From November 30th-December 2nd, I attended an English camp, themed around the environment, with my class (⅝), a few students in the year below me, my coordinator and advisor, and some foreign teachers. We stayed in cabins beside the beach in Hua Hin.
I sat by Mind for the daylong journey and our friends sat all around us. As we left for Hua Hin at an ungodly hour, everyone was drifting in and out of sleep. When we weren’t, Mind and I either talked or she helped me with a lengthy Thai reading practice I was working on. We made our first stop of the day at around 12 pm to get lunch and my options were rather limited. I got away with a yogurt and a sandwich from 7/11. Our next stop was around 1 pm to the Tao Hong Tai Ceramics Factory, a garden full of sculptures and ceramics that were extremely large and unique. When we walked in, we were greeted by a canopy of flowers. I liked the creative vibe of the location as well as the nature surrounding us. A lot of the art seemed whimsical and fun, like I had just walked into a Roald Dahl book. It was the kind of place that would have been perfect for a picnic. We spent about half an hour wandering around the public area, taking photos with some of the more interesting pieces.
At around 3 pm, we arrived at the cabins on the beach that we would be staying at. On the first night, I stayed in a one-room cabin with about fifteen or more other girls. Here’s the kicker: there was only one bathroom. Nevertheless, we made it work. We all freshened up after our long day of travelling and my friends and I found ourselves accidentally late to our next session. Our punishment was trying to spell out English words by walking in front of everyone. This got us all up and laughing for our next activities. I then, as the foreigner, had to play a game I didn’t quite understand. I would ask everyone in a line any question at all and their answer had to be “yes.” It was a little hard for me to come up with different questions and the other students found it funny when I accidentally made people say “yes,” despite their true answer being “no.” After that strange ordeal, we played a game like Zip Zap Zop and got back to lessons.
Afterwards, all of the students had to give presentations in small groups about what they thought of the ceramics factory. I helped my group prepare what to say and then cheered them on from the sidelines when they had to go. One of my favourite things about my friends is that they are curious and don’t ever settle for less. As I helped them describe the factory and form their opinions in English, I sometimes used more advanced vocabulary. When I do this, they stop me and ask me to explain it using more simplified synonyms. Once they understand, they practice it once or twice and commit it to memory. This same cycle applies to when we are just hanging out or working on homework. When they presented, it made me both proud and impressed to see them use these more obscure English words in context perfectly and with correct pronunciation.
We took some photos on the beach and then returned to our cabins for some down time before dinner.
We had dinner at the Cicada Market in Hua Hin. It was one of the largest and nicest markets I’d ever been to, though it being more expensive than the average market as well. In the center, there was a huge stage, complete with a smoke machine and a killer audio system, that was showing scenes from a musical. My friends and I first checked out some stands with art, clothes, and other handmade crafts. We then searched for some inexpensive but tasty food and I quickly gravitated towards the pizza stand. Within ten minutes, we were sitting at a table close to the stage that was full of our food. Colourful lanterns were dancing all around us, complemented by the hot summer breeze.
I began eating my favourite, pineapple pizza (sorry, Italians!), and it was so delicious that I almost finished it. My host family gets pizza maybe once a week or so, as it is an easy vegetarian food that my sister and I love. However, as we live in Thailand, of course it does not taste the same as the pizza I grew up eating. The pizza I got from the Cicada Market was expensive for Thai prices but worth every cent as I had a little slice of home on my plate. We shared our food and my friends taught me some new Thai slang. After eating, we strolled through more of the market, where we met my coordinator and English teacher, Teacher Suporn, and my advisor, Kru Nok. We saw some art pieces in the open area.
One of the more noteworthy ones was a man covered from head to toe in paint with a sign asking people with a donation box to paint him. My friend Mind bravely stepped forward, picked up a paintbrush dripping with dark blue, and then painted on his back. My friends, the teachers, and I giggled from the sidelines.
We then watched some live music on a second, smaller stage for a little while.
We returned to the front of the market, oddly decorated with blue luminous jellyfish, to meet everyone else and board the bus.
We got back to the cabin at around 10 pm and us girls, being a considerably large group, had a long line to shower in our one bathroom. I met some of my friends outside who were playing Uno on our front porch. I joined in for a few rounds and we waited until the rest of our small friend group was ready. We then ran down to the beach with a few other girls. I rolled up my leggings and my bare feet were greeted by thick sand filled with pebbles and electrifyingly cold waves. We all waded into the water and played some English, and to my surprise, Spanish party music. We began dancing and singing like nobody was watching, because really, nobody was. The moon could keep our silliness a secret. After a little while, we turned off the music or whoever was playing it walked back on the beach. All was quiet but the sound of the waves and I was struck by the magnitude and beauty of the night. The sky was clear and the stars felt so close that I could reach out and touch them. A new friend I made that day came up beside me and asked me about my favourite memories at the beach. I told her of days digging deep holes in the sand with my little brother, picnicking on the stony and cold beaches of the Isle of Wight with my family, searching for the most beautiful shards of sea glass with my grandmother, and jumping into Lake Michigan with my friends. She seemed rather interested in my past and she may have even recorded me talking. I then asked her what she thought. She told me that she doesn’t get to go to the beach often as we live in the north, so tonight was a pretty lovely memory. I agreed completely. It was a rare moment where I could glance back in time without being devoured by comparison and wishing and hoping. I cherished those old days but was so completely enveloped in this new moment. I liked that it was so dark outside, as there was really nothing you could take a photo of, leaving nothing to distract us from having fun with each other. I loved feeling so present, enjoying my company and feeling proud and content with my life. It was truly a dream come true and I’ll never forget that night. We retired to our room for fast showers and sweet dreams.
I was woken up by my friends, who all were running out to see the sunrise on the beach. I joined them and took some photos. It was astounding to me that we had this little corner of the paradise all to ourselves.
I took a shower, got dressed, and we all went down to the main campsite for breakfast. Unfortunately, the prepared meal contained meat in it so I settled for some hot chocolate and a banana and listened to the day’s instructions.
We would begin playing some English games and I was separated from my friends to help teach. I didn’t mind as I could hang out with my friend Lewis, the class’s new English teacher from the UK. While another teacher was explaining plans, we talked for a little while about teaching methods, the differences between systems of education internationally, and schools in the UK. Then we led our first game, about making anagrams with the title of our camp: Bringing Life Back to Nature.
Next, we sang camp songs that came with matching dance moves but the English didn’t make any sense in both context and grammatically. Unanimously, the foreign teachers and I chose our favourite, which had the only lyric of, “I’ve got a friend a little bit more.” We did the dance moves, swapping partners. My favourite partner was by far Kru Nok, as she wore a very funny sly smile as we both struggled to keep up with the dance moves.
We then played a Rock, Paper, Scissors tournament, which I lost in the first round. At around 9:30 am, we went back to our cabins to get our bags for the day and then boarded the bus. We were on our way to go Mangrove tree planting at an ecosystem learning center very near our campsite. When we arrived, we were all ushered into a small auditorium where a video about the history of the center and the Mangrove tree planting activity was shown. There were English subtitles so I understood the gist of it. Then, we were given instructions by our group leader on how to plant the trees, which did not come with subtitles.
Nevertheless, I joined my friends on walking up a path leading to a wooden area. We each were given a pair of lace-up boots (though it took me a minute to calculate my shoe size), a shovel, and a mangrove tree sprout.
We then walked along a bridge and turned before we could completely cross it into a very rocky side path. I was quite nervous I would slip but my friends and I held hands until we reached the bottom, which was a grassy field leading into a swamp-ish area. Because we had been walking through the shade thus far, I hadn’t realized how harshly the sun was burning that day.
We began trudging our way through unpleasantly cool mud that easily went up to my knees until we found a clear opening to plant our trees. Though I didn’t understand the instructions, I figured it was rather self-explanatory. I dug a hole deep in the dirt, planted the Mangrove sprout, and covered it back up. As I managed to get mine done correctly and fast, I then helped my friends out.
We then trekked back through the mud, laughing and hoping none of us would accidentally fall. We eventually found our starting point. It took me a good minute to unlace my dirty boots and clean up my feet but I didn’t mind the mess. I actually had a lot of fun planting the trees and it made me happy to envision them growing in the future. We then all hopped on the bus and headed to a different area of the eco-center for lunch. It was a light meal for me, as I only ate egg, rice, and watermelon. My friends told me that some people, though it is unusual, like to eat watermelon with rice and fish sauce. This absolutely blew my mind, as I couldn’t be paid to eat that combination. One of my friends demonstrated and we all burst into laughter as she took a bite.
After the eco-center, the students all gave presentations about what they learned in English while Lewis and I chatted some more. Then, we all put on our swim gear. I was a little surprised to find that nobody had brought a swimsuit but me. Seeing as I only packed just enough dry clothes for the weekend, I wore it instead of a sport shirt and shorts. I even asked Lewis, to be certain, that there was nothing strange about me wearing a swimsuit to the beach unlike everyone else. He quickly dismissed it, saying that of course that was fine. So we all ran down to the beach and had some group activities that, to be honest, I was not all that interested in. We were dismissed after about a half hour and we started swimming. My friends and I swam far out in a group and talked for a little while. The sun was delicately shining down and I liked floating on my back to feel completely relaxed. The waves were dark blue and choppy, so we exercised caution but there was nothing to be afraid of. One of our friends motioned us to shore so we swam back to hear the news that we would be able to go banana boating soon. My friends had been talking about banana boating for days prior to camp but I didn’t know what that meant. We put life-jackets on and got a group together of six people. I now began to get a little nervous, as I had no idea what I had signed up for and I don’t consider myself to be the best at swimming.
We walked over to our teachers, where a man with a jet-ski was waiting for us next to a banana boat. I tried to watch the group ahead of us go but in a matter of seconds, they were merely specks in the distance. The boat returned empty, as they had been dropped off in a different location. We waded into the water and climbed onto the inflatable yellow tube.
I was second to last and was still a bit uneasy. The instant we all hooked our feet into the boat, we were racing through the rough waves. It was like a water roller-coaster, as the boat bounced us into the air every few seconds making us shriek and descend into laughter. As we passed where our friends were swimming, we slowed down just enough so we could wave to everyone and give thumbs up’s. We then sharply zig-zagged for a stretch of water, every twist and turn I felt closer to falling into the foaming water. We narrowly fell as we switched directions, making our way back to our starting spot which was completely out of sight. We whipped through the water like lightning, not even having time to make noise when we jumped before being bombarded with another leap in the air. We saw our friends waving to us and without warning, we were launched from the banana boat. I collided with the water and the force knocked the wind out of me for a second. I bobbed to the surface in a second and looked at everyone else, equally amazed, happy, and breathless. My friend’s shower cap (to protect her hair) fell off, leaving her completely soaked. We all then began giggling and swimming to shore, collapsing on the sand. It was an absolute blast and I was shaken up from the thrill of it all.
We kept swimming for another hour or so and then went to our new rooms. We only stayed in the big room for one night and switched to small apartments housing four girls each. I shared a room with Saiphan, Mind, and Aomsub. We all showered and changed clothes. I wore a long blue and white summer dress with no sleeves, so I had to triple check with my friends that it was okay for me to wear. My friends were all dressing up, as that night we would be out exploring the mall area of downtown Hua Hin. We played some music, put on makeup, did our hair, and then met the rest of our group boarding the bus. I sat by Mind and we spent the rest of our night together. We arrived downtown and first went to Plearnwan, a vintage beach town with lots of charming little shops. My friends and I window-shopped and took photos, as we were only there for about half an hour. The ground had rainbow stripes and colourful triangle banners hung over us. At the very end, there was a ferris wheel not for use that I was mesmerized by.
I really enjoyed what little time we spent there, as it was a quieter location that put me in a completely different and fun state of mind as I felt like I was living in the past. We boarded the bus again and travelled not too far away downtown. We crossed a long bridge to reach the mall. It was decorated with huge Christmas ornaments and strings of little blue lights. The traffic in the background created a kaleidoscope of bright lights and darkness.
After photos, we entered the mall, full of rare American stores. Mind and I’s first stop was to get apple milk bubble tea, my favourite drink. Next, we searched for something inexpensive but delicious to eat. We found ourselves on the bottom floor, which had an extensive food court. I ordered a reasonably priced Pad Thai and we waited for about twenty minutes for our food at our respective stands before finding a small table. The court was crowded with people from all around the world and I found myself translating for other foreigners in line. Mind and I had a lovely conversation about Christmas, the holidays in Thailand, and the rest of our school year. After dinner, we explored the mall, window shopping in any store that caught our eye. Our favourite store was a Japanese chain that sells pretty much anything under the sun for way less than 100 baht. I managed to get a few rolls of Christmas wrapping paper for about 30 baht each, or around a dollar. We also looked for some things Mind could give her future host family as presents from Thailand. Next year, Mind will be doing an exchange program in the United States, though she doesn’t know where yet. We found some lovely postcards that she can use to write cards. Then, we stopped at Starbucks, which are only found in major cities in Thailand. The prices are the same as in America, so while people can afford it, it doesn’t really make sense to have it often as you can get the same drinks for exponentially lower prices and support local vendors instead. However, as it was Christmastime, I decided to splurge and I bought myself and Mind peppermint hot chocolate and a coffee respectively. Plus, Starbucks had a “buy two, get one free” sale so I got another hot chocolate for my friends to share. Then, we walked into the outside area of the mall, which was like a winter wonderland despite Thailand not having winter. There was also live music, including some Beatles songs and classic American songs that made me feel right at home as I sang under my breath. We went back to our cabins and my friends and I played Uno for a little while on our porch. I went to bed earlier than the night prior.
I was not in the best mood in the morning. We got up quite early for a long day of travel, having a quick breakfast before embarking on our trip to Maruekhathaiyawan Palace, or the Palace of Love and Hope. Upon arrival, we were informed that those who didn’t wear long pants would have to wear coverings. This led to Lewis and a few of the boys wearing what looked like long skirts, which was pretty funny. The palace was the summer residence of a former king of Thailand and is unique in its architectural style. It was built raised from the ground by pillars and is rather beautiful. There were different viewing areas, but most of the information was entirely in Thai as the palace doesn’t garner many tourists. I therefore practiced my Thai reading but as I was a beginner, my friends kindly translated the necessary information for me. My favourite aspect of the palace was the gardens. The greenery was very intricate and there were gorgeous fountains with benches nearby. We spent about an hour or so strolling through the palace before going to our next destination: For Art’s Sake, a 4D art museum. The art was gorgeous and usually was the length of large walls. I only took a few photos because I always feel a little uncomfortable taking photos.
We then stopped for lunch and my friends joined me at Black Canyon Coffee for a lovely lunch of vegetables and an apple honey smoothie. This boosted my mood a lot, as travel days are very draining.
Several hours on the bus later, I arrived back home at night. I said goodbye to my friends and headed home. As this was my second consecutive weekend spent non-stop travelling, I couldn’t wait to curl up in my bed with a cup of hot chocolate and look at the photos from my remarkable trip.