Life at a Thai English camp, part 2

Day 8

I woke up with my sore throat worse, a mild fever, and stuffed up nose.  Thankfully one of the camp coordinators sympathized with my situation and agreed to let me take the afternoon off if I just taught the 3 hour morning class.  The lessons were activity based.  I taught them about morse code and semaphore flag signals.  I put some codes up on the board and in teams the students worked to decipher the message ‘good morning’ and ‘how are you?’ I was actually really impressed by their ability to figure the messages out and then make their own short messages.  While they did that I decorated the class with all the crafts and worksheets the students have put so much hard work into.  After class I spent the rest of the day sleeping and working on my report cards.

Day 9

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SPORTS DAY! Boy, was it a busy one.  The morning began with me serving breakfast followed by the opening ceremony.  This consisted of each team, of which there were three, each doing their chants. The teams were the Blue Bulldogs, the Yellow Minions, and last but certainly not least, my team, the Red Chilies.  After the pep rally everybody was amped and eager to go.

As the camp student ages range from 6 to 15, these were divided into junior, elementary, and senior brackets.  The initial round of events consisted of a rotation between playing futsal (indoor football), chairball (basically netball with a player holding a basket on a bench), and swimming relay races.  While my assigned age group, elementary, lit the other teams up at chairball and futsal, we could not compete with them at swimming.  The lunch break was a welcome respite.

The second round of events were arguably the most fun as it involved us teachers getting to join in.  The first event for the teachers and TAs was chairball.  Unfortunately while I am a tall guy at 6ft 2in, I prove the old basketball saying that ‘white men can’t jump’.  I was the defender but simply couldn’t block enough baskets for our team to go up the other end to score more and we ended up drawing the first match and losing our other one.  Next up was running.

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The Red Chili students showed the teachers and TAs the way with some surprising victories, but alas us teachers could not follow their example in the relay running and sack races.  For the teacher relay race I would have been the first teacher to pass the baton…if I had slowed down enough to hand it to the other teacher without dropping it, oh well.  The sack race didn’t go so well either, with a couple of our teammates falling over, and me just trying to keep going without falling over.  Thankfully, we then had an hour and a half break to recharge and slam back energy drinks for the grand finale; tug of war.

Again, despite some victories in the tug of war we were outshone by the other teams’ impressive performances.  For me I just liked the look on the faces of the other teachers as they put every ounce of their energy into pulling that rope one way or the other!  The climatic contest was between the Red Chilies and Yellow Minion elementary teams, with a couple teachers on both sides.  Everything looked to be going our way as we inched towards pulling them the last foot over the line when the Minions stood their ground and it appeared to be heading towards a stalemate.  At the last second we crumbled and the tide was turned, the Minions emerged victorious.

To wrap up the day there was the closing ceremony and handing out of awards.  For the ceremony we made a huge circle around the gym, intermingling with the other teams and proceeded to go round the circle shaking hands to recognize the valiant effort everyone had put in on the day.  This was followed by an obligatory dance party and limbo contest.  Handing out the awards after dinner was a much tamer event with everyone involved thoroughly tired out.   Still, the Sports Day and Next Top Model events have been my personal favorite days of the camp.

Day 10

A very chill day.  We had to start making our story presentation for the final day of the camp but with my class being so young and hectic, I took the liberty to write our story and act it out while also drawing pictures on the board to accompany it.  I explained to them that they would be assigned parts the next day and they would make a diorama to go with their scene.  The rest of the class we used to finish off worksheets and for those lucky to finish everything, I took them outside to the playground to play monkey in the middle.

Lunch was amazing, Peppercorn pork steaks and massaman curry were the all round favorites among teachers, TAs, and students alike.  With lunch out of the way, we had the final round of rotation English games for the camp.  I chose to play a simplified version of the game mafia and the kids loved it!

Report cards were due at 7pm so teachers were given the rest of the day to finish them off.  Thankfully I had all but one done which made for an easy afternoon and evening.

Day 11

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The boys making their dioramas for the class presentation

I woke up in the middle of the night stressing over how I was going to get my young kids to make their dioramas in a single morning session.  Then to make matters worse, another student dropped out of the class due to illness leaving a hole in the story and a diorama with no one to make it.  Thankfully, my students continued to surprise me.

Not only did they make some superb dioramas but we also managed to go over their story lines and isolate the words they had trouble with.  It just goes to show you that you shouldn’t underestimate your students.  With the dioramas made, one of the stars of the class stepping in to fill the gap, and we are on course to be ready for the final presentation. Albeit still lots of work to be done on how they read their lines.

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After lunch the camp veterans showed us the dance moves for the talent show song they had done last camp and told us we’d be doing it again this tdone last year and told us we’for the still lots of work to be done on how they read their lines. camp.  Myself and the other teachers had no problem with this as the song and dance they did was really quite impressive.   The song was a mix of top recent pop songs with the teachers bustin’ dance moves and interchanging between the guys and girls.  A half hour practice session was enough for me to know that’d simply look to the guy who looked he knew who to do it.

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The kids have talent!

When it came to the talent show itself, it simply rocked. The students, the TAs, and us teachers.  Myself? Ha.  I followed the most in the know teachers and hoped for the best.  If I can post the video you can see for yourself how it was haha.  Still, another great night of camp, not to mention the rest of the night spent at a pizza party with the TAs and other teachers, followed by the after party with the other farang teachers drinking outside of a bungalow.

Day 12

Wednesday, teacher’s day off. For the the past week I had been nursing a sore throat and so I’d only had a couple drinks and wasn’t totally wrecked.  Myself and two other teachers rented bikes and headed out to Khao Yai National Park. Check out the post.

Day 13

A simple day.  I spent the morning preparing for the final presentation, decorating the classroom, and overseeing the kids completing worksheets.

In the afternoon I made some props for a separate TA presentation, and then drove the bikes back to Pak Chong.

The highlight of the day came after dinner when in free time myself and a few of the other teachers played football with the kids. I played in goal and despite going 3-0 down we came back to win 7-4!

To cap the day off I had a couple of beers with a group of other teachers and then came back to my bungalow to write this post.

Day 14

The last full day and another easy one.  Again, we practiced for the final presentation but this time because we had more time I took them outside to the playground to play with the other classes who also had time to kill from having practiced so much.

After lunch we just had to go through a run through of the final day; a practice of the presentation AGAIN, walking over to the main gym, watching the students do their tributes to the King, and then finally handing out certificates.  Once my class had finished I went back to my bungalow to rest; my sore throat was persisting.

Day 15

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The students ran through their presentation to the best of their ability with their parents watching and I felt proud at how far they had come in two weeks.  It was also clear that some of the students had really enjoyed their time in my classes which made me feel happy at having done a good job.  Once the presentation was over, the students had cleared out their desks, and their crafts stripped from the walls, we proceeded to walk over to the gym for the tribute show to the King and award ceremony.

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My students sitting calmly before their tribute to the King

Everything went swell, the students performed songs and dances written by the late King, I handed out certificates and posed for pictures, and the students said their goodbyes to their new friends, TAs, and teachers.  I will miss those kids.  Best of luck students of Team Galapagos Camp C!

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One last picture with my students before they departed home with their families

Life at a Thai English camp, part 1

I previously spoke about English camps and my own experience with finding one of the higher paying camps in Bangkok.  Originally I was to work at a language center in downtown Bangkok but a few weeks later the director emailed me to let me know that the camp didn’t attract as many students as hoped for and so I was no longer needed.  However, the director put me in touch with a friend of his working at an international school who was looking for a camp teacher for 2 weeks.  So, I had a Skype interview with him and I was hired on the spot!  While the camp was going to pay less and be harder work, the upside would be that I’d get to work for a prestigious international school, getting free meals 3 times a day, working near Khao Yai National Park, and my own bungalow for the duration of the camp!  It was a no-brainer really.  Here’s what I got up for the first week of camp.

Day 1

Woke up early to make sure I got to the school early, managed to get to the school with time to spare but not before I was given an unplanned tour of northern Bangkok after my moto taxi got the directions wrong several times leading to me to worry I would be left behind!

After a scenic drive north to Khao Yai, I settled into my wonderful bungalow complete with kitchen, dining area, living area, bedroom, and AC.  Having settled in and eaten dinner, we went over to the teacher’s office and had a brief run down of expectations, followed by last but not least, ice breaker games to introduce the teachers and Thai TAs to each other.

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Standard bungalows for teachers

To finish off the day I had a beer together with some of the other teachers and generally got to know each other better.

Day 2

We started off the day with a good breakfast and then had a more thorough orientation to the camp which included a run through the ‘survival guide’, the allocation of classes, and a Q and A.

After lunch we met the parents briefly, basically just stated our name, our current teaching position, and how long we have been in Thailand.  From there we went back to the teacher’s office and planned our classes for the next day.

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Dividing the students into their classes, followed by name games

Dinner was served at 5pm to the students by myself and a group of other teachers as one of our camp duties.  We then went to the school gym where we were finally introduced to our students and played a game to get to know names.

Capping the day off a small group of us made the trek up the highway to a 711 and liquor store to buy snacks and a couple of beers.  For fun we then played a few games including ‘what are the odds’ and ‘mafia’.

Day 3

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Breakfast as usual, followed by class. 2 hours and 45 minutes later I had gained a good initial impression of my class, including their strengths, weakness, personalities, and the kind of activities they enjoyed most.

In the afternoon we had an hour and a half of games.  As part of group 1 I played the game ‘zip, zap, zoom’ for 20 minutes before having each group of students rotated.  After a short break we had a meeting about the upcoming ‘Next Top Model’ event on Friday and how we should prepare for it.  Should be a fun and interesting day for all!

To finish the day off we had another round of rotation games centered more around sports with classes competing for points to win prize.  While my Team Galapagos didn’t win, much fun and laugher was had by all!

That night we had a quiet night to charge the batteries for the next day.

Day 4

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My Galapagos students and TA

I had an early start to the day to quickly eat breakfast before the hungry hordes of students turned up to eat the food I’d be serving them; 3 meals a day, one day on, one day off rotating with another group of teachers

That morning my Galapagos class learned about habitats, types of animals, and features of animals.  This most revolved around playing scategories and learning the sentence structures e.g. Tigers are mammals and tigers live in the jungle.  After the break we had a more hands on lesson about senses with questions like ‘how does it feel’ and ‘how does it look?’ and answers ‘it feels __________’ and ‘it looks ________’.  To have a more interactive class, I took the students for a walk around the expansive school grounds giving the students the chance to find things that felt rough, smooth, soft, wet, dry, etc.  With time to spare, I let the students have some well earned time on the playground.

Next on the itinerary after lunch we had rotation games again.  This time the game I had was a little confusing so I adapted it to make it more suitable for my younger class, ages 7-10.  Thankfully the changes I made ensured most of the students thoroughly enjoyed the game.

While most teachers were able to go back to the bungalows for their afternoon break, myself and three other teachers had to go to Pak Chong to get a police check for the school.  This turned out to be surprisingly painless, we were in and out of there in under an hour, and even got to see the cells…complete with prisoners languishing inside them staring at us with intrigue.

After dinner the students had free time and number of activities to choose from including football, basketball, ping pong, and swimming.  I chose to play football with the students and had a great time.

With the next day being a day off, a few of the teachers settled in on my porch for some drinks, before it quickly turned into all 11 of us drinking beers and whisky after a long last few days.

Day 5

I literally slept on and off to 3pm in the afternoon before going over to one of the other teacher’s bungalows to watch UFC.  After that we had dinner, and then I went for a walk up the highway to 711 and returned to my room to start writing report cards due for next Monday.  Just the relaxing day and evening I needed before the next 7 hectic days kick off tomorrow!

Day 6

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Today was probably the best day so far!  We had survival themed classes where we made water traps by attaching bags to plants, sun dials with sticks, and even made compasses to put up on the wall to decorate the classroom.  After the break we talked about the things students should bring on an island to survive and why.  Even the problem child of the class was well behaved!

The rotation game we had today was also arguably the most enjoyable yet.  We played guns, bombs, and angels.  Students answered a question, chose a square on a grid and discovered whether they got a gun (to shoot the other teams, taking away one of their 7 lives), a bomb (which took away one of their own lives), and an angel (which gave their team an extra life).  The kids had loads of fun taking the other teams out of the game before being switched on to the next rotation.

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For the late afternoon activity I was placed on the Red Chilies Team for sports day.  For our team we needed to make a tie dye shirt.  I went for a more unorthodox style which didn’t turn out too bad!  Other than that, I went home, took a nap, had dinner, played football with the kids, and then retired back to my bungalow for a quiet night.

It was also a momentous day in Thai history today as the Thai king, the longest serving monarch in the world and widely considered the spiritual leader of Thailand, died at age 88.  How this will affect the rest of the camp and the daily life in Thailand remains unclear as the country embarks on a year long period of mourning.

Day 7

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Despite the previous day’s tragic event, the show must go on.  The day could be summarized in just three words: Next Top Model.  My job was to create badges, wings, feet, and a mask for all 17 of my kids in preparation for the main event in the evening.  It was stressful, getting the kids to behave and work together to make their costumes but we did it.  I have to give special thanks to my TAs who worked tirelessly to make my vision a reality.  When all the pieces were put together, the students were dressed as blue footed booby birds from Galapagos.

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The end result was a wonderful evening put together through the collective efforts of the teachers, TAs, and the students themselves.  Each class took turns to strut their stuff down the catwalk to the music students chose.  My class went with Sugar by Robin Schulz through our game of musical chairs at the beginning of the day.  The finale of the show concluded with teachers and a special student in special costumes strolling down the catwalk.  Needless to say everyone involved thoroughly enjoyed the evening.  There was even a Kanye West moment when Bill, one of my students, ran on stage to collect the prize for best finale student, won by another of my students, Joogim.  When all was said and done, I was very proud with the work everyone put in to make the evening a great success.

If you’ve enjoyed this post, check out part 2!

Khao Yai National Park

On my day off from working at the English camp, myself and two other amigos headed out from our bungalows, rented bikes, and drove up to Khao Yai National Park for the day.  This post will tell you what’s good.  For clarity, we entered through the north entrance near Pak Chong.

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One of many signs warning visitors about the wild elephants of Khao Yai, though we never saw any!

What makes Khao Yai National Park special?

Khao Yai National Park is the 3rd largest national park in Thailand and was established in 1962.  The park covers an area of 2,168km and is mostly comprised of thick highland jungle as well as some grasslands.  Khao Yai National Park is famous for its abundant wildlife including wild elephants, monkeys, and deer.  It also has two big beautiful waterfalls to visit with Haew Suwat being the scene of the famous waterfall jump in the 2001 Leo DiCaprio movie The Beach.

How to get there?

Khao Yai National Park is about 3 hours north of Bangkok and would make an excellent weekend retreat from the hustle and bustle of the city.  Guesthouses and hotels can be found in abundance around the approaches to the park and in nearby Pak Chong.

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The mighty jungle

Once at Pak Chong, or just outside the north entrance to the park, you can rent motorbikes for the duration of your stay.  Having a motorbike to ride through the park makes a hell of a difference.  It was super convenient as it meant that my friends and I were able to get to see everything we wanted on our own timetable.  Plus, on a bike it is much easier to see wildlife as you can stop where you want to take pictures and not have to worry about missing out like you would if you were part of a tour.  Just be sure to gas up before going in, you don’t want to run out of gas out in tiger country! (Joking, tigers are rarely seen now in this part of the park).

What to see/do?

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Haew Suwat, made famous by The Beach.  Where they jumped was debated as the waterfall has changed a fair bit since the movie came out over 15 years ago.

Most of the park is covered in thick highland jungle but there are some grasslands.  There are also several waterfalls to visit, the most notable being Haew Suwat, of The Beach, and Haew Narok.  If you only have time for one, I’d recommend Haew Suwat.  Not only is it more famous but it really is more exotic, not to mention that the trail to Haew Narok gets extremely steep and is not for those of lesser inclination.  I should also note that while people have jumped the Haew Suwat 25 meter waterfall, you are now prohibited from doing so and it has been like this for at least 10yrs as there have been deaths.

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A bit of a hike to get to down a steep path, but still quite an impressive sight to see!

The other major attraction, besides the beautiful surroundings of the jungle, is the abundant wildlife that inhabits the park.  It is possible to see deer, gibbons, elephants, tigers, leopards, bears, wild dogs, and other species throughout the park.  You will almost certainly see deer as they like to hang out around the Visitor Center.  You will also probably see monkeys including gibbons.  On the way to Haew Narok we saw a ton of monkeys.  As for the elephants, obviously a big draw for tourists, it is harder to say.  We didn’t see any, but we saw plenty of elephant poop out on the road to Haew Narok so they must be out there!  The other animals likes the tigers, leopards, bears, and wild dogs, are rarely seen and mostly only come out at night but especially in the less visited parts of the park away from the trails and roads.

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Deer hanging out by the Visitor Center

Besides going for hikes down the numerous trails or driving around looking for wildlife, another cool thing you can do is actually camp inside the park at one of several designated camping grounds.  This is totally safe, though you might wake up to find deer gently grazing outside of your tent. Another word of warning, if you do decide to go hiking along the trails, stick to them!  Every year people get lost in the park, sometimes for days, after wandering off the trails….

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We saw lots of monkeys on the road to Haew Narok.

Another really cool thing we did was go bat watching.  We drove our bikes out into the countryside, after leaving the park, and went to a spot where it is possible to see literally thousands of bats flying together in arching trails through the sky.  The best time to go is just before sundown.  We went on our own but it is possible to pay to get a guide to take you there.  This was arguably the highlight of our day, it was incredible to see so many bats and the sound they made as they flew all around us.

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Giant monitor lizard chilling on the bank of the river near the Visitor Center
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Giant spider as big as my hand trying to get a leaf out of its web, this was on the trail down to Haew Narok….definitely poisonous!

Food and drink?

If you are entering the park at the north entrance near Pak Chong, it is a short drive to the Visitor Center where nearby are a number of food stalls and restaurants/cafes with seating areas.  There is also a small convenience store there for snacks, drinks, ponchos, etc.  It might be an idea to bring your own food and drink.

How much?

It is 400 baht to get in to the park for farangs, but the ticket does allow you to go in and out of the park on that date.  To take a motorbike in it costs an additional 30 baht.

Food can be found in the park for under 100 baht depending on what you are looking for.  It is also more than possible to eat cheaply in Pak Chong and the surrounding area if you eat Thai food.

Motorbikes can be rented for around 300 baht a day but that may change depending on where you rent it.  Typically just a copy of your passport is needed to rent a bike.

Accommodation can be found for as low as 400 baht a night and up near the park and in Pak Chong.

I hope this post proves useful to any trips you make out to this beautiful part of the country!  Like if you enjoyed the post! Leave a comment about your own experience! Share to a friend if you know they’re making a trip this way! Subscribe if you want to see more posts like this!