Category Archives: Thailand

What an adventure (SE Asia)

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1 idea, 1 baby, 1 husband and wife, 2 backpacks, 2 daypacks, 1 buggy, 6 months, 25 weeks, 176 days, 175 nights, 6 countries, 55 destinations, 70 temporary homes, 67 guest houses, 2 friends houses, 1 tree house, 525 meals, 12 planes, 66 taxis, 11 cars, 22 buses, 17 coaches, 14 ferries, 7 MRT journeys, 6 4x4s, 23 local minibuses, 6 speedboats, 8 tourist buses, 2 rib boats, 3 x cycle rickshaws, 1 tourist boat, 4 trains, 1 horse and cart, 3 motor rickshaws, 14 sky trains, 5 underground trains, 1 canoe, 1 small wooden boat, 1 jeep, 2 tug boats, 6 long-tail boats, 38 tuk tuks, 10 saangthaew , 1 elephant, first 2 baby steps, 9 new teeth, 2 baby haircuts, 19 new words, 1 happy toddler, 1 new job, 1 new life…

…a backpack, a buggy, a baby 

1 BIG adventure.

backpacking with a baby SE Asia

Heathrow Airport aged 11 months, day 4 of our trip in Tioman, a toddling chap on China beach and 18 months old at the end of our journey.

Thursday, Friday, Scamday (Kao Sok, Thailand)

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After our two weeks in Phuket, Kao Sok was a welcome respite from touristville. Kao Sok National park nestles in the hills and therefore has a cooler climate than our previous destination. The majority of the accommodation in Kao Sok consists of simple wooden huts, many raised up on stilts set amongst lush gardens.  Activities in the area included hill treks, elephant safaris and canoeing. As we were only in the area for two nights we chose to explore the area on foot and book ourselves onto the river canoe trip.

backpacking with a baby SE Asia

'The boy' playing with a toy truck in a wooden hut

With a nice temperature, relaxed vibe and no fixed agenda apart from the canoe trip we were looking forward to feeling refreshed before embarking on our mammoth journey to Cambodia. What could possibly go wrong? Oh yes, it’s teething time again! ‘The boy’ having suffered with teething problems in Phuket was still not over the worst. Two nights of VERY broken sleep followed with my hubby and I barely getting three hours between us.  Someone pass me the coffee.

backpacking with a baby SE Asia

Taking a walk

Luckily, the canoe trip that we’d booked for our last morning was more relaxing than we had anticipated as each canoe came with an experienced canoeist. All we had to do was sit back and enjoy the scenery. The boy, strapped firmly to me in the ‘wriggle wrapper’, seemed very content and after thirty minutes drifted off into a deep sleep, missing our guides amazing spot of a tree frog, although the way I was feeling I would have traded the nature spot for a further two hours sleep.

With our eyes propped open with matchsticks we left Koa Sok in a minibus for the two-hour journey to Surat Thani where we had planned to book a place on the sleeper train to Bangkok.  Unfortunately this was not meant to be. On arriving at Surat Thani train station at 17.00, and having not been able to book a sleeper carriage in advance, we were faced with a decision; book a sleeper carriage for the first available train leaving at midnight, or head to the coach station and try and get a night bus to Bangkok.

Normally this would have been an easy decision to make – head to the coach station, but we’d made one mistake when leaving Phuket. Knowing we only had a few days left in Thailand we’d left our guidebook with my hubby’s parents, so we had no information to hand on where the coach station was, how much the journey should cost and details on the regularity of coaches to Bangkok. This was a big error and for the first time in our four months of travelling we became the subjects of a ticket scam involving the tuk tuk driver at the train station, a travel company and the travel agent’s husband (also a tuk tuk driver).  It’s actually very sad how quickly you can become a target for a scam if you’re not armed with local knowledge, and although we didn’t back down quietly we eventually had to get on the coach with our wallet a little lighter than it should have been.

backpacking with a baby SE Asia

Taking a canoe ride on the river in Kao Sok

This was my first experience of a night coach and it wasn’t quite as bad as I had expected. ‘The boy’, who was sitting on my lap, fell asleep within half an hour of the bus leaving the depot and didn’t wake up until we arrived at Bangkok coach station at 4.30am, 8 ½ hours after leaving surra Thani.  We had planned to stay a night in Bangkok, but knowing that we wouldn’t be able to check into a guesthouse until lunchtime we made the decision to push on with our journey and take the 6am bus to Trat, a further five-hour journey north.

Trat old town was a pleasant surprise. Small wooden buildings nestle along the banks of the river and there are many quirky guesthouses and cafes lining the larger streets. We found a lovely wooden guesthouse with double rooms costing £4 a night. Bargain.

Tomorrow we’re heading to the Cambodian border where scamming is a regular occurrence. One scam is enough, thank you.

Top tip of the day:
Keep a small perfume pump spray (you can buy these for about £0.60 in Thailand) in your baby-changing bag.  When you’re travelling long distances on public transport and need to make necessary nappy changes the perfume helps to omit odours.

 

Nana, Gramps and Aunty Kim are in town (Bangkok / Phuket, Thailand)

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After 3 ½ months on the road Nana, Gramps and Aunty Kim arrived in Thailand. Having spent the past few months communicating via Skype it was finally time for ‘the boy’ to re-acquaint himself with them in person.

‘The boy’ had a chance to show off his new skills: new words, new actions and his new headstrong personality that seems to have come to the forefront over the last month.  With three extra people to give him attention he was in his element and now he’s faster on his feet we enjoyed not having to constantly keep our eye on him.

backpacking with a baby in SE Asia

Nana and Kim taking 'the boy' for a walk at the Palace

He also received many lovely new gifts from the UK: new clothes to replace his well worn stained ones, a couple of much needed new books and some picture cards to help him learn some new words.

We spent three days in Bangkok taking the boat to the famous temples, visiting the grand palace, introducing Nana and Gramps to the adrenalin rush you experience when you jump in the back of Bangkok’s many Tuk Tuks and we opened Gramp’s eyes to the he/she gender confusion (click here to read about Lola), before heading down to Phuket for some pool, beach and relaxation time.

Having already been in Thailand for five weeks, Phuket was a shock to the wallet. Once in touristville the prices for food and drink double (or triple in some places) and transport costs, well they just seemed ridiculous.  It’s amazing how much further your money goes once you’re away from the package holiday crowd.

backpacking with a baby SE Asia

Gramps and 'the boy' play by the pool

Anyway, the place we stayed in was very nice and relaxed and ‘the boy loved having Nana, Gramps and Aunty Kim around. He spent time in the pool with them, played on the beach and had a few sleepovers to give mummy and daddy a nice break.

One evening we ventured into Patong. Wow! It’s a crazy, bright, brash place and let’s just say it’s very in your face. Luckily ‘the boy’ is too young to understand what was happening around him but I’m not sure the local punters appreciated the fact that a pint sized ‘lil man was getting all the attention. A few hours were enough time to soak up the atmosphere before heading back to our sleepier and preferred location.

backpacking with a baby SE Asia

The bright lights of Patong

After two weeks had passed it was time to say goodbye and get back on the road, heading north towards Cambodia.

Top tip of the day:
Many guesthouses offer laundry services but often charge per itme. With baby clothes needing regular washing we’ve found it a lot cheaper to take our washing direct to the laundry house where we pay a set price per kilo (circa 50p – £1)

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

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