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Bangkok

We flew out of the cool, orderly, hustle and bustle of Tokyo and entered into to the hot and chaotic world of Bangkok on the 11th of April.  We had another very uneventful flight – with the girls settling in very quickly to unrestricted and unlimited electronic entertainment nirvana.  Though Lucia could not be torn away from her movies, Amelie was happy to take a long much-needed nap after all activity in Tokyo the days before.

We landed in the new airport in Bangkok, which looked very impressive and modern.  We wormed our way past the “special taxi” touts and outside to the normal taxi line and were off to the Swan Hotel.  http://www.swanhotelbkk.com/home.html.  The combination of the heat, and frogger-like navigation in the Bangkok traffic caused a bit of an issue with Amelie as she threw up on the way in to the city.  We had lots of warning and a plastic bag ready … but we definitely noticed the driver picked up the pace a notch when he realized what was happening in the back.

We got settled in to the hotel quickly, but we definitely weren’t in Tokyo anymore.  The heat and humidity hit us all like a hot blanket and definitely impacted our mobility with the girls.  Luckily the hotel had a beautiful pool which saw much use from the Simpson family.  We had a bit of a scare when Amelie (who is still learning how to swim) fell into the pool.  Katharina was nearby and headed towards her … but Amelie was brought to the edge by a friendly adult next to her in the pool.  It gave Amelie (and the parents) a bit of a scare … and motivated Mom and Dad to really start working on getting her swimming.

Some highlights from Bangkok:

  • Taking a boat taxi along the river that runs through the heart of the city.  From here, you get an excellent sense of Bangkok.  The river is used actively as a transport system, filled with a myriad of ships that ply the river – ferries, long-tail boats, short-haul taxis that do nothing but cross the width of the river back and forth at various points etc.  The canal is lined by diverse and interesting buildings, ranging from ancient castle-like temples to very basic homes on stilts made of corrogated tin and dilapidated lumber.  It is here that we had an interesting moment with Amelie as she looked at the not so nice houses that lined the river (some looked like abandoned buildings to our eyes … but were actively occupied).  She reached over on her own, gave Brad a hug, and said “Thank you Daddy for working so hard to buy us a nice house”.  We are hoping that some of this is sinking in for both of the girls.  Not everyone has a car, lives in a nice house etc.
  • Arriving in Thailand at the beginning of the national SongKram festival – effectively the Thai New Year celebration.  With its roots still firmly entrenched in Buddism, there are religious festivals and parades throughout country… but a big aspect of the holiday is that it transforms the city (and country) into one giant waterfight.  People are walking everywhere armed to the teeth with squirt guns – make eye contact (or not) and BLAM you get squirted.  Pick-up trucks with a host of people and a giant garbage can full of water in the back (along with plenty of squirt guns) swarm the city streets and do drive-by shootings.  Picture the fighters in Somalia you see on TV riding in the back of the pick-up trucks with guns hanging out everywhere – it is exactly like that, except these guns are pink, blue, and yellow plastic and everyone is smiling  🙂  It is accepted, and expected, that you are going to get wet if you go out on the streets during the four day festival – and everyone has special waterproof bags for their cell phones and wallets.  We armed the girls with a couple of guns and went to join the fun.  Though it began with great fun for all of us, unfortunately after a while it all became a bit overwhelming for Amelie and we had to eventually beat a hasty retreat back to our hotel.  In one of those classic “poor decision” moments … we decided to head back to the hotel in an open air Tuk-Tuk (as taxis were hard to come by at the moment we were looking, or at least this is what we tell ourselves now).  We were hit many times by buckets of water or squirt guns on the way home – each time illiciting new screams of anguish from our little girl until we could get her back to the relative safety of our hotel.  Lucia LOVED the Tuk Tuk (Daddy it feels like we are in a race car!) and the waterfight.
  • Going to the largest aquarium in Asia http://www.siamoceanworld.co.th  It was a beautiful aquarium filled with all kinds of sea life that we don’t see in North America.  The girls were very excited as they ran from tank to tank, with Lucia doing her classic jumping up and down in excitement more than a few times.  There was also a tunnel where you walked “through” a giant tank filled with sharks, sting rays, and tropical fish.  It was an amazing experience and felt like you were walking under the ocean….that is until the onslaught of other tourists filled the tunnel and it became a claustrophoic nightmare.   Fire codes were definitely not something being considered.
  • Where ever we go, parks are always a highlight for the girls.  Though this one did not include a playground, it was a beautifully manicured oasis in a loud city, filled with fragrant flowers, and better yet….at least for Lucia…frogs.  A passing security guard, noticing our interest in the frogs, demonstrated how to feed the frogs a lotus flower by dangling it before them on a long stick.  Lucia was enthralled!  While Amelie combed the park for fallen flowers for her hair, Lucia fed as many frogs as possible and could hardly be torn away at the end of our visit.  She asked many times in the following days if we could go back to get the frog and make him a home at the hotel.
  • For Kat, another highlight of Bangkok was the wonderfully air-conditioned and ultra clean and shiny shopping center.  Oh if only she had had some time to check out a few shops!  …..still a major regret….  🙂

Off to the resort town of Hua Hin on the east coast of Thailand next.

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Tokyo Subway Map

Tokyo Subway Map

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Travels in Tokyo – April 4th – 11th

We were fairly worried about taking on a long flight direct from Calgary to Bangkok and opted to break the trip up with an extended stop-over in Tokyo, where Katharina spent some time teaching English back in her university days.

We booked a direct flight (10.5hrs) from Calgary to Tokyo to start off our family adventure.

The flight went exceptionally well – in no small part we are sure, due to the entertainment options available for each seat.  The girls could watch/listen to all kinds of different movies and shows which, along with a short nap, helped pass the time relatively painlessly for everyone.

The Tokyo airport was big and busy and we had our first examples (with many more to come) of the Japanese hospitality and politeness.  We were quickly grabbed by an airport hostess who whisked us past the 200 people in line for passport control and planted us right in the front of the line (because we were travelling with small kids).  Feeling a little bit guilty, we were nonetheless through the line in short order and officially in Japan.

Another airport employee walked us halfway through the airport to help get us on the right train. Shortly thereafter we were walking into our Japanese style hotel – complete with tatami mat flooring, sliding bamboo dividers between the room’s sleeping and sitting areas, and simple futons/mattresses directly on the floor without bedframes.  It was very “Japanese” and authentic (Brad bumped his head everywhere he went – including the door to get in to our room which was probably about 4 inches shorter than he was). The girls and Kat even enjoyed the very hot communal ‘Japanese-style’ bath on the top-floor of our hotel. Daddy would have to have gone to the separate men’s bath, but introducing yourself to strangers in-the-nude takes some getting used to. 🙂

We ventured out and were introduced to the busy busy streets of Tokyo and the very different cuisines which prompted Amelie’s first instance of home sickness (16 hours after arriving and squarely food related) and was a harbringer of some of the food challenges we would have with the kids and their very limited palates. Thankfully, breakfast buffets have always offered the girls something to their liking, though their choices are not always as healthy as the muesli/hot oatmeal we generally eat at home.

We definitely had some challenges adapting to the 11 hour time zone change – with the family waking up in the very early hours of the morning for several days.  Lucia and Brad snuck down to read a story in the lobby of the hotel at 0200AM – felt a little lonely being down there in the middle of the night with no one around.

For Brad, it was absolutely amazing to see just how congested and crowded Tokyo is, he thinks far more than any other location he has been. He was glad that he had the extra height to place him above the crowds in those very busy locations. For Kat, these crowds in Japan seem far more comfortable to manuever than many of the streets here in Thailand from where we are right now. Although the streets are indeed busy, it is a polite, efficient mass of humanity all moving about in seemingly a completely organized and structured way…and on well cared for, clean streets, sidewalks, and public transport.

We had a nice time seeing a variety of different locations in Japan which brought back a lot of different memories for Kat.

The highlights:

  • Riding the Swan peddle boats in Ueno Park – the kids absolutely loved it and had lots of fun playing chicken with the other boats and trying their versions of peddling the boat even without the help of their parents.
  • Going to Ueno Zoo and seeing a lot of different animals from those at the Calgary Zoo, and in such a different setting. The Panda of course was a unique highlight, but the different flora here added as much to the experience as did the fauna. We all admired the different tree varieties, and the girls searched for their very own pieces of bamboo which would later be used as their personal musical instruments. The zoo visit came to a close with the girls running at full speed chasing pigeons through a sitting area shaded by beautifully blooming cherry blossom trees.  The look of pure joy on their faces as they screamed and hollered (in typical loud North American style) was most memorable.
  • Riding on one of the worlds’s biggest (150 m high, and 100m in diameter) Ferris Wheel. Brad was clearly the most nervous and uncomfortable one in the family and was thankful we hadn’t chosen to ride in one of the completedly transparent capsules made entirely of clear plastic/glass.
  • The views of this megatropolis and its modern architecture were even more impressive from the 45th floor observatory of the Tokyo Metropolitan building.
  • Tokyo Disneyland.  It was busy … but not too bad.  We had a ton of fun exploring the park and going on all of the different rides.  Lucia absolutely loved Space Mountain and didn’t seem to have a moment’s hesitation.  Our little daredevil in the making.
  • A giant (40 table) sushi restaurant where all the food whirled around the restaurant and by all of the tables on a giant conveyor belt.
  • Setting our watches (literally) with the subway system. The system is remarkably efficient although very complex. Take a look at the map we were using while we were there. Despite Katharina’s 4 months living in Tokyo (many years ago, she reminds) … it still took us quite a while to figure things out.
  • Following the beautifully tree-lined walkways of Yoyogi Park leading to the famous Meiji Shrine, we were lucky enough to observe part of a traditional Japanese wedding taking place. While we were sneaking photos of the bridal party in their traditional attire (kimonos etc.), other Japanese passersby subtlely snapped photos of the rare blonde girls walking the pathways with their homemade ‘crutches’ of sticks and playing with the fallen leaves in stream.
  • For Brad who does not regulary (until recently that is) spend all day with the children like mommy does, the ‘little things’ the girls do and say each day can bring wonderment. For example, Lucia starting to refuse to hold daddy’s hand as we went up the escalators – wanting to “do it herself”.  Although it sounds insignificant, these little moments offer interesting insights and markers as to how we will no doubt all evolve throughout this trip.
  • Finding a beautiful Japanese park that had both a playground (much to the girls’ delight) and an outdoor stage.  The girls entertained us (and a few Japanese passerbys) with an impromptu Justin Bieber Baby Baby concert.
  • Just experiencing one of the most densely populated places on the planet.
  • Watching Lucia’s eyes almost pop out of her head when Brad explained how the super technologically advanced toilets worked – heated seats, multiple settings for the little automatic squirt nozzle that washes your bum – you can choose temperature, pressure, water volume and angle.  It worked remarkabely well.

The challenges

  • The food issues with the kids.  It is not easy finding western style food and although the girls were good about trying different things… it seemed there were very very few things that didn’t get an “I don’t like it”.  They cannot live on ice cream alone, or can they?
  • Adjusting to the time zones …. although in retrospect it didn’t seem too bad, at the time it wasn’t the easiest being confined in our hotel room in the wee hours of the night, all awake, all trying to be quiet to not disturb our neighbours while we were a family wide awake.
  • Learning to change your speed of travel to accomodate the kids – everything, by neccessity, needs to slow down and come in small kid sized bites.

All for now – we fly out of Tokyo to Bangkok on April 11th.