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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Khao Lak – Back to the beach – Days 256-260

Empty shoreline on khao lak beach with palm trees

  After the last couple weeks in the north of Thailand and Laos, we made one last-ditch attempt to experience beach life before our time in the Middle East.  We were thinking Phuket, but it was high season and accommodation was expensive.  Instead, we booked ourselves into a nice hotel on a strip of sand about an hour north of Phuket.  We hadn’t heard of Khao Lak but the hotel we looked at was attractively priced and had very positive reviews.  After booking, we researched the area and then realized that the area has a sad history.  It appeared to be the area in Thailand most severely affected by the tsunami. 

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Vientiane to Thailand – Days 252-256

Family peace sign on second class train

Should we have skipped Vientiane?  Probably.  Maybe I feel that way because we were sad to be leaving Laos and excited to return to Thailand.  Our time in the Laos capital was so unremarkable we’ll focus on our epic journey from Vientiane down to Khao Lak in Thailand.  I imagine there were things to do in Vientiane, but we just phoned it in.  We barely left the hotel, didn’t care about eating local and spent too much time playing Pokemon.  Looking back, we just weren’t in the right head space from the get-go as our train from Luang Prabang wasn’t enjoyable, and it set the tone.

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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 Rai – Temples & Caves – Days 237-241

Smiling children in front of white temple

Having finalized our decision to take a “slow boat” to Laos, we made our way closer to the border in Northern Thailand. Chiang Rai would be our home for the next four days, and we kept things simple. Our only agenda item was to visit some famous temples. We stayed at a decent hotel with breakfast, a pool and a large lobby that we made our own. We passed the time playing board games, reading and catching up on school. Isabella was not pleased with the amount of schoolwork she had to get through! Julie was not impressed with the number of postcards we ended up writing!

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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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