The Chiang Mai changwat is subdivided into 25 amphoes. These are further subdivided into 204 tambons and again into 1,915 mubans.
Baan Mae Mut is the village I’ve been calling home for the past week. It’s nestled into the valley about 60km southwest Chiang Mai city, 300 west of Laos, and half that south of Burma. Its 160 homes make up a small portion its mother sub-district, Mae Win. The farm is shaded by Don Inthanon in the evenings, which at a 2,500m is Thailand's highest mountain.
To get here from Chiang Mai city, I had to hop in a cab, which took me about 40km outside of the city. By cab, I mean a 2-seat pick-up truck painted yellow with some benches screwed into the bed. It had a roof, but when they built it, they were either short on material or intended for only locals to be passengers. It’s not a stereotype, it’s true.
So about an hour later, I get out, crack my neck, and meet, my Italian host at this very Thai farm. As we drive the remaining 20 minutes to the farm, I learn 2 things:
1) No one uses this road unless they are going home. There is no outlet. It's not your typical city dead in, it's a 10 mile dead end through the Thai valleys.
2) My being here increases the English speaking population by exactly 33%. Not only that, but I am, in fact, the only native English speaker in the entire village. An oddity they have very little use for besides using me as a source of comedy among themselves (can’t really blame them). The most frequent rough translation I get is “Thai women no like beard.” Turns out, this is true, too.
Marco owns about 25 rai of land, making him by far the largest land owner in the village. Scattered across these 10 acres are rice fields, fruit trees, vegetable gardens, ponds, and houses. The rice fields are pretty basic but majestic in their own right. The list of food that is grown on the property is staggering: papayas, mangoes, bananas, Jamaican cherries, mulberries, star fruit, tamarinds, coconuts, peanuts, pineapples, limes, lemons, passion fruit, guava, corn, avocados, okra, asparagus, squash, zucchini, pumpkin, two types of eggplant, jackfruit, green beans, and just about every type of pepper imaginable. That of course doesn't include the scores of herbs and edible plant being grown as well. There are literally thousands of plants and trees. All of this without any factory produced herbicide, insecticide, pesticide, or any other -cide.
That’s nothing short of incredible considering 2 years ago this place was nothing but a desolate, empty field!
For the non-living, very little is made with outside resources, rather from wood, bamboo, and mud. The shed, rice house, chicken coop, waste baskets, etc. are made from bamboo. The tables and chairs from scrap wood around the property. And the houses from mud.
Two thirds of the houses are adobe brick, and the eldest is a homemade collection of wooden planks. The original adobe house serves as a home for Marco, Nok, and their 8-month old Selena, and the other is to be a guest house for visitors wishing to learn more about permaculture. The wooden house is about a 400m walk from the main house, and, with its 2 rooms and balcony, is where I sleep, currently on the floor under nothing but a mosquito tent and starlight.
There is a washroom, but nothing like your western bathroom. It’s essentially 3 tile walls, the fourth a bamboo door. Inside sits 1 toilet, 1 fifteen gallon tub, and 1 fifty-five gallon tub. Each tub has its own water scoop. Two scoops from the 15-gallon tub poured into the toilet will create its flush; the scoop in the 55-gallon tub is to help you wash. There is no shower. There is no sitting tub.
There's also no set schedule, no chores, no rules. Being the first outside (non-local) help he’s had, Marco’s main goal for me whenever I leave is to have had fun, know more than I arrived, and leave a friend. And though I know little to none when it comes to permaculture, I try to help out where I can.
The typical day thus far consists of waking to the Thai hymn and occasionally getting in a jog. We shoot to pack in as much work as possible prior to 1pm, as from there until about 5pm it’s brutally hot. The sun literally burns the skin to the point where the local Thai workers wear long sleeves, long pants, hats, neck protectors, and cloth face masks to shield themselves. But more to come on those incredible people later…
“Work” can mean a variety of things: weeding the gardens, harvesting the corn stalks, planting trees, spreading compost, etc. Read: generally a lot of things that I've never done nor considered doing before coming here. Then the rest of the day is spent reading, exploring, motor biking, swimming, etc. Kind of whatever you please.
The small village of Baan Mae Mut is probably the most tranquil place I've ever "lived." Tranquil not in the sense of a private beach resort, but a humble and unpretentious, almost detached from society, kind of way. The past week has been great, and I'm looking forward to the next.
Here are some pictures from around the farm: