From March 28th to 31st, Sydney, Luke, and I attended an AFS optional camp in Surat Thani, a province in the south. We stayed in Khao Sok National Park with several other European AFS-ers who we befriended. There, we went swimming, kayaking, and spent time together as a group.
Travelling to Surat Thani//
Because of the three-hour long journey in between Phatthalung and Surat Thani, we decided to arrive at our next camp site one day early. After some issues with the Phatthalung bus schedule, Paw and P’ Rainbow shocked us yet again with their kindness and drove us to Surat Thani. When we arrived, we met the camp director, who we vaguely knew because she has been an advisor and host parent to some of our AFS friends. We said goodbyes to Paw and P’ Rainbow (sadly a bit rushed by the camp director), hugging and waving to them happily as they drove away. Then, the director took us to a hotel that her friend owned and got us a room for free for the night. The room was nice with ample space and a huge comfortable bed. We said goodbye to the camp director and walked into town. At a tiny street market, we bought fruit, rice, eggs, and snacks for dinner. We anxiously realized after a few minutes of walking that we couldn’t find our hotel in the dark. Sydney and I both racked our brains for any defining markers of the hotel but came up short. We continued wandering in different directions for another ten minutes until we eventually found our hotel. What a relief! We ate on our bed, took showers, and went to sleep.
The next day, we woke up early and the camp director drove Sydney and I to our camp meeting spot, where we reunited with Luke, our German friends Emil and Alice, and our Italian friend Enrico. We also met AFS-ers we didn’t know well because they lived in the central or southern area of Thailand, such as Giulia and Claudia from Italy and Tim from Germany. I was a bit nervous at first that we would all be split up into small groups, as all of those kids were already friends. But in the true AFS spirit, we all came together and became close very fast. We took our luggage and boarded a small speed boat that took us into the national park.
Already, we were astounded by the beauty of both the mountains and the sea.
Our Stay in Khao Sok National Park//
When I first laid eyes on our cabins at Khao Sok, my jaw dropped. We were completely surrounded by mountains and enveloped by the fog, isolated from the outside world. I had seen photos of the site before but I didn’t realize we would be literally living on the boardwalk!
Unfortunately, as the days passed, our group realized the description of the camp was decieving. We only did about two or three activities that were advertised. Tim, Enrico, Sydney, and I frequently joked about our disappointment from missing out on our “avid bird watching hobby,” which was the least exciting activity listed but never came to fruition. In addition to our schedule, our cabins were cramped and not very nice. We didn’t mind this, assuming that this was the standard for a unique resort. We were just pleased to be there. However, we later did a double take when we saw our camp directors and chaperones in large suites that did not compare to ours. The camp as a whole was not worth the money we paid. Nevertheless, we still enjoyed the trip because of the group we went with and the undeniably gorgeous views. Here are some photos we took in the chilly early morning, just after the sun rose:
We went swimming sometimes in the large open area in between the cabins but we had many restrictions. These were well-intentioned but did not make much sense sometimes.
My favourite memory from this camp was kayaking one day with my friends. We were in pairs: Alice & I, Tim & Enrico, and Sydney & Emil. This was my first time kayaking and I was very excited to give it a go. At first, we all explored the different areas of the park that were further from our site, doing laps around mountains. Then, as time went on, we decided to play an exciting, silly game chasing after each other’s kayaks and tipping them if possible. Emil and Sydney were the first to fall in the water, thanks to Emil tipping them accidentally. Seemingly every time we would look for Sydney and Emil in the waters, they would have inadvertently tipped themselves, making us all laugh so hard before coming to their rescue to hold their kayak steady while they climbed in again. Next to be tipped were Alice and I, with Tim and Enrico swinging our kayak. Last of all, our two groups teamed up to go after Tim and Enrico, who eventually fell in. Suddenly, it started pouring with rain and we raced to get back to land in case a storm intensified. Our games had left us all disoriented: somehow Tim ended up swimming across the lake with all of the oars, Enrico paddled himself in the kayak, Alice (a lifeguard and excellent swimmer) swam pushing our kayak while I paddled with my hands, and Emil & Sydney were so slow that the camp’s boats had to pull them back to shore. We were all terribly out of breath from our race back and from laughing too hard, as well as completely drenched in water from the rain and swimming.
Our meals were fairly basic but good, usually rice and watermelon. There were shows of Thai dance and music in the background while we ate dinner. We spent the nights as a group all crammed in the room I shared with Alice and Sydney, talking about our lives, singing our favourite songs (including showing off Sydney and I’s Italian singing to Claudia and Giulia!) and playing games like Truth or Dare.
We spent about two days in the resort before returning to Surat Thani. On our boat ride back, we stopped frequently to take photos around the national park.
Our Last Days in Surat Thani//
We spent a little over an hour at the rope bridge that had a good view of the “heart mountain” and then we explored the woods nearby briefly.
The activities that followed our trip to the mountain all came as a complete surprise to us, as they were never mentioned or planned before then. That day, we went to the mall in Surat Thani for a few hours. Then, we drove further south in a large van for hours. We stayed for one night in townhouses at another national park, this time shared with no other people but our small group. We went to the beach in the national park that evening, had dinner together, and stayed up late in the room I shared with Sydney and Alice again. We woke up at sunrise for one last trip to the beach and it was so much fun swimming.
Next, we went bamboo-rafting very slowly and I shared a raft with Sydney. We were a bit confused, as this was listed as “white-water rafting,” and we had already done this activity in Chiang Mai with all of the AFS group once before. We stopped briefly for homemade green tea in bamboo cups. It tasted very different than any tea I’d ever tried and I grew to like it more as I drank it. On this break, we played a silly game, giving each other fake names from our different countries and it was interesting to hear what were common names in other places.
After rafting, we drove back to the center of Surat Thani and stopped at an “Italian” pizzeria as a special goodbye lunch. It was pretty good, though the Italians made some funny reviews.
The camp director took us to the bus station a few hours early before our overnight trip back to Bangkok. Sydney and I discovered that the director, who had assured us our tickets were already handled, did not yet purchase our tickets. Sadly, our friends’ bus had filled up already so Sydney and I had to take another bus that left about ten minutes after theirs. As we waited for the buses, we all sat down in a huge circle and played each country’s respective hand-clapping games such as the American “down by the banks” game. Whenever anyone got out, we would all exclaim in surprise, attracting attention from passerbys. We also played a few rounds of Bean-Boozled, which was pretty gross but funny. When the time came, Sydney and I were so sad to say goodbye to our friends but we planned to meet them when our buses arrived.
Sydney and I talked on the bus for a while and did face masks before going to sleep. We woke up the next day in Bangkok, reunited with our friends before our last camp.