Cruising to Thailand
When Blyth Academy Global High School students study abroad, they witness how a culture operates from one day to the next. What becomes visible are the routine habits, customs, rituals and beliefs of everyday life. Although each South-East Asian country we have visited has been entirely unique, there are characteristics and influences that knit these distinct cultures together. Perhaps it is no wonder that GHS students have transitioned from one country to the next, quite seamlessly.
During the past month, a number of our students have found great joy and comfort in donning the ever popular Asian elephant pants or tropical shirts. And most everyone has become more adept at using chopsticks.
I have been particularly fascinated to observe how astutely students have adopted the art of Night Market bartering. Some have accepted that better deals follow multiple purchases from the same merchant. Others have been governed by their taste for the eclectic. In any case, it is impressive to see how quickly they have learned to convert currencies and appreciate the value of handling thousands of bills in Dong, Riel, KIP and Baht.
Experiential learning has offered students the possibility to see, live and celebrate the benefits of diversity and an ability to understand and honour differences. By now, students have picked up just enough vocabulary in each country to properly greet and thank the locals. Respect, kindness and courtesy are woven into the very fabric of these countries and this has left a lasting impression on all of us.
Last week, following a very active weekend in Laos, we hopped onto tuk tuks with all our luggage and left Luang Prabang behind to board a long tail boat waiting for us on the Mekong River. Along our voyage, where the Mekong joins the Nam Ou River, we stopped at the Pack Au Caves. The Caves, once a 16th century monastery, are part of a dramatic limestone cliff that houses 4,000 small Buddha statues.
Later, we continued our journey along the wide stretch of river, over a series of gentle rapids, passing long shores etched with boulder outcroppings, sandy beaches and mixed forests. Up from the banks of the river, tucked away beyond a grove of trees, was a small reclusive village. We climbed upwards stepping over a makeshift staircase of sandbags as small village children approached us fanning an array of brightly woven bracelets. We were more than delighted to spend our last bit of KIP currency on these and other handmade crafts by the village women, especially silk scarves.
After the first day of our Mekong River cruise, our long tail boat docked at Pakbeng for an early evening dinner and an overnight stay at Luang Say Lodge, a lush, gently lit jungle resort. Inside our teak cabins, grand, four poster beds draped in long white layers of mosquito netting made quite an impression on teachers and students alike.
Following two days cruising the Mekong, we disembarked in Northern Laos, passed through Thai immigration and finally arrived in Thailand.
Recognizing the importance of ecotourism and ethical tourism, when possible, Blyth Academy programs try to provide students with an opportunity to experience ethical and responsible tourism. Our visit to an elephant sanctuary on Friday, was no exception. We spent an afternoon shadowing, photographing and feeding these majestic creatures, many of which had been rescued from a life of exploitation–forced to log, perform in a circus or give rides to tourists. That day we learned about elephant rehabilitation and how a sanctuary like this allows elephants the freedom to explore the jungle freely, bathe in ponds at their leisure and graze in their very own grassy paddocks and relax.
On Sunday, another optional excursion provided some students with a 5 kilometer jungle trekking experience. This included a lunch stop at a hilltop village, inhabited by families who had fled Myanmar some 14 years earlier. After this fascinating visit, we hiked down through the deep jungle to the Khun Korn Waterfalls where we indulged in a glorious swim. Fortunately, additional waterfall visits are on the itinerary and we cannot wait to experience more fall views and refreshing dips in the cool waters in the coming days.
When Global High School 2019 first began in late August, we found ourselves in Oxford, England, getting accustomed to traffic moving on the opposite side of the road. As we near the end of our first semester, we appear to have come full circle, observing vehicles travelling, once again, on the other side of the road. I wasn’t entirely clear why Thailand would have adopted left traffic as it had never been colonized by another country, unlike the other Asian countries we’ve visited. A little further investigation revealed that the first car in Thailand was a gift from the English Queen to the King of Thailand and so, driving left was adopted.
As time passes, we too have learned to understand and adapt to some of the rules and customs of South-East Asia. We will continue to navigate our way through south and central Thailand and eagerly await the opportunities to see, learn and experience as much as possible in the remaining weeks.
Lā s̄ảh̄rạb txn nī̂
Head of School