Traveling Asia with kids isn’t for the feint of heart. But man is it worth it…
Last week, we headed to Thailand with our friends (the Tislands) for Spring Break. Traveling with friends, we’ve learned, is important because 24 hours of non-stop family time without the comforts of home can be a bit much. I suppose we figured this out in South Korea, where Jackie and I fought for hours one night because I got her the “wrong” sandwich. In my defense, how could I have known she actually wanted a meatball sub with absolutely nothing on it? Anyway, now we travel with friends.
As for the itinerary, here’s the good: we started in Guam heading to Bangkok, then Chiang Mai, and then back to Guam. Lots of adventure. Here’s the bad part… it was all through the Manilla Airport, which is a dirty, wifi-lacking maze that might just be hell on earth. And here’s where it get’s downright ugly: we flew Philippine Airlines – a company operated by madmen. The Manilla Airport/Philippine Airlines combo is devastating. It’s kind of like a sandwich your hungry wife didn’t order, and 7 days of non-stop family time.
Regardless, here goes a recap of one of our most epic family vacations.
Day One: Travel Horrors
Everything was fine til Philippine Airlines and the Manilla Airport did their worst. Our flight to Manilla arrived late, we missed our connection, and got rewarded with more time at the Manilla Airport. Yelling was involved. This caused us to get into Bangkok late, which put us in rush hour en route to our hotel. Finally, we got to the hotel where the kids had their own room, and Jackie and I had ours. Perfect recipe for lots of bow-chicka-wow-wow…
Just kidding. We were super tired. And the kids were next door to us – often wrestling in the hallway and calling every five minutes pretending to need housekeeping. It was a perfect recipe for phone calls from angry neighbors.
Day Two: Floating Market…Horrors
Day Two we went to the “Floating Market.” Travel websites and Thailand experts give this experience glowing reviews. I was excited about this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Until I realized…
The Floating Market involves taking a boat ride through a series of remarkably similar tourist shops along the water with a high-pressure sales pitch at every stop… all at a nifty 102 degrees. It’s the worst. More on this in a bit.
The ride to and from isn’t easy, as the Floating Markets are two hours from Bangkok. Picture endless traffic while sitting alongside six PS4-deprived children. For them, talk of farts and “Opposite Day” make the trip bearable. For example, “you’re cool…but it’s Opposite Day.” Classic burn.
We finally get to the Markets and I get the true dagger. The boat ride to go shopping for overpriced tourist items will cost our family of five $200 out the gate. Look, I’ve long learned that the key to any successful vacation is to not be a cheap bastard. But for the remainder of the day, all I could think about was this $200.
So. Here’s what my wife saw:
Aaaand here’s what I saw:
It wasn’t all bad. We got smoothies. For what it’s worth, Jackie said she “really liked it.” Frankly, she would have liked it a lot more had I not gone. But aside from the heat and the price and the overall misery of the experience it was totally great. The 2.5 hour ride back to Bangkok was also great. But remember, it’s Opposite Day.
Day Three: Grand Palace
On Day Three, we went to the Grand Palace. Immediately prior to launch, I discover I won’t be allowed to wear shorts. That’s ok because it’s only a million degrees outside. We take a pretty sweet boat ride to the palace. The kids enjoyed endless sodas and the adults began a day of endless perspiration.
We get to the entrance of the palace and things start to get crazy. Our guide informs us it’s temporarily closed because apparently the Princess is praying. Umm, ok. It’s possible this one of Bangkok’s infamous scams, but nobody is walking into this Palace. So if thats true it’s a pretty elaborate scam. My guess is Thailand is like every other monarchy in the world: the Princess gets what the Princess wants.
With time to kill, we buy overpriced ice cream and wait. But soon the kids need to potty and there are no bathrooms in sight. I walk four blocks with the boys to discover that the only bathroom available to us costs money to use, and I have none. Also… wait, what? You have to pay to use the toilet around here??? This ruthless display of capitalism almost makes Bangkok more American than America. All that’s missing is a credit card machine.
Back to the palace, where we eventually got in. It was beautiful. There was a temple that was cool as well. Our tour guide shared historic tales of battles between good and evil. Unfortunately I won’t remember any of this, because I’m too busy anticipating my imminent death. Have I mentioned it was hot?
Collectively, our back sweat could fill a kiddie pool. I’m serious about this.
That night we hit Chinatown. We take a “Tuk Tuk,” which is essentially a moped with seats rigged onto the back. “Tuk Tuk” is super fun to say, and they’re crazy cheap. A ride for the whole family costs us a few dollars. I know I’m supposed to be over this, but this ride is about $197 cheaper than our boat ride through the Floating Market. I mean, I’m just saying…
We walk around eating street food and being tourists. Jackie gets a real massage while the kids and I let fish eat the skin off our feet. Knowing how long its been since our kids properly cleaned their feet I have concerns about the future of these poor fish. Also, they tickle.
Day Four: Head to Chiang Mai
Day Four we head to Chiang Mai, where we will be living in a Villa for the remainder of this trip. Seven bedrooms, a pool, and toilets with those sprayers that you’d use on the dishes… only it’s for your junk. This place is incredible.
We swam a lot that day. And drank beer. It was legit vacation.
Day Five: Elephants, Massages and Deadly Snakes
On Day Five, Jackie and the kids went to play with elephants. I didn’t go because I’m lame and got a massage instead. The baby elephants were super cute. The masseuse who dug into my skin and had me grimacing in pain was not cute. I’m on a roll with poor decisions this week.
After we regrouped at the villa we headed to the “Snake Show,” and it did NOT disappoint. For a few dollars, we got to see hilarious Thai dudes dancing around King Cobras…all while “Moves Like Jagger” played in the background. Watching these guys evade venomous bites from angry Cobras leads me to conclude they are far more impressive than Jagger. I mean, for goodness sake, their dance moves are what prevent them from literally dying.
Fully satisfied by the Snake Show, we went to dinner and ate insane amounts of Thai food. Nobody spoke English, but Coldplay was blaring on the speakers. It made no sense, but everywhere we go we seem to hear the whitest music imaginable. Later that week, I’d go to a coffee shop where the second I walked in it went from Yoga music to Phil Collins. This Country just gets me.
Day Six: ATVs and a Night “Safari”
Since we were in Thailand you’d think the kids would have no use for Youtube. Wrong. Each morning began with “can I play on my Kindle?” The boys like videos with Fortnight commentary which, for better or worse, has provided them a wealth of newly discovered gaming vernacular. For instance, when I Dab – a move I only recently mastered – I’m reminded that the move was popular four years ago. “You’re such a Newb.” And any time I even remotely screw something up I’m told to “get wrecked.”
Anyway. Eventually, we got out and took ATVs around Chiang Mai. Although we weren’t newbs with the ATVs, riding through the forest was quite bumpy. Thankfully nobody got, you know, wrecked.
That night, we hit up the “Night Safari.” In my head, I pictured something resembling Jurassic Park, and was disappointed to discover the Night Safari is basically a zoo. Our son got pretty upset when a giraffe ate all of the food he was planning on giving to other animals. On the positive side, no humans were eaten – a claim Jurassic Park cannot make. Also, if you ever plan on opening a zoo one day, consider marketing it as a “safari” instead. It sounds sexier.
After the Night Safari, we hit up the “Night Market.” The area seems touristy, and I see lots of skinny white people. Picture heavily-tattooed women who look like they just stepped out of yoga class, and dudes wearing colorful pants with elephants on them. I’m surrounded by liberals.
The food was good, and the prices were so cheap I’m not sure how any of these people make money. But Jackie’s a consummate deal finder and can’t help herself. “$1 for a hand-carved wooden tiger? Way too much!” She makes the Shark Tank seem like group therapy. Safe to say I’m not totally surrounded by liberals…
Day Seven: “Sticky Falls”
A week into this eventful trip we went to the Buatong Waterfall. We learned the actual name of it after our non-english speaking driver made it clear he had no idea what the “Sticky Falls” were. Its a waterfall you can climb.
You take steps to the bottom of the fall where you’ll find pool of running water. Below the surface is mud-like substance that feels like poop. Our son Brody was convinced this was a poop walk. He may have been right.
The falls themselves were every bit as amazing as advertised.
On the way home we begin to appreciate how many towns and cities in Thailand contain the word “Dong” (and to a lesser extent, “Wang“). My wife cannot let any of this go without obnoxious laughter and obligatory follow-on conversation. One day we passed an area called “Hang Dong” and even I had to concede she had a point there.
Day Eight: Bungie Jumping
On the Eighth Day, I decided to go Bungie Jumping. Anyone who has seen me while hanging Christmas lights can testify to the fact that I fear heights. In high school I asked a grown man to “hold me” at a ropes course. 20 years later, I’m still hearing about this.
Bungie Jumping is cheap in Thailand. Also, life insurance is included, which is great because I’m fairly certain my military insurance won’t be covering any of this. I sign my life away, pay the fee, and head over to the jump site. While speaking in Thai, they tie my legs together, put me in a chair that takes me up 200 feet, and then set me up for the big fall.
We get to the top, and I’m asked to hobble to the very edge of the lift while I stare 200 feet down. “1, 2, 3, Bungie!” the guy said. I went nowhere. But now I hear Jackie hazing me and I know there’s no chance I’m getting out of this. I fall while screaming like a maniac. “HOLD ME!”
Day Nine: The Hellacious Journey Home
Chiang Mai to Bangkok to Manilla to Guam. With kids. What could go wrong?
Well, it all went south when Philippine Airlines linked up with, you guessed it, the Manilla Airport. Picture delays, non-sensical excuses, lines, countless security checks, temper tantrums (by the adults), more delays, and a desperate need for Gold Bond. This place is the worst.
Thankfully our kids have tablets which keep them occupied and makes all of this ok. The universe has now reminded me of exactly why we got these kids tablets to begin with.
Around midnight, the boys slept. Riley put a sandwich on Jimmy because she was bored. Sleep deprived, this was hilarious… much funnier than it looks now.
After 24 hours of travel, we finally got back to Guam and I’ve never been happier to be home.
Overall, the trip was exhausting, and at times downright difficult. But Thailand is a special place unlike any other in the world. I’ve been blessed to go on several very relaxing vacations where I remained firmly in my comfort zone the entire time. This was not one of those trips. But the memories will last a lifetime.
Traveling through Thailand with kids is not for the feint of heart. It takes patience and an open mind. Oh, and don’t be a newb...
Bring friends, and an endless supply of deodorant as well. It’s hot here.