WHEN THE KEEP family finally decided this was the year to move from Hong Kong to Thailand, one of the key factors in deciding where they would live was the schooling. When they visited Prem Tinsulandonda International School in Chiang Mai, they found what they wanted for their six-year-old son Robin, then attending the ESF's Kennedy School in Pokfulam. 'We fell in love with Prem immediately,' Roz Keep said. 'Green, open, new, 15 students in Robin's class. We were impressed by the teachers and the cost was cheaper than Kennedy.' Having found the school, the way was clear for the Keeps to move their trading business in oriental antiques and arts to the northern Thai city and for a new way of life beyond their Hong Kong home. Prem Tinsulanonda, set up two years ago on a 90-acre site 30 minutes from Chiang Mai in the foothills of northern Thailand, is one of a growing number of international day and boarding schools in Thailand now attracting attention from parents outside the country, including Hong Kong. Prem Tinsulanonda is open to students from age three to 18, uses English as the medium of instruction and is one of several international schools now established in Chiang Mai. Like many, it offers the quality assurance of the widely-respected International Baccalaureate. It is implementing the IB's primary and middle years' programmes and is already authorised to teach the diploma. So far it has attracted almost 300 students, of more than 30 different nationalities. Schools like Prem have at their disposal space rarely found in Hong Kong. They can use their settings to provide outdoor facilities associated with UK and US boarding schools, with extensive grounds and playing fields. At Prem, boarders live in single-sex, two-bedroom apartments, two students to a bedroom. Each apartment also has a balcony, kitchenette and area for studying. Tuition ranges from 153,750 baht (HK$29,950) a year for kindergarten-Grade 1 to 297,250 baht for Grades 9-12, with a charge of 215,250 baht for full boarding and a separate fee for additional English as a Second Language lessons. There is also a one-time development and scholarship fee of 112,000 baht. Since Thailand lifted restrictions on local students attending international schools in 1991, making it possible for 50 per cent of enrolment to be Thai students, schools such as Prem Tinsulanonda have flourished. There are now more than 45, with boarding available in more than 10. Locations include Bangkok, Phuket, Pattaya and Rayong as well as Chiang Mai, with American and British curricula available along with more 'global' approaches leading to the IB Diploma. A further boost for the sector is the drive to promote Thailand's international schools at government level through the Department of Export Promotion. According to Supapat Ongsangkoon, consul and trade commissioner at the Thai Trade Centre in Hong Kong, the move is part of the government's efforts to promote the country's service industries. Education is seen as a key sector because the country can offer a high standard of school facilities, a lower cost of living and a good environment. 'It is much cheaper to send your child to school in Thailand than to Europe and America,' Mr Supapat said. Patricia Metham, principal of the day and boarding Regent's School in Pattaya and a former headmistress of Rodean School in the UK, has noted a growing skilled overseas workforce moving to Thailand. The Regent's School, founded in 1995, has about six students from China among its 38-nation school body but none at the moment from Hong Kong. From the outset, the school offered the British curriculum, though last year it became authorised to offer the IB Diploma. Students range from pre-nursery (2-3 years) to Year 13 with boarders accepted from the age of eight. Three years ago, Regent's also opened a day-school campus in Bangkok and there are now plans for a second Bangkok campus with boarding facilities. Ms Metham, also a government adviser on gifted children in Thailand, said that growth in the sector would continue. 'Undoubtedly there will be more international boarding schools being opened. The recent franchising of famous-name schools indicates this.' Among those famous names are Dulwich International College, located in Phuket and established in 1996, Harrow International School in Bangkok, opened in 1998, and the Thai capital's most recent addition, Shrewsbury International School, a day school. The franchising arrangement enables them to use the name of the UK partner school with further links through their board of governors, student exchanges and education quality control. But they are not extensions of their UK namesakes. Hong Kong parent Christine Nigam asked during an interview for her son at Harrow, UK, whether attending the Bangkok school would make any difference to entering the school near London. The answer was no. Another factor is what lies outside the school gates. Agnes Tang-yau sent her son and daughter to board at Dulwich International College after returning to Hong Kong from New Zealand. The school, on a beautiful, 50-acre purpose-built campus in Phuket with a wide range of sporting facilities in and outside the campus, has nearly 800 students with 320 boarders. About 30 students come from Hong Kong-based families. Both children were very happy there but Ms Tang was disappointed about the range of social and community activities available. 'I felt there was not much to do in Phuket for a teenager. So I decided to send my son to board at a Shanghai senior secondary school instead,' she said. Her daughter still attends the Phuket school. Dulwich International headmaster David Cook said: 'I wouldn't say the activities outside school are narrow but they are in particular areas, which are largely related to tourism. In that respect they are really good. We are in the process of affiliating ourselves to the Phuket Yacht Club. We have struck a deal with the leading golf club on the island. But we have no equivalent of the British Museum or National Gallery.' The school has an extensive Thai programme within the curriculum and is continuing to develop links with the local Phuket community and other Thai schools. It also organises trips away but the longer-term aim is to establish an arts centre in the school. Meanwhile, Dulwich International, like the Regent's, is looking to extend its reach further afield. 'We think the time might be right for a quality international school on Ko Samui. We are doing a feasibility study to see if there is the market to open a feeder primary school,' Mr Cook said. 'I strongly suspect there is.' More information on Thai international schools can be found at the International Schools Association of Thailand web site, www.isat.or.th . A Dulwich College franchise is due to open in Shanghai next year.