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Firbank Grammar, Australia

26 July – 14 August 2015

In July ninety-nine Year 9 Firbank Grammar (Australia) students accompanied by ten teachers came to Thailand for their annual three-week overseas trip. Firbank Grammar is one of VSP’s and the Barge Program’s regular customers and we were delighted to welcome them back. This year there were exciting amendments to the program, including a newly extended, three-day trip to Chiang Rai.

Each of the four Firbank groups stayed for two nights at the Golden Triangle. This location is famous for its twentieth-century significance in the drug smuggling business between the three countries that share the Mekong River as their borders: Thailand, Lao and Myanmar. Indeed, the “Triangle” symbolises the three nations that were involved, and “Golden” indicates the highly profitable (however illegal) nature of the business.

On the first day one of Firbank’s stops, new on this year’s itinerary, was Baan Dam. This attraction is sometimes referred to as the Black House, the Black Museum and even the Black Temple as the grounds contain many buildings with sloped roofs that to the untrained eye look like temple buildings. Baan Dam is the proud work of the late Thawan Duchanee, a Chiang Rai-born artist famed for his unconventional style. Inside the uniquely designed buildings can be found a collection of his works that leave a lasting impression on visitors.

The group also visited Wat Rong Khun (the White Temple), which is a contemporary Buddhist temple. Also the work of an artist, Chalermchai Kositpipat, it is one of Chiang Rai’s most popular attractions. As well as the usual features of a temple you can find murals and statues themed on the artist’s opinion that the modern-day masses misguidedly idolise characters in films and video games rather than focusing their devotions in more commendable directions.

Also on the itinerary, The Hall of Opium was built to educate people about the dangers of the drug through an entertaining exhibition that traces opium’s history from its first use 5,000 years ago to current issues of drug abuse and addiction. Many publications regards this is one of the best museums in Thailand.

The group rounded-off the trip with a visit to the Golden Triangle Asian Elephants Foundation, which is also new to the itinerary this year. This not-for-profit organisation was set up to give care and assistance to elephants and their mahouts without compromising its ethical standards. It also provides a safe place for scientific research to be carried out that could in the long run benefit elephants that are still wild or involved in work such as street begging, illegal logging or tourist shows. Students spent a whole morning learning different mahout techniques and commands, and the health and ethical considerations behind elephants riding.

They took their elephants for a walk to a lake and to everyone’s delight, the elephants and humans all took a bath together. In the afternoon, students learned about the scientific research behind the scenes, with the aim of understanding more about this magnificent species, their behaviour and intelligence, and how to better look after them in captivity and protect them in the wild. For sure, a worthwhile day if ever there was one.

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