As Sarah mentioned in the previous post, we restarted our travel with the added company of family, Sarah’s family to be exact. Some of the family had international travel under their belt but it had been many years since their last trip and they’d never been to any countries like Thailand. So, to say the least, this was going to be a whole new experience for all of them. By the time of this particular leg of the trip, Sarah and I had been traveling for about seven months total, with five of those months in south and southeast Asia. So we were familiar with the style of travel that the family was about to be thrown into. We planned to do our best to give them a taste of our style of travel, i.e. budget travel. I think the two of us were just as excited about observing our new travel companions experience Thailand for the first time as we were to be out traveling again.
The entire trip entailed two weeks of travel in three specific areas in Thailand, i.e. Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and Phuket, the middle, north, and south, respectively. Because of the two week time constraint (us Americans get a fraction of the vacation time that other Western countries get) we had a relatively tight schedule and could only spend a few days in two of the locations. The first few days of that two week trip were spent in Bangkok.
Thailand is almost exactly on the other side of the planet from where we live in Massachusetts. This required everyone to do their best to adjust to the new time zone as quickly as possible, which is eleven hours ahead of the Eastern Standard Time zone we were coming from. By the time the flights arrived in Bangkok around 2 PM, we were all feeling like it was 3 AM. From then on it took us all nearly the the entire three days we were in Bangkok to adjust not only to the time difference, but also to the completely new environment, the heat and humidity, and the fast pace we’d set for ourselves.
The first day in Bangkok was spent getting to our hotel and familiarizing ourselves with the surrounding area. Sarah and I had stayed in this area before and because of its easy access to the excellent public train system, inexpensive hotels, and abundance of food and shopping markets, opted to stay there again with the family.
The two of us did our best to prepare everyone ahead of time in an attempt to properly set their expectations. This is a challenging thing to do for two reasons. The first reason is that it’s hard to know just how adaptable each person is when thrown into a new situation and just what kind of information might help them best prepare. The second reason is that no matter how well you think you’ve described what to expect, you can never paint a complete picture. Lack of a complete picture is probably a good thing though, because part of the joy of travel is being thrown into completely foreign situations that surprise you and take you out of your element, and often times, your comfort zone. It’s safe to say that Bangkok, and Thailand in general, did those things for most, or all, of our new travel companions.
This adjustment phase created an array of emotions and some interesting interactions within the group. Not only did each individual need to make their own adjustments, the group as a whole went through a melding period, where we as a group of travelers had to find our collective groove. Anyone who has traveled with other people, especially a larger group, will understand the challenges that come with traveling as a group. Making decisions take longer. Some people are reluctant to speak up in fear of upsetting the group. Each person has a different pace and different interests. And sometimes people are just having a bad day. I’m happy to say that everyone, though at their own pace, successfully found their groove and settled in nicely.
The next two days were jam packed with as much activity as was possible. The second day started with breakfast at a chicken noodle soup food cart right outside of our hotel. Everyone in the group loved both the soup and their first authentic food cart experience in Thailand.
Next we headed off to China Town to explore the markets and more food carts. We opted to take a Tuk Tuk so that everyone could experience a ride on one of these whacky three wheeled “taxis”. I think some in the group feared for their lives a bit. Driving in the U.S. is a pretty straight forward experience, though, still considered a relatively dangerous activity. Driving in a country like Thailand takes it up a notch for sure, especially when you’re the passenger in a Tuk Tuk. They’re open air and there doesn’t seem to be any safety precautions taken in regard to a passenger’s well being. We crammed four people into one Tuk Tuk and three into another. It was a little tight and we were definitely busting at the seams, so to speak, but it worked and we made it safely to our destination. As part of our trip through China Town we tried to find India Town, but only scratched the surface of that area because we had to rush off to make our way to the floating market that was quite a ways outside of the city.
Getting to the floating market was another interesting transportation experience. After making our way to the minibus depot, we purchased our tickets and found out that the next available minibus for a group our size didn’t leave for about another hour and a half. This meant that once we got to the floating market we’d be strapped for time, but opted to do it anyway. It was a now or never situation. Sarah and I have taken many forms of public transportation around the world and in many cases it’s a first come first serve setup. Meaning, you have to be aggressive about getting a seat or you may not get one at all. I saw people hovering near the parked minibuses and assumed that this was going to be the case. So we gathered the troops and staked our claim in the parking lot waiting for our minibus to arrive. It turned out that despite all outward appearances, there was order and we would indeed be guaranteed a spot on the minibus that we purchased tickets for. Why did we ever doubt Thailand? Thailand, you’re so good at whatever you do.
As we had expected, we arrived at the floating market with just enough time to walk around and maybe take a boat tour. Rushed as we were, we quickly agreed to take an hour long boat tour. Rushed as we were, we overlooked the details of the boat tour and ended up riding the boat on a long loop around an island at night on the hunt for fire flies. Fire flies are not why we came to the market. We thought the boat tour would drive us through the floating market. Not the case. So we encouraged the driver to make the hour long tour more like a half hour tour. So he sped along, stopping a few times to check out fire flies, and that was plenty by the way (side note: it’s hard to take pictures of fire flies at night, on a moving boat without using your camera’s flash. If you use a flash you don’t see fire flies and if you don’t use a flash the picture is blurry …what to do?). After our compressed boat tour we quickly made our way through the land portion of the floating market. Our return minibus was leaving soon so we ordered food to go and headed to the minibus stop.
The floating market was cool but not what any of us had pictured in our heads. The romantic image of local Thais floating around in wooden boats selling produce to market goers is a thing of the past, at least at the market we experienced. The market was more geared towards tourism and grabbing a bite to eat. Regardless of that it was still a fun and memorable experience.
Day three, our final day, started off a little slower but ended up just as busy and exhausting as the day before. In planning for the few days we were to spend in Bangkok, Sarah and I decided that the group might like to check out the Grand Palace. During our first and second visit to Bangkok—Sarah and I had been there twice before—we held off on visiting the palace, knowing that we’d see it during the family trip. So when we found out that the palace might be closed, we were very disappointed. It turned out, unbeknownst to us, that there was a special coronation anniversary celebration going on during the three day period that we were there. Someone at our hotel informed me of this one morning and a couple other sources seemed to confirm this. But no one was really sure which days the palace was open or closed during the celebration. From experience, we’ve found it’s best to take a poll from several local people before making a decision. Some people just don’t know, but won’t tell you that they don’t know. And others find clever ways to mislead tourists so that you might instead partake in one of their organized tours of some other interesting site. After asking around we decided to risk it and take the bus journey to the palace. I’m happy to report that the palace was indeed open and was one of the most amazing palaces I’ve every seen.
That day was maybe one of the hottest and most humid days we’d experienced thus far in Bangkok. So after returning to the hotel some of us opted for a nap to rest up for whatever our last night in Bangkok might bring. After waking from our nap we gathered outside of our hotel and relaxed while some of the group enjoyed frosty beverages (as frosty as you can get in muggy Bangkok) and chilled wine. At some point during this relaxation session we were joined by a friendly German couple also on their last night in town, in fact it was their last night in Thailand before heading back to Germany. The couple had been to Bangkok several times before and suggested that we experience Khao San Road before we leave. Khao San Rd. is in fact a road, but also an area popular with backpackers, especially those looking to party. After a bit more consumption of frosty beverages and one member of the group “falling asleep” early due to too much consumption of frosty beverages, we decided to roll with it and make our way to Khao San Rd. Paul, our German friend, would be our guide for the night.
Spending our last night there was an awesome experience and great way to cap off our time in Bangkok. Ma and Pa Caulfield (Sarah’s parents) joined in on the festivities and truly got the full experience. These Caulfields know how to have a good time. I’ll let the photos below tell the story from that night.
I guess at this point in the post I should explain the title of this post, “Stop and Reflect”. I don’t fully recall how it came about or who exactly said it, but it became the motto of the trip. I mentioned some of the challenges of travel, specifically some we experienced in Bangkok. At times those experiences created a bit of stress and anxiety for the group. And in those times someone in the group would inevitably say, “Stop and Reflect”, to help remind us just how amazing it was that we were in a place like Thailand, with great people, having the time of our lives. So with Bangkok in the bag and our new trip motto to help us along, we made our way north to the quieter city of Chiang Mai.