Our recent trip to Thailand exposed us to the first time international travellers, a phenomenon I saw countless time over the years as I am no stranger to holidays abroad. Our flight from Mumbai to Bangkok had a significant amount of such people, and the reason I noticed a fair percentage of them is because these were acting like total asses. They exists in every country, every culture and they usually end up being rude and insulting. The ones on that flight were behaving like brats, shouted at the flight attendants not getting why they would not serve them food before all the other passenger, demanded special meals they never booked in advance and that didn’t exist, threw fits because they could not open the overhead compartment and couldn’t wait two minutes for a cabin crew to help, they pushed, poked, and rules and regulations didn’t apply to them. I haven’t seen these past the airport though, they were that breed of travellers that go the tour operator package route, DH and I went the independents way. Not only because we are both more seasoned travellers, but because we like having a free schedule on our holidays…but that is not the point of this post. When you are venturing out of your native country for the first time, there are things you need to do in order to prepare yourself, not just what to pack, and what vaccines to have, I won’t tough these here, because these are things all travellers virgin or not have to figure out.
Nope my list of tips is to make the life of the locals, fellow travellers and in the long run the life of the first timer easier.
1) Even if you go a tour operator all inclusive trip route, educate yourself on the country you are going to visit beforehand. It sounds redundant, but you just should NEVER expect the world to be just like home, there are different etiquette protocol, dress code, and customs the world over. You don’t need to know them all, you just need to have a rough overview of what to expect, and the job of learning that is not a tedious one, just a few pages to read in the Lonely planet or a website. I’ve seen many Westerners in India who just think it is ok to walk around in tiny tank tops and even tinier shorts…while there are no restrictions on dress code outside temples and places of worship, don’t be surprised if your attire rub people the wrong way, you don’t have to go all local, or dress in potato sacks, but parading around half naked is not very respectful…period.
To some of my fellow passengers on the Bangkok bound flight: Thai do not seem to put a same show of hierarchy and power play as it is done in India, so tone it down, just because you can afford an international vacation which would elevate your status in your own community back home doesn’t mean you are above anybody else, or have even a right to treat the cabin crew like garbage, simply on the base fact that you paid “good money” and therefore are entitled to have all your whims and fancies answered…sorry.
2) It’s ok to have a special diet, religious or ethic based, but you must be prepared that there are regions of the world where your dietary needs will be misunderstood, not understood at all and that feeding yourself might not be as easy as back home. You need to plan accordingly, it’s not your destination country’s job to figure out that in your country strictly veg means no egg but dairy allowed, or that if you are Jain it means the onion and garlic needs to stay off the plate. If you ask nicely some restaurants will accommodate you, but don’t expect it to be a norm. There was a group of six on our flight that was Jain vegetarian, and didn’t know they had to place a special meal order at the time of check in. They instead pestered and harassed the crew for over an hour to provide something that was simply not there…I’ll let the fact it was 1 am and they probably ate before boarding slide…when you have a very specific diet, you plan ahead, that group was probably on an all inclusive tour with a vegetarian chef tagging along, but you must still be ready not to have every single meals on the whole trip planned your way. Again better read about your destination’s country culture and cuisine in advance to avoid being taken short notice. In the same vein the foreigners that would find the lack of steak and fries outrageous in India would make me roll my eyes just the same.
3) Observe the world around you, travelling gives you that wonderful opportunity to learn about others, to be exposed to something new and different and learn from it. The lonely planet and other guides will not cover everything, you need to use your judgement…a lot. One thing that has disturbed me a little on our recent Thailand trip was the total disregard the Indian travellers we saw around had for rules. Thais seem to like their discipline, have a much much higher sense of civism than even my Swiss compatriots, there are signs written in English along with pictures everywhere to make people’s life easier, little rules to follow to make it so. The prime example is the blue line standing 3-4 feet away from the luggage conveyor belt in the airport, with “No trolley beyond this line” written in English, in Thai and accompanied by a picture explaining it. The logic being that cramming the trolleys right smack against the belt will make it difficult for anybody to access their suitcase in the first place. My observation led me to see that all travellers in airports observe that rule, the only one breaking it blatantly were Indian. Pushing and being chaotic is accepted and common place in India…but that should not mean one should be above rules in another country. Ditto with the ladies in the Gate’s bathroom in Bangkok, if you took time to observe things around while on your trip around Thailand you would have noticed that people stay in line so don’t go cutting it to be in the loo before everybody else, and you surely must have noticed that not a single public bathroom on your trip was filthy (that surprised me…cleanest bathrooms I have ever seen in all my travels) so when you decide to refresh yourself and wash your face, don’t go all Tsunami in there, two ladies were doing so before boarding the flight back to Mumbai, once their face was fresh, the entire bathroom was slippery and wet…simply DISGUSTING, and just because you can get way with it in India doesn’t mean it’s even polite anywhere, what you end up achieving with this is giving a bad rep to your entire nation in the eye of the people in your host country, especially if said country place an utmost importance on hygiene. Just because civism might be a lost notion where you come from doesn’t mean the entire world thinks the same. Observe! People routinely give their seats to old people, women or children on public transports? Do the same. People wipe the splatter around a sink in a public bathroom…do the same, you see a queue with people waiting patiently? Don’t jump it. See some signs around you written in something you can read or understand, you are not immune to what it says, follow the instructions. You see a clean park or beach with enough dustbins to dispose of your trash…use them.
4) When in doubt, it’s ok to ask. Not asking and making assumptions is a tricky thing when you re faced with a dilemma because there is 50% chances you will be wrong and offend a lot of people if not break a capital rule. If you aren’t sure you can take a picture in one particular place and can’t see a sign pointing one way or another, ask a local. Of course always ask when specifically wanting to take a picture of somebody, that’s the polite way. If you aren’t sure about stepping into a specific place inside a temple, ask. It will make you appear respectful in any case, never stupid or ignorant…not doing so however will.
5) If you know nothing about something, don’t have an opinion…learn first. There is nothing more annoying that the self proclaimed know it all on a holiday. They know better than all, they are the best, the rest of the world is wrong, there is no nation more advanced and superior than their own and they will never miss an occasion to rub it in the face of anybody be it on holidays or back home…frankly it is going to the point as to wonder why that type of people even bothered travelling at all in the first place. It’s ok to be proud of your home country, not ok to make the other inferior. Each countries have their strength and flaws, expats that have been in a host country long enough do understand enough of the internal politics to have an opinion…as a tourist, you don’t, so thread carefully.
6) Just before you can, doesn’t mean you should. Goes along the line of actually spending time reading the cultural overview of a country before travelling. But I will not repeat it enough. Try to act responsibly the world over, just because you can pay to take picture with a wildlife animal somewhere doesn’t mean you should, the prime example in Phuket was of what we learned visiting the Gibbon rehabilitation center, these animals are poached, an illegal practice, and then the owner of those creatures makes as much profit from them before dumping them or killing them when they stop being cute or too difficult to handle. As a tourist, you can take a pic, all it costs you is a few dollars/rupees whatever. But the repercussions on the environment and wildlife are much deeper, and as long as people will pay for “just one innocent picture” there will be poacher willing to break the rules and kill. This is only one example, but there are some the world over. And that will be my conclusion to this blog post.
Travelling is a wonderful opportunity to learn, always make the most of it.
Cities in India have far more wildlife living in them than European cities by far, and Mumbai has one notorious predator that made it its home (or rather was there all along and never left): the leopard.
Yes you read that right, leopard, as the spotted nocturnal big cat. The reason being that in the outskirt of what is the actual Mumbai city (the one that has its city limits around Mahim) there is a national park, that park was once upon a time clearly outside the urban limits, and thanks to mass the expansion of Mumbai that lead to a succession of suburbs, the park is now in the middle of densely populated hub, the areas in the immediate boundaries of the national park are used to relatively frequent sightings of the big cats, in slums like settlements there even have been death cases, mostly childrens that leopards tend to mistake as small preys rather than consider them as human, and adult humans who go squatting in the bushes at night to relieve themselves, which again register in the mind of a leopard as nothing remotely human and a potential prey.
On rare occasion, leopard are sighted in the well heeled residential building compound built in close proximity to the park. Our area is one of these, though we aren’t exactly close to the park in question, there is just enough undeveloped terrain in between. My area has seen one death in the past 10 years, an unfortunate toddler that was playing outside after sunset. But since then the cats have been sighted regularly enough without incidents. In 2011 there was a notice in my building’s message board reporting such a sighting, the notice was detailed enough reminding people not to walk near the bushes and compound wall at night alone, and to not let the children play outside unsupervised and reminded people not to panic. Last year there were no notice, but just a few days ago the notice came again, announcing that some leopards have been sighted in the area on two occasions in the previous week at least, the notice was less elaborate than the previous time, but reminded people to be cautious after dark and avoid letting kids play outside alone.
This time around however, it turned into a paranoid fear of being out with kids alone, kids were kept indoor, forbidden to be out after school. And for a couple of days I was the only one still taking Ishita out for an hour or so to come back just after the sunset, most of her friends’ parents kept their kids inside under leopard curfew, the talk of the neighbourhood was about the spotted cat, the myth, the facts, came out, the rumours spread. The fear started grasping people the night few saw the big cat walking peacefully and casually on a pipeline away from too urbanized setting. The nasty fear…the blood thirsty killer was out, how could the authorities have let that happened! Outrage! Never mind that the cats have been seen regularly enough in the past couple of years with not a single attack on the humans living here, never mind that this time around there hasn’t been a single incident either. People suddenly feared for their lives. Many claiming that leopard only venture out in townships to attack humans and that it was the reason why it was there again. Sadly the sensational thirsty newspapers do not care to dispel the myth in question, and I for my part was among a minority (but certainly not the only one) of people who were not gripped by the psychosis in question, knowing the facts about our notorious indigenous predators. They aren’t human blood thirsty, a healthy adult leopard will not hunt a human on purpose, an adult human is far too big for them to drag to a hide out to eat, the few cases of death are all children, who were all playing or walking near bushes or near a forested area during the hours a leopard is active, simply because the cat mistook them for something else due to their short size. The adults who have been mauled, were resident of hut settlements without running water and were relieving themselves in the bushes at night, again their squatting down reducing their size and human appearance leading to the leopard mistaking them for some other small prey. Have there been instance of human killers? Yes, but my research only pointed at old, and wounded animals that could not hunt otherwise, they are not the norm. In my area people suddenly got gripped with ideas that the leopard would come running in the open and attack people…little do they bothered find out that Leopards do not really like being in urban territory and certainly not in open space, the ones sighted in our area have always been sighted in the neighbouring forest-y compound, or as close to the boundary wall as possible in ours before leaping back to safety in the bushes and trees on the other side. Like most cats they are solitary animals, who flee crowd and noise. As an anecdote, I went on a safari in Kenya as a kid, and during that one week the only animal we could not see was the leopard. Our guide explained that it was one of the toughest animal to spot in the savannah, first because they like to rest in tree dense area, then because they are nocturnal and hide well to sleep during daylight, and lastly because they are far more shy than cheetahs or lions. In short if leopard can stay in hiding, they will. Not very consistent with the wild idea my fellow neighbours had of an animal that would run around and create havoc in the area huh?
But then seeing the wildfire psychosis that suddenly grasped the neighbourhood, I went researching a bit more, in the chance I could have been totally wrong and downplaying things. Googling “Leopards in Mumbai” will pretty much only yield sensational articles and reports of death…all by the popular newspapers in the country, we all know what sells: drama, blood and gore, so not very surprised by the result of that search, not one article bothered to elaborate on leopards facts. One published in the Mirror recently did hint at the fact that cohabitation was possible, but not a very welcomed solution. Clearly I needed a better Google search key words. So I typed “Are leopards dangerous to humans”, after sifting through the usual lot of wiki answers and yahoo groups answers that are in most cases rubbish regardless of the question you type in Google I ended up finding a few articles that are more fact and research based. Yes human death due to leopard attacks are numerous enough, but only because it’s the only big cat that lives in too near proximity to urban settlement. Then there was this very good interview of a Wildlife Conservationist named Krishna Tiwari who lives in Mumbai which you can read here, in this interview he replies to the actual question of danger with this statement.
“It’s important to keep perspective. Leopards do kill humans when they are provoked, or when they mistake humans for other animals. But thousands of people die every year in road and rail accidents in Mumbai. And if you compare this with people being killed by leopards, the risk is negligible. In fact, it is the leopards that are in danger. Heavy infrastructure growth and encroachment on nature has altered the habitats of these cats and depleted their prey base. This has threatened their future survival.”
I myself can only nod in agreement with the above statement. It just about summarizes what I have learned and read about leopards in the past, what few articles in papers over the years have said. They are not cold blooded killers and will not kill humans on purpose. To me it always seemed that the rate at which the city is developing, and the rest of the country by extension was pausing far more a danger to the big cat than the spotted feline was to us humans. All the other conclusive articles I found in my web search pointed to the same thing, ALL.
Meanwhile a bushwacking, tree trimming, and barbwire checking frenzy is going in the area in order to make the place less tempting for our feline neighbour to visit, flood lights have been installed around the wall compound, and the grapevine spoke of the forest department capturing one adult and one cub in the past few days. People hearing that are slowly breaking their curfew…the beast has been caught…hooray! All the while I don’t delude myself. We only got to know about their presence because of that notice and because someone in one of the neighbouring compound spotted one, but it’s almost every year that an adult and cubs are spotted in the area, the fact there was no notice last year didn’t mean there were no leopards. Kids were playing outside unsupervised, an attack could just have about happened anytime. I know that in a matter of days people will have forgotten all about it, the bushes will be left to grow wild again with very little maintenance, until the next notice…No one really wants to deal with the fact that no notice in the message boards doesn’t mean there is no risk, and that 3-4 days of panic induced fear of the outdoor is not the way to go. Education, dispelling myth and learning to live with the big cat’s presence is far more fruitful. And frankly speaking letting a child play unsupervised never stroke me as safe, feline predator or not. There are so many other ways a child could get killed in this area, and the one that makes people react is the least likely to happen…
The freshness of my Thailand trip memories is sadly fading away, and I need to write about our food experience there before Christmas sucks me in (already made cookies if that says something)
I wished we stayed longer to be able to experience the food better to be frank, one week was simply not enough, especially since on most days we pretty much ate breakfast at the hotel and then ate dinner. First thing a traveller from India needs to absolutely know before going to Thailand is that Thai cuisine is primarily non-veg, which can be a huge problem if you are vegetarian as fish sauce is a condiment used in almost every dish to give them that tangy salty flavour…including dishes that would be vegetable based (not that I saw many of these on the menu, or even really cared about). Another thing that Indian travellers need to know even if they are non-veg is that Thai love seafood and you will find it on the menu everywhere, along with beef and pork. Chicken does exist, and the Indonesian Chicken Satay is a very popular starter you will find just about anywhere in Phuket or Bangkok, and all Thai curries on the menus let you choose what meat you want in, at least in the touristic places. To an Indian willing to be carnivore there will be some familiarities in the texture and to some extent the taste as Thai food can be spicy, though many dishes are more aromatic than red hot chilli hot. Coconut milk is used to make most gravies, and the food is always eaten with some rice.
Now since I’m a happy carnivore, I don’t really mind any meat, and I love seafood…that my dear is my little regret, we didn’t stay long enough for me to try one of these fresh seafood restaurants in Phuket for dinner, as we just had too little time and way too many options…and a 4 years old that needed the familiar and comforting in the food department (I blogged about it, kids usually don’t give a hoot about the gastronomic value of a holiday). In Phuket a lot of restaurants will put a fine display of fresh prawns, lobsters and fish on ice at the entrance of their restaurant to lure you in, and if DH wasn’t repelled by the idea of eating fish, I’m sure we would have gone to one of these places even under the crunch of time.
Another thing that is very nice to know to the foreign traveller, is that you don’t need to know what tom yum, pad thai and other Thai dishes are, all the menus we went through all had pictures of all the dishes, in some places, even a special picture book handed to you along with the text menu, and when you order something, what you see is what you get, a thing I thought was limited to touristic Phuket, but noticed in Bangkok as well in restaurants that are not frequented by tourists, even in malls food court you are sure to find a replica of a dish in the form of a picture, display plate, or even Japanese style wax sculpture of the dish, which in all cases makes it very easy to order even if you don’t speak Thai, can’t pronounce a name or just have no idea what something means. To speak frankly, some of that could be applied in some restaurants in India. I remember my first few restaurants outing in the country being confusing as there is no way of knowing what a Murgh Badami looks like versus a Murgh Makhani…and if you are new to India even know that Murgh means chicken, granted some menus give you a description of the dish, but not all, and I have many friends who visited India and found themselves puzzled in front of a restaurant menu. Equally, pictures could be present on continental menus back home as well, as expecting anybody to know what a “Steak tartare” is or that “Escargots” are actually snails (as the slimy garden pest snail…yes indeed) is a bit pompous…of my soap box I go!
In Phuket we ate our breakfast at the hotel as it was included in the price, and they offered a lot of fresh fruits, eggs, bacon (ohhhhhh heaven!), ham and your usual cereals and bread, butter and jam…with the bread being homemade. We usually ate a big breakfast that was filling enough to only have us want a snack at the beach later in the day, and then we headed to one of the many restaurants in Karon all serving a mix of grilled continental food, Chinese and Thai. DH fell in love with red curry Chicken, I just couldn’t miss eating prawns, which I did a lot, along with Pad Thai noodles I actually ordered for Ishita while sticking to a prawn cocktail salad (knowing I would be eating about 90% of her noodles). Ate enough Satay chicken to make me want to cook some at home (need time to hunt for recipes to try). And one night with Ishita being a supreme cranky pot and us being quite tired by our elephant safari/jungle hike/canoe trip we headed to the first restaurant we saw which served primarily some Italian food…which turned out to be the real good stuff like the one I would find in an Italian family owned place in Geneva. I enjoyed a real spaghetti alla carbonara there.
In Bangkok we stayed in a restaurant in which we opted not to have the breakfast included because we expected to be out as much as possible on our last two days, the first night a mere hour after we reached the hotel, tired and a bit confused I managed to locate a small mall near our place and told DH we could head there and find a restaurant there. It became clear that that tiny mall is frequented by locals almost exclusively, and for a brief moment I felt very confused and out of place, most restaurants in there were Japanese and Thai, and there was a KFC which at this point I didn’t feel like visiting, it’s when Ishita saw a picture of Noodles in front of a restaurant that we sealed the deal on what was a Japanese place doing an all you can eat menu deal involving sushi, and all kind of meat, veggies and noodles you cook in a broth that gets placed on your table on a built in induction plate. I ordered a crap load of sushi having missed them in the 10 years I spent in India. DH being less adventurous than me and not quite getting what the menu deal was opted for a Japanese chicken noodle bowl meal instead, Ishita being a kid was eating free of charge and she got a plate of udon noodle to cook in the broth along with some dim sum type dumplings and was happy with that. That night DH said he has never seen such a sparkle in my eye as when the sushi arrived on the table…I used to eat them once a week in Switzerland as it has become a popular lunch option, I ate sashimi once in a Japanese restaurant in Bangalore, and when returning to Switzerland ate Sushi only once again, so in 10 years since I left Geneva I ate raw fish dishes only twice! no wonder the glimmer in my eyes was so noticeable, as for DH…it was his first time coming face to face with sushi, he thought it was a kind of fish, he was surprised to know it was the name of a dish with many variant. He ended up surprising me that night wanting to try one, but while the idea of eating salmon, or prawns totally repelled him he took a chance with a salmon roe (as in salmon eggs) sushi roll complete with seaweed wrap! His verdict: bland, but not as fishy tasting as he was fearing. He didn’t want to try it with the soy sauce and wasabi paste to make it taste better, but he tried something out of his comfort zone, which food wise doesn’t happen too often. On the way back to the hotel that night we just stopped to buy individual serve milk cartons for Ishita to drink in the morning while getting ready for the day as our hotel plan was without breakfast, added a few biscuits, all purchased from the supermarket in that same mall, where my curiosity got triggered as I wanted to know what the middle class Bangkok dweller had access to. I noticed that pretty much like in Phuket fruits are a big staple, far more than vegetables which are mostly eggplants, cucumbers, leafy greens and beans and only used as part of a meat dish judging by what was in the restaurants serving Thai food. Vegetables like broccoli and bell peppers are actually costlier than in India clearly. I didn’t venture long enough in the meat section to check the prices, but the variety was good, and the rest of the store was full of condiments, crackers and instant noodles with prints in Thai or Chinese which I could not read, this made be feel like living there as an expat might be even more challenging than being one in India.
The next morning we used the pool at the hotel before heading out for breakfast and a full day of shopping, exploring Bangkok’s malls, we kept it simple heading for a coffee shop not different than any you would find in India, then at one point Ishi got cranky and spotted a Starbucks asking me for cake…leave to a 4 years old to spot the familiar, so we headed there, and we spent the evening at the Asiatique Night market, where we finished the day eating at an Italian restaurant…too tired to really venture in unchartered territory, which ended up being just that for DH since he is used to Indianized Italian whcih has replaced red meat by chicken even in pasta dishes, in the end he settled for a chicken breast dish, while Ishita wanted a Pizza, I ordered another of these things I just can’t find in India without paying a ridiculous price for it: Parma ham pizza, which when it got served to our table looked, smelled and ended up tasting like the authentic ones I got in many true blue Italian restaurants back home. What I found very interesting with the two Italian dishes I tried in Thailand was how true to the real thing they were in a country where I would assume it would be a stretch for the locals to like such cuisine that is relatively bland in comparison to Thai cuisine, granted I doubt country-side dwellers would try it, but to me it gave me an idea that those who live in cities and can afford it seem t not have a problem stepping out of their comfort zone trying new things the way Indians do. As 10 years in India taught me that Indians prefer the safe and comforting when it comes to food, and while continental cuisine is starting to be more common, it is still fairly modified to please a desi palate, ditto with Chinese food, which in many places is actually Indo-Chinese. Not saying there are no tweaking of exotic cuisine happening in Switzerland, but never to the point of having the spice palette of a cuisine change entirely the way it happens in many places over here. But then eating out is a very new concept in India, and might not be as new in Thailand, though I didn’t get to figure that out in our way too short stay there.
Next time we head there I want to try the street food, Thailand being apparently famous for it, and I will definitely have to try one of these seafood buffet.
When I am not blogging and have some free time on my hand, that usually means I am trying a new recipe, baking, painting or doing a craft project of some kind or another, and most of the time that’s to decorate my home. And yesterday was one of these days…A day when the calling for the craft supplies was stronger than the laptop’s screams.
To be fair right now I have several projects going and more coming because December is just around the corner, but yesterday I devoted myself to finish a project that has been on my mind for months and the end result is this:
When we moved in nearly a year ago (can’t believe last year at this time I was actually flat hunting), this hallway was a long stretch of unfurnishable space between the main door, and pretty much the rest of the flat. It is narrow and the show cabinet you see in this picture is pretty much the only thing that can fit without crowding the space or making it impossible to answer the door, but despite all this this is a great space, first that means we have a place to remove our shoes before dragging dirt, and then we can dump stuff like bags there, but it’s a 4+ meter long hallway that looks pretty bare and is the first thing anybody entering our home will notice. For quite sometime I had an idea of having a welcome sign in there, but didn’t quite know what I wanted to do. I knew I didn’t want anything impersonal like a store bought painting or sign that says Welcome, I wanted that space to speak about who lives there. I toyed with the idea of getting a big canvas and paint something, but that wall is as huge as the hallway is long, and felt very imposing in such a narrow space, so I needed something that would fill the space, catch the eye and fit there. Then I thought about just cutting out letters to spell welcome and paste them on the wall, and I almost settled for that idea until one day I stumbled upon a pin on pinterest about painting antique frames in turquoise and hanging them on the wall. Suddenly turquoise frames mixed with black and white pictures in my mind, and the idea of using black and white pictures inside turquoise frames to decorate the hallway was born. A little more tinkering on the idea and I came up with the project of taking pictures of all of us holding the letters of the word Welcome and pasting them on turquoise paper. Took me weeks to finally tackle the task of taking the pictures, and we did it last weekend, then since my camera doesn’t have a black and white mode I edited the pictures in photo editing software, printed them, pasted them and finally finished the whole thing yesterday.
Each picture is printed in A4 and I pasted them on big sheets of coloured craft paper before pasting them on the wall using double sided tape. This should give you an idea of how long that hallway really is, the 7 pictures in their frame all fit nicely between the shoe cabinet that is right next the door and the opened door that leads to the living room with still a little space left between said door and the last picture.
The series of frame is at eye level playing on the length of the hallway while reducing the feeling of that giant off white wall crushing us, the wall art has been there for 24 hours and we already don’t remember how it was before it. I have a picture somewhere of course, but can’t find it on my computer though I am sure I posted it on the Facebook page after I moved in last December, so if you are really wondering what the before of this after looks like, you know where to look.
Belong to any parenting group or forum, and the most often asked question is “When is it the right age to travel with a kid?” or variations on the theme going along the line of “Can I think of taking a long trip with a toddler/baby/preschooler….”
I come from a family that has been bitten by the travelling bug, I travelled a lot in my childhood and more often than not it meant camping or sailing, or staying in PG accommodations, we covered most of central Europe before I hit the teenage years, hit Turkey when I was 9, Kenya when I was 12, squeezed in Morocco in between, and all these trips at the Exception of Kenya were done by road and ferry boats, Kenya was the first time I went on a plane in my life.
Rich from that experience and the tales from my parents, and having done a little travelling with Ishita as well, the answer to the million whatever currency you want question is : There is no such thing as an ideal or perfect age.
There are different challenges for different children’s age, and each destinations will pose their own set of challenges as well. When you have kids travelling with you you need to factor their needs, and what the destination has to offer, and then decide how much sanity you are prepared to loose in the process.
When it comes to long flights, or any flight for that matter, I found that the 5 months old Ishita was far more content and cooperative than the 18 months and then 24 months old one, she became easier flying with at age 3 but only slightly, she was far more cooperative this time around, but mostly because the flight had on board entertainment and blankets which she thought were really cool (the things that will make a kid’s day!). The leg of the trip we did on a smaller plane with no entertainment still covered the needs of kids, providing them with glue less repositionable stickers as the staff on Thai airways understand that even a one hour long flight is still too long for a small child to deal with without distraction. Ishita got a Toy Story set on the way to Phuket, and a Winnie the Pooh set on the flight back to Bangkok:
4 years old are affected by a very short attention span, that’s the one thing you need to keep in mind…at ALL TIME. What is cool and exiting one minute will become nasty awful and warrant a fuss in the split instant of a Nano second, and they will understand no reason. Distraction will work, even if it is temporarily, so make sure you have a plan B, C, D, E and beyond. As adults you might be exited at the idea of heading on an international vacation, soak in the culture, the local food, and have plans of sightseeing in mind; rest assured that these are grown up plans and that kids thrown in the equation will or make it a bit tricky if you decide to stick to the original plan, or you need to think about the enjoyment your child is going to get out of the trip as well.
I myself still have vivid memories of our trip to Turkey during which my parents would have spent all their time visiting Greek ruins and eating Turkish food, while I 9 years old along with my 6 years old sister saw it differently. Greek ruins are not exiting to a kid, spending your entire vacation glued to a beach towel isn’t to a grown up. You need to find a balance, and kids don’t really get that exited about gastronomy either, so you need to make sure there is some food they will like around.
Ishita was true to that theory on our trip to Thailand, the majesty of Buddhist temples was totally lost on her to the point I am not even sure she even noticed them. The 2 hours long boat trip we took in Bangkok only became exiting when we reached the cat fish feeding point, and Wat Arun lost its interest after the first flight of stairs. even in Phuket where we did kids friendly activities we suddenly faced the mighty 4 years old whiny fuss act out of the blue. The beach was all she wanted to be at one minute, until she decided it was too sandy and the water was scary, at which point she wanted to go home…not the hotel, but home in Mumbai because she missed her friends. The elephant rides was fun for 2 minutes, after that she wanted to see the monkeys, and some jungle, the instant she was in the jungle she wanted the beach, settled for a canoe ride for 10 minutes, but started fussing and wanting to eat while in the middle of a mangrove lined backwater network. Nothing out of the ordinary for a 4 years old, that’s what they do, and my parents confirmed it telling me that until we reached the age of 5-6 they rarely attempted anything bigger than a trip to a Mediterranean beach resort where they would pitch their tent at a local camp site for the duration of the holiday. My dad even told me that I did threw the same kind of fit Ishi did about the sea being too cold, too scary, the beach too sandy, the pool too deep…So it seems history repeats itself nicely here. When it came to food, I also knew from all my travelling experience and years of expecting French fries in every towns and ports in the world that Ishita would not want Thai food on her plate. Fortunately, this is a notion that is not lost on restaurateurs there. The places we ate at in Phuket almost all had a kids menu that consisted essentially of chicken nuggets, fries and pasta, all listed on a special kids menu with picture handed directly to the child for them to make their choice. The places that didn’t have a kids menu were all very helpful at telling us which dishes were more to the taste of a young child, when one evening Ishita wanted some noodles and pointed to a picture in the menu (menus all have pictures in Thailand…more in another blog post) the waiter told me that it was a bit spicy and recommended another one that would please the palate of a 4 years old more, and still be enjoyable for the grown up in charge to finish. In Bangkok we didn’t frequent enough restaurants to tell what was the norm, and with Ishita becoming super whiny due to the lack of beach, we stroke the idea of eating exotic cuisine, we’ll keep that for another trip.
Thailand with kids is a good destination all in all, if you come from India worry not about the hygiene factor, if your child is India-proof they will be Thailand-proof as the level of cleanliness is far superior in touristic destination such as Bangkok and Phuket. Ishita being a 4 years old she is out of diapers, and can do without milk, making our life easier on that front. The activities Phuket offers are family friendly, and there is a little of something for everyone, with a 4 years old we opted out of the day long excursions to Phi Phi Island and James Bond Island, they were pricey, and seeing where it headed on a 4 hour long combo of elephant ride, jungle hike and canoeing we decided to not bother, getting our postcard island fix from something smaller and nearer that took 4 hours. The day we decided to go shopping in Bangkok, we kept the food simple and familiar and Ishita’s day was made by finding a store that sold Hello Kitty stuff.
Thai people love kids the same way Indians do, rest assured that kids will get some attention, and will be made to feel special almost anywhere, from the elephant handler fashioning a grasshopper out of banana leaves for Ishi, to the bartender in the hotel keeping her distracted with fancy drinking straws, not mention the coo and smiles and waves given by total strangers in restaurants and the metro, Ishita was kept entertained enough.
If you come from a western country, nothing to worry about hygiene wise, as I said Thais keep thing neat and clean, I have no idea if the water from the tap is drinkable, we used bottled water without even asking if there was an option, and unlike India, water is not offered free in restaurants, you have to purchase a bottle. The lonely planet guide state that health wise Thailand is a safe destination to travel to, and the most you could have to deal with is a slight tummy upset from trying a significantly different than your own cuisine…which as said before is not really much of an issue with a 4 years old that doesn’t think beyond pasta and fries. All in all I would say that the same old no brainers of steering clear of salads if you aren’t used to them, un-bottled juices, and glass of waters of unknown sources and remembering to take precautions regarding the sun there isn’t anything to worry about there.
DH has dreams of visiting European cities one day, but after that trip he knows that will have to wait until Ishita is a bit older and able to appreciate the cultural value of a vacation a bit better. It never really does until the mid-teen years from my experience, but 10 years old will be willing to visit monument if there is an incentive coming in the form of enough pool and beach time or a visit to a theme park squeezed between culture soaking sessions.
Those following me on Facebook already know not only where I went on holiday but that I came back last Friday with promises of blog entries, and photos. All I needed was a stretch of quiet time, and to get that I needed Ishita back to school. A thing that just happened this morning.
So to all of you who didn’t check Facebook (or don’t know I have a page there), here is where I went:
This is Khai Island, and that is in Thailand. No we didn’t stay on that specific Island as this is a tiny little speck in the sea that is essentially a day trip destination…but it’s fairly representative of what we’ve done on that one week trip to tropical bliss.
We headed to Phuket first, were we stayed in Karon (giving the much too hyped about Patong a big fat miss). There we stayed in a cute little hotel called Manhora Cozy Resort, which is one address I can totally recommend to anybody planning to visit Phuket, and I will probably give them a Blog entry-review.
For 5 days we enjoyed the beach, the swimming pool, some sun, went on a boat trip to the mentioned above island, went on an elephant ride, learned about the sad fate of gibbons poached as babies in the jungle that are then used for the amusement of night clubbers and tourists before being abandoned or harmed as they grow older…there is a gibbon rehabilitation center in Phuket that is dedicated to give these poor animal a chance at living in the wild again. We saw some waterfalls, and went canoeing in stunning mangrove bordered backwaters. Then we headed to Bangkok for the last two days of our trip, mostly to shop but managed to squeeze in a little sightseeing as well…sightseeing with a 4 years old is NOT easy, and I can tell you that this will be the topic of another blog entry.
We went without a packaged tour, meaning we looked for hotels on our own, made our own bookings, and chose which excursions we wanted to do, as well as were we wanted to eat and what. This is an option that worked for us because DH and I have no diet restrictions, but Thailand is not a destination that is easy on the vegetarians, and many Indians will opt for packaged tours that takes care of their meal. Fish sauce is used a lot in Thai cooking, and while we haven’t tried any vegetable dishes (they are not common occurences) I suspect they might contain the fish sauce in them. Seafood is a significant staple in the diet of many, beef and pork quite common, and the non-veg Indian will have no problem finding chicken based dish either. Again I will blog about the food a bit more in another entry, I wouldn’t want this one to be too long.
Bangkok is a city I would not mind visiting again and explore (once aforementioned 4 years old grow up and let us do it). It looks familiar in some way, with a hint of Mumbai, though much cleaner, far more organized and with a super modern and efficient metro system that is very simple to use to get around.
In fact even Phuket reminded us a bit of India, with houses of an architecture similar to the one you would find in residential areas all over India, the dead giveaway of actually not being in India is the cleanliness. That is the one thing DH and I noticed right away, there is almost no dirt or garbage in sight anywhere, and it’s quiet, even if busy Bangkok at peak hour you will not hear any honking, you will not see people breaking rules on the road, and no road rage. It’s not that there is less traffic in the city, we saw some jam from the metro, it’s just that is seems people in Thailand have mastered the art of patience and just bear with it. People have a much higher sense of civism as well there, keeping things clean is anybody’s business, being polite too, helping tourists getting around without them having to ask a must, giving your seat in the metro to a child or an elder person is done spontaneously even in a fairly empty train. Another thing both DH and I appreciated greatly is the fact that shopkeepers and hawkers alike will not pounce and you and harass you until you buy something or leave the store, they let you breathe, they understand that people will if they are interested in something come to you without having to push yourself on them. A thing that I realised I lost being used to in all these years in India. I now find myself stressing out shopping at a department store, and while in Bangkok I adopted the same quick furtive shopping method to repel shop assistant, only to realise that there were none to keep at bay to begin with, which of course was delightful, but something I completely forgot even existed in the first place.
In many ways, DH and I saw Thailand as what India could be if people in the country simply cared a bit more, and made an effort to be cleaner, and saw community as a whole, not as a hierarchy where the rich can litter and be crass simply because they see themselves as above others. After all, queuing without pushing is not something impossible to achieve, neither is keeping your empty plastic bottle in your hand until you can dispose of it in a proper way. And from there stopping to see the horn in ones vehicle as a stress relief or even deluding oneself into thinking it has magical properties that will make the lights turn green should not be a too unattainable goal. I will not speak of corruption here, we all know India is corrupt and that needs to change, but having been just a 1 week tourist in Thailand I have zero grasp on what the corruption level might be there, so I can’t put it in the equation here.
And last but certainly not least, women are not harassed, stared at, cat called at the way they are in India. In one week in the country, I have faced a single awkward stare, even in my swimsuit. The Lonely Planet mentions that occurrences or rape in Thailand are very low and that it is a country in which women have less to fear for their safety. And what I felt is that in Thailand I am a normal human being, while in India I am an object of some kind in the eye of a bit too many and my very existence or at least point of being out in public questioned. This I will not shy away from mentioning it, was one of the reason we opted for Thailand as our holiday destination. We wanted to be in a relaxing place, give Ishita a chance to experience some clean beaches, and not have people in our face the whole time trying to sell us things we don’t want or snapping pictures of the “gori” without as much as her permission. We wanted peace and quiet, and a fun relaxing time, Thailand delivered it all.
On these words I leave you with a picture of Bangkok at sunset, and will head to Facebook to upload some more.
Diwali came and went, and in the midst of it all, I stayed offline, rather busy, and then pretty tired and not motivated enough to blog about it. I uploaded the pictures on the Facebook page (be sure to go like it if you haven’t already). I did gave a few updates on said page as well, and I even took nutty pictures with the intent to blog, namely pictures of busty ladies on sparklers packs and atom bombs with a picture of Saddam Hussain aptly named “Saddam Atom Bombs”, which were the big roll eye moment of the festival, I might still use said pics and blog about them later, for now, my mind is busy elsewhere. We are heading to the airport Thursday night to head on our much deserved relaxing beach vacation (again, will make an announcement on Facebook before I leave…so stay tuned).
We ended up cleaning most of Sunday in preparation for Diwali, we had friends over, and we lit a few flowerpots and chakras, DH who is the one who think bursting 2-3 atom bombs to make it feel like Diwali didn’t even burst the nasties this year as we had more than enough enjoyment from our pretty sparkly things. And in fact our neighbourhood was significantly quieter this year. The next morning I read in the paper that the trend applied to all Mumbai with some saying it was the less noisy Diwali in years. That meant I was less on edge because of the loud booms, my dog was fairly relaxed too, and the next day I had no sore throat or achy sinuses, a total win, and I am sure everybody just had an equally happy and festive Diwali without the excess of Kabooms.
Monday I was enjoying a day home doing nothing, or almost nothing as I had a few batches of laundry to tackle, and Ishita being as hyper as ever. Tuesday I took her out to buy the few groceries we needed, and some inflatable floaters for Ishi to enjoy the water during our vacation. Today it was some ironing, and a trip to the pharmacy, tomorrow it’s packing time. We are now in that phase during which we pretty much subside on the few perishables left in the fridge, which makes for a very boring diet, and Ishi is jumping up and down with excitement at the idea of going on an airplane that will take her to a beach. I for myself am less excited about the airplane, not because I am scared to fly, but because it’s a night flight and I don’t really sleep well in planes, or sitting down for that matter, but the beach? Oh yes! yes yes yes yes, I am really looking forward to that part.
There you have it, the quick update from our festive weekend and what’s to come, needless to say I won’t be blogging for a week. But since I am taking my phone, I might check Facebook from time to time, and could possibly see myself posting one or two status update if I feel it.
For those following me on Facebook, I gave a brief update on what was keeping me offline this week. And basically it’s almost all related to Diwali, which this year is coming on the 3rd of this month.
First it’s the Diwali break for Ishita, so she is off school for 3 weeks, that means I have to keep her entertained, and she is the type of kids that gets bored quickly with one activity, and the most boring of all activity is to help mama clean the flat, making mess is of course far more exiting and fun…can you tell I have a 4 years old on my hand?
In my quest to keep the little monster entertained I ended up doing some shopping, we bought a lot of fairy lights, not because we all need them at once, but because these things tend to fry very easily, and I want to use the white ones again on the Christmas tree in a few weeks without having to run around buying new ones, or rather waiting for the Christmas decorations to be up for sale. Ishita wanted a blue string of light for her room, and chose some pink ones as well for the balcony. Then we picked up a fabric lantern, we had some old ones from Navi Mumbai, but I never liked them, they look very Chinese and Lakshmi painted on them with a Happy Diwali somehow fails to do it for me. Ishita wanted a big 4-5 feet long lantern in pink and yellow, but I feared it would be too long, so due to lack of other pink lantern in that shop and my reluctance to go walk and sweat to visit the other bazillion shops selling the same exact same stuff to find a suitable pink one I asked Ishita to look and choose another one, she found a decently sized yellow and green one and we headed back home. That’s when I realised our old extension cord fried a couple of months ago, and I never replaced it, so figured out I would buy one while i was heading to the mall to find a storage solution to organize my craft supplies…as of course all the local shops that normally sell that kind of stuff didn't have anything I needed in stock…they all made space in their tiny shops for an assorted lot of Chinese lanterns, plastic streamers, twinkle lights and diyas. After visiting 4 shops in the mall and finally finding a suitable option for my craft supplies I had a hungry child begging for KFC and I forgot the extension cord.
Then there were a trip to South Mumbai, a few cleaning session, a few playground evenings, and a total lack of energy to get out just to buy one puny little extension cord.
Today was the day though, but not before I finished cleaning my kitchen, tackling the outside and inside of the kitchen cabinets, outside which was just a re-do of the botched work my maid did despite me telling her NOT to do it, and the inside was a good way to keep an inventory of my pantry and clean some of the glassware we use less often…ok almost never! And while doing that I found all this:
These are small bowls which would be called pudding bowls, which we mostly use for dal and dahi, they have the distinction of all having been freebies collected over the years, the ones on the left were coming free as a Diwali offer on our washing machine if I remember correctly, the one in the center came free as yet another Diwali offer on an appliance. They seem to like giving you glassware sets as gifts during that time of the year, probably to serve nuts and sweets to your guest. The one on the right was from buying Britannia Dahi when it first got launched, each 500g cup of curd got you one glass bowl at the check out counter, DH loved that dahi back then, so we ended up with quite a few, some of them broke at the hand of our Navi Mumbai Glassware Terminator of a maid, but we still have enough on our hand, and it will let us remember they were a Britannia gift as long as we have them as the brand’s logo is engraved at the bottom, needless to say we are prepared to feed an army with all these and funnily enough, while we used the Britannia and the blue one as much as we used the bowls that came with our Wedding gift dinner set, it’s the dinner set’s bowls that got decimated first…
After finally getting my kitchen spick and span, I ventured outside, shortage of fruits, soy milk and anticipating a chole puri meal oblige, in order to optimize my outing in this scorching sun, I decided to return library books, and hunt for that extension cord as well and when we made it back home, both Ishi and I felt like having a nap. By 5 I realised that our housing society had decided to break their no-festival streak by hiring guys to decorate the garden with lights, so not to feel like a festive slacker myself I decided to put mine up as well…mustered all the motivation and energy I could get while Ishita whined to go to the park…the promise of having lights up soon did make her patient long enough though.
First I dug out some of the sturdy lights we had left from last year out, and picked out the plastic pipe full of multi-coloured ones out, and hung it twisting it on the balcony grill…grills are great for that, they give you a nice canvas to start your Diwali electrical masterpiece. Then one strand of pink got festooned, followed by a white one twisted on the grill, plugged it and it was all working fine, but couldn’t get the full effect as I managed to get the whole thing done before sunset. We left it on, and went to the park, when I returned home this is how it looked:
Next will come the diyas, which I have to dig out of the storage cabinets, remembering my laborious sessions of diya cleaning from last year, the year we got a phone call from our landlord on Diwali itself telling us that he was putting the flat for sale and we should look for another place to live…the diyas took days to wash, and I only bothered because they were really nicely painted ones that still looked in very good shape and not to be thrown and wasted. I remember making it just days before we were moving out of that place.
These diyas will actually look awesome on my balcony this year, Ishita is already asking to get firecrackers, and I think I will try to give the bathroom a scrub tomorrow…the maid made a show of scrubbing the walls which wasn’t necessary, but never saw the dirt on the floor tiles that need a heavy dose of scrubbing and Cif, to her the floor is clean since she pours a bucket full of water on it daily and then push the excess water down the drain with a broom.
As you can see…been busy.