My trip to Thailand was unplanned, I only knew it would begin with a good friend, relaxing on the beach and then, who knows? As I should have known Chiang Mai pulled me back and within a few days of landing in the country I had a ticket North booked. Although I have a spot (Teeraya) in Chiang Mai that I love I thought I’d take a look through the Couchsurfing profiles and see if anything jumped out. Loads of profiles were expats and digital nomads, living in Chiang Mai and offering up their couch or floor for the wandering souls, not so much what I was interested in, but then I came across Peace’s profile. An energetic, enthusiastic local who just so happened to host English camps and was sometimes looking for volunteers, I was interested and so I sent him a message. Within no time he got back to me with a detailed response, including an offer for me to join an upcoming English camp, the only catch it was in Krabi - the pace I was about to leave.
Although it was completely illogical to fly up to Chiang Mai, hang out for a few days and then jump in a van to drive roughly 20 hours back to the south, I signed up for it. Most people told me I was crazy, I myself reconsidered the decision a few times, but I was ready for an adventure and this sounded like fun. The deal was that I’d spend one night at Peace’s house in Lamphun to wake up early at 4 am and start our journey south. We’d spend one night at a hotel along the way, three nights in Krabi where the camp would be taking place and then at the end of the camp a night in Surat Thani on our way back to Bangkok. It wouldn’t be a relaxing week, but it would be easy on my budget, my reward for putting in the time at English camp meant free room and board for the week, and free is always a good word to hear.
The van adventure was bearable, although I did have some Korean sleeping pills to assist with the first leg, and I felt that I’d be able to withstand my travel buddies for the next few days: one (young) French Canadian, a Polish Couple, one South African and a the two Thai’s (Peace and his friend Click). We spent a night in Prachuap Khiri Khan on the way on the way, but there wasn't much to do there. The group had dinner together and I managed beach walk early in the morning before we packed up again, stopped to see a golden monkey and then continued on our way.
Once we arrived in Krabi I realized exactly what I had signed up for, the camp was an overnight ordeal and would last the entire day, 8 am to 10 pm, fingers crossed that it would be fun. My roommate (the South African) had volunteered for a number of these camps before so he explained to me some of the logistics of what to expect and how the next few days would go, which was nice because Peace didn’t give us much.
I was so grateful that the kids attending camp were High Schooler’s, my idea age group, and that fact alone made me more enthusiastic about the next few days. The camp was more fun and games than learning and I think there was a lot more Thai being spoken than English, but after numerous years of English teaching in Asia, I wasn’t very surprised. The students were divided into four teams with one volunteer assigned as leader for each team, after participating in various games and activities throughout the week, earning points along the way, one of us would be crowned the victor. To add even more excitement each team was assigned an animal name, and so that we wouldn’t mistake who was in charge, each teacher was given a face full of paint, which is how I was lucky enough to become an Eagle.
Having gone through this game before my biggest worry was that the students would be shy or unwilling to participate, and while there were a few, most of my kids were eager to get involved and participated in the days events. It had been roughly six months since I’d been in a classroom, but as soon as I was assigned to my team and met my students I remembered how much I love this gig. The kids were excited and it immediately rubbed off on me, even with the Eagle plastered on my face.
The three days consisted of spelling bee’s, talent shows (at which I too had to participate), scavenger hunts, and other various activities. The days were long, but somehow passed with ease, the coffee, snack and lunch breaks may have helped I suppose. Also, every afternoon we were given a three hour break, which all of us spent together on the beach the first day. Of course, going to the beach the foreigners immediately though swimming, but I should have known we’d be the only ones. It was all eyes on the white people as we stripped down to bikinis and swim shorts and ran for the waves. I’m sure the kids got a kick out of watching us, while they sat in the shade, fully clothes head to toe taking pictures and relaxing.
Since I didn’t have to do all that much teaching it felt like I was at camp myself, participating in all the games, sleeping in the hotel and eating so much delicious food. In the end my team came in third, despite our best efforts and numerous victories at the smaller challenges, but no one seemed too disappointed. The last day finished with awards (snacks of course), a slide show capturing the previous day's fun, and loads of goodbye pictures. I now have approximately 100 new friends on Facebook and just one more reason to come back to Thailand, the country I love so much.
High on the tourist track for a reason, home of good food (mostly) happy people, rich history and culture. Thailand as many tourist soon learn is just easy. Easy to visit, easy to get around and even easier to stay.