As winter trudges on (and on), the memories of our family trip to Thailand late last year are slowly sinking over the horizon. It's hard for the mind to conjure up thoughts of white sand, hot days and balmy sunsets when you're sitting, sniffing, sheltering from single digit temperatures in a heated house, wearing more layers than a Sara Lee apple strudel. Luckily though, we have the photos and movies of our trip to momentarily transport us back to the island of Koh Samet, back to the beach, back to the warmth of our slice of paradise that we enjoyed for a while.
But before the beach came the journey, and traveling with tots is an undertaking and a half, as anyone who has had the experience will tell you. You're at the mercy of their little whims, whether you want to admit it or not, as it's pretty hard to convince a two or three year old of the do's and don't's of air travel. Our kids are pretty good travelers though and (mercifully) were happy enough to go with the flow for both flights, this time around.
Travelling's all about adjusting to new surroundings, new rhythms and new sensory experiences, which for toddlers I guess is more like... a new reality. The first big adjustment that our Miss had to make when we alighted in Bangkok was getting her head around the fact that these people, while of Asian denomination, didn't understand a peep of her Japanese chirping - much to her bewilderment. "Why won't she answer me?" She asked E (in Japanese) after proudly telling a flight attendant at BKK airport her age. "You have to speak English to her, darling", E replied (in English) to which the typically smiley, outgoing Thai lady added "Yes, speak English, please!". A request which Miss politely, silently refused. After the initial puzzlement, she pretty quickly cottoned on to the fact that we most definitely "weren't in Kansas anymore" and as an upshot, started to speak the most English she has ever had to speak in her short 3 1/2 years.
At home in Kyoto, her and the boy's day to day English input comes from yours truly, E, our friends and family on Skype and sesamestreet.org So travelling, even to another non-English speaking country, really opened her ears to English as a global language, and not just a language that Elmo and Dad speak. The real fillip for her English, though was the communication she shared with her Grandma and Grandpa, who were waiting for us at our hotel in Bangkok when we arrived in the wee small hours, and the holiday began.
We spent the first day at Chatuchak market, a hulk of a place; an incredible maze of stalls, shouting and selling everything you can imagine - impossible to grasp in a day. In fact, such is its magnitude, that it didn't dawn on me until about halfway through the afternoon that I had actually been there before, some years ago. After ambling through the myriad of alleys and absorbing all we could for the moment, we set up a home base in the park (via a lady who rented us a straw mat to sit on - this place had no shortage of would-be entrepreneurs).
By now, the kids seemed to have decided Bangkok was a perfectly acceptable place to run amok - and what better place to get to know the locals than on the playground! The universality of kid's playing on a jungle gym can never be underestimated.
After our overnight flight and a day spent careening through subway stations and the Godzilla of all markets, it was definitely time to find a place to sit down and reflect over a glass of cold Chang. We made our way to the tourist information centre to ask after a good Thai restaurant, which apparently wasn't the easiest question in the manual to answer for the young lady. She made a vague suggestion about a Thai restaurant around the corner and down the way, but seemed more intent on sending us to the shopping mall next to the train station, saying: "It's got a lot of foreign foods, you know... a food court!" She seemed to be implying that we were somewhat off our heads to be wanting to eat Thai food in Bangkok, especially when there was a McDonalds... right there! Well, we thanked her for her help, and her vague suggestion, and made a beeline for the Thai restaurant, which turned out to be a fantastic place with great staff and food fit for the King of Thailand himself. Aroi! (It did cross my mind to head back to the tourist info place afterwards and thank the lady for her suggestion ... but she probably wouldn't have believed me!)
With bellies full and senses over-saturated, we headed back to our hotel and the next morning, after a trip to the supermarket for some vitals for the van ride, we set off on the next leg of the trip: a 2 hour "truck race" and speed boat ride to Koh Samet - our island getaway...