The white temple

One of the main attractions of Chiang Rai is Wat Rong Khun, aka the white temple. It is very recent, built in 1997 and work is still ongoing, and is very unconventional and unique. It looks like Gaudi and HR Giger got together to design the Snow Queen's palace. It is completely overrun with tourists so it is impossible to get a decent shot of it at the time we arrived.

It is a few kilometres out of town but well worth the visit. The murals inside are pretty mad (the temple designer is actually a painter) with depictions of, instead of the usual scenes from Buddha's life, Keanu Reeves in the Matrix, Freddy Kruger, Michael Jackson and Angry Birds (much to the delight of Lucas); a fresh look at the samsara (the realm of rebirth and delusion).

The main square in central Chiang Rai is amazing. A huge flower garden with all sorts of orchids, lilacs and... well there ends my flower knowledge. We visited it at nighttime where it was beautifully illuminated and the water sprays gave it an eerie misty magical feel.

Lesson learnt today: when visiting something out of town make sure you have booked transport to get back.

Downriver to Chiang Rai

Decided to take the river to Chiang Rai. Mae Salong sounds too hardcore with kids: difficult to find food not involving animal entrails, basic facilities and a windy road. Also there will be Chinese new year celebrations in Chiang Rai. It would be the same road to get there, and the boats looked OK, so we decided to take the river. In the end it turned out to be much more comfortable than any minibus trip we have done.

So while the children played with a baby chick (dyed pink) and a baby duck some of us looked for a hotel while other sorted out the packing. Had time for an early proper lunch (with so many road trips the kids have been doing too much snacking these last few days) before the boat turned up at one. Time just flied by and, after a short stop at an elephant camp (no riding this time) we completed the 3h trip. At the elephant camp I witnessed the same bizarre scene twice involving 2 separate tourists demanding a particular elephant and acting like 4-year-olds. Don't they understand there is a rota system in place and no matter how many Bahts in their pocket that's how things work?

The hotel is pretty luxurious and the price, already OK, gets knocked down a bit more if you like it and share it on Facebook. I guess they can get away with that, though if they tried to pull the same one off for a 5-star rating on TripAdvisor they would probably get caught in no time and blacklisted.

Went to the night market. The kids ate in the main area in front of a stage where they had a bit of a Thai music and dance show on. After they changed to easy-listening Beatles (in Thai accent) we knew it was time to move on. Good thing we did because we found the real main non-farang (foreigner) market square with much more interesting (and cheaper) food stalls and a good mix of backpackers and Thais as opposed to to rich OAPs. Last time I only managed to eat dog, this time I finally got to eat worm and grasshopper.

Lessons learnt today: in rural areas allow extra time for charging batteries, there is less electrical current or something; also, don't trust the colour of packets of snacks or you will end up with cheese 'n onion caramel-flavoured popcorn.

Haciendo amigos

Nuestra primera parada en el norte de Tailandia fue Chiang Mai. Nuestro hotel estaba en la zona turistica, un conjunto de calles y callejones amurallados salpicado de templos, pequenos restaurantes y cafeterias locales semiescondidas entre enredaderas donde puedes disfrutar de la mejor comida tailandesa en todo el pais.

Planeando nuestro segundo dia, a la hora del desayuno, nos encontramos con una familia de londineneses en nuestra misma situacion, mochilas ninos + mucho tiempo. Tras compartir un dia en el zoo y comprobar que todos nos llevabamos bien, adultos y ninos, decidimos hacer pina y ser companeros de viaje por unos dias.

Lo bueno ser un grupo grande es que puedes contratar minibuses y transporte a medida, adaptado a tus horarios y necesidades personales, como son las paradas repentinas para ir al bano. Y os aseguro que le hemos sacado partido porque hemos compartido muchas horas de carretera recorriendo el norte de Tailandia, desde Pai hasta Chiang Rai, pasando por Chiang Dao y Ta Tong!

La seccion infantil de los nuevos companeros de viaje se llaman Lila y Tommy. Tienen 6 y 4 anos respectivamente y se han hecho muy amigos de Lucas y Aisha. Lucas habla ingles sin parar con un acento muy particular y Aisha perfecciona su spaninglish por minuto.

Hace un par de dias nos despedimos de ellos en Chiang Rai, nosotros emprendimos rumbo a Cambodia y ellos al sur de Tailandia. Les dejamos un poco enfermos y parece que Josh se ha traido el virus en la mochila, espero que no dure mucho y que no nos contagie. Toco madera!

Cave and Thaton

Decided to push on to Thaton. By private taxi minibus again, it's great when there are 8 of you. Stopped off to see the caves first, and they were definitely worth it. The main cave is illuminated, but there are 3 other galleries you need to explore with a guide, "volunteers" from the village who carry a gas lamp and point out the various rock shapes (as well as stop you from getting lost). There are a couple of pretty small holes to squeeze through which gave it all a sense of potholing.

The trip was uneventful, Aisha's stomach stayed put at long last. The roads here are much less windy than Pai's. Did the whole stretch without stopping. Our hotel at Thaton had seen better days, but would do for a night while we decide the next move: straight to Chiang Rai (by boat or by road) or stop at Mae Salong, a Chinese village, for Chinese new year.

Lesson learnt today: when off the beaten track always carry toilet paper with you.

Chiag Dao

Continuing with the plan to slowly make our way to Chiang Rai. First stop: Chiang Dao, a dusty little town popular with Thais escaping Chiang Mai. There is a cave we can visit, and also an agricultural research station with a bonsai garden. It has good trekking areas, with a big mountain and a natural park with waterfalls nearby, both out of our league.

We were better prepared this time even though our driver took it very easy and, sure enough, Aisha let forth her breakfast yogurt an hour into the trip. She actually went for another when we were nearly at Chiang Dao which caught us by surprise. I think it's time we got some carsickness medicine.

Our accommodation is amazing. It is quite beautiful, with lots of heavy wood, though with slightly naff touches in the cowboy / Jack Daniels / Harley Davidson department which seem out of place but apparently the well-to-do Thais love. We have beds for all this time, no sleeping on the floor. It covers a vast area with lakes and gardens, and looks completely empty. It caters mainly to Thais (we are pretty off the Westerner beaten track), especially businessmen and company events. As the day passed we saw a few other people turning up. We are quite far from Chiang Dao so we just spent the evening here.


Did absolutely nothing worthwhile today. It was fabulous. Just lazed about, chain eating and sipping Chang. Finally found a place that does breakfast near our hotel. Had a massage and then, as it was too late to go and see the Pai waterfall, just lazed around on Andy and Anna's terrace. Esther nearly went for a tattoo (after much debate about whether she'd get what she wanted or end up with the symbol for pad thai on the back of her neck).

Got a private minivan taxi for tomorrow to continue up North. It is not much more expensive than getting the public buses when you are dealing with 2 families, and definitely a lot less hassle.

Buddha on the hill

Had a right old moan about the hotel yesterday in the blog. Just to be completely clear about it, it's a great place and completely deserves it's 4-star rating on TripAdvisor. My gripes are just because it doesn't wok for us.

Looks like we will head towards Chiang Rai, with various stops on the way. Ideally we would stay at a Chinese village (there is a large Chinese community in Northern Thailand) for their New Year celebrations (30-31/Jan), though maybe we are a bit late on the booking front. From Chiang Rai we will be able to get a cheap flight to Bangkok.

Today's mission was the big Buddha on the hill. We missed the temple on the hill in Chiang Mai but this time we emerged triumphant. I always feel elated when we actually achieve plan A, though one of my trip resolutions is to learn to change plans when they turn out to not be worthwhile. It's all about the voyage, not the destination.

The way up to the temple complex is next door to out hotel, so after brunch (still haven't found a place that does breakfast out here so we had to get a ride into town) we all headed back and started uphill. Had a long breather at the temple complex as the kids were really entertained playing, and then headed up for the final leg to the big white Buddha. Buddha provided us all with ice creams for the way back down to the hotel pool. It was freezing but most of us were brave and had a dip. We wanted massages but it had got a bit late (we needed an early night) so we decided to postpone them until tomorrow.

I have noticed 2 things about the kids that really get the Thai's attention (and most Asians). One is seeing them painting or writing, presumably kids here don't start school until 5 or more and before that don't pick up a pencil. The other, weirdly, is seeing them play. In fact we haven't really seen many local children this age, and never any groups of them playing. Still, we never really have to do anything much to attract attention - simply being Westerners means the Asian tourists whip out their cameras and start shooting.

De parque en parque y tiro por que me toca

Como buenos madrilenos Lucas y Aisha estan acostumbrados a encontrar un parque a la vuelta de cada esquina. Pero las cosas en Tailandia son distintas y lo que tienes asegurado en cada esquina es un puesto ambulante de comida.

Nuestras expediciones en busca de parques han sido todas fallidas, sin embargo los los hemos encontrado cuando menos lo esperabamos, asi que la alegria ha sido doble.

El primer parque estaba en el aeropuerto, y aparecio de la nada durante una escala de 3 horas. Llevabamos todo el dia viajando en diferentes medios de transporte para llegar hasta el norte y nuestro hallazgo fue un gran premio y fin de fiesta.

El segundo lo encontramos en el hospital de Chiang Mai. Tuvimos que ir a ver al pediatra porque Lucas tenia lombrices y nos quedamos sorprendidos con el hospital por el trato, las instalaciones y el precio, solo nos cobraron los medicamentos. Nos hemos tomado todos la medicacion porque es bastante contagioso y vamos a intentar llevarnos un cargamento a Cambodia porque por lo visto la atencion sanitaria por alli es mas precaria.  

No sabemos donde estara el proximo parque que se cruce en nuestro camino, pero seguro que no esta a la vuelta de la esquina.

Hot springs

Freezed my nads off last night. What a difference between the South and the North of Thailand! During the day Pai is war enough, but the temperature plummets at sunset. Definitely this is a very unpractical hotel for us. The adults were on the floor on some really thin mattresses and not enough blankets. Even the kids in the main bed were cold. Need to ask for extra blankets. We were even debating ditching here and finding alternative accommodation. Being far from reception doesn't help either for heating up Aisha's bottles (though we were offered another closer hut after the first night - so far we haven't taken up the offer, a combination of laziness and not being sure if we'll move to a different place in town).

Looks like we will spend a bit more time up North and get another flight to Bangkok, and from there go straight to Siem Reap (in Cambodia - the main city near the Angkor Wat temples). That way we avoid any trouble and blockades brewing because of the political situation. It means missing a flight and loosing the deposit on a hotel, but it's worth it. Up here there is still Mae Hong Son or Chiang Rai to explore. I also saw boats ans speedboats to the one place we wanted to visit in Laos, Luang Prabang, but looking later online it turned out to be a major Odyssey involving an 8h night drive to the actual boats, followed by at least 6h by speedboat (or 2 days by slow boat).

Hooked up with Andy and Anna after a late breakfast (last night took it's toll). We all went to the hot springs. Visited 3 different "resort and spas" before we hit the jackpot. A lovely luxury complex where the hot pools weren't too hot for the kids (probably the worse choice for someone looking for truly hot springs- the other 2 places had really hot pools). What really sold it to us as well was a kiddie play are, but in the end we forgot to actually tell the kids about it.

The "taxi" there was a pickup, so the 4 kids and I went in the back, which was really exciting. Spent time in the pools and in the (cold) swimming pool, just living in the lap of luxury. As the sun set we left to hit the market stalls again, though we made it a much earlier night this time.

Lesson learnt today: no more hotels out of town, especially if they don't do breakfast.

Trip to Pai

Pai is a small village 3h North of Chiang Mai. It has gone from hippie haven to near-mandatory backpacker stop. It is very rural, surrounded by rice fields, and boasts some pretty amazing hot springs.

We chose a pretty leisurely time, 2pm. As it's Friday and therefore "present day" (a deal we made with Lucas back in Madrid to avoid pestering) we had time to find a couple of small toys and have a quick lunch. Maybe straight after lunch wasn't such a good idea. We got picked up in a rickety old van which we thought was a bit cheeky (we had paid for aircon) until we realised it was just to take is to the depot. There we changed to a proper minibus which hurtled through the Thai countryside on a stomach-churning white-knuckle ride. All four of us are pretty carsick-resistant so we didn't even think of bringing medicine for that, but an hour into it Aisha let a bit out. Then promptly fell asleep for the rest of the way. Lucas also fell for the last hour.

My god our little Pai has grown up! It's not a sleepy little village any more (it wasn't really that when we came here 9 years ago either) but a bustling town of 20,000 people. The main town centre is still pretty small (just one traffic light) but in the outskirts hotels and bars have sprung up like mushrooms.

Our hotel is 2km from Pai. It's lovely for a couple on honeymoon but not very practical for a family. We were just going to hang around the hotel, but were offered a lift into town. Bumped into Andy and Anna so had a great time wandering around eating things on sticks, and drinking ginger tea out of bamboo cups and Chang beer.

Ended the night at a hippie bar watching a fire show to live music. The kids were blown away, it was their first real experience of rastas, crusties and jugglers. They stole the show a bit with their dancing on stage and then settled down a bit to be amazed at the fire juggling. They were especially impressed how nobody got burned, and when one actually ate some fire Lucas had to go and ask him how he did it (the answer was more of a why: he was hungry and it was his dinner). At the end they were shattered but ecstatic. Gutted I didn't bring the camera.

Lesson learnt today: don't write in the blog, or even look at a tablet, on the way to Pai.

The elephant is a graceful bird

The elephant is a graceful bird
It flits from bough to bough
It builds its nest in a rhubarb tree
And whistles like a cow

We were all going to just hop on the bus to Lampang when we got a much better offer from the driver that was going to take us to the station - the whole day for all 8 of us for 2000 baht (around 48 euros). Bargain, we thought, the bus would nearly be that if we got seats for the kids, plus we were guaranteed a way to get back. So we took him up on his offer and it turned out great.

The elephant conservation centre had it all. First we had a short ride around on an elephant (in a seat, not bareback) which reminded me a bit of the donkey rides round Mijas, only in this case the mahouts were actually friendly and smiley. Then we went to see the babies and feed their mothers, followed by a quick stop at the hospital. Then we saw them all have a bath (some of the mahouts were Westerners in training) and a (pretty boring) show involving ball throwing, log dragging, and even painting!

We wanted to go into Lampang for lunch but our driver convinced us to stop just before at a typical proper market. You couldn't get more Thai than this, I don't think we saw a single tourist. Food for the kids was a bit complicated but we managed by picking out bits of meat from the least spicy dishes. We also bought all sorts of foodstuff, they even had strawberries (very expensive, obviously a luxury item) and chestnuts.

Visit to the zoo

Met a nice family over breakfast. They have a girl a year older than Lucas and a boy a year older than Aisha. They have been travelling for a few months round New Zealand and Australia and have been in Thailand for a few days and were looking for kiddie things to do round Chiang Mai. After convincing them Pai (a small village a bit further North) was a great place (I hope it still is after 9 years) we all arranged our mini-buses to go there on Friday. We leave a bit later as we already have our accommodation sorted out. Then we all agreed to go to the zoo together, as backup in case we wouldn't be able to deliver on the elephants. Chiang Mai zoo is quite good, with lots of different animals and plenty of space for them. Also, for many of them, you can buy some food and feed them. My favourite were the hippos.

Andy and Anna had already been to the night market so we had a go. Lucas thought it was pants as there was nothing to shoot (Bangkok has set the standard too high for night markets), only food and souvenirs. Bumped into them again on the way back and arranged to go tomorrow to Lampang's elephant sanctuary, about an hour and a half south. It seems to be what we want: riding, show and watching them get cleaned. It's also one of the better-run places (both government and king are behind it - 7 of the 11 royal elephants live there).

Chiang Mai

I love Chiang Mai. It is more manageable than Bangkok but still a city - the main tourist part is all concentrated within the old city walls. It is also a bit cooler, especially in the morning. And the food is amazing; there seem to be cooking courses on every street. It's a good base for other, more outdoorsy activities too: trekking, zip lines, abseiling, climbing, rafting, elephant training... With the kids most of that is all out but we do want to see elephants. It's proving a bit hard organising just a simple visit though - we just want to see them getting washed, dragging a tree trunk around a bit, maybe feed them and even ride them. But it seems that the offer on hand is a full-on elephant training course which is really not that a useful skill in Madrid.

Lucas has worms. Rather than trust the pharmacy we went straight to one of the hospitals. It was very clean and modern, with a kiddie play area which was ch appreciated (2 in 2 days!). They didn't do much in the way of examining him, just listened to our description, and then prescribed us something which apparently was for most types of worm (later confirmed to be true). As I remembered from an earlier Aisha episode that it could be quite infectious I asked for a prescription for the whole family.

After the hospital we went to see the main temple, Wat Phra Singh. It's been some time since we saw one so we were all pretty enthusiastic. We even bought some gold-leaf to put on one of the statues as an offering. Aisha found the people praying quite fascinating (and puzzling), so they were dully copied. She also likes the monks (finally she's stopped calling them monkeys) quite a lot.

Didn't achieve much else, just wandered around for a bit having a bite here and a bite there, soaking in the vibe, and getting a bit lost because the map is a bit pants. Finished the day off with a session at the hairdressers for the 2 boys, which Aisha insisted on joining in.

The way North

Said goodbye to Railay and caught a boat to Krabi. From there got the bus to the airport. Nearly missed the fight as we ran into some sort of protest or rally. Don't think it had anything to do with what's going on in Bangkok, it looked more like something to do with education as they all stopped outside a university. At the stopover in Bangkok we found our first kiddie play area in Thailand, and the children spent a joyous time being pirates. Arrived late in Chiang Mai. The hotel is amazing, real luxury (for us) at the same price as Bangkok, or half the price as Railay. The only downside is that this time we don't have a swimming pool.

Lesson learnt today: if you overdo the climbing on your last day you might find it difficult to pack the next morning.

Escalando en Railey

Una de las razones por las que vinimos a Railey fue para escalar, algo que no pudimos hacer la ultima vez que estuvimos aqui.

Railey es uno de los mejores y mas famosos destinos en Tailandia donde ponerse el arnes y los pies de los gatos y enfrentarse a las enormes paredes de piedra caliza a pie de playa. A todas horas desfilan personas cargando cuerdas y mochilas llenas de mosquetones y hay un sin fin de negocios locales donde contratar un guia y el equipo de escalada por unas horas.

Josh y yo hicimos turnos y escalamos medio dia cada uno. Acabamos destrozados por la falta de practica pero disfrutamos como enanos. Yo tuve al profe en exclusiva y al cabo de dos horas intensivas se agotaron mis fuerzas!

Lucas tambien queria escalar y, aunque se lo habiamos quitado de la cabeza porque no encontrabamos equipo infantil, en cuanto nos vio escalar a nosotros volvio a insistir. Josh ya habia encontrado un sitio donde hacian cursos de escalada a partir de 5 anos asi que Lucas tuvo su baustimo en Railey! Lo hizo con bastante estilo aunque el descenso fue un desastre y el guia tuvo que subir a por el. Bajar parece facil pero tiene su truco.

A Josh no pudimos hacerle fotos, llegamos tarde porque tuvimos un pequeno incidente domestico. Un gato arano a Lucas en la mano y nos obligo a bajar nuestro habitual ritmo mananero de piscina y deberes.

Changing plans

Looks like Laos is out. We would love to see Luang Praban but apart from that there is not much do do with kids except maybe the capital, Vientiane. Roads are a mess, and most of the cool things involve trekking, which isn't something we can really do until the children are a bit older. There was an aeroplane accident a couple of months ago but apparently it was the first in a long time, air safety is not too bad. But flights are expensive and not worth it just to see a couple of things.

We would like to stay a few extra nights up North in Lampang but that means changing a flight and giving up on Ko Chang as we'd run out of time on our Visa. In any case it looks easy to get to Ko Chang later from Cambodia. We'll see what they say at Bangkok airport.

Family climbing fun

I took the morning session while Esther looked after the kids. Started alone with my guide Sen but a Canadian guy called Patrice joined after I had done the first climb. Gosh it's been a while! After a few climbs my forearms were burning. I actually did better than expected (which isn't the same as saying I did well). Esther & the kids arrived too late to take photos as they had been delayed with the drama of Lucas getting scratched by a cat (nothing serious).

Talking over lunch we decided to try out that place I saw that does 2h, for Lucas. We really want to see how he does and if he likes it, with the idea of maybe getting him a child harness. Even though they didn't have the equipment they rented id from next door. Booked him in for the afternoon.

Took the kids for a rest (they got up at 7:30 today) and then went to see Esther climb for a bit. Then took Lucas to his session. He did much better than expected, pushing up well with his legs and grabbing on with his hands. Coming down was a bit of a problem bit that's just practise. He seemed to enjoy it, though after 2 half climbs lost interest. Esther came back just in time to see him on the second one (she was climbing with just Sen so in little over 2h was also out of forearms).

As we were close to Prabang beach we said our last goodbyes to the shoreline. Tomorrow we fly to Chiang Mai (up North) and it will be some time before we see a beach again. Then Lucas had a Skype session with his school posse; he's been missing them and it was great to see them all together chatting away about Angry Birds and other important matters.

Lesson learnt today: that noise in the morning is not a limestone cliff falling on the roof, it's a family of monkeys.

Diamond cave

Our hotel is called Diamond Cave Resort because it is next to Diamond cave. Diamond cave isn't exactly world-famous on the international cave circuit but it's a great excuse to get out the torches (even though it's fully lit), do some serious exploring during the hottest part of the day, and tiptoe quietly under the sleeping bats. It also gives it's name to a climbing area, which is where we have booked to half-day sessions for tomorrow.

Lesson learnt today: don't lean over to point out little cabs when carrying an empty beer bottle in your rucksack; it ain't as empty as you think.

Tsunami memories

There is definitely some sort of price-fixing cartel on Railay. All the tours and climbing courses are the same price no matter where you go. Restaurants differ by less than 10%, supermarkets are all the same. Hotels and everything is much more expensive than on the mainland, even considering everything has to be shipped in by longtail boat. But who's complaining when we sleep the whole family for 65 euros a night and in Madrid it's freezing cold?

Went on the "five island tour" on a longtail boat. Felt a bit queasy at the beginning - we were on virtually the same tour 9 years ago when we got hit by the tsunami. Also yesterday was full moon. After the first beach I was feeling safer - we had improved on the last tour.

Considering one "island" is Railay (which is actually connected to the mainland, only not by road) and two other stops are actually the same island on different sides this is quite a stretch of the word five. But that is pure Westerner thinking. The Thais were perfectly happy explaining all this the day before. The thing is if you know what you pay for (it doesn't take much brainpower or travel experience to realise the places will be pretty crowded as all tours do the same route) you won't be disappointed. Who cares if it's 5 or 3 islands? We had a great time on the beaches, snorkeling and eating lunch in the shade. The pace was slow, the kids were happy, my bowels stayed put and we didn't see a hint of a tsunami.

Bread and butter floating down the gutter

Delhi belly. Felt absolutely awful. Maybe going to the beach wasn't such a great idea. Esther had a touch, but I got it real good. Sleep, rest, recover. In the evening things looked good enough to book an island-hopping tour for tomorrow.

Balance semanal

Damos por superada con buena nota la primera semana del viaje (prometo no escribir balances semanales pero por ser la primera me lo puedo permitir, no?)

Lesiones: en un dia y medio Aisha ha conseguido caerse varias veces en uno de esos asfaltos que duelen solo de verlos. Siguiendo el consejo de mi sabia madre hemos cubierto de mercromina sus rodillas, barbilla y el codo. En el rifirafe con Aisha para curarle las heridas tambien decoramos de rojo las blanquisimas sabanas del hotel, espero que la lejia funcione bien aqui.

Nostalgia: Lucas esta ansioso porque venga Miriam en marzo y le traiga su viejo cepillo de dientes, unas gafas de carton que le regalo su profe Toni y una bolsa de pelotazos! Con antojos como esto creo que podremos aguantar los 8 meses.

Perdidas: Mas que perder vamos acumulando trastos. La pala, el cubo, la pelota y la tabla de surf los dejaremos en Railey, nos quedan unas semanas hasta la proxima playa y nos cuesta mas llevarlo encima que comprar otro set.

Por lo demas todo va genial. Es una gozada tener tanto tiempo para disfrutar con los peques sin prisas ni agobios.

Chillin' in Railay

Ah, the laid-back life of the beach bum. Been so busy doing nothing that it's been three days without a blog post.

Having covered Aisha head to toe in Mercromina (a popular topical antiseptic in Spain) which stains the skin red she now looks like she has just come off a battlefield. That plus kisses seems to have done the trick but whenever she breaks into a trot both parents scream out "don't run" - the idea being she doesn't fall on her knees for at least a couple of days so they heal properly. The floors here, when not sand, are a vicious mix of cement and gravel, similar to my playground at school.

Speaking of school, we are keeping abreast of homework, more or less. In the morning we sit by the pool and do a few pages of our schoolbooks in between swims. Lucas needs a bit more catching up to do, and Aisha has nearly finished her book (so I don't know exactly how much she has actually retained), we've just been unable to get her to concentrate on quality over quantity.

Railay is a rock-climbing haven so we went into a few places to ask about prices. We wanted to get Lucas to give it a try but they only seem to do half-day sessions as a minimum, and 4h seems a bit much - he'd definitely loose interest after a couple of hours. In the end we convinced him to get a body-board instead. A couple of days later I found a place which did 2h, but didn't specialise in children (though they could have borrowed the equipment) but by then it was too late.

After a bit of beaching, when the tide was down, we crossed over to Ton Sai, the rock-climbing beach at Railay. Lucas did a spot of bouldering and then we ogled at a few of the climbers. We spent the evening between East and West (Railay Central) at a bar which had free films on for kids. There Aisha had another nasty fall, this time whacking her chin. Dunno what's up with this girl lately. Dinner next door, even though delicious, wasn't 100% success either...

Railay or bust

It all started well. As from the 13th there are barricades at various points in Bangkok to protest over the political situation. There were even calls to try and blockade air traffic somehow but the government threatened 15 year's jail for whoever tried to pull that one off so I guess that put a dampener on it. We were debating whether to risk it as we had a very early flight on the 14th or go by train. As it turns out by train would have been a disaster as it would have taken us to the wrong airport. From the cab we saw some barricades but after a bit of driving round them we got to our flight with plenty of time.

It was at Krabi we experienced a bit of an Epic Fail. Turns out our hotel was a dump in a dump on the mainland, not on Railay as expected, and with no English-speaking staff to boot. Diamond Resort and Diamond Cave Resort and Diamond Private Resort can be a bit confusing on TripAdvisor when you are in a hurry. Luckily they are all part of the same group and after a quick phone call we had sorted out a room at Diamond Cave Resort on Railay (at double the price, but that's expected as everything is more expensive there), so apart from running around for a bit in taxis there was no harm done. Travelling wouldn't be worth it without these little adventures. Or at least it wouldn't be as interesting. It's in these situations I give thanks we are travelling relatively light, and with the right packs.

Unhappily for Aisha she fell, twice, on her knees so she was lead back home for a bit or comfort cartoons. Lucas and I spent some boy time on the main beach. Soon both were fast asleep, the 6am wake-up call took it's toll.

Barricadas o error en la reserva?

El ambiente politico esta algo revuelto en Tailandia entre los dos partidos mayoritarios, conocidos como camisas amarillas y camisas rojas. Como suele ocurrir en todos los conflictos de este tipo, los unos quieren derrotar a los otros y conseguir el poder. En este caso son los camisas amarillas los que quieren/exigen la destitucion del actual gobierno y los que organizaron para el 13 de enero, un bloqueo de las principales vias de acceso a Bangkok, con vistas de darle continuidad si el presidente no se manifestaba.

En nuestros planes teniamos previsto volar el dia 14 desde Bangkok hasta Krabi, una zona costera al sur del pais. Despues de darle algunas vueltas a si cambiar o no el vuelo decidimos no hacerlo y enfrentarnos a las barricadas, desde el taxi claro! Y tuvimos suerte. A las 5.30 de la manana nos metimos en el taxi con los ninos en pijama, y tras algunos giros bruscos para evitar los bloqueos, conseguimos llegar al aeropuerto y coger el vuelo sin problemas. Intentamos explicarle a Lucas lo que estaba pasando, usando la ultima huelga de profesorado como simil. Dentro de unos dias le preguntare para ver si se ha quedado con algun recuerdo de todo esto.

Superado el conflicto, la sorpresa nos la llevamos cuando nos dimos cuenta de que habiamos hecho mal la reserva del hotel y nos habiamos equivocado de destino. Es lo que pasa cuando una cadena hotelera tiene 3 hoteles diferentes en distintas ubicaciones que se llaman Diamond Resort, Diamond Private Resort y Diamond Cave Resort! Por suerte conseguimos que nos hicieran el cambio y nos instalamos en nuestro querido Railey. Del cual ya hablaremos porque fue donde nos encontramos con el tsunami del 2004...

Fears about kids so far

Homesickness: some murmurs, mostly from Aisha, but no big deal so far. We've been away from home for a few weeks anyways, staying at both grandparent's houses.

Food, milk: plenty of not-too-funny-tasting food for the kids (and they have always loved plain rice), and in a pinch there is always western food to hand (and there will continue to be for most of the places we visit I suspect), the only lack is vegetables (but they have never been fans) though the fruit makes up for that; I also thought finding milk would be a problem in Asia, but at least in Thailand there always seems to be a 7-eleven nearby.

Poo: no tummy upsets as yet.

Mosquitoes: only a couple of bites in 5 days, though there aren't many mosquitoes in the capital.

Heat: no problems - if these kids can handle Southern Spain in August they can handle Bangkok.

Stamina: after the first day we got to grips with the right pace for moving around end visiting sites; even so the kids are knackered by the time we get back to the hotel, and sometimes a bit grumpy.

We seem to be doing just fine so far!

Wat Arun

The whole family had anti-nit shampoo this morning, followed by a good session of the metal comb. We'll repeat the procedure in a weeks time, though maybe I'll have shaved my head by then and be exempt.

Got the boat to Wat Arun today. Missed the pier we were supposed to get off because of the crowd, so we got off at the next one and had to come back. Wat Arun offered a new experience to the kids (they are calling all the temples "bottom pinchers" because of all the spiky towers - if you remember the carpet fliers in Where's Wally you'll know why), you can climb up this particular bottom pincher. The last set of steps are a bit hairy, especially if you are carrying a three-year-old up with you, plus a rucksack plus a camera.

Had a longer chat with the other travelling family at the hotel, they recommended a Facebook group "families on the move" which had all sorts of resources, help, recommendations and contacts. After that the whole family had a foot massage in Kao San-ish road. Lucas thought it was great. Aisha fell asleep after 5 minutes, which we also take as a thumbs-up. Early to bed, tomorrow we get up at 5am to catch a flight to Krabi.

Mochileo y ninos?

Si alguien se pregunta si es posible la respuesta es "si"! Superamos el viaje sin problemas a pesar de hacer 3 escalas, una de ellas a las 3 de la manana.

El secreto es no ser ambicioso con el tiempo y convertir todo en una aventura. Un viaje en tuk-tuk con todos sus baches y giros bruscos, y los consecuentes vuelcos al corazon para los padres, es como una montana rusa para los ninos. Y un recorrido en el barco-taxi por el rio con el viento y la espuma del agua no tiene desperdecio. Por supuesto los templos y budas son el gran aliciente en cualquier excursion pero a veces el camino puede ser tan emocionante como el destino final.

Y con esta filosofia hemos conseguido hacer ya varias de las visitas obligadas en Bangkok, como son el Grand Palace y Wat Po, mas conocido como el (enorme) buda tumbado.

Con Lucas jugando a ser rey y Aisha a ser princesa los antiguos templos y palacios son el escenario perfecto para largas horas de diversion.

Wat Pho

There is another long-term travel family at the hotel, with a girl aged about 7. Got chatting about the possible blockades on the roads to the airport. Nobody seems too worried. We're still not sure whether to get the train as it may not start on time to get us there. I doubt if there will be many protesters at 6am.

Saved a little girl from "drowning" at the pool. Would have had plenty of time to take my wallet out but in the heat of the moment I just jumped in; a quick dry in the sun sorted it out. After that great news - Lucas has nits! They must be from Spain, we haven't been here long enough. Esther spent most of he day checking Aisha.

European lunch for the kids, just to make sure they get a decent amount of protein (they eat Thai food, but never enough it seems). Green curry for the adults. Together with the pad thai and yesterday's papaya salad that just leaves red and massaman curries to tick off the list of essential dishes.

Bought some postcards, though no writing yet as we went straight out to get a tuk-tuk to Wat Pho. The kids were impressed with the huge reclining Buddha, and spent hours of fun picking up coins from the floor and putting them back in the offering pots.

Still weekend so the market was in full swing again. This time Lucas chose to throw balls at cans to try and get a furry prize for Aisha. No luck, even though Esther also had a go.

Lessons learnt today: in general you can ignore Lonely Planet's advice on dressing up before visiting temples - there's no need to spend all day sweating like a pig as most sites (nearly all the ones on the tourist circuit) supply shawls and trousers when needed; also remember that electricity turns off from plugs (and therefore chargers) when you take the hotel key out (we actually knew this from using the baby phones round Spain) so charging should be done at night.

Forever Bangkok

Hay cosas que nunca cambian y parece que Bangkok es una de ellas. Juraria que hace 9 anos vi a los mismos backpackers en los mismos bares mientras a su alrededor se siguen agolpando los vendedores ambulantes de comida y ofreciendo masajes a menos de 4 euros la hora.

La verdad no se si esto es bueno o malo en si mismo. Todo el mundo parece estar contento y en el sitio correcto, incluida yo. Eso si, he decidido no visitar Khao San Road esta vez a pesar de que estamos a 400 metros.

The right pace is achieved

Definitely bit exactly what we could chew today, no more, no less. Did a bit of homework during breakfast (we have some schoolbooks for the kids, the same ones they are using at their school for these two trimesters). Lucas was very chuffed he had done the "ll" page before anyone else, as he is 6 hours ahead of his classmates. After a very late start to the day we wandered out again in search of Khao San road. Still no luck, even though we swallowed out pride and asked a couple of times, but Lucas had his feet nibbled on by some fish (they feed off dead skin, which is good for you in some way) and we had a lovely lunch at one of the street restaurants in a very similar road. Esther is now pissed off with Khao San and refuses to step into the god-forsaken tourist-trap hellhole.

Today's main mission was to go on a boat down the river. Extra points for visiting Wat Arun and/or going on the skytrain (we actually have a ticket we managed to buy yesterday before we ran out of change and patience), but neither was mentioned at the morning assembly (in the morning we do an assembly like at school, and each day a different member of the family is "in charge"). As it turned out we went the wrong way up the river. They told us to take the boat with an orange flag, which we took to be something to do with whether it went upriver or downriver. Soon we learnt they all have orange flags (except the private boats) and the clue to whether it goes up or downriver is the direction it's heading (we aren't completely dumb, we thought they would turn round for some reason, like it was the end of the line). No harm done; we ended off the beaten track, away from all the tourists, at a lovely temple called Wat Soi Thong. Got a couple of cakes and tangerines given to us by one of the janitors into the bargain.

On the way out from the hotel we had noticed people putting up stalls all down Pra Athit road and by the time we got back from the boat there was a night market in full swing. Saw some local dancing (it actually had the kids mesmerised, and Aisha spent the rest of the evening swinging her his and waving her arms around, and she wasn't the only one doing so either). Got a few munchies from the various stalls, a pretty hit 'n miss experience but such is the adventure of not being able to speak Thai. Lucas had a great experience with a "real" rifle shooting for fluffy toys (with daddy carefully holding the damn thing and moving small fingers out or harm's way from the flying latch). Didn't actually hit anything but they took pity on us and gave us a toy anyways. We named him Furby.

Lesson learnt today: don't pass by a 7-eleven without dumping your rubbish there.

Midnight feast

We're not home and dry with the timetables yet. The inevitable happened last night - Lucas and Aisha woke up at 1am hungry and definitely not tired. So we sat them down (after a bit of jumping up and down on the beds) to a feast of salami sandwiches, apple and biscuits. Ambiance was supplied by Lucas' new green laser (in fact the first word he uttered when he woke up). It took a while to settle them down again. It is now 12am and the rest of the family are still sound asleep, while I work out my photo workflow and breakfast on fried rice with fermented pork.


We are finally in Bangkok! It was quite a trip to get here from Madrid but the kids handled it fine. We had 2h to Frankfurt, followed by 6h to Abu Dhabi and another 6h to Bangkok. Lucas and Aisha slept for most of the two long flights so we had enough energy to have a little walk last night after dumping all out luggage at the hotel (and a quick dip in the pool for Lucas).

We are round the corner from Kao San road, but we didn't manage to find it (mostly out of pride - we both refused to ask for directions). Managed to get some chilly sauce in Lucas' eye which didn't go down too well but we soon recovered from the incident with the promise of a laser as a present for the next day. Everyone was feeling a bit knackered so we had an early night and by next morning we were all out of jet lag mode.

Today was pretty busy. After a laid-back morning by the pool and copious breakfast (including Josh's first pad thai of the trip, the first of many) we got a tuk-tuk to the Grand Palace. The kids enjoyed it immensely, from mum and dad dressing in Thai clothes (borrowed, to be let in) to taking off sandals to be able to go in the king's temple (aka the Royal Monastery of the Emerald Buddha). And let's not forget the gold buildings, murals with depicting stories with crazy monsters (aka the Ramakien), and all the monks.

The plan was to get on a boat and then a skytrain to the shopping malls but hunger set in so we grabbed another tuk-tuk-tuk which plowed into Bangkok's crazy traffic at breakneck speed. We saw a minor demonstration, not quite sure what of (some sort of pacifist pro-conciliation / anti-corruption group). The main reason to go to the malls was to look for some sort of play area for kids. I think that might prove a bit difficult in SE Asia. You don't seem to find slides or swings anywhere. After a delicious lunch (no problem for the kids, except the hot stuff) we found a bunch of rides that did the trick. We seemed to get endless free vouchers so we got on loads of the attractions.

After a looong queue for a taxi we got back to the hotel. The kids fell asleep on the way so we put them straight to bed. While I write in the blog Esther has gone to get a foot massage. Hardly fair I'd say. I hope she finds a laser on the way back...

Lessons learnt today: always take hats & suncream with you (apart from that the daypack was pretty complete), and try and do a bit less in a day (even without boat and skytrain we got back late with both kids asleep).