Thursday, May 10, 2007

Pictures of the vacation












I need a vacation from my vacation. . .

We are back from our vacation. You know, it's a little ambitious to go on vacation with a toddler and a one-month old. Especially in a developing country. And most especially if one of the parents breaks an arm.

Wait a second, maybe I should back up a little. . .

The trip started out great. The school had one of their drivers take us to the train station in a school van (gotta love the chauffeur service). The train ride was uneventful, enjoyable even. And that's saying a lot for an eight-hour trip with a toddler and a baby. Trea loved riding the train, and loved being able to get up and walk around. There were four kids sitting behind us, all between the ages of 8 and 15, and they entertained Trea much of the way down.

Our first night in Bangkok, we stayed in the Twin Towers Hotel and ate dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe. Awesome food - nachos, Tuscan chicken salad, and a brownie sundae! All things that are scarce in Khon Kaen, if not non-existent. We even caught the last half-hour of a Law & Order rerun on cable, which is another treat for us.

After we left dinner, we were walking down the street to the mall, and suddenly a huge rat ran off the street and onto the sidewalk. It brushed against Trea's legs before disappearing down an alley. John and I both freaked out; luckily Trea didn't fully realize what had just happened.

Note to self: do not leave small children unattended in Bangkok. Ever. The rats might carry them off.

Wednesday morning things went downhill. Obviously I am not the one with the broken arm, or I wouldn't be typing this much. And it's not actually broken, just fractured. John was getting out of the shower Wednesday morning when he slipped and fell. The hotel called a doctor for us, who recommended he go to the hospital. He came back a few hours later with a half cast and a bunch of meds.

The primary goal of this trip was to get Adia a passport. We had an appointment at the U.S. embassy on the morning of Tuesday, May 8 to fill out the application and submit the necessary documents. Before that, we needed to get the translation of Adia's birth certificate authenticated by the Thai government. The plan, when we left Khon Kaen, was for John to go to the Thai government office the first morning in Bangkok, get the translation authenticated, and then all of us would leave for Hua Hin that afternoon. Since he spent the morning at the hospital, that plan was out. The day before our appointment at the embassy was a national holiday, so no offices would be open. We really had no choice but to get the translation verified before we left Bangkok. Fortunately, we didn't have train tickets to Hua Hin or hotel reservations there. We didn't have hotel reservations in Bangkok either, though.

First we tried to get a room at the hotel where we were staying. We'd booked it through the Internet, and it was a great price. The rate they wanted for a second night, not booked through the Internet, was nearly four times what we had paid. We were simultaneously impressed that we had gotten such a fantastic deal, and bummed that we were not going to stay there another night. We decided to try to make it to Hua Hin after all. So. . .

First, we checked out of the hotel. Took a taxi to the train station, where we stored our luggage. Piled into another taxi to the government office. Got an application to have the translation verified, got copies of our passports made, paid the fee, submitted all our documents, waited. . . .got the translation stamped. Took another taxi to go to eat dinner in Pahurat, the Indian district. Resisted (for the most part) the urge to look at the amazing amount of lace, silk, etc. for sale. Ate Indian food for dinner. Realized at this point that, if we proceeded to Hua Hin, we'd get there very, very late. Took another taxi to the train station, retrieved our luggage, called a hotel. They had room, so we went to find a taxi. One of the taxi drivers tried to tell us that our hotel was full (taxi and tuk-tuk drivers will frequently tell you a hotel or guesthouse is full, so they can take you to a place that will pay them a commission.) John responded, in Thai, that we had just called them and they were NOT full. The driver just laughed, he didn't even look embarrassed.

Note to anyone planning to visit Thailand: don’t believe tuk-tuk and taxi drivers. Some – maybe even most – are honest, but you can’t count on it.

Finally made it to the hotel through a horrific traffic jam, got the kids settled, and crashed. Realized that three months ago would have been a good time to start working out.

The next morning we took a train to Hua Hin. They only had third class seats available, which meant no air con, but with the windows down it was quite nice. The scenery was gorgeous. The rice has already been planted in that area of the country, and rice is the most beautiful, brilliant shade of green I have ever seen. Trea made friends with a boy on the train, and was again generally pretty happy. When we arrived in Hua Hin it was raining. And not just a steady rain. Monsoon rain. John refers to this as raining "elephants and water buffalos" - instead of cats and dogs. The streets were flooded deeply enough that Trea would have trouble crossing, and we’d all get soaked. Luckily Burger King was on the same side of the street as our hotel :). And they had apple pies! The McDonald’s here in Khon Kaen only has corn, taro, or pineapple pies. Corn just doesn’t say “dessert” to me.

Despite the rough start, the next few days were really fun. We spent some time at the beach, which Trea loved. She played in the waves and laughed every time a wave hit her. She played in the sand, and rode a horse with her dad, and had a great time. She loves to swim, at the beach or in the hotel pool, and did so at every opportunity. She made some friends at the beach, but I’m not sure if those kids were really friendly, or just wanted to play with her sand toys.

We also went to a wat (Buddhist temple) where a lot of monkeys live. We got to feed the monkeys corn and bananas and take pictures. Watching the baby monkeys cling to their mothers was really cool. Monkey moms can walk, eat, and climb trees while breastfeeding, because their babies can hold on by themselves. I bet they don’t even wake up to feed their babies. How cool would that be?

See what motherhood does to you? It makes you jealous of monkeys.

Our last full day in Hua Hin, Trea got to feed and ride elephants – or Heffalumps, as she often calls them (she’s been watching Pooh’s Heffalump movie, and now all elephants are Heffalumps). I thought she might be scared so I was really proud of her for riding. For an hour ride, plus a snack and a quick performance by the baby elephants, it was 800 baht for John, 300 for Trea, and 300 for the picture of them both on the elephant. When it came time to pay, John asked how much and the guy said “1500 baht.”

Math has never been my strongest suite (much to my father’s dismay), but he did make sure I know how to add in my head. While John reached for his wallet, I (politely) said, “1500? Isn’t it 1400?”

The guy in charge quickly apologized and said, oh yeah, 1400, oops. Hmmm, wonder how often that’s worked for him? John’s so trusting, he just pays. I’m like my dad – check the receipt, add it up yourself, just to be sure.

Just like with tuk-tuk drivers, most are honest, but you have to watch out. . .but I don’t think it’s really malicious. It’s just that Thais in the tourist industry see farangs spend so much money, they really think it’s no big deal to a farang to part with a little more.

We took a bus back to Bangkok, and the kids slept most of the way. We again spent the night at the Twin Towers, and applied for Adia’s passport the next morning. The American Embassy was nuts – so many people were there, both Thai and American. It’s humbling to realize how many people want to go to America. The embassy in Laos was the same way – lots of people lined up just to apply to for a visa to the U.S.

We took the night train back to Khon Kaen, and Trea thought sleeping on the train was really cool. It helped that she was utterly exhausted, so she slept really soundly.

John and I loved having so much time together as a family. We also loved eating the fantastic fresh seafood, imported farang food, and mangoes and sticky rice. We tried to get Trea to eat the food, but all she wanted was Thai food and ice cream. We shopped in the night market and bought a few things. Most of all we enjoyed showing off our kids, and watching Trea have such an amazing time (I assume Adia was enjoying herself as well, but it’s hard to tell when she still sleeps 18 hours a day).

Too bad Trea won’t remember any of this!

John and I think that The Amazing Race needs to do a REAL family edition. None of this lame stuff about having all-adult teams and staying mostly in the U.S. Travel the world with toddlers! Breastfeed without borders! Detours could include tasks like navigating a busy night market with a stroller while looking for mangoes and sticky rice, and getting a passport picture of a newborn (eyes have to be open, looking straight at the camera, baby can’t be crying. . .timing is everything). It would be entertaining if it wouldn’t be unbelievable unfair to the kids. And it would probably encourage child abuse – not everyone would stop to feed and change their kids with a million dollars on the line.

And John and I are thinking that maybe we should apply for The Amazing Race. After all, if we can do this with two small children and his arm fractured, we could do great under normal circumstances!

All the same, we’re thinking that maybe we’ll save the big vacations for when the kids get a little older. . .at least then they’ll remember it.