Monthly Archives: November 2011

Bangkok dogs and Botox (Bangkok, Thailand)

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After a one night stop at Ayuttaya (click here to read more about our experience), which was incredibly moving as we arrived shortly after the devastating floods had subsided, we took the train south to Bangkok.

backpacking with a baby SE Asia

The devastating floods on the outskirts of Bangkok (taken from the train)

Having visited Bangkok a few years previously we were looking forward to staying somewhere familiar and where we already had our bearings.  We were also excited to be catching up with some more of our friends that we had made during our time in Mumbai, one of whom, Harry and Talei, generously offered us their spare room.  ‘The boy’ was particularly taken with their pet Pug, Botox who became his new favourite ‘toy’. I found myself continuously repeating the words ‘gently please’ whilst ‘the boy’ chased poor Botox around the house shouting ‘dog, dog, dog’. With ‘the boy’s ‘ love of animals already apparent and having spent the last 3 ½ months being very cautious around the dogs that we’ve encountered, his excitement of being able to pat and stroke a dog was evident.

backpacking with a baby SE Asia

11kg Botox meets his 11kg baby equivalent

Staying with friends is wonderful after our basic backpacking accommodation. Based in Sukhumvit we made the most of having a nice base: taking ‘the boy’ to the playground in the nearby park, turtle spotting in the park’s small lake and visiting the many modern shopping malls that are located close by.

Although the central areas of Bangkok have been well designed with pedestrian walkways that link many of the main shopping areas, from a mother’s perspective, the sky train stations leave a lot to be desired as they don’t have lifts and do not permit buggies on the escalators. After four days of carrying a bag, a buggy and a heavy baby up and down 60 plus steps at a time I was beginning to develop some enviable muscles that a gym junky would be proud of.

backpacking with a baby SE Asia

The river Chao Phraya is still high after the recent flooding

One evening, after another sky train ‘workout’, we met up with our lovely friend Jess who we hadn’t seen since leaving Mumbai almost 2 years ago.  Having made no prior arrangements of where we were going to eat we stumbled upon a little local café just off one of the main streets. This was a lucky find as not only was the food cheap and tasty, the family who owned the place really enjoyed entertaining ‘the boy’. Jess, hubby and I had a few hours of uninterrupted conversation (a rarity these days!) and the ‘the boy’ had a few hours of uninterrupted attention. Everyone was a winner.

The countdown in Bangkok begins as in a couple of days the in laws arrive and then the real holiday begins….

Top tip of the day:
When you’re in a big city with a large expat community you can often find popular brands from your home country in some of the larger supermarkets. If you’ve run out of a baby product that you love, now’s your chance to try and re-stock.

I like to ride my bicycle (Sukothai, Thailand)

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Sukothai, the first independent Thai Kingdom, is famous for it’s 13th century temples and monuments. Sukothai’s 200 plus historical sites are spread over huge parks and the easiest way to travel between locations is by pushbike.

backpacking with a baby in SE Asia

One of the many impressive Buddhas in the historical park

We were keen to hire a couple of bikes and had been advised by our guesthouse that we would also be able to hire a bike with a baby seat. It sounded ideal.  We headed to the bike hire shop and I naively pictured a bike with a solid secure baby seat fixed to the back of the bike, similar to the ones that you would find in the UK. Big mistake. The baby seat was in fact a small flat pad attached to the front of the bike with a seat back approximately 2 inches high and no way of securing ‘the boy’’ to the seat.

backpacking with a baby in SE Asia

The humble sarong is versatile, from beach to bike

I don’t think that any mum of a 15 month old baby would feel comfortable balancing their baby on a small seat and expect them to sit still and hold on whilst moving at pace. But good news, the shop had a solution to our problem in the form of a sarong. You know, those long pieces of brightly coloured fabric that double up as road safety devices?  I decided to make the seat ‘safe’ by attaching the sarong to the seat, wrapping it securely around his middle a few times and tying it tightly behind his back. He was indeed now firmly attached to the bike, but I’m not sure it would pass any Western safety standards. As ‘the boy’ was sitting between my arms we decided to give it a go and the result, he loved it.

We cycled around the old Buddhist temples, stopped by the side of the road to view the cows and rode around the parks many lakes and ponds.

‘The boy’ was intrigued by the 15 metres high Buddha of Wat Sri Chum and after his close encounter with elephants at the sanctuary, loved touching the trunks of the many stone elephants that were carved into the ornate temple walls.

backpacking with a baby in SE Asia

Looking up at the 15 metre high Buddha

Although we were nervous at the start of the day, we needn’t have been and ‘the boy’ was having the time of his life. He loved sitting on his makeshift baby seat, ringing the bike bell and waving at passers by. In fact I think it could be his favourite mode of transport to date.

backpacking with a baby in SE Asia

Look mummy I'm holding on just fine

Top tip of the day:
When backpacking in Asia with your baby you need to bear in mind that Asia doesn’t really adhere to health and safety standards as we used to in the West. Only do what you feel comfortable with but try and keep an open mind. I wasn’t overly keen on the basic bike seat, but once I’d given it a go and was happy that he couldn’t fall off we all had a great day.

Elephant painting, poo and paper (Lampang, Thailand)

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After spending a few nights in Tha Ton in the north of Thailand we’ve looped back down to Lampung, 70 kilometres south of Chiang Mai. Our journey included an eventful 4 hour long tail boat ride down the Kok river from Tha Ton to Chiang Rai, a few nights stop over to visit the Wat Rong Khun temple, followed by a 4 hour coach journey to Lampang.

Lampang is a pretty little town situated on either side of the Wang River. Luckily the banks of the river are high and although the river rose considerably during the recent flooding the quaint wooden houses that line the water remained dry.

The main reason for our stopover is to visit the Elephant sanctuary located 30 km outside of the town.  We shunned the tourist transport and opted, as we often do, to take the local government bus that dropped us outside the sanctuary for a mere 60p (the tourist transport was ten times the price)

backpacking with a baby in SE Asia Lampang

An elephant moves in for a slobbery kiss

The sanctuary houses 180 elephants, that were orphaned, victims of abuse or had injuries that would have cost them their lives if they had not been rescued and taken care of in the elephant hospital.

We arrived early in time for the first elephant show. ‘The boy’ was intrigued watching nine elephants, ranging from a youngster up to a twenty seven year old male, who took it in turns to show off their skills. They picked up huge logs with their trunks, pushed logs around with their enormous feet, squirted water into hats and played musical instruments. However, the highlight of the show was the painting demonstration. Three elephants, including the young baby, stood in front of an easel, paintbrush in trunk and produced some impressive pieces that would put my other half to shame. One painted an elephant, another a vase of flowers and the older elephant painted a beautiful tree with pink blossom.  All unique, all very impressive, and the artwork could be purchased after each show. We managed to buy a simple monochrome elephant painting for ‘the boy’ as a souvenir of our time in Thailand. When we eventually settle we will be able to put it on his wall and have a great story to share with him in years to come.

backpacking with a baby SE Asia Lampang

The artistic giants paint with their trunks

‘The boy’, although a little nervous at first, fed the elephants sugar cane and got close enough to stroke their trunks. It was lovely watching him watching them, although he wasn’t very enamoured with the huge sloppy elephant kiss he received from one of the younger males. Later that day we took an elephant ride around the expansive grounds. We trekked through a lake, a hillside path and open terrain, stopping at the elephant nursery to watch a baby elephant suckling from his mother.  We felt so small perched up high on the elephant’s back but ‘the boy’ didn’t seem at all phased.

backpacking with a baby SE Asia Lampang

'The boy' feeds the elephant some sugarcane

In addition to the rehabilitation work the sanctuary also recycles the huge quantity of elephant poo to produce beautiful handmade paper.  This was a highlight for me as the chap who turns the poo into paper allowed me to get involved. I hand mixed the cleaned ball of fibrous pre weighed poo with water to produce a slimy pulp, poured it onto a large screen that was submerged under water and after tilting the screen to ensure it was evenly covered, waited for the pulp to settle. The screen is then dried for a day, the paper peeled carefully off and hey presto you have a piece of recycled paper.

backpacking with a baby SE Asia Lampang

Making elephant poo paper

Unfortunately my effort never made it to the shelves as I caught the master of paper making peeling my effort off the screen and throwing it back into the recycling pot to be re-formed.  I’m obviously not a natural.

It’s a superb day out and I highly recommend visiting if you’re in the Lampang or Chiang Mai area. ‘The boy’ absolutely loved it and we got great pleasure in watching him in awe of the huge beasts.

Next stop Sukothai…

Top tip of the day:
The Phil and Teds Wriggle wrap is one of our most utilised items. It has three functions: attaches your baby securely to your lap to stop them wriggling around, can be u sed on most chairs in place of a high chair and can attach smaller babies to a single bed so that they can’t roll off.  We’ve used it on many forms of transport (predominantly boats), but this was the first time I’d used it on the back of an elephant. I was able to attach him securely to my lap giving me peace of mind that he couldn’t fall off during the bumpy ride.  A highly recommended baby gadget that will feature in my top ‘backpacking with a baby essentials’ reviews in the coming weeks.

backpacking with a baby SE Asia Lampang

Attaching the 'wriggle wrap' for a secure elephant ride

Just the three of us… (General)

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One of the main benefits of our adventure is having quality time together as a family.

When ‘the boy’ first arrived, my husband (who had recently started a new job), was only able to take a weeks paternity leave, thus prior to leaving the UK quality time together was limited to weekends and the odd holiday.

Over the past few months care of ‘the boy’ has been equally shared.  Pushing the buggy, carrying him in the sling, changing nappies, attending to him in the night when he’s distressed & teething, preparing food, feeding and organising his bottles.  My role as mum has been halved and my other half has got to experience first hand how intense it can sometimes be spending 24/7 with a baby.

Over the past months my hubby has been lucky enough to experience his first steps (which I missed), his first few words and many new actions.

Although we’re together 24/7 and spending the majority of our time in one room can be tough at times, the shared responsibility means that unlike at home, either of us can take a break at a moments notice to write a blog post, take a walk or have a massage. We’re also getting used to making the most of his naptimes. Only yesterday we managed to have an hour-long foot massage together whilst ‘the boy’ slept contentedly in his buggy. Grabbing little snippets of time together as a couple, although far and few between, are really important and cherished.

backpacking with a baby in SE Asia

Proof that we are altogether: Borneo, Thailand and Indonesia

However, although we’re together all the time you would not believe it if you saw our many thousands of photos. The downside of having a hubby who’s a keen photographer is that he’s always behind the camera, rarely in front of it. Unlike other couples or families who hand their camera over to a fellow tourist to take a quick snapshot of the family group, we don’t.  Although not a super flash camera, his SLR doesn’t lend itself to getting passed to a stranger to take a quick shot that will be good enough to make it into the final cut. In fact we have thousands of beautiful photographs to document our trip, but I can count on one hand how many locations we’ve been to and have a family photo to prove it. Not many at all.

backpacking with a baby in SE Asia

Sarah Stone Photography - our favourite family shot

The last time we had some family photos taken that passed my husband’s perfectionist eye was when ‘the boy’ was in his first week of life.  A very talented lady named Sarah Stone came round to the house and took the most beautiful family photographs and some unique baby shots that we will treasure forever. If you’re not familiar with her work then take a look (Sarah Stone Photography).

backpacking with a baby in SE Asia

Sarah Stone Photography - our treasured shots

So the challenge is on. Can we document that we were all in the same place at the same time everyday for the next week? (We’ll take it one step at a time!)

I’ll feedback next week….

Top tip of the day:
Does your baby have a nap schedule that you can utilise to your advantage? As much as we can we’re trying to make the most of our baby’s afternoon sleeps, whether it be a drink in a café, a massage or to catch up on some shut eye ourselves.

Generous offerings (Tha Ton, Thailand)

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Over the course of our trip ‘the boy’ has become very experienced at knowing how to pull the attention of the locals. A cute smile, a wave, or if they fail a ridiculously, a loud fake laugh in the unsuspecting target’s direction usually does the trick. Not only does he love the attention, but he’s also realised that it often means he can escape from his buggy. Once within reach ‘the boy’s’ outstretched arms will greet his target, an obvious sign that he wants to be picked up.

It happens so frequently that we’ve embraced the assistance. When we’re at a chaotic bus station and one of the ticket touts picks him up to give him a tour of the bus, it makes our job of putting our luggage on board and getting organised for the journey much easier.  If locals want a cuddle with ‘the boy’ when we’re clambering onto a small boat with backpacks, a buggy and a baby, again, it makes our logistical nightmare much simpler.

backpacking with a baby SE Asia

A local lady with 'the boy'

We always ensure he’s safe and in sight but there’s one thing that happens again and again and is very difficult to manage. Often the boy is returned to us clutching something in his sweaty palm. Always food, often bad food! Unlike at home where people check whether your child is allowed to eat x, y or z or, even more importantly, ask if they suffer from any food allergies, in Asia it seems fine to give any child anything.

On most occasions we thank them and then confiscate the offending item without causing offence. Over the past few months he’s been given chocolate bars, sweets, brightly coloured jelly, biscuits, lollypops, a bag of pork scratchings (!!) and pastries. On one occasion, whilst in a local restaurant in KL, I managed to intervene when a fellow diner was trying to give ‘the boy’ red bull through a straw. Luckily ‘the boy’ hadn’t yet mastered how to use a straw and much to the surprise of the man I explained that he wasn’t allowed fizzy drinks. Now, if anyone reading this has been to SE Asia you’ll know that the red bull here is super charged compared to that in the UK. If there’s one way to guarantee having a hyperactive child on your hands for the day then this is the quickest way to do it.

backpacking with a baby SE Asia

Two monks look out over Tha Ton town

The most recent food incident was in Tha Ton.  We’d spent the morning visiting ‘Wat Tha Ton’ that’s positioned on the side of the town’s hill overlooking the Burmese border. Once at the top, and after looking around the spectacular Buddhist temple, we stopped for a coffee at the Monastery’s café.  ‘The boy’ was happily running around the grounds when he befriended one of the monks. The monk picked him up and walked him around, showing him the lovely views from the high vantage point. It was a nice break for us and ‘the boy’ was very content. Ten minutes later he toddled back with a big smile on his face and gifts in his hands, a pastry in one and an ice cream in the other.

backpacking with a baby SE Asia

The monk and 'the boy' have a chat

Up to this point in time, along with sweets, juice and MacDonald’s burgers, we had resisted giving ‘the boy’ any more than a taste of our ice creams, but if he was to have his own ice cream for the first time, then it might as well be a treat from a Buddhist monk!

‘The boy’ enjoyed his treat and we thanked the monk for his generosity.

What a nice little story we have to go with his ‘my first ice cream’ photo.

backpacking with a baby SE Asia

'The boy's' first ice cream, courtesy of a monk

Top tip of the day:
Over the last few months we’ve used many baby brands of mosquito repellent. The most effective to date is Johnsons baby anti mosquito clear lotion, available in Thailand for circa £2 for a 100ml bottle. In areas like Tha Ton, where there are many mosquitos, we’ve been using it day and night and so far so good as our baby hasn’t been bitten.

backpacking with a baby SE Asia

The beautiful Buddhist temple

Old MacDonald had a farm (Chiang Mai, Thailand)

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With many of the fast paced adventure tours being off limits for us to partake in as a family, we opted for a trip to visit a few of the many hill tribe communities that surround Chiang Dao and Chiang Mai.

Although some of the tribes in Chiang Dao are located less than a kilometre away from each other, their houses, dress and way of life are entirely different.

The Lisu tribe wear beautiful brightly coloured clothing. Purple, pink, violet, turquoise, and red are present in their long fluid dresses and their intricate headdresses. Their houses are built close to the ground, with dirt floors and bamboo walls, although recently some of the wealthier families have started to use concrete foundations.

backpacking with a baby SE Asia

An Akha lady wearing her distinctive traditional hat

In stark contrast the Akha tribe’s basic bamboo houses are raised off the ground on wooden stilts, many of which have thatched roofs. Their traditional dress is more structured, with heavily embroidered jackets and skirts, but it’s their hats that give them their distinctive look. The large headpieces are covered in pom poms, coins, brightly coloured beading and silver jewellery, and although I didn’t try one on they look very warm, not the type of hat I would want to wear in 30 plus degree heat.

The Karen tribe wear a simple, more practical style of clothing; a hand woven tunic, a sarong and turban style headdress. They build their wooden houses closer to the ground with only a few feet between the soil and the floor, a space that’s used to keep their many animals, and it was in this village that ‘the boy’ had the most fun.

It’s lucky that children love repetition, as with only two baby books in the backpack he’s becoming very familiar with their content. His favourite book of the two is his nursery rhyme book. Every evening he picks a page and hands it to us to sing the rhyme of his choice, his current favourite being Old MacDonald had a Farm.

backpacking with a baby SE Asia

'The boy' and I find a big pig under one of the houses

Well today he was in luck. The Karen tribe had the content of his favourite rhyme right there in their small village.  We had great fun spotting the animals tucked away under the little houses. We found pigs, ducks, chickens, a cockerel, dogs, cats (I’m not sure this was in the original rhyme, but he made it into our version), a cow tucked behind a bush and very sad looking monkey (again, an added extra).

backpacking with a baby SE Asia

Making friends with some of the local children

‘The boy’ was sad to leave the animals behind and even the prospect of meeting the Karen longneck tribe wasn’t enough to cheer him up.

Sometimes it’s the simple things in life that are the most rewarding.

backpacking with a baby SE Asia

Meeting a mother and child from the Karen Longneck community

Top tip of the day:
An active toddling baby in hot weather can mean higher instances of nappy rash, particularly if the brands of nappy you have access to are sub standard to those at home. We’ve found that putting baby talcum powder on him and in his nappy helps to stop chafing and reduces soreness.

backpacking with a baby SE Asia

WARNING: chewing tobacco regularly may discolour your teeth!

Ladyboy (Chiang Mai, Thailand)

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His hair, dark blonde, long and wavy, has been confusing all that meet him.

Comments include “What a pretty girl”“How old is she?” “What beautiful eyes she has” and a look of amazement when we tell them that ‘she’ is in fact a boy.

backpacking with a baby SE Asia

The hairband, courtesy of Aunty Pop, didn't help matters!

With the majority of people assuming he is a she (OK, so the teething necklace doesn’t help), and 14 weeks of us telling them otherwise, we decided it was about time for ‘the boy’ to have his first haircut.

We found a quiet little salon in the centre of Chiang Mai for the transformation to take place.

‘The boy’, unsuspecting that he was to lose most of his crowning glory, was easily distracted by the manager of the salon.  Curl after curl dropped to the floor and feeling quite sentimental about the occasion I collected a few locks to save as a keepsake.

Fifteen minutes later and the haircut was complete.

‘The boy’, with his new short fringe and unobstructed vision, looked quite different. My other half described it as retro mod.

I, on the hand, couldn’t figure out what his new barnet reminded me of. It bugged me for days and then it finally came to me. ‘The boy’ was now sporting the hairstyle of the star from my favourite movie – Maria, from The Sound of Music!

Maybe we should opt for a short crop next time.

backpacking with a baby SE Asia

'The boy' sporting his new 'Maria' hairstyle

Top tip of the day:
We’ve found that a bandana (the type that is elasticated and also ties at the back) is the only hat our baby will keep on his head for long periods of time – he manages to pull all other hats off. We haven’t found any similar bandanas on our journey so it’s best to buy before you leave your home country.

backpacking with a baby SE Asia

Losing his baby curls for his transformation into Maria!