Life in Laos through the lens of a diplomatic wife raising twin toddlers.
Our family just returned from one week in Bangkok, a week which I could flippantly declare a complete disaster, except that when things reach this depth of negativity I try to think about it a little more and re-frame my perspective of the experience. Plus, there’s been way too much negativity going around lately among our peers that has surprised and disappointed me on so many levels that I need to stay grounded myself by remembering what it really means for life to be truly difficult or bad.
I did not like Bangkok for the traffic, the sweltering humid heat, the commercialism, and how most everything resides inside a shopping mall. With two kids in tow, I sought advice on children-friendly places and outings to keep them occupied and kept a long list at the ready. However, most children’s activities in Bangkok involved going to your typical (albeit much bigger) plastic indoor play areas, or heading outside the city to hit the safari parks or zoo which we didn’t do because even staying within the city center still involved frustratingly long taxi rides to and from in heavy traffic. But what about the Skytrain and MRT you ask? Yes, the train system in Bangkok is wonderful and helps to alleviate much of the traffic congestion in the city, and we did enjoy taking it a few times when we knew that our destination wouldn’t require much walking around because walking to the train station, hiking up three flights of stairs, catching transfers, and getting to our destination afterward can be a bit much for 3.5-year olds to handle let alone enjoy much more walking activity once we get there. Our friends who tried to take the skytrain with a stroller found it cumbersome to lug up and down the stairs. I’m not sure if there are any elevators available. (I can hear many of you asking what happened to our double strollers? I can tell you that we are happily stroller-free, for better or for worse. Especially my husband; he is ecstatic about it. And yes, we often have to carry our kids during the final stretch, but when else do I exercise my upper body? I always think about Michelle Obama’s knock out arms to help get me through the pain.)
Despite all the hassles, we did manage to have some fun outings in addition to spending a lot of time at the hotel pool which the kids always love causing me to wonder why we endeavor to do much more than that. Here we are at the Bangkok Aquarium (actually called Siam Ocean World but who would google that?):
One evening, we went to a very child-friendly French cafe within walking distance from the hotel (YAY for not getting stuck in traffic again!). Cafe Tartine were pros, immediately on hand with crayons, a children’s movie (thankfully silent) and kids’ meal with giant cookies. So far it’s the only restaurant we’ve been to (anywhere) where the kids’ food and drinks were actually served first! I even got a little treat myself – a really really yummy lemon meringue pie (I LOVE pies!). My only complaint was that it came with two forks giving my husband immediate access to an unsanctioned bite.
And Easter did not pass us by completely unnoticed even though I did zero preparation for the holiday. A Bangkok expat friend managed to sign us up for the embassy’s annual Easter Egg hunt. It took place on the morning of our departure so ask me in private how much I liked having a hot and overstimulating activity added to the stress of a travel day. Nevertheless, the morning started out happy all around. The kids got along and were pleasantly giddy with one another as we walked to the embassy. The event was predictably chaotic but at least we got a few eggs to play with on our flight home.
So I had a hard time in Bangkok and struggled to entertain two active children all day while my husband worked, and struggled even more with not being able to do as many “me” things as I would have liked or seek out all the good eats I’ve been reading about and craving intensely. My biggest struggle though was not falling in love with Bangkok like so many of my friends here do. They love it. Revel in the thought of escaping Vientiane and counting the days until they go back. They breath a sigh of relief when their planes land in “civilization”. Not me. Boo. I tried hard but came up short this time round.
Maybe because the kids and I started our trip with the flu. Too low energy and cranky for a demanding bustling city.
Maybe because being an older and jaded traveler has dimmed the excitement for the possibilities that a mega-city has to offer.
Maybe because traveling with kids to a big city just outright sucks.
Maybe because my body and mind are craving cool open spaces with unobstructed walking and expansive vistas of mother nature (Australia/New Zealand here we come in less than two weeks!).
Or maybe, just maybe, our life in Vientiane is so incredibly easy and good that it exacerbated all the inconveniences of Bangkok by comparison. I feel like a total outlier saying all of this but then again a friend asked me excitedly yesterday upon our return, “So HOW was bangkok?” with a wide-eyed you-must-have-had-a-terrific-time look on her face, and I risked a possible social faux pas by replying, “Well…you know, I didn’t love it.” She then immediately breathed a sigh of genuine relief that she could tell me honestly that she doesn’t like Bangkok either. It seems possible to scratch away at this veneer that is a love of Bangkok. Not that it’s a fault. On the contrary, I envy anyone who does love it and is able to thrive in all that it has to offer. In fact, I am excited for my friends going there on a girls’ weekend in just a few days, sans kiddos which I’m tempted to try next time around.
In the end, I came back after our week in the Big Mango less enthralled than I had hoped for but with more of an appreciation for this lovely town that is Vientiane and for our life here and how easy it is. It’s slow but convenient. Backwards but peaceful. Frustrating in it’s own way but manageable. The week might have felt like a complete disaster but I came back with a bigger heart for everything right here at home.