A Bite of Moon Pai

 |  October 28, 2012

Pai’s outskirts are full of hidden gems, dotted around the quiet expanse of rolling green hills that surround the little town. One such gem is Moon Village, a small Japanese hippy settlement tucked away in a quiet corner of Pai’s lush countryside.

Established in July 2002 by two dreadlocked Japanese wanderers, Toron and Keiji, Moon Village has become a self-sustaining community of permaculture, or as they call it, ‘mai-pen-rai-culture’, a no-worries approach to organic farming, sustainable living, and collective harmony.

In 2008, Moon Village moved from its old location in Mae Yen Village to a larger, more secluded area further from town.  It’s not easy to find without a guide, but if you have a map, a motorbike, and a sense of adventure, it’s quite the scenic journey.

When we arrived at Moon Village, cameras and notepads in tow, we were disappointed to find the place completely empty. The Japanese inhabitants, I later learned, had taken a trip to Tokyo. Luckily, I was able to get in touch with Toron via email. He happened to be passing through Chiang Mai a few weeks later with his wife and young children on their way back to Pai, so we were able to meet up for a chat.

According to Toron, Moon Village’s inception was a matter of destiny.  Since the age of 16, he spent his years wandering in and out of Japan. “It was up and down, go and come, marriage and divorce,” he told me. At age 35, after trying out all sorts of different jobs, Toron decided he’d had enough of the rat race and set about trying to find a new mode of survival, a new kind of life.  He began to focus on writing and music, publishing three memoirs in Japan, and establishing a bit of a name for himself in the process.  When he arrived in Pai 11 years ago, he planned on staying for just a few months.  But, as many transplants will tell you, a few months in Pai can often turn into a lifetime. When his friend Keiji showed him a beautiful plot of land in the mountains, Toron decided he might like to learn how to grow rice.  And the rest, as they say, is history.

About five families live in Moon Village today, but visitors are welcome to camp there anytime. Camping is free, but guests are asked to contribute to daily tasks, such as farming, cooking, and of course, entertainment.

Music is a huge part of life in Moon Village, with Toron playing traditional Japanese flute in his band, Kulukulu (which means ‘crazy’ in Japanese). Most of the village’s full-time inhabitants play in the band as well, including three young children who sing and play toy instruments. This is a place where celebrations are ubiquitous. “Full moon, new year, birthdays, or everyday is a reason to have parties,” proclaims the Moon Village website.  In 2007, the residents hosted a 49-day festival, where travellers and locals alike participated in a variety of workshops, dialogues, and performances. “At our festivals, there is no charge, no staff, no plan, no programme, no preparation, no problem,” said Toron. “All is improvised and inspired by the participants.”

This year, after a bit of a hiatus, Moon Village has decided to step it up even further.  Starting on December 1st of this year, they will host the Happy Hippy Happening – a festival that will go on for 108 days. No, that’s not a typo.  This festival will last for nearly a third of the year.

While Toron claims (with a wry smile) that the number was chosen at random, it should be noted that 108 is considered to be quite sacred in many Eastern religions.  It is the number of Hindu deity names, the number of beads on a Buddhist mala, and, according to Japanese Buddhism, the number of earthly temptations a person must overcome to achieve Nirvana. At Moon Village, it is the number of days anyone and everyone is welcome to spend camping and celebrating life.  Coincidence?  You’ve got 108 days to be the judge of that.