The moment the kids walked outside for the day from air conditioned comfort into Bangkok’s heat and humidity (and mind you, this was in its ‘coolest’ month) they went from boisterous chatty creatures to an upright form of sloth – with all respect to sloths everywhere – barely able to put one foot in front of the other without uttering something like, “I’m so tired” or “when are we going home” or most often “can we have an ice cream?”. In fairness to them, they were troopers, because getting around Bangkok required tackling the axis of travel evil: heat, crowds and traffic congestion. There’s so many wonderful layers to Bangkok, so many nooks and crannies to dig around in – and some big ticket attractions for kids – but staying sane whilst navigating around with Bug, Squirt and Koala required that we commit to half day outings (when mostly out of air conditioned spaces) in the knowledge that around two hours of that could easily be spent commuting. Unless we did a ‘capital A’ style attraction, we’d prefer to leave the apartment around 2pm and end up back after dark at around 7-8pm when it was cooler and the commuting less intense. They were routinely crushed nose to belly button with hundreds of locals on ferries and Skytrains or in the long winding queues to either.
Tuk tuks were fun for short trips if Lisa and I felt up to a hearty bit of friendly bartering. Metered taxis were more comfortable but not necessarily faster in the mind-bending traffic. And with our super-poor Thai, there was an even chance of bundling out of taxi we’d just bundled into due to simply being unable to communicate our destination, even with a virtual armoury of digital maps and translation apps.
So what did we do? Each day was assigned a ranking from 1 to 4 according to the globally-recognised Child Bribery Ice Cream Scale, indicating the extent to wish we’d pushed them into travel boot camp territory.
Our studio apartment was small but great, on the ninth floor of a condo on the Thonburi (west) side and within easy walking distance of the Chao Phraya River, with a lovely big pool, supermarket downstairs and the SkyTrain nearby. It was good value for money but if we ever come back to Bangkok we’ll look to stay more centrally on the other side of the river.
The food was fantastic, the street food plentiful, and there was barely a hint of belly issues between us (thank goodness). Fresh juices continued to be a hit; orange, watermelon and mango occupying the podium. Kids otherwise thrived on rice, eggs, pasta and fries, rejoicing no doubt in meal after meal where not a vegetable could be seen lurking menacingly on their plates. Us mums sidestepped fish balls, super-exotic seafood and papaya salads (put out the fire!!) but otherwise tried a few different things, gravitating back to iconic pad thai, red curry, green curry, and tom ka gai. Delicious.
We hung out at the local and free Children’s Discovery Centre, together with a couple of busloads of school kids, staring at us like we were lost strays. A library, art room, dinosaur exhibit, puzzles, mirror room, playground and splash park made for a pleasant low-key first day.
The Red Cross Snake Farm took the adrenaline level up a hundred fold. They run a great facility, making antivenin for use across the country and have the largest collection of snakes we reckon we’ve seen. King Cobras, Pitvipers and Pythons were standouts in their snake handling show. A pit full of baby pythons brought flashbacks of Indiana Jones. Watching our kids barely stand up under the weight of a massive snake worked our counter-intuition muscle to the max. We also happened to be there at closing time and witnessed four guys move two massive Burmese Pythons to a new display (one at a time I might clarify). So did a Canadian woman and her young son. As we watched two very large and very tetchy snakes case out their new digs through glass that didn’t look quite thick enough, Koala’s hand brushed ever so slowly against the woman’s leg nearly sending her into orbit.
Loi Krathong is one of the biggest festivals in Thailand and, yep, we hit the jackpot…couldn’t believe our luck. We took a ferry at Sathorn Taksin Pier near our apartment, walking first past dozens of pop-up stalls selling beautiful and intricate arrangements made of mostly banana leaves and flowers, each holding a candle and incense. We learnt later thanks to the internet that Loi Krathong means literally to ‘float a basket’ so around Thailand folks make or buy one of these pieces of art, light the candle and incense, maybe add a lock of their hair, and then float them at the nearest pond, lake, river or beach as a ritual to signify letting go of the old (pain, disappointment, transgressions) and starting fresh. Being a city of around 8 million, the vantage points on Bangkok’s main river were packed all evening. And without thinking much (surprised??) we ended up taking the ferry near sunset to one particular hot spot – a wonderful riverside market called Asiatique. All was fine and dandy and party-like until we naively started our trip home and, whoa, humanity crush. Our 15 minute trip over turned into a 90 minute trip back. Queuing for ages, praying everyone’s bladders held out, we saw boats bursting with incoming passengers jostle on the water for next rights to dock and reload. As our ferry lurched away from the pier with surely more people aboard than it could safely hold, we watched as ever more baskets were being carefully lowered into the water, struck by the sight of a literal sea of bobbing candles under a full moon. A moment of magic in the madness. Hats off to the kids for not complaining once and they were more than compensated with a front row seat to the late night fireworks display from our balcony …. yep, after devouring yet another ice cream.
Bangkok is a shopping mecca but having zero room in our luggage for more stuff meant we were merely warming the bench. But then the zip on my old daypack died and so off to MBK Centre we went followed by a short tuk tuk ride to More Than a Game Café – a fabulous place where you can rent board games for as long as you want and have a latte or two. The kids ended up playing Game of Life and, rather perplexingly, revelling in the trials of marriage, babies, mortgages and career choices. We have weird kids.
On our temple day, we knew our family had only one Wat in us, so we chose the spectacular Wat Pho (Temple of the Reclining Buddha). We went at dusk when it was quiet and the setting sun set the ornate spires and rooftops ablaze. There was the extraordinary opportunity to quietly sit in the company of chanting monks. We patted a Siamese cat or three, marvelled at the many statues, placed coins in the monks’ alms bowls, discussed religion, and stood in awe in front of that giant, 46 metre long buddha. Being considered the 17th most popular destination on Trip Advisor was promoted with particular pride. Ever competitive, Bug was bummed that it outdid the Sydney Opera House by three places.
The crowning day was spent at Kidzania, a virtual kids world where they get to experience different professions with eye-popping detail and a strict no-parental-helicopter-interference mojo. They wear electronic tag bracelets and so can safely wander the facility at large, trying out each new experience with the guidance of bi-lingual staff and earning and spending Kidszania dollars, all with an emphasis on decision-making, independence and fun. They were paramedics, vets, burger flippers, TV anchors, petrol station attendants, police officers, magicians, engineers, factory workers, construction workers and tomato farmers. They didn’t stop all day and tears of disappointment flowed freely at closing time.
Oh, and I lost a phone.