AFTER having attended the radically expressive arts and lifestyle festival Burning Man in the United States and coming away feeling empowered and seeing more clearly what really matters in life, I returned to South-east Asia in search of its Asian equivalent.
Friends said Wonderfruit would be the closest I would get to a gathering that celebrated life, embraced differences and encouraged human connection.
I bought myself a ticket for it right away.
The four-day festival held every December in the rice fields of Pattaya in Thailand touts itself as an arts, music, food and lifestyle festival.
It began in 2014 with a mission of encouraging sustainability and social responsibility but has developed into so much more.
Wonderfruit seems like a luxury compared to Burning Man. Rather than roughing it out in the Nevada desert, you can have air conditioning in your tent, proper bathroom and shower facilities.
Plus, you don’t have to bring your own food and drink, and can purchase meals with a topped-up wristband at the many stalls on the grounds.
It is the perfect introduction for those new to alternative lifestyle festivals.
The best way to describe the Wonderfruit experience is that it is a journey in regeneration.
In the day, there are ample opportunities for you to strengthen your body and mind with health and wellness workshops and self-reflection through the arts.
By night, it offers a cathartic experience, allowing you to release your inhibitions through music that pulsates from its half-a-dozen stages.
Health and wellness
The festival offers the perfect opportunity to attend meditation, yoga and breathing classes taught by instructors from around the world.
There are workshops almost every hour from 7am to 9pm. Participants at the festival, called “wonderers”, can go to as many of these workshops as they wish, as long as there is still space in the arena.
There are some 10,000 wonderers yearly, so it pays to show up early.
I attended a session in Kriya Yoga, a rainbow chakra meditation session and a lesson in the Russian-originated Strelnikova breathing technique — all designed to help participants focus on their life energy and self-heal.
A class in laughing meditation was another unusual experience.
Lying on our backs, we were told to laugh in different ways, sometimes deep, sometimes high and cackling, for 10 solid minutes before lying still and becoming aware of the silence.
Most of us ended up out of breath and feeling strangely entertained.
One of the festival’s most popular workshops could well have been the gong bath that took place thrice a day.
During this therapeutic session, the instructor asked us to lie down and relax as she struck a gong, sometimes softly and other times more intensely.
It felt like gentle waves were sweeping over me, and when the rhythm intensified, I felt a wall of waves crash down on me, swiftly erasing all my fears and apprehensions and relaxing my mind.
Arts, crafts and talks
My friends who were less spiritually inclined were kept busy by the art and crafts workshops, which taught everything from body painting to making dreamcatchers, clay pottery, candles and accessories.
Music enthusiasts could also learn how to put together a tune at the DJ and music production workshops.
At the Farm Stage, we sat cross-legged on the grass or on bamboo benches, listening to speakers talk about a wide variety of topics, from photography and superfoods to sustainable living and alternative lifestyles.
Famous Thai drag queen Pangina Heals held the crowd’s attention with a video on different LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) labels and a no-holds-barred Q&A session on why he cross-dresses, the stigmas he faced, and the joys he gets from performing as a drag queen.
Music and culture
At dusk, the sunset prayer kirtan (call) rang out at the Solar Stage — a two-storey structure built from wood interlaced together and trampoline nets — encouraging participants to give thanks for a day well lived.
Then a celebration began with drums. Dream-catchers were lifted into the air by drones, and there were performances showcasing the art of fire dancing and Thai traditional dance.
The Solar Stage resonated with a pulsing beat, prompting us to move to the rhythm.
The stages came alive as night fell — the DJs and live bands were out in force, attracting the crowds, who would dance into the night and replenish their energy with goodies purveyed at the food stalls on the grounds.
At 3am, the dance music arena The Quarry became the main draw.
Following the crowd, we walked towards a giant sculpture of a budding fruit located in the middle of an expansive field, lit up in an ever-changing myriad of colours.
Electronic dance music pumped out in surround sound by the DJ at the petal-shaped main stage, as strobe lights whizzed past our heads.
The dreamscape-like atmosphere revved up the crowd and our energy levels climbed as we danced to our hearts’ content.
Wonderfruit offers a unique experience to those who go with an open heart and mind.
There is a reason why its tagline reads, “Live, Love, Wonder” — it gives us a chance to quiet our minds, reflect on our lives, and let ourselves go, if only for a while.
Four Wonderfruit days might just keep you going for the rest of the year.
I flew on Scoot Airlines from Singapore to Bangkok, and took a Grab ride to Pattaya.
- Tickets for Wonderfruit, which will be held from Dec 13 to 16 this year, are on sale online at wonderfruit.co.
- Choose accommodation that meets your needs — you can pitch your own tent or go the “glamping” route, choosing the bell or safari tents with air beds and air-conditioning.
- Temperatures during the day often climb to over 30 deg C, so be sure to bring your sunscreen, cap and sunglasses.
This festival in Thailand leaves Wu Shangyuan with fresh perspectives on life and living
IF YOU’RE headed to Penang this month and you’re a hardcore durian fan, then you’d want to hit the durian farms in Balik Pulau to feast rather than settle for stalls in town.
Farther away from the city centre, the price of durians at the farms are by the kilogram.
You could even make an enlightening eco-excursion out of it, rather than just have a durian buffet.
Farms such as Green Acres and Bao Sheng Durian Farm offer a different proposition, as their fees include a tour and discussion on sustainable farming and durian growing.
It’s better to call ahead to “book” your timing, especially if your party is large. Okay Jungle Durians is a good place to start as it has a range of kampung, or “wild”, durians and branded durians, and it’s easy to get to.
Green Acres is more of an adventure, and is located about a 10-minute drive up the narrow road after Okay Jungle Durians. It’s well worth a visit, though, for the experience and the views. You definitely have to book ahead. For RM80 (S$28.50) per person, visitors get a tour of the farm and unlimited supply of whatever fruit are in season.
For a pleasant, leisurely durian eating experience, Stone House on the other side of Balik Pulau has a large porch filled with about nine big tables for you to have your buffet of durians. The setting is also very idyllic, with a view of Stone House’s landscaped grounds.
Lastly, both amateurs and connoisseurs should head to Bao Sheng Durian Farm, also on the Sungai Pinang side, if they really want to find out about Penang’s durians. The farm is one of the first to go organic, and Chang Teik Seng, or Ah Seng as he’s called, is an excellent “teacher” of all things durian. The farm is located in Sungai Pinang, on the road towards Teluk Bahang or Batu Feringghi.
It offers a “two-hour pass” which includes a 15-minute farm tour, tropical fruit and unlimited durians in two hours.
There are four sessions daily: 11am, 1pm, 3pm and 5pm. Prices start from RM55 for all varieties of young trees, RM75 for trees more than 40 years old and RM120 to include newly dropped durians for that “numb” taste.
- OKAY JUNGLE DURIANS
Titi Serong, Balik Pulau;
GPS: 5°19’48.4”N 100°13’01.5”E
Contact Mr Choy on +6012-571-1557
- GREEN ACRES
GPS: 5°22’17.0”N 100°14’57.6”E
Contact Kim on +6012-428-6368 or
- STONE HOUSE
127, Mukim 2, Sungai Pinang;
GPS: 5°23’54.0”N 100°12’50.3”E
Contact Mr Tan on +6012-538-5128
- BAO SHENG DURIAN FARM
GPS: N 5.24. 1755 E 100.13.165
+6012-401-0800 to book your time slot
THE BUSINESS TIMES