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Teaching them young

School principal Abri Eko Noerjanto loves driving on his leisure travels and learning on the road

By Yvonne Bohwongprasert

Travelling by road with the family is both educational and fun, says Abri Eko Noerjanto, the principal of Indonesian School of Bangkok, who's been in Thailand over a year and a half but has travelled extensively around the country.

He has had a passion for travelling ever since he can remember. On one such family trip in Indonesia several years back he spent 52 hours on the road. The year was 1994 when he and his family travelled from Jakarta to Madiun, East Java. He drove three days and two nights to get there.

The Noerjantos like to travel in their own transportation. On long distance trips, they have a policy of not checking into hotels; they just catnap in the car before continuing the journey.

Before his posting here, Mr Noerjanto was principal of the Indonesian School in Lampung, that is conveniently accessible from Jakarta. Bandar Lampung, its capital, was formerly two separate towns, Tanjungkarang and Telukbetung. In the course of development these towns have spread out to each other to become a single city. Lampung has its own traditions, highly valued handicraft and art creations. Its beaches are also breathtaking.

"Me and my family really like Thailand because certain aspects of the country, such as elephants, remind us of Lampung," mused the principal. "The whole family felt nostalgic coming across these giant beasts on a recent trip to the provinces," he said.

Mr Noerjanto likes to share his travelling experiences with his students. Often, he organises field trips to places that are educational for students. Educating children of expat families about Thailand's culture and traditions is important, and it's only by travelling that they can get a better picture of the country.

With a background in engineering, he later attended a tourism management course in Canada. So what makes travelling exciting?

"I love to travel for the plain reason that I am an explorer by heart. I like to visit much-talked about places because I want to see for myself just why they are so popular. Sometimes they are not as grand as told in travel magazines," Mr Noerjanto added.

How do you influence your students to broaden their perspective on life by travelling?

By relating specific travel experiences that I personally found touching. I try to show my students that the hard work that is sometimes involved in travelling, is worth the time and effort spent. Some of the assignments that I give my students require them to take the video camera and go to a destination, say the Floating market, come back and give a presentation to the entire class.

How have you found Thailand as a tourist destination?

Thailand is exceptionally interesting despite the similarities with Indonesia. I think it's a great place for a tourist to visit because it has a number of places to explore, excellent service, cheap rooms and offers good value for money. Thailand has also done a great job marketing its tourism products. Lop Buri is one province that I found had a very attractive way of welcoming visitors. Huge posters of monkeys at the main road leading to the province were a neat way to catch the visitor's attention. I would like to have more time to travel to border provinces and the beach destination of Phuket.

Share with our readers how you familiarised yourself with Bangkok? Which places close to Bangkok have you enjoyed visiting most?

As I prefer to do my own driving, in the beginning, I familiarised myself with street names and routes by driving around the city with a map in hand. As I didn't want to get caught up in rush hour traffic, I drove at night. After a few times, I closed the map to test myself if I would remember the routes, and to my surprise, I was spot on. Bangkok is not a very big city. I have also taken canal boats to tour around Bangkok. It offered me an opportunity to learn about the sights and sounds of the city. My favourite place closest to Bangkok is Muang Boran or the Ancient City, in Samut Prakan. I have enjoyed it because it reflects the better part of Thai culture and traditions.

How do you normally prepare for leisure travel within the country? What activities you like doing as a family?

First I talk to my kids and wife about the type of destination they would like to visit. Then it is my children's responsibility to get information about the main tourist attractions in that province. We normally go for one-night trips, but if the children like to stay longer we add another night. The main objective of such trips, however, is to make sure that our children get to understand the culture and traditions of the place they visit. Therefore, one of our favourite activities is visiting the local market.

Being Muslim, how do you find halal food when travelling to the provinces?

I browse www.zabihah.com, a site offering information on Muslim food and restaurants in Thailand. It can also be accessed by handphone via mobile.zabihah.com. I could solicit information on halal restaurants in Bangkok, Ayuthaya, Chachoengsao and Nakhon Pathom, Chiang Mai and Phuket. It was of great help. Sometimes we ask the staff at the hotel we're staying for directions to Muslim restaurants. They are usually helpful and reliable. Besides, eating out is not much of a problem because we usually pack our own sandwiches. Thai food is really good, but it's a bit sour for the Indonesian palate.

Can Thailand help to improve tourism in Indonesia?

Thais in general are exceptionally service-minded people, and I believe that is one of the main reasons behind the success of the tourism industry here. I strongly believe that there should be a programme whereby the management and staff at Indonesian hotels could come to Thailand for training. That should also extend to schools back home churning out graduates for the Indonesian tourism industry.

You're from East Java. Introduce our readers to the main attractions on the island?

I was born in Madiun in the western part of East Java. The city has several points of interest, among them, Redjo Agung, an ancient sugar mill that still runs on steam; a sprawling factory - the biggest in Indonesia - that build trains; tiles and decoration works; and some fine examples of Dutch architecture. I would also like to add that West Java has interesting national parks with a rhinoceros conservation area that would appeal to lovers of nature and wildlife.

(Bangkok Post, July 7, 2005)

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