The usual kudos statement to all the good people here on TripAdvisor for helping with the planning of our trip. First time overseas as a family and it basically could not have gone smoother - thanks all.
So the long awaited time came to head off to Thailand - my wife and I and three kids, 16 and 14 yo sons and 12 yo daughter. Uneventful Jetstar flight from Melbourne to Bangkok, apart from the annoying family in front where the woman on the aisle seat chose to drop all her rubbish in the aisle, and leave her backpack sitting in said aisle for people to have to negotiate around - where do these people come from???
Got through immigration and customs without any hitches - although my wife (first time out of Australia) after getting through passport control said "is that it" having worked herself into a frenzy about the pomp and ceremony of entering a new country :-P Checked into Bally Studio Suites in Sukhumvit around 10pm and proceeded to crash into bed to be ready for our pickup by Nook at 7am the following morning. Just on the hotel - it was just right. In a quiet spot, clean, friendly and helpful staff, good breakfast - very happy with it.
So up at dawns crack for our first day with Nook. Can I say that she is absolutely fantastic. Helpful, courteous, knowledgeable, flexible - everything I'd hoped for as a guide. We started off for the Maeklong Train Market and promptly got stuck in Bangkok traffic - which was good fun as an introduction to the country. We were marvelling at all the scooter taxis flying around with female passengers sitting side-saddle and not holding on! Is balance a natural trait of Thai women? Nook took this opportunity to start to teach us all a few phrases in Thai - "hello", "thankyou", "how much", "not spicy", and the always useful "where is the toilet" (often needed not long after you forget to use the "not spicy" one)! Walking along the tracks and seeing all the stalls with their produce, cleverly placed either under the level of the train, or on easily retracted platforms, was such a good introduction to a completely different society than we had come from in Aus. The smell got to my wife a bit, and she proceeded to feel a bit off colour - otherwise this is one sight that is worth seeing just for the ingenuity of the stall holders. Watching the train come through is pretty amazing, and the instantaneous reaction of the stall holders in reconstructing everything as soon as the train passes was a blast! Nook helped us purchase some snacks from a few local vendors which was great - some pork type of dumpling, sweet desert jelly thing, chicken skewers with sticky rice...... Mmmmmmmmm...... sorry, I got lost in a little food reverie there!
Next it was off to Damnoen Sudak for a whole different style of market experience. Touristy - yes, but we still really enjoyed this. I think it helped a whole lot going there with Nook as she arranged a boat that paddled us (well, I guess the Thai guy on the back was doing the paddling, not the boat itself) through quite a lot of the canals around the area where we could see some of the village houses and get a really good look at the completely different way they live. This was so peaceful and interesting paddling through these canals - rather than going on the long tail style boat that a lot of others were on, roaring through the major canals into the market. If you're planning on going here, definitely get a paddled boat and get through the village areas (not sure if this is something you can organise yourself, or if it helps to have a guide that can make it happen - but it's worth it). The kids got their first experience with the whole "bargaining as a national pastime" thing, buying a few souvenirs here. Again, Nook was a great ally, as she would whisper to me how much we should get a certain thing for, which I passed onto the kids so that they could try and land the item for that price. They failed dismally, but it was a lot of fun watching them try and come to terms with something that just does not happen here at home.
On a side note, our 17 yo son turns out to be a pushover. Here's a typical transaction for him:
Him: "How much is this"
Vendor: "700 Baht"
Him: "No, 550 Baht"
Vendor: "No no no, I can't sell it for that. Too cheap. Please help me - 650 Baht"
Notice the not-so-low first offer by him, and the ALWAYS ACCEPTED second offer from the vendor. Alsmost every transaction of his went like this. The funniest part about this was when one vendor went through this process with him, and on his immediate acceptance of the second offer from her, she felt so sorry for him she gave it to him for the price he had first offered. Took us a while to stop laughing at him on that one let me tell you.
Next was lunch at a local restaurant for lunch, which turned out to be a bit spicy for our second son (the red face and tears were priceless). Then off on a tour of the Thonburi canal in a long tail boat. We stopped off at the Royal Barge Museum which was very interesting. Such ornate carving and finishing on these boats. The canal trip was great, seeing how people lived on the canals (from shanty's to some pretty upmarket dwellings). It was a great taste of a whole other world.
We finished off the day at MBK so we could get right into the spirit of shopping. I'd insisted we pack light, so it was off to buy some essentials so that we didn't have to wear sweaty clothes and end up stinking the joint up anywhere we went.
Day 2 was another day with Nook. This time we used the BTS and Express boats to head off to the Grand Palace. This is a must see, as everyone says. Fantastic architecture, incredible murals, wonderful statues. Nook is clearly very sincere in her beliefs, and it was really great to hear her talk openly about them. It was definitely great to have her there taking us around, as she gave us SO much information about the place that we would have had no idea about on our own. She also helped in telling us that the cloth pictures that people were selling out the front for 500 Baht, could be bought just back at the boat pier for 50 Baht each. Saved our second son a bunch of his cash as he bought 10 of them for 400 Baht.
Next to Wat Arun, great to climb and take a look around. Although the climb back down is a doosy - our daughter clung on like there was no tomorrow. Lunch and then we then headed off to Wat Pho and the reclining Buddha. While we were there we got even more info on Buddhism beliefs from Nook which was making our visits to these sights very meaningful. There were other tourists there hanging around listening to her information as well, even chiming in with a couple of questions. Note to self - in the future make sure I charge people for asking questions of our guide.
We were meant to finish off with the flower market and Chinatown, but by this stage we were absolutely spent. So we decided to cut it short with Nook (as much as we didn't want to part with her) and head back to the hotel. Our daughter nearly cried saying goodbye to Nook - she was so great and friendly. Well worth it - no doubt.
We had 2 more days in Bangkok, so on Day 3 we decided to slow it down a little, get up a bit later, and take ourselves off to Lumphini Park to relax for a couple of hours. Having the first two days with Nook was a great idea because it gave us the confidence to get around ourselves (yes, yes, yes, I know we could have done it ourselves anyway - getting around Bangkok was really easy - but I'm a wuss ok. Learning from Nook was a godsend). WOW - crossing the intersection just in front of the park entrance was an experience for us all! By this stage we'd come to realise that at times traffic lights and rules were more "advisory" than mandatory. So we proceeded to dodge a whole lot of cars and scooters and made it to the other side. I think it was this experience that taught us that road and pedestrian use in Thailand was one big game of chicken. Look like you mean it, and people will just go around you - flinch, and they'll all scoot in front and you'll NEVER get through. We sat by the lake to eat our lunch, hired some paddle boats, and strolled around taking in the relaxed atmosphere which is a haven in a frantic city. There were some class groups from a school in the park, and as we were walking around, all of a sudden a whole lot of them ran up and surrounded me, with one boy placing a piece of paper in front of me. Turns out they were doing an english class, and needed to identify a number of words on a page, with items in the park – leaf, stone, stick etc. So next thing I'm in an animated game of “how to communicate between westerner with no Thai, and Thai school kids with little english”, waving hands, pointing, gesturing – we finally got to the intended item – a leaf. Next they descended on my wife, and after a lot of arm waving, smiling, laughing, trying to be understood, she helped them get a “stone”. She loved it, it was great just to be amongst these kids and trying to help them with their schoolwork.
In the evening we went on the Loy Nava dinner cruise. We absolutely loved it! The food was great given the setup they have, and the music played and the lovely dancers (3 costume changes included) were fantastic. It was really pleasant cruising up and down the river, seeing the sunset and the transformation of the city from daytime to all lit up at night was wonderful. It's certainly not cheap (even by our standards back home) but well worth it as a special experience.
Our last day in Bangkok we headed over to the flower market and Chinatown, as we'd missed them with Nook. Walking around the flower market was lovely – so much colour. We weaved our way through a lot of the back sections and drank it all in. Then we walked over to Chinatown – now that's a busy and crowded area! Walking through the little lane ways is a treat. So crowded, stalls packed in, everything to buy, and it's all so cheap. We bought a lot of stuff, but mainly just enjoyed the atmosphere. The craziest thing here is, you're packed in like sardines going in both directions, then all of a sudden you hear “beep beep beep” and lo and behold, there's someone on a scooter trying to get through – CRAZY! But we loved it :-)
On the way back to the hotel we had a final stop at – you guessed it – MBK for the kids to grab some more things they somehow missed on our other two trips there!
Another side note – one of my forum questions in planning the trip was about areas to stay that were “not too seedy”. Where we were at off Sukhumvit was great – a 10 minute walk to the skytrain which gave us a chance to take in the area a bit. There were a couple of “not the foot massage” type massage/bar spots along Soi 22, and passing them a few times, we never failed to hear the girls call out to me and our 17 yo son – something regarding massages with some type of ending – maybe they were talking about the cup of tea we had at the end of our foot massage the other day :-) The greatest thing was, our son was REALLY EMBARRASED and so unimpressed. It was a huge laugh for the rest of us, ribbing him the whole time about it. If I had have known his reaction would be like that, I would have booked a hotel in the middle of Patpong!!!
Such a great 4 days in Bangkok, and my wife and I had a list as long as our arms of things we didn't get to do. Some things for next time! The next morning we were off to Chiang Mai, so that instalment will be in the Chiang Mai forum.
If you got this far – thanks – and sorry for the length, but it's my way of reliving such a great holiday experience.