Wonderfruit 2018: A recap of the new and wonderful at Thailand's pioneering celebration of arts and sustainability
5 years on
Five years on, Wonderfruit is no longer a fledgling festival. Advocating for sustainable living through art, music, food and fun, the four-day carbon neutral event has come into its own. It made its home on a much larger plot of land this year for what felt like a significant increase in attendees who were drawn to its technicoloured Utopian vision. As a seasoned Wonderer (I've attended four out of the five) and someone who creates experiences for a living, it's been exciting to see the festival evolve while still managing to keep much of its charm intact, even with the obvious influx of brand sponsorships and mainstream audiences more drawn to its 'gramability than its cultural significance and ethos. Here are my highlights of Wonderfruit 2018.
Nature is the best backdrop
This year's Wonderfruit location was a mere kilometre away from the last. While it was still located within the sprawling fields of Siam Country Club, it felt like a completely new oasis thanks to the surrounding nature. It included lakes, coconut plantations and mountain vistas that were cleverly incorporated into the various stages and activity areas: from Forbidden Fruit's DJ console backdrop that looked like a massive green wall but was in fact surrounding plants lit up, to the all-new Theatre Stage with its Zaha Hadid-esque bamboo roof that blended into water features and mangroves, to the epic floating bath-house, a multi-structured pavilion and walkways that made use of the ground's existing lake. Gaea would be proud.
Double the wellness
The Wonder Garden where the majority of the wellness activities took place had doubled in size and content. After catching a sunrise set at Solar Stage, one could head straight over to participate in a whole day of holistic practises, sadhanas, yoga and the ever-popular gong baths or learn about a whole new array of alternative healing such as using sexuality for self-mastery, the health benefits of fermentation and biotherapy and how to make your very own teas and lip balms. My favourite discovery was the traditional Thai treatment known as Tok Sen or "Tok Tok" massage where therapists use a mini wooden mallet and tapping technique to move your "sen", the lines of energy that run throughout your body. Credited to Thai farmers who needed to find a way to relieve their aches after a long day working on the fields, it wasn't as relaxing as the Thai massage and reflexology next door, but I swear it felt like the benefits lasted longer even after just a short 20-minute session.
A small but growing component of Wonderfruit is the range of speakers coming through to talk about solving some of the world's challenges through avenues like technology, conservation and leadership held under the Scratch Talks banner. Taking place at the gorgeous Eco Pavilion, the tiered outdoor setting that was sheltered by 100 handmade umbrellas made for the prettiest venue for mind-expanding conversations.
From the first year, there has always been murmurings of Wonderfruit being Asia's answer to Burning Man. It isn't really, but you would not know this from the mammoth increase in people dressed like Burners this year, complete with goggles, masks, ethnic headdresses and the like. In fact, the overall festival dressing vibe has levelled up big time with nothing being too see through, outrageous or over the top. Personally, I love the freedom of expression and people letting their imaginations run wild, but there were definitely moments when I questioned if this was expression or mimicry.
Experiments in quirk
A big part of the fun at Wonderfruit is the irreverence and how it rewards those willing to participate and explore. This year, these whimsical explorations included stepping into a completely Silent Room amidst the mayhem and stumbling upon an open-air karaoke and sake bar that was hidden in plain sight behind white sheets and a giant tree. The ultimate winner of quirky outings had to be bestowed to the Waldorf Project and their ambitious experimental social performance on the last night. Shutting down the entire festival to have everyone on the grounds participate in what was dubbed "Futoro-X, the world's largest experiment in empathy engineering", it was pretty ambitious attempt to pull off an experiment for several thousand when it was last performed with only 40. It took an hour to organise and from collective feedback after, it felt more like an exercise in patience than empathy. Still, the act of getting an entire field of festival-goers to stop what they're doing, lie on their backs in the grass in formation and hold hands with strangers is exactly the kind of openess that Wonderfruit embraces. Hopefully, the post footage of the experiment will shed some light on what exactly it all meant.