Wonderfruit: Why Asia’s answer to Coachella is much better than the original

‘Conscientious hedonism’, German marching bands playing techno and a non-stop 92-hour programme – festivals don’t get better than this, says Paul Kay


Paul Kay
Friday 12 April 2019 14:02 BST
Wonderfruit festival: Thailand's annual arts festival

It’s 5am on a Sunday morning in mid-December, but the bar is heaving like it’s five minutes to midnight on New Year’s Eve.

To my left, a man in a glittering multicoloured kaftan and a ludicrously ornate sequinned sergeant’s hat is knocking back shots of Mekhong spirit with a petite girl dressed in a Day-Glo cheongsam, fluorescent face paint and flashing antennae. To my right, a shoeless red-faced man in a giraffe costume is alternately sipping on a ruby-hued concoction and nibbling on a date skewered by a pencil-sized piece of bamboo.

“You should have a negroni,” says the giraffe in a thick Russian accent that I can just about hear over the pounding sound system. “They’re very good.”

I nod in appreciation and order up my drink before ferrying it as carefully as I can through the writhing mass of merrymakers and out into the cool night air.

With the first hints of light starting to infiltrate the inky sky, I make my way towards the throbbing glow of the geometric pyramid on the hill, dodging a neon-lit angel on a unicorn-shaped bike and a quartet of Indian-headdress-sporting revellers in a giant shark on wheels along the way.

So ends another eventful day at Thailand’s Wonderfruit, the festival that’s threatening to give hedonism in Asia a good name.

Frequently compared to US mega festivals Coachella and Burning Man, Wonderfruit has been held annually, on a verdant stretch of land two hours’ drive south of Bangkok, since 2014. Running continuously for four days, it serves up a round-the-clock line-up of top-notch DJs (mass market EDM doesn’t get a look in, thankfully) and offbeat musical mavericks (from Mongolian throat singing to drum and bass legend Goldie backed by an eight-piece orchestra) at a variety of weird and wonderful stages.

But the music is only half the story. The festival also features an extensive programme of TED-style talks by everyone from blockchain boffins to eco warriors, workshops that run the gamut from batik scarf design to probiotic cookery, and activities as diverse as capoeira, crystal bowl meditation and orgasmic yoga. This is all underpinned by a wholehearted commitment to sustainability, with virtually every structure made from recycled, reclaimed or reusable materials – in 2017, this included a stage made out of parcels of rice that were given away and eaten after the festival – while the event’s filtered drinking water is drawn from an on-site lake and single-use plastics are outlawed. Call it conscientious hedonism.

Shoulder to shoulder: Try ‘conscientious hedonism’

This is my second year as a “Wonderer”, but any sense of deja vu is quickly dispelled by the festival’s move to a sprawling new setting about a mile from its original location. The site has a cornucopia of natural features that the organisers have used to create quirky stages, art installations and chill-out zones in the jungle, in secluded valleys and even on a lake. Indeed, there are so many nooks and crannies to explore that I find myself making new discoveries all the way through to the last night, when a strange green glow emanating from a small patch of forest leads me to a clearing where people are belting out karaoke (”Dancing Queen” and “I Want It That Way”) while perched in the branches of a brightly illuminated tree.

Top of the bill: a different type of Pyramind Stage

Despite its growth, the festival remains relatively small (around 17,000 people attended the most recent edition), meaning that it’s easy to get involved in anything that takes your fancy – which I gladly do by having my molecules stirred by sound waves at a gong-bath session before stretching out the previous night’s dancefloor exertions with some deep-house yoga.

There’s also a wide array of food and drink options – from lavish feasts curated by noted chefs to all the grab-and-go comfort foods you could ever want – as well as a family area, a massage zone and an array of aquatic activities. Accommodation options range from bring-your-own tents to the lavish Camp Kerala, which has its own spa, restaurant and 24-hour butler service. But wherever you lay your hat, it’s music that drives the festival, and I spend most of my time wandering from stage to stage discovering new favourites every step of the way.

My standout moments are seeing Fleetmac Wood – a US duo who reimagine Fleetwood Mac songs for the chemical generation – almost blowing the roof off of a giant bamboo hut with a stage backdropped by illuminated jungle, and Meute, an 11-piece German marching band playing techno classics as the sun sets. I also have a borderline religious experience at the audiophile heaven that is the mighty Polygon stage, which has bone-shaking 3D virtual-reality sound, and dance the night away with 2,000 others at the forest-set Quarry, before watching the sun come up over the festival’s Burning Man-inspired pyramidical centrepiece, the Solar Stage.

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Ultimately, the greatest thing about Wonderfruit is the amazing array of choices that present themselves at any given moment during the festival’s non-stop 92-hour runtime, whether you want to party, explore, chill or seek enlightenment.

But whatever you do, make sure your try the negronis. That giraffe was right.

Travel essentials

Wonderfruit takes place from 12-16 December 2019.


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