Sunday, March 29, 2015

bangkok madness

This is my Bangkok story.

So for once, I became the overseas competition mum. The crazy parent who splashes out hard-earned money to fund her child / children to travel overseas for a competition.

Never again, man. Never. In point form (the easiest way to write, really), here’s why this 3-day, 2-night trip was a not-very-nice personal Learning Adventure:

* No husbandly support. In truth, Hong Kong didn’t pan out because plane-phobic KK refused to risk his life to sit in a gym in HK and watch his children. This time, the same occurred. KK refused to go. In truth, I was heartened when I arrived in Bangkok and realized that some children, like mine, were accompanied only by their mums because their dads didn't want to waste their time this way. Meaning KK is fairly normal and what I have to accept is fairly acceptable.

* I bring two, I have to bring three. KK said – Why not you leave Lulu behind? It’ll easier for you. (And also, lest something happens, he has one daughter left) But Jo would have none of it, she needed Lu. And of course, Lu would have none of it. I also can’t get around this stupid mummy guilt about leaving a child behind. As it is, Lu is already well aware that she wasn’t in Penang, wasn’t in Sydney, wasn’t in Tasmania, so on and so forth.

* I was completely left on my own. There was zero support from the gym – another reason why KK refused to go, on the matter of principle that this gym sucks. (But he let me go my stupid way) All I was asked to do was pay up for competition apparel, competition fee (1000 baht) and handed the Thai gym’s address on a piece of paper. Now, I’m not a well-travelled person and I am famously blur. I managed to change money, buy air tickets – not the cheapest at nearly $2000 – from Tiger Airways and booked the hotel which I found out the coaches were staying at. That was the extent of my preparation into Unknown Bangkok. It didn’t help that I was swept up in LKY mania the week we were supposed to leave and I couldn’t be bothered to read up on Bangkok, which I had never been to and knew nothing about.

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* I had no friends. I realize that mums went with other mum friends, travelled on the same flight and stayed in the same hotels. They knew better hotels to stay in, were there on shopping agendas and knew what to avoid. I had no friends and no plan. Although I'm glad to say I made some friends there who helped.

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* Me and the gang upon arrival in Bangkok

* I couldn’t get my phone roaming to work. KK insisted that I be in contact at all times. But despite visiting a M1 shop prior to the trip to rehearse what to press (to activate roaming) I did not manage to. That was another source of stress, why the hell was I so useless that I could not even activate my roaming?

* Bangkok was a shock, well I didn’t do research right? It was only upon arrival that I realized the hotel (at Sukhumvit Soi, near this mega mall called Terminal 21) was far from the gym (Ramintra suburb). Why the hell would the coaches stay at a hotel that is 40km away from the gym? I still don’t know the answer.

* We were beset by Bangkok traffic jams on what was apparently a long weekend so the jams were worse than usual. I confess, at that point in time, the imaginary ERP gantries which sprung up in front of my eyes on the grid-locked Bangkok expressway was my paean to the marvels of Singapore’s future-proof ideology. We arrived on Friday 2pm after sitting 2 ½ hours on a plane, sat 1 ½ hours in a taxi crawling its way to our hotel in the heart of Bangkok, dumped our bags and then sat another two hours in a taxi crawling its way out to the gym, trying to get there by 6pm practice time. My trio were incredibly tolerant. When practice ended at 8pm and after we cursorily grabbed our dinner, we were hit by another jam on the way back to the hotel, so the kids only bedded down near midnight, and we had to wake up at 530am so Jo could get to the gym on time at 630am for her competition day. No she didn’t get enough sleep.

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* Blessed Sukhumvit! Finally!

* Taxi drivers from the hotel didn’t want to go to the gym, and vice versa, because of the unrelenting jams in-between. Standing at the side of the road near 10pm in some strange corner of Bangkok with three kids who were dependent on me, confronted by a never-ending stream of traffic which meant I could not even cross the road, trying to flag down taxis and then seeing the taxi-driver shake his head, was most depressing. Some savvy parents, I later found out, used some Grab Taxi app which I of course had no idea how to operate.

* Not every taxi driver spoke English. I should have known this, but it didn’t become an issue until one of our taxi drivers got lost, he couldn’t read the exact hotel address which was written in English, he wanted me to use my mobile to call the hotel, my phone battery was dead, then he had to use his own phone to call the hotel with a lot of under-breath swearing. It's slightly scary to be in a taxi with an angry cab driver and three kids in a foreign land.

* I didn’t know how to bargain. I think one has to know how to bargain in Bangkok. I was fleeced by taxi drivers left right and centre, roadside shops, God knows what. Lulu wanted to buy little cloth elephants. The vendor asked for 300 baht. I hesitantly opened my mouth and said - 250? - and I could almost see him thank his Gods for this idiotic tourist who dropped from the Heavens when his face cracked a huge smile and he said straightaway, OK!

* I don’t have a good directional sense. In the crazy streets of Sukhumvit where numbers don’t line up and taxi drivers rolled their eyes dismissively when I kept desperately repeating the street number of the hotel, and where I just could not recognise the way back despite several trips to and fro, it’s disaster. It didn’t help that the name of our hotel had the word ‘President’ in it which was similar to several more established hotels in the area. Twice we were brought to the wrong hotel and every time I could not find my way back.

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* Ours. President Solitaire Hotel and Spa

* I thought it would be an adventure, as in, fun. It wasn’t. (although on hindsight it was rather memorable or I wouldn’t be so motivated to write!) I unbelievably had the naivety to pack Uno cards into my bag. Time to play? Good Lord we didn’t even have time to eat! Because I had two children competing, I had to reach the gym at 630am two days, one for Jo, one for Day.

* Where I went, all three had to go. So even when Day did not have to compete, he had to wake up early and spend a day waiting for his sister. Lu, well, the whole trip she just sat down to wait.

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* My patient sweetie

* Food was a disaster. I never thought I’d be that person, but angels sang when I saw a KFC or a Mos Burger outlet. Anything familiar, to still my beating heart. The one time I attempted walking into a Thai coffeeshop for lunch (everything on the menu was in Thai), an hour before Jo’s award presentation ceremony, the cooks took an interminable 45 minutes to emerge with the food and when I hastily changed my order to ‘takeaway’, the food was dumped into little plastic bags and no cutlery. Not, you know, like Singapore’s convenient plastic boxes which you can eat out of. Which meant Jo was late for her award ceremony which she was very, very, very sore about. And which also meant we could only have our lunch at about 4pm when we finally made it back to the hotel through the jam.

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* 4pm lunch in our hotel which was admittedly luxurious. Tom yum soup, yum woon sen and chicken macaroni soup in our room

* Adventure was a disaster. Our one relatively free night, we ventured out to the streets of Sukhumvit Soi on a tuk-tuk, where Day was most excited to see drugs being sold on the street. That’s not the disaster. The disaster was when I was convinced we could walk back because it seemed a short distance. We got lost. In small narrow streets of what appeared to be a bars and clubs district. I ended up hailing a tuk-tuk charging an extravagant fare for a two-minute ride, I was too tired to argue.

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The best time I had on the trip? When I wised up, checked out of the hotel at 530am on the day of Day’s competition, brought all our luggage to the gym, and went straight to the airport after competition was over. Yes we were four hours early, but those were my BEST four hours in Bangkok, all spent in the comfort of Suvarnabhumi Airport, knowing that I could rest and eat in peace with nowhere else to rush to.

Oh and the supermarket next to the gym where I spent many happy hours with Lu, buying cheap seaweed and chewing gum.

So why never again? I think first, Bangkok was unpleasant for a blur, not-very-street-smart, first-time visitor mum with three kids. Second, its extravagant. Unless its a life-changing competition, or unless KK or a friend goes with me so its a holiday too, I'm never doing this again.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Shimian,

Bravo. 2nd time will be easier. Bangkok has a subway system which feels much better than stewing in a taxi in the traffic jam. I always try to use the airport and the hotels near the subway unless I have lots of luggage. Airbnb is also very good. Try asking the locals for help - they have always mostly been helpful no matter which country.

To be fair, you have 3 kids with you while I mostly travel alone, hence using taxis make a lot of sense. But on trips with the kids, I thank my lucky stars that they mostly have the good sense to be cooperative and not whine. I remind them that it is an outing that everyone has been looking forward to, whether it is a trip to the mall, the market or the farm. And we make the trips on public transport and with prams and later shopping trolleys that the boy helped me push =), and the girls were very good at making their brothers behave =)

Pearlyn

Anonymous said...

My goodness, I feel you in every bullet point. I once had the experience of being in a taxi where the driver does not understand English, my auto roam not working and streets were dark. It was scary. And you are with three kids!! They are real troupers!

Jo said...

Woman!!! So simple, you should have asked me lah. I would have gone :) and I've been to bangkok four times.

Sher said...

2nd time? erm. yea maybe. if i din hv a schedule to stick to i wld hv tried to navigate the subway.

jo: aiya how i know who has been? i wont be asking everyone i know... and i was ready to wing it. guess i got what i deserved!

Anonymous said...

You are really brave :) I am sure your kids will look back on this and appreciate what you've done for them!

Jean A. said...

Wah what a harrowing holiday! Bangkok is really not that bad, although it's much more suitable for older kids. I only dared to bring A&Z last year at ages 8 and 12 and still, we had to take frequent breaks for #2 to rest.

Sher said...

jean! been a long time!!

i'm sure i wld hv loved bangkok in the right context...

Minty said...

It sounded tiring but i am sure the kids wont forget this adventure!

Ali said...

Amazing....I appreciate your effort,i like the way of your sharing the experience.And the photo you shared is really good.bangkok hotels near sukhumvit