Wanderlustress

Life in Laos through the lens of a diplomatic wife raising twin toddlers.

One Week In Bangkok

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.

Sukhumvit Road at Wireless Road intersection.

Sukhumvit Road at Wireless Road intersection.

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?):

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The giant red velvet clam chair next to the tank is a great photo op if your children would cooperate instead of wrestle!

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M&O not sure what to think about scuba divers in the fish tank.

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Seeing their first real live shark!

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.

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Mesmerized by a silent Nemo.

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Someone loved her giant cookie!

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A pie this good should not be served with two forks.

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.

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A rare moment of self initiated sharing. (The camera immediately fogged up going outside of the air conditioning but you gotta love digital photography. I was able to edit most of the fog out.)

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M with a mouthful of apple from an unusually generous O.

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But notice how he really doesn’t let go of the apple.

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No Easter basket? Who cares. We still scored lots of eggs in our ghetto plastic bag.

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.

Why?

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.

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10 comments on “One Week In Bangkok

  1. lobrau
    June 13, 2013

    Hi! Love your blog! I’m a fellow U.S. diplomatic spouse based out of Bangkok. I’m so sorry to hear about your experience with the kids in Bangkok. You certainly did some of the things we find to be worthwhile (and being able to participate in the Embassy easter egg hunt was a nice bonus)! Tartine is one of our favorite places to eat and it is definitely one of the most kid-friendly in town, and we go to Ocean World often. I hope your next experience here is better! In the meantime, I have a blog about our diplomatic lifestyle here in BKK and what to do with young kids inthe city – wwww.toddlejoy.com. I hope you’ll check it out! Might also ping you again soon about specifics of life in Laos, as we’re bidding this summer and one of the positions is a potential for us.

    • Wanderlustress
      June 15, 2013

      Hi, nice to meet you, too. Actually, the friend I was with in BKK got the Tartine recommendation from your post, so thank you! I’d be happy to field any questions you have about life in VTE. We love it but it is a world of difference from BKK. Bye for now.

  2. Michelle Ross
    April 4, 2013

    Oh Bangkok! In Chengdu, the non-FS community goes there on such a regular basis I think they must have assigned seats on the direct flights. We’ve been, for various reasons, on several occasions, but honestly, it’s too much hustle and bustle for this small town girl. But, at least for those of us in China, the chance for some clean air is always appealing. πŸ™‚

    I’ve got good friends (tandem couple) headed to Laos this summer. I know they are looking forward to it and I can’t wait to hear their stories.

  3. thewizardessofoz
    April 4, 2013

    Great post! I didn’t expect to like Bangkok at all and ended up loving it… though I don’t have children so I can only imagine your pain. It wore me out and I have about 25 years on your kids! If you head back that way I recommend jumping a ~2 hour flight to Koh Lanta if you can swing it. It was surprisingly family-friendly, relaxed, and absolutely GORGEOUS! I’ve been raving about it since I came back from Thailand.

  4. Dani
    April 3, 2013

    Isn’t it funny how Bangkok is “heaven” for expats from across Asia? I think, honestly, for most people its the food. At least it is for us. Good food goes a long way towards making a place enjoyable but Bangkok is all about the street food and sometimes the good stuff takes time to find–not always feasible when you have hot, tired little ones in tow.

    Your post reminds me of how our feelings towards BKK have changed too. The first time we went to Bangkok we went from Chengdu and Bangkok certainly was “heaven” to us on that trip. Relatively clean air, sunshine, food, amenities, the relative lack of censorship (obviously Thailand has its own issues here but its certainly not China)- we didn’t want to leave. Our last trip to Bangkok though from Delhi was so different. There wasn’t the same sense of salvation to the trip. After all, back in Delhi, we have sunshine and amenities and warm weather too. While we enjoyed eating everything in site in BKK and visiting our friends, it was also really nice to come home to our own version of chaos and congestion here. I think I’d probably come to really enjoy living in BKK for a tour, but not necessarily more than many other places around the world.

    But of course, whenever there’s a gap in the school schedule, you’ll find flocks of families from Delhi headed to BKK for a return to “civilization!” πŸ™‚

  5. Becky
    April 3, 2013

    My kids are just getting past the point where all they care about is the pool. So we do a little more. But honestly, it’s still one of their favorite things (plus the beach). This reminds me a lot of our trip to NYC with our kids back in A-100. It was not the most pleasant. We decided we’d go back when the kids were teenagers. Same with Boston. Other than the park, they didn’t care about seeing anything anyway. (Luckily we had friends there who watched the kids while we explored a bit and who were more excited to see the kids than to see us πŸ˜‰ Sorry you started out with an illness. That never helps. Sending hugs to all of you. Miss you guys!

  6. The New Diplomat's Wife
    April 3, 2013

    Bummer that this was a rough go – bangkok can definitely give a tough run around but agree with Ms Pip, definitely there is some charm. I think a hotel w/ pool is always helpful (buddy lodge?) and even just riding the boats back and forth across the river to the nicer places is a nice diversion. Also, we’ve pretty much gone stroller free with our 2+ year old but I still wear the ergo for that last mile and so that we can stay out through nap time and that helps. Good luck on the next one!

  7. sara
    April 3, 2013

    Excellent post! So many factors go into having a good time in a new city and another huge factor is probably not having those extra two adult hands ready to help during the days. It’s tough to navigate a new city on your own with two toddlers! I can’t imagine. My husband and I keep one another pumped up when we travel for all the toughness that is traveling (anywhere) with our three small children. I think it’s great that you were honest about Bangkok. It’s not for everyone!

  8. love.antoinette
    April 2, 2013

    I think it’s completely okay not to love every place you visit while traveling around the world especially. Big cities have a way of sucking the life out of anyone. Add sweltering heat and two 3 year olds and it almost feels impossible to enjoy anything. I personally didn’t like Buenos Aires initially and although I grew to like it a bit, I still left not loving it. That really puzzled me because I’m from NYC, which is an equally giant city. But I was certainly spoiled by the beauty of Patagonia and the Andes that BsAs somehow paled in comparison.

  9. Miss Pip
    April 2, 2013

    There is no shame in not falling in love with Bangkok. It is dirty, smelly, commercialized, cesspool. It is difficult to get around and almost impossible to discover with little people in tow. But it does have its charms, once you learn how to navigate it. Sorry your first go round was a disaster. We have had plenty of those there with the little princesses! Perhaps next time an old hand can help you find the fun… maybe even the fabulous!!! Love your work Ms Dee.

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