Ian McNamara

Summer camps

Heading out into the great wide open

Come mid-March the shopping malls which, days earlier, had been alive with the sound of kids frolicking, will be eerily quiet. The exodus of middle class children from Bangkok to far flung outposts up-country and overseas has begun.

It's a long standing Thai tradition to, if at all possible, send ones children away for a few weeks for a spot of education and character building. Let's go back five or six hundred years. The Kingdoms of Sukhothai, and later Ayuttaya, are continually battling, and getting whupped by, the Burmese.

Why? A lack of modern weaponry or tactical errors? No. Examining the facts again has led Boonlert na Bangrajan, an expert in the field, to conclude that the Thai warriors sent to battle the Burmese were in fact the kids of the middle classes of the time. Check your history books, virtually all the conflagrations between the Thais and Burmese took place in the school holidays.

Parents saw armed combat as an opportunity for their kids to learn new skills, get some exercise, travel to another country and interact with the locals. In addition it got them out of the house and gave the parents some peace and quiet for a couple of months.

Leaping forward to the present day and the reasons remain the same. Come the summer holidays and the rich kids are all signed up for month long courses outside Bangkok. Courses range from the 150,000 Baht luxury packages to the bargain basement 15,000 Baht,
cheap 'n' cheerful, camping in Khao Yai packages. The former includes 5 star accommodation, football tuition from David Beckham, the services of a nanny and a guarantee that the little angel won't have to lift a pen during the entire month but will still come home bearing a certificate that confirms the poppet's successful completion of an intensive English course.

The latter includes the services of a couple of Khao San road teachers and an assistant Thai student teacher who knows how to organise a game of the would-be Olympic sport of Chairball. Between them they'll keep the kids occupied and, comparatively, safe with numerous word searches and party games around the electric campfire.

As the rich (Benz 300 series and up) kids head off to the sun of California or drizzle of the UK, the Toyota owner's kids are stuck in Thailand living it up at a 'resort' a couple of hours coach ride from Bangkok. A resort is defined as a hotel that was built upcountry during the boom years by a property speculator and bears more than a passing resemblance to an up market open jail. You're free to walk out of the gate at any time but if you do there's nowhere to run to within a 30 kilometre radius.

So, after confirming that you're free in April, you're shown a glossy leaflet complete with photos of luxuriously appointed suites, the free form pool - with a couple of modestly clad babes lounging poolside, and the promise of the opportunity to get away from it all. " Count me in", you say.

The first inkling that all is not what it seems is when the coach turns off the main road and starts along the 10km dirt track which leads to the resort. This feeling of isolation is reinforced when, upon arrival at the resort, you notice that your school are the only guests. Then you discover that, due to the resort's outback location, it's impossible to receive UBC and getting hold of a Bangkok Post is going to entail a 3-hour yomp to the nearest town.

In fact the only thing you aren't going to be able to get away from are the three other teachers crammed into your room with you. Incidentally, the fact that the room bears no resemblance to the one pictured in the brochure is simultaneously remarked upon by everyone approximately 2 nanoseconds after entering the room for the first time.

You now decide to view the 'extensive grounds'. After strolling through the tropical garden (a dozen plant pots that are home to wilting yuccas) you happen upon the pool. A closer look reveals another discrepancy between the promotional leaflet and reality. Never mind the absence of basking poolside babes, you can live with that. It's the million litres of chlorinated water that's most noticable in its absence. Looking into the sludge at the bottom of the pool you notice one claim that is correct - 'home to abundant wildlife', that is if algae can be classified as wildlife.

However, at the end of the day, you aren't here for a holiday. You're here for the kids. Providing that they come away from the camp with a little more knowledge than they had, when they were ripped from their nanny's arms a few days previously, then it will all have been worthwhile.

Having said that anyone running summer camps on Koh Samui and requiring a dedicated, conscientious teacher should contact me. Please don't forget to mention whether the teachers are provided with free jetski and/or scuba hire and if breakfast is of the buffet or continental variety.


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