03 March 2018

Year 9s swap snow and ice for heat and humidity on Bangkok exchange

As the sun sets on the first week of this year’s international exchange with Harrow International School Bangkok, Mr Robert Ellis-Paul writes home to Harrow

Saturday 24th February

I’m happy to report to you our safe arrival in Bangkok after a smooth and incident-free journey. We arrived to a hazy but warm and humid Bangkok where we soon met our contact from Harrow International School who directed us to our awaiting coach.

After another few hours we were ushered from the coach onto a boat, which sped us across to our island beach resort. Arriving by late afternoon the boys enjoyed a swim in the sea, a dip in the swimming pool, and as I write this are about to reconvene for supper.

We’re all looking forward to a day of snorkelling tomorrow.

Sunday 25th February

As the sun sets on our first full day in Thailand we are all recovering from an incredible day of island hopping, swimming, snorkelling and sunbathing. It felt like an early start when we all embarked the boat at 9.00am, but the sea air and the refreshing water quickly woke us up. We were amazed at the array of fish swimming around our feet as soon as we stepped into the water. Even those more cautious swimmers in the group were soon enjoying the sights below the waves.

We stopped at several more spots before lunch – a simple meal of fried rice, chicken and fresh fruit enjoyed at picnic tables among the palm trees or on deckchairs on the beach. After rescuing our boat from the shallow beach where it had run aground we made a couple more stops before heading back to the hotel for a relaxed dip in the pool. As I write this we are about to gather for our evening meal.

Back to Bangkok tomorrow.

Tuesday 27th February

On Tuesday evening we went to a restaurant at Bangkok’s famous Baiyoke Tower. The Crystal Grill was an incredible place with the most delicious and extensive buffet I’ve ever seen. The boys particularly enjoyed the dessert section, and the clowns that dropped in to entertain the restaurants younger visitors. After dinner we climbed a final few flights of stairs up to the 84th floor and the open-air revolving viewing platform. The view over the city at night was breathtaking.

Wednesday 28 February

Wednesday was our second day in school. We had a ‘cultural induction’ from the school counsellors and also met the Head Master Mr Michael Farley. Boys were surprised to learn about some of the differences in socially acceptable behaviour and the level of respect required when referring to the Thai Royal Family. A few confessed to missing home a little, all said they were enjoying themselves. Later this morning boys will be having their first Thai language class.

After a quick swim in the hotel pool and a change of clothes we returned to school and to the boarding houses for another delicious evening meal and a chance to relax with some of our Harrow Bangkok colleagues.

Thursday 1st March

This evening we will be dining at the Central Chaengwattana shopping mall, and tomorrow we will be here at the school boarding house once more, with any luck, enjoying the barbeque that had to be postponed yesterday due to a severe rain storm. Other than the rain, the weather has been very hot, humid and sunny (despite a little haziness in the morning). The boys were very pleased to be allowed to wear house-coloured polo shirts today rather than their shirts and ties as Thursday is “House-shirt Day” here and everyone starts the day with a House meeting.

I hope the snow back home is beginning to clear and has not been too disruptive.

Tuesday 6th March

We’ve had a very busy few days since I last emailed. We were back in school again yesterday after an activity-packed weekend. This begun with dinner and activities at the school boarding houses on Friday evening. The weather was beautiful so we enjoyed a wonderful barbeque on the field followed by some football with some of the girls. As it began to get dark we were directed to the sports hall where we enjoyed a couple of games of dodge ball. Afterwards there was some time to relax at the boarding houses, enjoying their well-equipped lounges and kitchens.

Early on Saturday morning we hurried onto the coach to head to the Ancient City – an historical education attraction featuring replicas or reconstructions of important buildings and landmarks from Thai history, sometimes in scaled down versions. It is spread out over a huge area linked by small roads and cycle paths. We opted for bicycles as our means of transport around the site and, despite the heat and for some, the lack of recent cycling experience, the boys headed off enthusiastically. We met up for lunch at the floating market (part of the Ancient City), and soon after headed for the exit. There were a few bumps, scratches and one badly grazed knee but everyone left having enjoyed their visit.

That evening we were dining on the river; specifically on the Wanfah Dinner Cruise. That meant another gruelling trip through the relentless Bangkok traffic but we arrived at our boat in good time and embarked on a very pleasant trip up and down the Chao Phraya river. We enjoyed a delicious meal of Thai cuisine, and were treated to some traditional Thai dancing (which, when invited to do so, some of our party chose to attempt for themselves).

On Sunday we enjoyed the luxury of a slightly later start time, heading off to the Grand Palace at a leisurely 9am. We arrived to crowds of people and overwhelming temperatures, made worse by the strict dress code dictating that knees, shoulders and feet must be fully covered. The Palace itself was an incredible spectacle of gold spires and ornately decorated statues and walkways. But after an hour and a half the group were worn out and headed for the exit as arranged. After a long walk to the bus the boys were hugely relieved to get back to somewhere air conditioned, and we headed off for lunch and some shopping at the MBK Mall.

Yesterday (Monday) was one of my personal favourite days of this trip. We started in school as usual, but due to some other timetable commitments for the Harrow International School  pupils, our boys had two sessions of water sports laid on for them at the school’s on-site facility. We enjoyed canoeing in the morning and kayaking after lunch, both were a lot of fun for everyone – being on the water was very refreshing and some people’s inability to steer their vessel was met with much amusement. In fact some of the group even found it difficult to keep their kayaks the right way up meaning that a few individuals returned to the coach at the end of the day more than a little damp.

We enjoyed dinner at the hotel last night and, after distributing the clean laundry, got off to some much needed sleep.

Saturday 9th March

We have reached our final evening and boys are busy in their rooms picking clothes off the floor and frantically trying to find something reasonably clean to wear for the journey home tomorrow. We left HIS an hour ago after enjoying a pool party, a barbecue laid on by the boarding house, and two hours of football, badminton and basketball. There were some emotional goodbyes as we left and many promises made to stay in touch, so it’s safe to say that some firm friendships have been forged in the last two weeks, both with HIS pupils, and with the Royal Masonic School girls.

Yesterday was our last outing and we decided to go to a cultural theatre event called Siam Niramit. It was a spectacular show including trapeze artists, water, smoke and elephants. One of the RMS girls was even selected from the audience to assist in the performance of a traditional musical number. We watched depictions of ancient lifestyles from the different regions of Thailand, as well as stories from Thai folklore and religious depictions of hell and paradise.

On Wednesday we had the pleasure of a day off from school and a visit to the Sampran Riverside Art and Craft Workshops. This was a whistle-stop journey through different aspects of traditional Thai culture. We watched some silk being processed all the way from the worm to the finished fabric, made clay elephants, smelt some traditional herbal remedies, played traditional Thai musical instruments, ground some rice, grated and ate some coconut (with barbecued banana), painted some parasols, weaved some reed into the form of a carp, attempted some Thai dancing, and some ‘bamboo’ dancing, there was even a sword-fighting workshop and a taste of Muay Thai (aka Thai boxing). After a delicious buffet lunch we finished the day off with a ride on an elephant. It was an unforgettable experience for everyone. That evening we went bowling and much fun was had by all.

The international exchange programme is now in its sixth year and is designed to improve links between the different schools within The John Lyon’s Foundation family. On the exchanges, boys experience life in the other schools, attend lessons, meet students, experience the culture and visit various tourist sites.