Surprisingly, our hotel located (we have now confirmed) in the official red light district of Bangkok, is quiet and peaceful. Aside from the very firm beds – Chris proclaimed it like sleeping on the dock – we all slept soundly. This is so amazing to me as Sabine would never sleep unless she was tucked into her bed in the pitch black. Now she sleeps like an angel where ever she gets tired. This evening she fell asleep in the tuk tuk as it careened through traffic speakers pumping out Desposito complete with a bumping subwoofer gently massaging our backs.
I woke up this morning with an acute feeling of missing these mornings – keenly aware that waking up in the lap of seventies style Asian luxury listening to the soft breathing of my children will be a memory and before I can blink they will be growing up and away from me. I snuggled into Chris as a tear slipped out. I swelled with how incredibly lucky I am to have this time. Then everyone woke up. Sabine instantly screaming for, “Breakfrast!!” I haven’t corrected her pronunciation of breakfast because it is so super cute but I’m going to have to before she turns four and has to go to school. Then Anderson woke up in a mood because Sabine was screaming and I tried to quieten the masses by Facetiming their Uncle Bear who’s birthday it was (at least still was in an other time zone). But I had to put on the lights because it was too dark to see us and when I did that Chris groaned and rolled to the other side of the dock -disgruntled and mumbling, “Why wouldn’t you just open the curtains?”. Let’s just say the nostalgia and warm fuzzies were instantly replaced with a strong desire to run – run, run away to a place where my family is always sleeping peacefully and I can close the door on them.
The chaos of this day in Bangkok was just what we needed as a family. It was immersive, intense and saturated with smells, colours and sounds. We were together and figuring it out. We started the day getting to the skytrain and finding our way to the Sathron Taksin pier. There we had a lively discussion about wether or not to pay for the tourist boat – more expensive but hop on hop off all day – or get the regular commuter ferry. In the heat and the hangry of it all we finally decided that we were not going to be hopping anywhere so we chose the single ride to Memorial bridge. The ferry was great, very fast and surprisingly nimble. The river was packed with boats. Giant grubby barges three blocks long, beautiful teak boats elegant with their history, colourful longtail boats and more of our low canopied ferries all weaving in and out – except the barges – they just kept it to the straight and narrow. Shanties line the river crammed in beside huge extravagant hotels along with the insane Iconsiam a super luxury mall with Gucci, Louis Vitton and all the other highflying logos of fashion representing. The boats are really fast, so fast in fact that we miss our stop while we push through the crowds to get to the back of the boat and onto the dock. It turns out that the next pier is where the flower market is which is a lucky break for me – there was no way I could have convinced the kids to come and look at flowers of their own free will. It was crazy watching all the intricate work – putting together garlands and other offerings for the temples. Bags puffed with petals and others with kernels of white buds looking like popcorn, masses and masses of carnations and piles of figs. By this point the kids are starving and antsy – we promised them we were going to this mega toy store six floors big and now we were loitering around petals. Luckily this being Bangkok the streets were lined with food vendors and I was soon drenched in sweat, my mouth on fire devouring papaya salad – I think maybe my absolute favourite think to eat. We finally hit the mall after braving a few road crossings – not for the faint of heart. I pictured a modern airy and clean mall packed with cute displays and sweet toys but this was where all the plastic in China comes before invading the rest of the world. Boxes piled high with off brand Barbies, LOL dolls, lego, rubicks cubes and action figures, little kiosks crammed together and over flowing with rainbows of plastic. In no time flat we are all overwhelmed – Sabine can’t look straight or stop giggling like a maniac and suddenly Anderson feels guilty about getting a toy – I mean he still wants one but he doesn’t want to want one. We manage to escape unscathed – one small toy each – and with a resolve to never ever suggest a six story toy store again. By this point its tuk tuk time.
The ride in the Tuk Tuk inches from death turns out to be the best part of the day.
I was feeling pretty confident in our plan – walking with the kids is a no go the heat is too much for them and they drive us crazy with the whining and moaning. So the new plan for tackling the city is tuk tuk or cab to destinations. We were thwarted immediately when the tuk tuk driver started haggling the price we had agreed upon moments after we had taken our seats and started down the road and suddenly he is talking about making a few stops. This happened three times (varying scenarios – like you can’t drive that road or you do’t want to go there) and suddenly there were no cabs around so we ended up walking. The promise of a death defying tuk tuk taken away seemed to also take away the children’s civility so we got an earful for the entire 15 minute walk. My mind just wanders now when they go extreme whiny/spoiled brat. It wanders to babysitters and boarding school.
Finally we make it to the canal and figure out what direction we want to go in and we are off – well we wait ten minutes on the dock and finally the low packed boat arrives and about ten women in hijab exit briskly (we are in the middle eastern neighbourhood ) we squeeze on and take off – this boat is not joking – for a low and wide canal boat – it’s got pep. Then the next setback hits – that is when I hustle us off the ferry a stop early. Now not only are we at the wrong stop we are also on the wrong side of the road. So this involves a multi faceted trek over pedestrian walkways and some mad dashes across “crosswalks”. Plus now Chris is hot and hangry and having to carry Sabine – its not fun. We end up at an other 711 – the store of our Bangkok experience as Anderson is obsessed with going into every one we pass to see if they have slurpees. Outside this 711 is food market – halleleula. The day goes like this with annoying tuk tuks and taxis until finally at the end of the day – after taking the kids to the park to run them hard and play – we look at the map and decide we can just walk the ten minutes home. This turns into an hour long journey where we are blocked by a factory, a highway and a canal. Things got ugly all around and tempers were off the hook. The thing is we walked into the most amazing neighbourhood – beside a canal with houses (well doors in buildings) with rickety walkways across the water, the street was narrow and lined with food stalls and little carts with beer and whiskey. The other side was lined more homes – doors open or no doors at all giving us a peek into people’s homes – blue tv screens dancing, altars set up and strewn with flowers and strawberry Fanta – flat mattresses and fabric blowing in doorways. The smells were alternately amazing, then choking with fried hot peppers and then rank with canal water. We were approached by a woman concerned that we were lost – because …… we were. We tried to explain and she tried to explain and then a man jumped in and laughing said google maps doesn’t know Bangkok. They were able to direct us pass the factory and onto the street that would lead us home.
There is a crumbling old glory at the Royal Ivory Hotel reminiscent of a Wes Anderson film. Even the staff are a little off kilter – sometimes harsh and uncaring almost annoyed at our presence then thoughtful and generous and smiling. Even the creepy old guys here in Thailand to get their rocks off with young and beautiful women who wouldn’t give them the time of day in their own countries are suddenly bathed in a different light. Sad and lonely – yellowing grey hair pulled into wispy ponytails, saggy bummed Capri cargo shorts and short sleeved dress shirts. The woman sitting beside him silently rubbing his arm. Touch. Anderson has noticed and wondered aloud. They are buying companionship is as delicate as we can get.
Day three and we learned from the horror of endless walking and haggling yesterday that we needed to come up with a better solution Chris wins by downloading a ride share app and even though it takes some time to get it and it’s almost entirely in Thai – finally it works and we can walk past the throngs of tuktuks and cabbies. i am having complicated emotions surrounding bargaining, feeling ripped off and feeling stupid and then realizing I’m not seeing the good in people or maybe I am suspicious and assuming the worst and then it turns out people really are kind and generous. I have always hated bargaining – now when we have walked down the streets that the real people live on – seen and smelled the canals, the laundry hanging, the flat mattresses on tile floors – and my stomach turns to realize I’m bargaining to save 2 dollars.
We decide to go to the weekend market. Even while making this plan I was unsure if we should – but the friends we met in Pranburi said it was a really great time and the kids would love it. They even have a section of animals. It was wonderful and it would have been made more wonderful if I could have been on my own! Seriously what kind of a maniac goes shopping with husband and kids?! I needed my sister or one of my other sisters from an other mister …. and I guess missus…. just another woman who can cut through the crowds like butter, smell the good deals and can walk the length of New York in 100% humidity, stopping only for a freezing cold young coconut water without whining. There was a silver lining to the day of endless demands, fruit smoothies and bathroom trips and that was FOOT MASSAGE baby! We had a family foot massage. Some of the stalls are glassed in massage areas with lounging chairs and we walked by so many of them. I was thinking who in their right mind would get a massage at a loud, smelly noisy market in a display case? This family – that’s who – and it was glorious. Seriously one of the most fun things we have done together as a family. We laughed, we totally relaxed, Anderson napped for a bit. It was so good that after half an hour we just re upped for an other half hour. $8 each for an hour of foot massage – I’m actually getting a tear in my eye right now just remembering it. Massage is going to be figuring heavily for the next couple of days for sure. After we emerged from our relaxation cocoon we realized we didn’t have enough time to get to the snake farm so we ended up going for a tourist trap dinner just so we could stay sitting and comfortable. Then for some reason Anderson hit the wall. After being cooled down, massaged and fed. It’s a long ugly story that I do not want to relive but it includes him running away from us in a market with 11000 stalls and over 220000 visitors. Then an excruciating cab ride where he essentially annoyed and antagonized his sister while telling us to make him stop. I do not even know how we stayed calm. As soon as we got to the theatre – a switch went off and he was back to being a wonderful kid – helpful, loving and engaged. When pressed he can’t explain why he does it. He feels guilty and knows he should stop but he can’t.
The show was a crazy touristy extravaganza – it was like Thai Disneyland with characters walking about. There was a life size replica of a Thai village that you could walk through and a river you could boat down and stop and talk to vendors and weavers and puppet makers. The kids loved it. Chris said he wanted to just go to a Thai village – and here is the crux of our travels – the desire for an authentic experience but with kids who have trouble managing the heat and walking for any distance without distractions. I’m just taking it as an introduction to Thailand and rural life and hopefully it piques their interest. When we do travel to an authentic village they will have some more context for it.