Bangkok – Days 264-269

You cannot spend more than a month in Thailand and not visit Bangkok. Can you? We decided you couldn’t, so we booked our last five nights in Asia at the Sheraton, Royal Orchid on the Chao Phraya River. Knowing how hot Bangkok could be, we opted for a well-air-conditioned hotel, some creature comforts, and a pool.

The hotel was right across the river from a Mega Mall with a nightly water fountain show (IconSiam) and a free boat shuttle to get there. Given Bangkok’s climate and oppressive heat, shopping malls are quite the scene with upscale restaurants and tons of action. We spent a lot of time at the megamall doing everything from eating Michelin-star roasted duck to entertaining the kids with a claw machine at the arcade (at only 20 cents per try, we actually won a stuffed animal). You could find every level of dining at the mall, which was great as the kids ate Japanese takeout while Mike and I savoured our last days of spicy Thai cuisine.

Most visitors to Bangkok can list all the impressive temples and palaces they visited with all their Buddha statues. Both Mike and I have been to Bangkok before and have seen the major tourist sites. We’ve also been to many temples over the last three months with the kids, so we discovered different things in the city this time.

On day 3, We decided it was time to split the kids up for a day. Isabella and Julie spend 24 hours a day together every day. They get along incredibly well and only fight about inconsequential stuff, like who gets to sleep with this stuffed animal tonight. But sometimes, we like splitting them apart and giving them one-on-one parent time. It is incredible how much Julie (the shy quieter one) opens up when you have her alone. Isabella just inundates us with questions about everything you can think of, from the tooth fairy to swear words. Anyhow, we split up in Bangkok on a stiflingly hot day and did not tell the other pair where we were going. Isabella and I took a taxi to a giant mall and went 10-pin bowling and shopping. Surprisingly Mike had a very similar idea and took Julie to a different mall with a trampoline park. Both kids finished off their days with special meals: steak for Izzie and Margherita pizza for Julie.

The next thing we did in Bangkok was go to the dentist. We are vigilant about going every six months at home and thought it would be cheaper to get this done in Bangkok than in Europe. We found a dentist who picked us up from our hotel and would take all four of us at the same time (many dentists would not take the kids). Mike was not impressed with the 60-minute car transfer (which turned into 90 minutes back during the evening rush hour) but the dentist’s office was something to behold. Apparently, he is known as the “rock star” dentist (you would not know this from the website) and his waiting room looks kind of like a Las Vegas wedding chapel. I was concerned when I saw how many people were ahead of us but we were quickly whisked into the celebrity dentist’s office and he examined each of us himself before letting us go for a cleaning. Julie was told that she is the best brusher in the family, a fact that she now reminds us of frequently. Mike and I experienced Air polishing, which we’d never had at home and we all left the office happy to have a fresh smile.

Another great part of Bangkok was getting to see my friend Chanisa again. Flashback to 15 years ago, my master’s degree program was a tiny class with only 25 close-knit students. Many of us now live in other parts of the world, and catching up is always fun. Chanisa planned an excellent day where we took a boat to a floating market with her family. We got to try some Thai foods that we would have never tried and the kids got to play with another kid which was great. A highlight was spotting water monitors in the river while we meandered through the canals. It is always nice to meet friends along our journey.

After the high of the liveaboard boat, Bangkok turned into a pleasant five days to relax, regroup and prepare for the next leg of the trip. We finally said goodbye to South East Asia and boarded a plane to Abu Dhabi.

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Thailand Liveaboard Boat -The Phinisi- Days 260-264

First things first. You have to know that I utterly adore Scuba Diving. I discovered scuba diving at age twelve when my mom accidentally booked a scuba dive resort instead of an all-inclusive one in the Bahamas. She knew that the hotel offered scuba diving, but she wasn’t quite aware that everything there revolved around scuba: from after-dinner dive briefings to communal tables so that you could discuss the days’ dives. I was hooked from Day 1! On this first trip to the Bahamas, I was always accompanied by an instructor since I was so young and couldn’t dive alone. But as soon as I turned 14, I took a course and became a certified diver. I never had a dive partner or someone to take dive holidays with, so I resigned to a day of diving by myself here and there whenever I went somewhere near the ocean.

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Luang Prabang – Days 247 – 251

We had high expectations for Luang Prabang, with many of the travel bloggers we follow writing that it was their favourite location in Southeast Asia. We knew we were heading to a city packed with Unesco-protected temples encircled by the beautiful Mekong and Khan Rivers. We booked a hotel with a river view and prepared for five days of exploration. Walking around the city was as beautiful as we had imagined. French colonial buildings were set next to temple after temple. We visited several sites and walked up the mountain in the town centre at sunset for beautiful views of the area below.

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Laos Homestay – Days 245 & 246

One of the reasons we’re taking this trip is that we want the girls to see how different people around the world live. While we’ve been to many places, we have not spent much time in rural communities and have not done a homestay yet. This all changed when we disembarked the slow boat and set off to visit the village of Muang Soune with our homestay guide Kham. She grew up in this village, which is home to both ethnic Lao people and Hmong people. Kham returns with small groups of tourists to a newly built wooden house she owns surrounded by fruit trees on the outskirts of the village. This place is not on Google Maps – a tiny village on the Ou River north of Luang Prabang.

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Chiang Mai – Finally a Tuk-tuk for Isabella – Days 229 – 237

Family with Tuk Tuk driver smiling

Chiang Mai is a very popular city for digital nomads and travelling families. There is so much to do in Chiang Mai and, despite the smog (caused mainly by rice field burning), we enjoyed our time in this Northern city. When we arrived, Isabella and I made a Powerpoint presentation (I can’t help it) about all the attractions and activities on offer. Each family member got to pick 2 things that we’d add to the itinerary. Initially, I thought that the list was a bit ambitious for our slow travel style but we were going to be in the city for 9 days so we set out to do the following:

  1. Visit the Chiang Mai Zoo and see a Panda: Julie pick
  2. Go to the Planetarium: Isabella pick
  3. Float down a river on a bamboo raft: Isabella pick
  4. Visit Cocoon farm and see silk being made: Julie pick
  5. Go the Sunday Night Market: Paige
  6. Do a cooking class: Paige pick
  7. Go to a Soccer Game: Mike pick
  8. Make paper from Elephant poo: Mike pick

Guess how we did? I can tell you we did 7/8. Read on to see which one we missed.

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Koh Tao – Could Thailand ever live up to the backpacker memories? – Day 212 -228

Have I mentioned that I love Thailand? Secretly, I worried that I would find a very different Thailand than the one I remember from when I was a 22-year-old. I knew that I could find a Singha beer, a plate of pad thai and a banana chocolate crepe, but I was going as a middle-aged person with kids…. What was it going to be like? To be honest, the first day had me worried.

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Cameron Highlands – Tea Plantation Time – Days 197-199

I have always wanted to visit a tea plantation. We are not planning to go to India or Sri Lanka on the trip so I figured that the Malaysian Highlands was a must-stop. I knew basically nothing about the Cameron Highlands except that there were tea plantations and it was in the direction of Penang, which was our next destination. We planned a three-night stop (again against our rules of one-week minimum) because there did not seem to be a lot to do in the Cameron Highlands beyond the tea plantations. I also struggled to figure out where to stay as there seemed to be only expensive and cheap hotels with little in between -and everything seemed poorly reviewed. So we opted for an Airbnb in the town of Tanah Rata.

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Bali – Christmas and Family – Days 168 – 182

On Day 15 in Bali, my mom (Nan) arrived, and the girls were ecstatic to show her around Ubud and visit the Monkey Forest, which we were saving for her arrival. We were sad to leave Villa Ole but looked forward to Villa Gajah, which was on the opposite side of town and promised four bedrooms with spectacular rice field views. We would be there for Christmas, and my mom had booked the place six months ago, so we were all waiting to see it in person.

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Melbourne Days 150 – 153

I’m not sure why … but it seems like the last stop in a country is always a bit less exciting than the first stops. This was true of Bogota in Colombia, Vancouver in BC, and we felt the same about Melbourne in Australia. I have been to Melbourne twice before (albeit 20 years ago) and loved the city, but this time it was not our favourite spot. Maybe it was because we had loved Tasmania and Sydney so much or maybe it was because we did not have a great Airbnb (understatement). Or maybe we were just excited to be going to Bali in three days and our minds were elsewhere.

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Sydney – Time to check some bucket list boxes – Days 130-136

First time in Australia for Mike and the kids….check…..New continent….check…..Opera house…..check…..Bondi beach….check.

Australia was for the kids. There’s a Netflix show called “Izzy Koala” and our daughter, Isabella, dreams of being a koala rescuer too. When we started talking about the trip, her little brain came up with the idea that we could visit Izzy’s koala sanctuary. Unfortunately, Izzy Koala does not take visitors but the idea of a stop in Oz was stuck in my head. Since I’d been to Australia already, Michael was going to be hard-pressed to convince me to come on a separate trip just to Australia so adding it to this world trip itinerary seemed like a good idea. We were off to the land of koalas, kangaroo and shrimp on the barbie; the first stop was Sydney.

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