comparatively, I did Burning Man about as cheap as it is possible to do and spent between $120-150 a day, and did Tomorrowland somewhere in the upper middle and spent $375-500 per day. So while Wonderfruit is an extremely expensive four days as far as travels in Thailand go, it is very competitively priced when you hold it up against other festivals from around the world.
I also included the total for the full week of our trip, including four nights at the festival, one night before, and two nights after.
Overall? Normally a very frugal person, festivals are my big travel splurges and I don�™t regret this one for a second. I�™d say they were baht well blown.
What do you think? Would you go to Wonderfruit?
Also in this series: Wandering Through Wonderfruit: A Festival Review Part I • Feasting on Wonderfruit: A Festival Review Part II
I received a press pass to Wonderfruit, however all other expenses were my own, and I will outline them in an upcoming budget breakdown.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
That night, we started to take our dress-up duties seriously. After all, we had packed fruit flair for days!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
And then we were off to prepare for a big Saturday night… and a surprisingly eventful Sunday. Stay tuned!
Does Wonderfruit sound like your kind of festival?
I received a press pass to Wonderfruit, however all other expenses were my own, and I will outline them in an upcoming budget breakdown.
You thought fireworks were cool? Just wait until you see how Thailand marks the start of the Buddhist New Year: with a nation-wide water fight. This is real life.
From April 13th-15th every year Thailand is consumed by the joy of celebrating Songkran, which comes from a Sanskrit word translating to ‘passing.’ Once a solemn, sacred event in which images of Buddha were bathed, young Thais sprinkled water on the hands of elders and traditional dancing symbolically washed away the misfortunes of the previous year and warmly welcomed the new one. Even prior to Buddhism’s introduction to the Kingdom of Thailand, throwing water was part of a ritualistic Spring Festival in which farmers hoped for rain for their crops.
Well… times have changed. These days, Songkran has morphed into a super-soaker fueled, wet and wild water fight. It’s a truly joyful day in which locals, expats and tourists come together to literally bring the party to the streets.
Bangkok and Chiang Mai are among the most popular destinations to celebrate Songkran. In fact, Koh Tao isn’t even close to being one of the biggest draws — but we love our small island celebration and I can’t imagine spending the day elsewhere. While in many Thai destinations the party can rage from the 13th-15th, on Koh Tao, Songkran lasts just one day, April 13th. Conveniently, it’s one of the hottest, sweatiest days of the year.
Read more about Koh Tao’s annual holidays and events!
I’m lucky to be approaching my third Songkran here on Koh Tao. My first in 2011 was a blast, and the 2016 edition was even better. In preparation for 2017’s celebration, I’ve put together my top Songkran tips. While these are specifically written for those celebrating on Koh Tao, I’m willing to bet there are a few drops of wisdom for those ringing in the year further afield.
The Cardinal Sin of Songkran
This is literally the most important thing about Songkran: make sure you aren’t in transit during it! If you’re on the move, make sure to arrive on Koh Tao by April 12th at the latest (personally, I’d add in a buffer day in case of travel delays, and to leave a day to get prepped to party.)
And if you’re leaving the island right after the big day, be careful. The festivities may be over on Koh Tao, but Bangkok and Chiang Mai will still be popping off and you will not be granted mercy simply because you’re wheeling a suitcase.
If you absolutely must travel on one of these days (like I had to on April 14th last year), take a regional flight so you can pass through Bangkok without ever having to leave the airport. Bonus! You’ll get to see immigration officers celebrating at work in their cute Hawaiian shirts, a bizarrely charming part of the unofficial Songkran look (I’ve never been able to get an answer why!)
Also, Don’t Drive!
So you’ve made it safely to Koh Tao and are all settled in in time for the big party. Now, put away those bike rental keys for the day — seriously. I would never drive on Songkran!
Putting aside the fact that you’re most likely going to be boozing, and driving is the biggest safety hazard on Koh Tao on a good day, locals set up stations specifically to throw water and flour at passing bikes, which can cause a serious hazard for those not super experienced on two wheels. Accidents are crazy common. Stick to your own two feet to get where you need to go, and be extra careful on the road even when walking.
What To Wear To Songkran
You can’t just rock up to Songkran. No, you’ve got some serious prepping to do!
First, your outfit. Obviously, I’d start with the base of a bathing suit and wear fairly little on top of that — though I would wear something, because walking around in a bikini off the beach isn’t really cool in Thailand, and this day is no exception. Lots of Thai people wear the aforementioned Hawaiian shirts and lots of Western people wear ridiculous costumes. Last year I wore a surfing spring suit, a sparkly gold visor, and a donut pool floatie. So there’s that. You might also consider goggles or a ski mask, especially if you have sensitive eyes. Believe it or not, Koh Tao has a pretty well-stocked costume shop in Mae Haad next to in the Lomprayah building. Go wild!
A lot of people go barefoot on Koh Tao and especially on Songkran, when they’re worried about losing their flip flops. Personally I’m not about that barefoot life — get a cheap pair of knock-off Havianas, do your best to keep track of them, and you won’t weep if they get lost, but best case scenario you won’t step on a broken beer bottle either. Win-win!
Waterguns are fun to have, but not necessary, so don’t fret if you don’t grab one. They often get broken or bored of fairly quickly; if you don’t feel like spending money or contributing to a landfill a second-hand bucket will also do the the trick.
If you plan to drink throughout the day, bring along a sealed bottle or cup. Open-top cups are just asking to be contaminated with unfiltered water splashes, and I know you know you don’t want that.
Another thing to prepare for — many restaurants and shops close for the entire day. And you will want to line your stomach pre-Songkran. Last year, my friends and I did a big champagne brunch while we got ready — it was a blast! So ask around for somewhere that may be open or gather supplies for a snack-fest in your hotel before you go out. If you get stuck, 7-11 is always open.
Tip: Waterproof Everything
Aside from a water-tossing vessel and a beverage-drinking one, bring as little as possible. I usually have a small bag with my waterproof camera, some cash, and my house key. That’s it. As a contact-wearer who had way too many direct shots to the eye last year, I’ll also be throwing an extra pair into my dry-bag for this year’s festivities.
But basically — if you don’t want it wet, don’t bring it out of the house. If you do, you’ll spend the entire day getting agitated, and that’s no recipe for fun. Buy a proper diving dry bag (they are for sale all over Koh Tao and Khao San Road in Bangkok), grab one of those geeky phone pouches that goes around your neck or just simply seal things into ziplock bags.
But again, bring as little as possible. There’s a lot of spontaneous ocean swims and getting pushed in the pool, so you might want to tuck some cash into a pocket, put your room key on a string around your neck, and enjoy a day totally untethered.
Green Your Songkran
Koh Tao is a little tiny island with limited resources. Consider filling up your buckets, water guns and reserve tanks with sea water. The environment will thank you!
It’s easy to get carried away with day-drinking on such a debaucherous day. But remember it’s a marathon and not a sprint… or whatever it is people tell themselves to avoid blacking out early. Get a good night of sleep the night before, wear sunscreen, seriously drink a lot of water, remember to eat occasionally, and generally make a valiant attempt to pace yourself.
Make a Meet Up Plan
Because I don’t take my phone out on Songkran, I like to have a loose plan in place with my crew so we know where to find each other in we go off on solo adventures for a bit — intentionally or not. We usually kick things off at Banyan Bar before moving en masse down the beach, slowly making our way towards Fishbowl and Maya Bar with an obligatory stop at the DJL Pool. Last year we decided to retreat to a private villa party post-sunset, where I had a blast regrouping with anyone I’d lost throughout the day.
It doesn’t have to be that full-on, though. Just agree that if you get separated, you’ll meet at a certain bar at sunset.
Don’t Be a Jerk
Honestly, just don’t. Don’t put ice water in your water gun. Don’t put food coloring into the water you’re throwing on people. Don’t aim at people’s eyes, or ears, or drinks. (As if that needs further elaboration, you could ruin a contact wearer’s day, you could give a dive instructor an ear infection, or you could give someone a tummy bug. So just chill.) Yes, it’s a day of mayhem and no one should walk outside expecting special treatment, but it would be nice to just like, be kind of nice about the whole thing, no?
Also be aware that there’s kind of an unofficial cease-fire after sunset. After that is when most people head back home to dry off and change before heading back out again to continue their debauchery. Don’t be that one lone dude soaking people at midnight in the bar. You’ll deserve the dirty looks.
Make a Day After Plan
Chances are, April 14th is going to be a bit of a wash (how many water puns can I fit into one post?!) I strongly recommend a fresh coconut, a banana, and a breakfast with eggs in it — my go-to Thailand hangover cure — followed by as many massages as you can fit into the rest of the day.
Seriously though, the island will be pretty subdued, so you might not want to book any major tours or dive trips for that day. Last year my friends and I planned a hangover brunch at one of our houses, a tradition I hope will be annual.
Need one last peek at the fun cyclone headed Thailand’s way in just two weeks? Check out my silly Facebook video of behind-the-scenes footage from last year’s celebrations.
Happy Songkran soon, my friends!
Have you been lucky enough to celebrate this festival?
If so, leave your tips and tricks in the comments below!
Songkran photos in this post were taken with the Canon PowerShot G7X and its Canon Waterproof Housing or with a GoPro HERO3+ — both are perfect choices for photography on a wet day! See a full list of my photography gear here.
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This week, Koh Tao celebrated Loy Kratong. And while I may currently be on the other side of the world, I touch back down in Thailand in just two weeks — which makes this the perfect time to share this memory from last year!
It’s likely that, whether or not you knew what it was or where it was from, you’ve seen a photo of Thailand’s infamous annual lantern releases. (You’d only have to casually browse the travel section of a book store, where images from Yi Peng have graced the cover of not one but two editions of Lonely Planet Thailand!)
Perhaps you’ve even heard the terms Yi Peng or Loy Kratong. Technically, Loy Kratong and Yi Peng are two separate holidays, though they typically are celebrated over similar dates and are thus are often used interchangeably by Western visitors. While the dates change annually based on the lunar calendar, they often fall in November. Yi Peng is primarily celebrated in the former Lanna Kingdom of Northern Thailand, while Loy Kratong is celebrated throughout the country.
I’ve been lucky to spend two Loy Kratongs on Koh Tao, and one Yi Peng in Chiang Mai, and they are among my favorite days of the year in Thailand. Yet to be honest I was always a little confused about the differences between the two holidays — here’s hoping this post can clear that up for one of my fellow clueless farang!
Both festivals trace their roots back to Brahmanic festivals in India, but were later adopted by Buddhists to honor both Prince Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, and in the case of Loy Kratong, Phra Mae Khongkha, the Hindu water goddess. Yi Peng is closely related to the Indian festival of Diwali, originally celebrated as a ceremony of gratitude to the River Ganges.
Chiang Mai (home of the famous Mae Joe release, which to my understanding is no longer happening), Sukhothai (where the festival allegedly originated) and Bangkok (always a party!) are all popular places for celebrating Loy Kratong. Koh Tao? Not so much. Consider this a guide if you happen to find yourself there.
On Koh Tao, the day kicks off with a parade that starts at the government buildings in Mae Haad and works North towards Sairee. I must admit I have only caught this casual parade in passing, but will make it a point to get a closer look next time I’m celebrating on the island.
That evening, things really kick off. At the Seatran pier area in Mae Haad, a large stage holds traditional dances, a beauty contest, and other festivities, and last year I went down to enjoy them with a big group of friends. One highlight of our night was when Ian spotted his elderly landlord killing it in a dance routine onstage. Another was when I spotted the oversize float I’d spotted being proudly constructed at my favorite roadside food stand earlier in the week. Koh Tao is a beautiful little community when it comes together.
Loy Kratong is certainly a more casual and community-based affair on Koh Tao than the religiously rooted Yi peng I witnessed in Chiang Mai. While we dressed extremely conservatively for the Chiang Mai version, in Koh Tao there was a wide-range of acceptability — I did choose to wear long pants though. And while alcohol was forbidden at the event I attended in Chiang Mai, the vibe in Koh Tao was much more merry-making and drinking was welcomed and encouraged by locals.
And come hungry! There’s an abundance of yummy Thai street food on offer, far beyond what you’d find on a typical night on the island.
At the beach steps away from the pier to the north, Koh Tao’s own little lantern release takes place.
The symbolism behind the release of either type of lantern is beautiful. In addition to paying respect to Buddha, these acts allow time to reflect and symbolically release personal demons, hardships, and negativity.
The term loi means “to float” while “kratong” means a lotus shaped vessel. Alongside the flowers, candles, coins and incense sticks, many Thais will cut their fingernails and hair to put in their kratongs as a symbol of letting go, and will also consider it extremely bad luck for the lantern to float back to them. Sky lanterns, or khom loi, are considered especially lucky if they disappear from view before the fire goes out.
Both are acts of spiritual cleansing and new beginnings. They are also, on a superficial level, stunningly beautiful.
The dates of Yi Peng and Loy Kratong can be tricky to nail down (in Koh Tao, they are always celebrated concurrently on the official date of Loy Kratong, where in larger cities they may be held separately but within a week or so of each other, and large official lantern releases may be held on the weekend closest to the official date.)
I’ve always found the specific date by keeping an eye on local expat groups in Koh Tao and Chiang Mai, but often these groups are closed to tourists. Ask at your local guesthouse or dive shop, or check the website Thaizer, which is a great resource on Thai holidays and events.
I’m anticipate I will receive some questions on the sustainability event. What goes up must come down and that means that the sky lanterns eventually return to earth and the kratongs eventually sink into to the ocean. My advice is to look for khom loi made of biodegradable rice paper and bamboo and kratongs that are made of natural materials like bread and plants as opposed to plastic or styrofoam. Better yet, make a kratong yourself so you can be confident that every component is eco-friendly! Also consider sharing one kratong and one khom loi among multiple people.
There are some people that won’t be satisfied with even those efforts, and they are entitled to that opinion. But I draw on the response I give to cries of waste at Burning Man: sustainability has to be sustainable, and I don’t believe its feasible to ask a country to give up their natural human instinct to gather, to honor tradition and to their celebrate culture. If you are bothered by the waste produced at Yi Peng or Loy Kratong, I invite you to join one of the island’s regular underwater clean up dives or beach walks for trash, or to volunteer at one of the island’s eco-focused charities.
No, Koh Tao will never be on a list of the most popular destination to celebrate Yi Peng or Loy Kratong. But if you want to get away from the crowds and see a small and joyful celebration alongside locals, expatriates and tourists from around Thailand and the world, Koh Tao would be happy to have you.
While I’ve done extensive research and spend significant time in Thailand, I will always be but a guest in the country, and thus an imperfect messenger of its traditions and religion. Any mistakes in interpretation are my own and I’d welcome corrections of any inaccuracies!