26th August 2013 – 1st September 2013
Well, the house is let out (our tenant has the renovated bathroom and kitchen we always wanted), our cars are shuffled out of the way, and our worldly goods are whittled down to a series of backpacks – one for each child and one each for us.
Slightly overloaded – the boys’ school materials upsetting a time-honoured system of what goes where in the backpack, honed over years of travels, we are driven to Perth airport on a Monday morning. Bags are checked in, the girl behind the counter notes they’re a little overweight, glances at the kids and hands boarding passes to us.
We churn through the routine of waiting, customs, and before long we are in the air.
This is it! Somehow the cares and concerns that have troubled our days and nights over the last few months shrink like the lights of the city.
For our first flight we flew Jetstar to Singapore, a more pleasant option than the economical but fundamentalist budget travel of Tiger Air, which has taken us into Asia in recent years. Not the most fair comparison: the last few months have seen Singapore’s worn out budget terminal closed and even the most budget airlines now have the use of Terminal 1, which makes arrival much more pleasant. Passports stamped and arrival cards are completed in quintuplicate (how is it the most advanced country in the region still makes you write nationality = ‘Australian’ THREE TIMES on a single A5 slip of paper?).
A loquacious taxi driver takes us to our hostel in little India. “They’re building another MRT line: Soon Singapore will have no earth left under it, and we’ll sink into the sea.” Settings these concerns aside for now, we settle in to our pre-booked hostel, and commence an exercise in acclimatisation to the tropics. Our pre-trip booking has brought us to within a block of where we stayed last year – we can enjoy some food at some of our favourite local hawker vendors. As if to remind us we are in the tropics, we are greeted by the twin tropical storms of a four year old who is not permitted to sleep on a top bunk, and an actual afternoon downpour that fills the gutters with refreshing rain. Both soon pass.
Important objectives are established, and trip parameters determined. The boys decide there will be a random, occasional rating system for trip experiences (journeys, tours, food, accommodation, anything): thus the International Sabre-Toothed Chicken Ratings Unit (ISTCRU) is defined, in the inimitable manner of children. Items will be rated on a scale of 10, or 5, or 13, (or, in Felix’s case: a hundred thousand million billion.)
Some say Singapore is sterile, but it has it’s advantages. For us, it’s the familiarity – the boys know Singapore, they’ve dipped their toes in it on a previous trip. It has Little India, hawker food, and parents who need a breather after six months of crazy planning and preparation. It also has the Singapore Science Centre (like Perth’s Scitech on steroids). Most importantly for our tribe, it has proximity to Johor Bahru (JB) in Malaysia, and JB has…Legoland.
Singapore got us into the groove. On day one the boys had trouble negotiating the heat and pavements of Serangoon Road from our hostel to the close by Tekka Markets. By day four they were on their feet all day at Legoland (boosted by a healthy dose of excitement).
Day five was an early start, and we are whizzed back to Changi in the relative cool of pre-dawn. Another flight – one of those where you spend more time checking in and waiting in the departure lounge than the flight itself – another few hours longer and we’re in Bangkok. Once again, by the time we made it off the plane, always last – all of the other passengers have lined up at the immigration desk. But this is Thailand and we benefit from the Thai’s soft spot for young children. They divert us to a special desk for families (and the elderly, and pregnant) and we are through, the friendly smile of the immigration officer ill-concealed beneath her thin veneer of officialdom.
We plunge into the chaos of Bangkok (Six of us and all our bags in a small sedan – no taxi passenger limits here!). This is the world of overhead railways and 7-Elevens, of shacks, and tiny rice paddies and vast, crumbling post-apocalyptic billboards towering over elaborate Wats. Our muddled directions are interpreted with a smile and several one-handed phone calls by the driver, and we reach our almost new room-o-rama apartment in Sukhomvit. It’s cool, it’s clean, and it has an infinity pool with a great view of Udom Suk Skytrain station.
It’s odd how the wearying routine of the international flight can at least temporarily be put aside by arriving at a new destination. We rally ourselves and head out into the evening streets – taking the Skytrain three stops to the Udom Suk Markets. A quick meal – we are tentatively extending what quality of food we’ll eat – and a Leo Beer, and we have truly arrived in Thailand.
Over the next two days we explored the City again – once more skipping the Grand Palace and dodging the Khao San Road. On the first full day we diverted to the spacious and clean Hospital For Tropical Diseases – taking the advice of some other family travellers and commencing a regime of travel medication (Rabies and Japanese Encephalitis shots, and Cholera medication). After this episode, which was a smooth and minimally unpleasant one which we’d recommend to others, we took a ferry down the river and wandered through Chinatown to remind ourselves we were still in Bangkok…
The last day of our Bangkok stay was spent on a rather touristic diversion to the ‘floating’ markets south west of Bangkok. It started rather comically with a disgruntled taxi driver who agreed to take us there without apparently knowing where it was… Amphawa is 60km or so from the city, a fact to which perhaps he should have availed himself prior to setting the meter running. After finally being deposited further on from Amphawa, down the road at Damnoen Saduk, we paid the agreed fare and left his grumpy countenance behind, his face half glaring at us, and half imploring we’d never get back home without him. We suspect that he is still there, waiting for us to come back and pay him the return fare to Bangkok.
Taking a boat, we zoomed through the forest, passing stilt villages, and circling the markets once or twice. Buying some fruit, we passed on the tacky souvenirs (carved wooden phallus anyone?) and then headed downriver the hour or so to Amphawa itself. A pleasant enough day, and the minivan ride back to the city was a somewhat false positive introduction to this regionally universal method of transport.
Week 1 is over, we are still in familiar territory and, as the start of our Choose Your Own Adventure, we’re on the page we planned to be.