The last couple of days in Bangkok were relegated to doing very touristy kid friendly things. Again we are always in this push and pull of trying to see the real city and meet people and then being with two kids. So we gave right into Kidzania – we heard about it chatting with some other families we met at the snake farm. I will let the pictures do the talking for the snake farm. It’s run by the Red Cross and it is a cross between a hospital, a farm and a museum.
So amazing to see all the snakes, get to hold a giant python and wander the informative displays. There we met a lovely French family – mom Claire and three children Rose (12), Gasper (10) and Pierre (8). They live in Manila and work for the W.H.O. so they move every three years. Very interesting to hear her different struggles with where to go next as the children age and need different things. A little of the fantasy of raising children around the globe and then having actual humans that have needs other than what you may have anticipated off the top. Balancing all that with where the work is and where you want to be. We ended up wandering with them to Lumphini park after the snakes where we met an other traveling family from Mexico. It was there I learned of Kidzania – playzones that are actually mini cities where children get jobs and get paid and then can buy goods and services with their money. No parents are allowed into the work and play zones – we can only watch as they interact in factories, hospitals, police stations, stores and restaurants. It was expensive and also amazing. Both kids got so much out of it and it was really fun to watch. Apparently a Kidzania is coming to Toronto soon.
Our final day was spent on the water. We decided to take a canal tour to see all the temples from the water and to see how people live as they have for many years on the water in houses raised on stilts. As per usual we have read some guidelines online in how to procure a longtail boat and guide with the caveat that the guides are actually drivers and not guides but they will slow down when you request. Also with warning that they can whip you through quickly. But it seems a more “authentic” way to tour other than booking through a big tour comapny. Armed with that knowledge we head to the main pier Taksin and try find a boat. The pier seems to be run by a tour company that has a strangle hold on all the boats and we can’t find an independent driver. Even though there are a bunch of different “guides” hocking the canal tours – they are in fact all working for the same company. So we send in Anderson. He is keen to practice his bargaining skills. Well maybe not so much keen as intrigued and nervous so we have been gently leading him in – we really need a little auntie Lala for this – she is the queen bargainer and has been ever since a family trip to Mexico when she was thirteen. The first dude he talks up is not even remotely interested in bargaining and just points to everyone walking by shrugs and walks away. So we carry on – managing Anderson’s expectations – maybe these guys don’t bargain? Not sure. The next guy is up for it but Anderson starts too high so we don’t get much of a deal but it’s a great first try. Then we are off on a two hour Klong (canal) tour. As soon as the wind hits our hair everyone’s spirits improve. It’s clear to me that the big city hustle and bustle is getting to us – it’s crowded and loud and we are generally not certain of where we are going or how we should get there. So it is really nice to sit back for two hours and just get to experience the city and the klongs sliding by. These boats are wide and flat so they hit up and down on the waves hard and loud – the kids love it and we all squeal with delight as we round our first corner into the canal. These boats are also not built for turning so its a slopping long turn. I love buzzing along peaking into homes with corrugated metal roofs, pots of plants lined up, woks hanging and toothbrushes at the ready. All of this beside beautiful teak homes with shutters and hanging plants. Then along the banks under a crumbling apartment building with black smudged walls, balconies dotted with satellite dishes sits a monitor lizard warming in the sun. Suddenly a huge Buddha appears resting atop a platform flanked with altars and flowers. More temples in all styles with glowing white walls or shiny tiled roofs crawling with red dragons and hung with lanterns. There are mangroves and swirling knots of fish churning beside a bank lined with children tossing in bread. The water is deep army green and murky and smells of all descriptions. It assaults and soothes alternately. There are riots of bouganvilliay that spill into the water. We are loving it – at least the first hour. The second hour drags a bit and it gets hot – the kids start to get restless and our collective PTSD of the horrible cab ride rears. Just when I think one of us is going to loose it we pull out onto the main river and it’s churning! Tons of boat traffic in and out of the canals along with piers where the ferries are stopping has the water heaving or at least it seems to be from our low down vantage point and the loud smacking of boat on water makes it crazy. Thankfully the splashing water distracts the kids and cools them in the heat. Then we are back at our pier. We have the best of intentions to go to Jim Thompson house but after we accidentally ride the skytrain in the wrong direction and have to ride ALL THE WAY back across Bangkok we are starving – then we manage to get off at a stop that has a lot of hotels but strangely no street food. We finally stumble into an Indian restaurant where we are treated to the absolute sweetest and most mind boggling bad service ever. We watched as he made each drink individually – walking to the fridge, removing a soda water, walking to the bar and placing the soda water down, turning and walking to the counter to get the opener and the repeating with three other drinks. Then he repeated the same with the ice and glasses. Excruciating. We finally order – we do the allergy dance – essentially we have flash cards to help explain Sabine’s allergies and so far we have been fine – we are firm and Chris has mastered miming dying after eating egg or milk or butter. Somehow it seems to all magically work out – plain vegetable, plain rice, plain chicken no spice – no sauce. Except for this time. It takes forever to get the food (I know it probably seemed longer because we were starving and the table was glass topped and Sabine was “playing” house with the glasses and cutlery) and then when it arrives there is palak in Sabine’s vegetables and spicy sauce on the chicken so she gets to eat rice and the dried mango from my purse. Needless to say we are tired and done with the day so we head back to the hotel to swim. We haven’t used the pool once this entire week because it closes at 6pm. I am assuming they do not want the guests bringing their “special” nighttime guests into the pool. The pool is underwhelming and we are not warmly welcomed by the three people lounging and smoking on the deck chairs. The best part of it is overlooking the street below – we are three floors up so we can see everything but we are far enough from people’s eye lines that they don’t see us watching and by us I mean me. Me staring down watching the food cart guy reach under his cart to surreptitiously take a slug from a small whiskey bottle. I love the bird’s eye view of peoples’ food, the tuk tuk’s interactions and the cab drivers maneuvering.
We bid adieu to Bangkok in the usual intense fashion that somehow all our travel days seem to turn into. The kids were rangy and playing good cop bad cop Jeckle and Hide all morning as we tried to whittle down our load. We ditched the kites and kite bags at the airport which left us with much less room. A bit brutal and I’m sure there will be something that we will need that we leave behind but it’s done. Our cab picks us up and we are off to the airport. Off as in we are in the cab in traffic inching toward the airport. The highlight is Anderson seeing a sign that has Ding Dong written on it. We arrive at the airport on the edge of implosion. Chris disappears with the kite bags to place them in storage and I and my ticking time bombs head over to Air China to pick up Anderson’s glasses that he left on our flight from Beijing. And hilarity ensues. So much hilarity, in fact, that we miss our flight to Chiang Mai. Well we don’t miss our flight we miss the check in for the flight by 1 minute and we are not allowed to check in. So we and our plane are at the airport separated by a minute. As we stand in the security line my mind flashes to our sunscreen, cream and bug spray…. full size bottles and we haven’t checked any bags. More hilarity as Chris has to return with one bag that contains our body care products and maple syrup to check.
Finally we reach Chiang Mai. We grab a cab to our hotel. Our cab driver is a woman – which we have yet to encounter on this journey. So already Chiang Mai feels different. Our hotel turns out to be lovely – with a canopied walkway lined with plants and vines, a koi pool and nice sized room. We set up – by now we are experts at unpacking and settling in – blowing up Sabine’s air mattress and unpacking in record time. Then we hit the streets – not totally sure of where we are – luckily we find some amazing street food stalls half a block away. Our hotel is on a narrow street and the stalls are on the main drag that runs one way with a mote/canal separating it from the road running in the opposite direction. We manage to get food for everyone in record time and are nestled back into our cool room to enjoy it before anyone has a chance to be hangry. This food is so so good and so much cheaper than Bangkok with a perfect pad thai that Anderson loves. What a relief to know we can eat easily and cheaply next door to the hotel. Taking the guess work out of eating is a big lifesaver. Between Sabine’s allergies and Anderson’s simpler palate it has been challenging.
We spend our first day in Chiang Mai getting a lay of the land and booking some tours – I have decided that although tours can be expensive and touristy they are the absolutely easiest way to plan a day with kids – food is handled – there is a timeline and usually the tourist things are geared to kids. So we book a day at the Elephant sanctuary and a cooking class and start properly looking into a home stay with a hill tribe.
Then we hop an open backed cab for the market. As usual left to our own devices the walk around turns tetchy. It’s hot and crowded and all Sabine wants to do is look at crappy plastic toys. I tried really hard to get a sitter in Bangkok but it didn’t happen. You could find nannies but one off sitters were sketchy at best. We haven’t been staying in luxury resorts that have babysitting services available. So here I am longingly looking at beautiful fabric as I am pulled along with a sweaty little hand. I am also developing a theory that women deal better with minor discomforts – I spend a lot of time slightly uncomfortable – in clothes, feeling bloated or hot (peri menopause), shoes pinching, legs hurting any number of things – there is always some minor discomfort. I think most of us do. Yes I do lose it when I am too hungry but the rest of my family seem to start to lose it with any direct sunlight. Of course it is hot – I know you are hot – we all are – I mean for the love of everything! It seems to be such a surprise as well. We work it out by splitting up and taking turns and then we hop a cab to the park. Our hotel is in the old city surrounded by a mote with the streets running in one direction on one side of the mote and an other on the other side so it’s tricky to cross the road and there is a fair amount of over shooting and looping back. You can see remnants of the old wall and as usual there are temples everywhere. The park is cramped and bustling with joggers and an exercise class – aerobics taught by an other Richard Simmons look a like in the early evening air.
Day two we are up at the crack of down to see the elephants. There are so many elephant tours – obviously we are avoiding the trekking tours where you ride elephants but so many are listed as sanctuaries or ethical and it really is hard to know. The one we have chosen is listed on various websites as the best and most ethical with a large portion of the money from the entrance fee going back to the elephants. I am skeptical when after our group is all picked up and settled into the van the guide pulls down a screen and starts a video about rescuing elephants in Thailand – the subject matter is on point bu t the video is pure amateur hour (this was a sanctuary listed by National Geographic – surely they could have whipped up a little introductory video). Instead we are subjected to a couple who have set out to make what must be their first documentary ever. They are dressed in camouflage pants the man with a Rambo style head band and the woman with a tight whit man’s button up dress shirt over her camouflage cargo pants. The deliver pithy dialogue like – I think this elephant deserves better than the concrete jungle (eyes misting. over grainy shots of elephants walking the streets. To be clear Thailand has banned elephants from the streets of cities seven years ago so this is not a new documentary. They also film portions in the jungle looking for real elephants – but they are in the back of a Toyota truck being driven by a Thai guide and film from the side of the road where we are treated to other scintillating dialogue – like – THIS IS THE SHOT THIS IS THE SHOT – when ever an elephant enters the frame. The documentary finishes with a rock video montage that Chris and I agree was also sung by the documentary filmmakers. It has me really worried about the park.
Luckily that was the only misstep – our guide is knowledgeable and has very good English – she can answer all our questions and tells us the back story of all the elephants. Each elephant has a manhout or keeper that walks with them all day long to anticipate what they might need and to keep them feeling safe. Almost all the elephants are rescues – save for a few that were born there. Some have psychological issues others have physiological injuries. They group themselves naturally and spend their days eating and bathing and walking. There is a kitchen even prepares coconut sticky rice packed into banana leaves for the oldest elephants who have weak teeth and jaws. They build fires at night for them as well. It’s a well oiled machine but the elephants seem happy and well loved. The day is super hot and Chris has to carry Sabine pretty much the entire day because the elephants can get scared of small children – although our guide says Sabine is one of the good ones because she has no fear around them. Which is true she was enthralled the entire day. I have to take back my comments of women handling discomfort better or at least partially because it was hot as hell and I could never have carried her all day. We learn a ton and get to feed them up close, touch their skin, watch them bath and just generally walk amongst them – it is a magical day.