For those of you who may not recall, Changboon Wittaya is the secondary school in Moo Baan Chang, Ban Ta Klang, Surin, Thailand where The Elephant Story supports native English speaking teachers. Folashade Ojoula, Khun Sade, an English teacher in the school, recently led a field trip of students on a very special adventure. The following is Khun Sade's account of their trip.
It's been an eventful three days for Changboon Wittaya School! The students have just finished a field trip to Khao Yai National Park, World Heritage Site, and for many of our students, a first-time visit.
The first day began early on a Tuesday morning with students arriving to the school at 5AM. You might think that the early hour and dark skies would make for a sleepy ride to the park, but not so! The students were too excited to sleep and instead, took turns giving lively renditions of karaoke songs the whole ride there.
When we reached the edge of the park, the group switched from buses to songthaews (small bench seat buses that pick up riders in rural areas of Thailand) for the windy trek up the mountain to our campsite.
Upon arrival at the Visitor Center, we were greeted by two park rangers who gave everyone an introduction to the park, outlined the activity program, and the conservation efforts that would be the focal point of the trip. The students watched a video detailing the various wildlife of the park and squealed with excitement at a few of the more unfamiliar creatures.
We were then taken to our accommodations further up the hill. We could see that there was a small brook down a short path behind the students' housing, so they got into adventure mode right away by going down for a closer look.
Led by the park rangers, the rest of the day was devoted to team-building games and discussing the park's wildlife in the context of games.
After sundown, they had the chance to go on a night safari! We loaded into open-backed trucks and used high beam flashlights to look out into the park for any creatures that may be out and about under the cover of night. As an American, I was hoping for elephants or tigers though we did not see any. However, to the students' delight, there were numerous deer. It is interesting to think that just as elephants are a rarity to me, they are a common sight in Ban Ta Klang where there are two hundred elephants -- but no deer.
The next morning, the students were taken on a bird-watching walk at sunrise. The park provided a guide and some binoculars for the students to share. They got some great up-close views of varying birds and squirrels. Many of them were glad to just take in the sights of the forest; very different from their daily norm of rice fields and flat land.
After bird-watching, students had breakfast and another nature talk before being broken into groups for a five-mile hike.
The hike was guided by park rangers who stopped often to point out interesting plants, insects, or signs of wildlife. The students particularly enjoyed seeing a tall tree with bear prints on it -- the park bears are known to climb trees for the honey at the top. Luckily, we did not see any bears though the students would have loved that.
I was surprised that, as older teenagers, not one of them ever complained while spending hours hiking through the woods on a hot day. They said they had never been on such a hike before and were very grateful to the foundation for the opportunity to experience something so new. After a long day of hiking, the evening was spent going over what they learned out on the trails and playing more games.
On the last morning, the students enjoyed another bird-watching session before having breakfast and settling in for the closing program. They sang, discussed the wildlife they had seen, and wrote their favorite takeaways from the program on green hearts that they later stuck on cut-out trees.
They were given final opportunities to flex their conservation knowledge with a trivia game, where those who answered correctly were given Khao Yai gear like backpacks, T-shirts, and books on conservation. They were only stumped by one trick question: "What is the most dangerous predator in Thailand?" -- answer, humans!
The students had a great time being exposed to an environment so different from their norm. As they return to the Elephant Village, it has been positive for them to learn about elephants in the wild and elephant conservation. Planting the seeds in their minds about elephants roaming free and unchained is a step in the right direction for kids who have seen domestication of elephants their entire lives.
We are grateful to the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation for organizing the trip and to Khun Sade for leading the adventure.
Destined to become a family heirloom, these solid wood, hand-carved elephant stools will be loved for generations.