The essence of kamma is intention. It is intention that propels us into relationships with things and determines the nature of those relationships. – Phra Brahmagunabhorn (P.A Payutto), Theravada Buddhist disciple
The tourism industry in Pattaya is facing a crisis. In July this year, Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul, the country’s first female tourism minister, made the pledge to eradicate Thailand’s notorious sex tourism industry following a series of police raids on brothels last month, amid concerns over human trafficking and underage sex workers. At the time of writing this article, these were the news headlines from Pattaya, from just the past month:
- Pattaya minibus operators arrested after hurting Korean tourists
- Another “beating” for Thailand’s tourist industry in Pattaya after Songthaew Row
- Norwegian man assaulted after noise complaint at Pattaya
- Hells Angels members busted in Pattaya
“We want Thailand to be about quality tourism… Tourists don’t come to Thailand for such a thing. They come here for our beautiful culture,” Ms Kobkarn told Reuters.
But reworking Pattaya is a challenging feat. How do you clean up a place that has vice, sex and violence as its core identity? If the city of Pattaya were serious about cleaning up its act, it has to rethink the kind of people it wishes to attract.
Enter Wonderfruit, with its following of wealthy, trendy Hipsters. These kids come flocking in with sparkly eyes and love in their hearts. They just want to dance, and look pretty. They were a lot more wholesome than Pattaya’s usual clientele, and so much easier to handle. Security personnel strolled casually through the crowd, smiling at people. There was not going to be any trouble here. Everybody was happy.
The Wonderfruit festival grounds, affectionately called (or branded) The Fields, are huge. I wonder who the land belongs to, and I wonder if they were Royalty, Military or Mafia. I wonder how many bribes had to be made to make the festival happen. Partying on someone’s private property made us feel safe. There was a mutual respect and acceptance between the people and the land. Thai hospitality once again proves to be world-class. Our source of party supplies willingly divulged that he was brought in specially for the festival, and was even given a boutique camping tent. I wonder if this ensured the exceptionally high quality of products, which prevents people from dying. That would be bad for business.
Speaking of which, I had a very interesting conversation on my drive home from the festival one night. “This festival is very good business for Pattaya, right?” I wondered aloud. The driver agreed. “So nothing can go wrong…” I continued. Wonderfruit had partnered with the Grab application to provide transportation for its Wonderers, meaning at any given moment there was an arsenal of Grab drivers waiting at the exit, to instantly accept your booking and receive the flat rate of 800baht (USD24) per trip. The partnership with Grab ensured an element of safety, but I can’t help feeling like we were forced into it by a dastardly cunning scheme.
Wonderfruit is an expensive festival, but its Wonderers can afford it, and the experience was well-worth it.
But what made the festival so special was its ethos: “We encourage, develop and innovate creative solutions for sustainable living and bring together a global community to celebrate them. We use our platform to catalyze creativity and make a meaningful positive impact.”
Their commitment to sustainability and consciousness is stunning. Just to name a few:
- Zero plastic policy: “Our tableware is compostable, our cups are made from bagasse, and we even discount beverages for those who reuse.”
- Water filtration: “We take fresh water from our natural lake and use industrial grade filtration to give Wonderers free access. Meanwhile we recycle all our water cartons and turn them into roof tiles.”
- Farming: “We’ve used traditional farming methods and intertwined them with activities. In 2017, we introduce the FARMacy, where Wonderers can discover natural healing herbs”
- Investing into Nature via Blockchain: “This year, our goal is to plant 10,000+ mangrove trees in Thor Heyerdahl Climate Park… We are supporting this initiative entirely by investing in an innovative type of cryptocurrency known as the TREE coin.”
- Sustainability meets Art: “From main stages made entirely out of trash, to ones built entirely out of rice, we challenge conventional practices by incorporating traditional Thai materials and integrating them with progressive, thought-provoking design.”
Add this to a killer programming and you get a winning combination.
A personal favourite of mine was the programming at the Wonder Garden, Wonderfruit’s home for healing and wellness. The Wonder Garden is a sacred space based on The Fruit of Life – a pattern of ancient geometry and home to seven peaceful and energetically balanced destinations. The space seeks to remind us to “do something good for yourself so you can be a force for good in the world.”
At my previous Wonderfruit experience, I had made decisions that mostly included partying all night till daybreak, and had missed out on all the soul-nourishing activities that went on during the day. The resulting bender made me a little crazy afterwards. This time I had pledged to make better decisions, to be good to myself.
The programming at Wonder Garden included yoga, meditation and various other healing modalities; kirtan, shamanic journeys, energy work, ecstatic dance. These were decidedly New Age in nature, but fortunately we were in Thailand, the perfect place for Eastern Mysticism. A friend of mine was first introduced to the chakra system at a Rainbow Bowl Crystal Meditation session. She told me the bottom of her spine and her forehead started hurting during the ceremony, which led her to discover certain things about herself. It’s creating these kinds of lasting, life-changing experiences that sets Wonderfruit apart from other festivals in the region.
While wandering around the grounds, I found an installation by Indigo Mantra inviting participants to silk screen their own prayer flags using natural dye. The silkscreen designs caught my eye for their words, “Let go of Hatred”, “Let go of Ignorance,” “Let go of Attachment,” words that strongly resonated with me. The concept was based on hanging up Tibetan prayer flags to let the sky cleanse you. I met the designer Nana, and we spoke about past heartbreaks and breaking our own behavioural patterns. It felt really special to be able to connect to the artist of a piece that truly moved me, and it was wonderful to be at a festival that epitomizes the depth of human connection.
It takes a long time to heal a person, or a place, but it always starts with an intention. Wonderfruit brings with it an intention to do good, to seed love and healing in a place that so desperately needs it. Will it bring lasting change to Pattaya’s scene? Only time will tell.