The Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award
Does your school offer the International Award to its students? If so, you might be interested to read this trip report following two days of ISP’s short program with VSP. Despite being here for only four full days, our guests from Malaysia managed to fit in rock climbing, community service, Muay Thai training, a low ropes course as well as a two-day practice trek in preparation for the expedition component of their International Award. They followed the same route that students studying at Prem School (also based on the Traidhos campus) walk as part of our their own International Award program, which is run by qualified IA leader and VSP staff member Adam Peacock.
For the overnight trek the students had to carry all their food and cooking gear and took turns in leading the way using a set of instruction cards. Groups of approximately six students at a time worked together using these cards to ensure that everybody stayed on track whilst also taking care of the group’s well-being. Although simple tasks such as keeping all participants properly informed and encouraging those that need extra help are performed by these student groups, we send local guides on the trip who know all the shortcuts back to civilization as well as Wilderness Advanced First Aid-trained VSP staff in case of emergency.
The first day
We broke up our van journey with a stop at a shop to buy supplies. The students were given a budget to spend in their groups and had to buy enough food for two meals. Once they had also been given the cooking gear, water and a packed lunch for the first day they soon learnt that minimal packing is essential when you are spending a night out in the mountains. Hopefully they will remember this lesson when they do the real expedition later!
With full bags and fellow students as guides, the group set out. The first hour was quite easy walking with only small hills to conquer and a stream showing us the way until we reached a big waterfall.
From there we had a big altitude gain in a very short space of time – a test for even the fittest students. As we made our way up the muddy path we focused on the positives – our bags were getting lighter as we drank more water, the sky was overcast, keeping the air cool, and we were to eat lunch as soon as we got to the top.
Keeping a slow but steady pace we all made it up to the top of the mountain, where we were rewarded with a fantastic view of the valley below – where we had been walking just a short time before – but only for a short time as the heavens soon opened.
We ate lunch in a small Lahu village and once the rain had slowed down we walked through some farmland that gave us an opportunity to enjoy uninterrupted vies of the surrounding countryside before we were back in the jungle.
Everyone was relieved when we reached our second village of the day, as they knew our walk was coming to an end. Despite the weather, spirits were still high as the posed for a group photo with our camp in the background.
It was all hands on deck, as our trekking groups took on their next challenge: cooking dinner. It seems to have been a success all round as our students got creative in the use of their limited resources.
The second day took us deeper into the jungle and it seemed that every time we stopped for a break there were countless animals around that many of us had never seen in the wild before, such as a big stick insect doing a great job of camouflaging itself – only the very last person to walk past was able to spot it – and a pill millipede that was uncharacteristically bold and not rolling itself into a ball upon its discovery as they normally do.
We ate lunch by a river that during wetter years requires us to wade through up to our knees. Even though there was a clear stepping-stone route several of our group decided to dip their sore feet into the clear mountain water before starting the final leg of our journey.
The final afternoon took us through an orange orchard and then back into the wild, giving us a few unexpected obstacles en route before a final uphill struggle to our finishing point.
Over the two days we covered around 20km of mountain paths, leaving little evidence of our trip behind, as we also took all the rubbish we created out with us. Perhaps next time they come to Chiang Mai our students would like to challenge themselves further by climbing Thailand’s third highest mountain, visible in the background of this final picture.