When I lived in the Netherlands, my mother made the journey to Breda, met my friends and experienced my daily European life. This year, she added Thailand to the list. Only this time, we rode motorbikes instead of bicycles, sipped tropical drinks on a river instead of shots of vodka from a water bottle, and walked through jungles instead of cobbled streets.
My godmother and my mom’s best friend, Becky, joined her for this adventure to the Big Mango. I found them (out of sheer luck after two hours) at the airport and took them to their hotel, only a few streets down from my apartment. I didn’t get to jump up and down with my hand-painted sign quite how I had hoped, but I was ecstatic just the same. Their first night and following day, I let them rest. My school had Sports Day the day after they arrived, so I had to be there for that. For their welcome dinner, I took them to one of my favorite restaurants here, Quince (we’re still debating about pronunciation). Maybe I should have made them jump right in with some traditional street food, but I knew we would have plenty of time for that. (If you find yourself at Quince, do yourself a favor and order the gnocchi. Just sayin’.)
My first weekend adventure I planned started off rocky – wandering around on a holiday to try to find an open car rental place, failing, calling our private taxi driver last minute and waiting for him to finish, not getting on the road to Kanchanaburi until after 4pm, sitting in Bangkok traffic for hours, getting lost in the dark – thank goodness for kind Chavalet (our driver) who helped me speak Thai with the owners of the hotel I had chosen, and walking with us in the dark to the dock where our longtail boat picked us up. And he severely undercharged us. What a gem.
The longtail boat was necessary – I had booked a few nights at the River Kwai Jungle Rafts, a floating hotel with all of the views and none of the electricity. I mayyyy have neglected to tell the moms about this – I also left out the fact that it would take us fifteen minutes on the boat in total darkness, the boat lights illuminating the jutting cliffs on either side of us and the mist that hung heavy over the black water. I could sense their uneasiness, but I could not stop smiling. I felt like some weird combination of giddy little kid and Indiana Jones. When we arrived, they led us by kerosene lantern to the largest raft area for a huge Thai dinner. It was quite late and we were certainly arriving well past the dinner hour, but they only seemed thrilled that we were there. Our room consisted of two beds with white mosquito netting, several kerosene lanterns and battery-powered candles, and a tiny bathroom where the river showed between the slots in the floorboards. There was a small private balcony with a hammock in the back, and a hammock and personal dock with lounges out front. That first night I laid in bed with my mom and we giggled together while telling stories of my friends and misadventures in Thailand, and my dad’s (hilarious) struggle with post-yoga cramps back home.
I woke before the sun and bundled up in a hammock to watch the mist swirl over the river. Those moments have quickly become my very favorite experiences, no matter where I am. After another delicious meal, we were encouraged to feed our fruit scraps to two elephants, waiting patiently on the shore of river. I was the first to do so, naturally. The elephants belong to the Mon people that work at the resort and live in a village above it. They are one of Southeast Asia’s oldest tribes, and I loved every single one of them. We visited their village that morning before taking a boat downriver to explore some mountain caves.
She doesn’t like these photos, but they make me smile.
The following day we got massages and some sun. Because the rafts form a long line down the river, one of the simplest and most fun things you can do is grab a lifejacket, run to the top of the rafts, and jump! The river carries you quickly downstream to the end of the rafts, climb out, repeat. On our way back to Bangkok, we had our driver stop at Hellfire Pass to visit the memorial and museum there, and to walk along the carved mountain that claimed so many lives. Incredibly moving.
During the week, I had to go to work, but Mom and Becky made the most of their time – visiting temples and markets and wandering Bangkok on their own. They visited me at school – I would guess this was my mother’s favorite day. She taught kindergarten for over 30 years, and she’s much better at it than I. I loved showing off my adoring kiddos, and my teachers were excited to meet Mom-eee. I even got to pawn off half my class time for storytime by Teacher Megan’s mom.
For the last weekend the ladies were with me, I wanted to show them one of my favorite places in Thailand – Khao Yai. Lucky for all of us, Hack was in the park at the time so they got to meet one of my favorite Thais.
I love showing the things I love to the people I love – having my mother and godmother in Thailand with me was such a treat, despite being much too brief! One of my favorite moments was watching my mother hop on the back of a motorbike taxi. She’s in her 60s and she boldly faces things she’s never done before – she calls me fearless but… I had to get it from somewhere. Becky and Shirley – thank you for coming, thank you for trusting me, thank you for being such good sports. I love both of you, very very much!
I asked my mom to jot down some of the thoughts she had about my new home. I was worried she would experience my daily life and it might cause her to worry, but I think she really enjoyed herself, and hopefully she understands a bit better why I keep choosing to leave home. Now…to get my dad out here this year…
When I think of my two weeks in Thailand, other than spending time with my fearless daughter, three things come to mind: the people, the transportation and the climate. We chose January for the best weather, and although we did not encounter any rain, the 95 degree temperatures and ridiculous humidity were unbelievable. I thought living in Phoenix and four years of Bikram yoga had prepared me somewhat for the heat……but no! Every day I was a dripping mess. Forget about styling my hair or putting on makeup, three steps outside the hotel and all was undone. Every day was like a Bikram class.
The transportation in Bangkok is crazy! The traffic is endless, and sitting still in a taxi for 20 minutes is common. It’s also not unusual for a taxi driver to say no to taking you to your destination. I learned quickly that they do not want to cross Sukhumvit, so the only way to get from my hotel to Megan’s apartment was to walk several miles (I did that once and got blisters on my toes), or to hop on a motorbike taxi. The motorbikes criss-cross through traffic, drive on the sidewalks – no rules. I just closed my eyes and held on tight as we weaved our way through the city. Other modes of transportation were vans, boats, trucks, trains, tuk-tuks, and songthaews, a taxi fashioned out of a pick up truck. And walking…LOTS of walking! It usually took several modes of transportation to get to our destination. Makes us appreciate the convenience of our cars in Phoenix!
The people of Thailand were wonderful. They were so friendly, happy, and helpful. The “Land of Smiles” nickname certainly fits this country, and in spite of the language barrier, we were able to muddle through – a smiling Thai always there to help. They are very proud of their beautiful country, and are happy to share it with visitors. One of my favorite days was going to Megan’s school, Baantonmai, meeting her co-workers, and seeing those beautiful children. I could have spent our entire two weeks there.
Megan can fill you in on our weekend excursions – they were unforgettable adventures. The Floating Rafts on the River Kwai and Khao Yai National Park. Next time I’ll know to pack a headlamp and chamois in my backpack – just in case. Megan doesn’t blink an eye when we realize our accommodations are lacking electricity, hot water, towels, or toilet paper! Like I said, she’s fearless!