This was one of our first big family Southeast Asia trips. We started in Bangkok, where we stayed for a few days, then we headed north to Ayuthaya ruins. We took the overnight train from Bangkok to Chang Mai (a miserable experience), but we had a marvelous few days in Chang Mai, staying in one of the best small hotels we’ve every found, before or since. We also had the incredibly cool experience of taking an overnight trek to indigineous Karen Tribe village. Add in a visit to a elephant sanctuary, where we washed elephants in the river, and it was an awesome trip.
#1 - Temples and Imperial Palace in Bangkok
#2 - Ruins of Ayutthaya
#3 - Karen village trek
#4 - Elephant sanctuary feeding and washing
#5 - Biking the streets of Chang Mai
#6 - Overnight Train ride from Bangkok to Chang Mai
#1 - Temples and Imperial Palace in Bangkok - This being our first big foreign trip, we weren’t as sure of ourselves, getting around in foreign cities, so we hired a full-time guide and van. We let our guide plan our itinerary, so she took us to the most famous Thai Buddhist temples, and the Imperial Palace, which was a bastion of beautiful Thai architecture and ceilings and rooftops, and Buddhas and jewels. At the end of our Bangkok stay, we were very glad to have hired a guide and driver (notwithstanding the cost) becuase our worst experience in the city was trying to haggle with a taxi driver over the cost of taking our family to the mall.
#2 - Temple Ruins of Ayutthaya - Jungle temples at their best, ruins of former grand structures, with jungle overgrowth overtaking at the edges. Most of the jungle has been cleared, and much has been restored, making it a much better experience for the visitor. These gave us a taste of what Angkor Wat might be like (which place we visited a few years later)
#3 - Karen Village Trek - This was one of the the best things we ever did as a family. We hopped in the back of a pickup truck. Literally all 7 of us (Jacob wasn’t born yet) were sitting in the back of the truck for about a 90 minute ride up the road, heading into the seeminly uninhabited jungles of northern Thailand. We finally were dropped off, leaving our luggage in the truck, but our guide took us right into the jungle, following a trail that only he knew. We walked for about 3 hours, a leisurely pace through forests, along rivers, and along irrigation canals, rice paddies, and farm fields. We arrived at the village, and our hut was at the back side, especially built for tourist stays. Dinner that night was prepared by our hosts, cooking over a bamboo fire in the middle of the floor of the raised hut. The food was delicious, we sat on bamboo woven mats as we ate around a single lightbulb, before sleeping under mosquito nets on sleeping bags on the wooden floor. The next day, we toured the village, and watched a grandmother perform the traditional method of weaving, wrapping the loom around her back, and giving pressure with her feet. Super Cool
#4 - Elephant sanctuary feeding and washing - We spent the day at an elephant sanctuary in north Thailand. This place made a point of rescuing abandoned or mistreated elephants from desperate situations, and bringing them here to rehabilitate them. There was no elephant riding, or elephant working. They simply lived here. Our part to play was to feed them by hand, standing on a 4 foot high platform, and placing the cabbages and carrots and apples and such in their snouts, which they curled around the food before placing them in their gaping mouths. We walked down the river, and scrubbed their rough stubbled hairy skin, and threw buckets of water over their backs and sides. The enormity of these beasts dwarfed our small kids, though they were thrilled to be standing next to them.
#5 - Biking the streets of Chang Mai - We stayed as this wonderful hotel, Rimping Village, and they had bikes for us to use to tour the city of Chang Mai. The old city is walled, and filled with old temples and monk sanctuaries. We had kids too small to ride bikes yet, but the bikes also did not have appropriate child-safe bike seats. No Matter! The hotel staff procured some baskets, and tied them to the back of the bikes with old rubber bicycle tires, and sent us on our way. The kids loved navigating the streets, and we spent some time sitting on the floor of an active buddhist temple, with a single monk, dressed in his saffron orange robes, interacting with the kids in a language they didn’t understand audibly, but certainly understood visually and spiritually.
#6 - Overnight Train ride - ugh, what a trip. Yes we saved a lot of money by opting not to fly, and we saved a lot of time by going overnight, but the experience left much to be desired. We took two connecting sleeper train cars, with two bunk beds in each car. The kids were small enough to share the beds. But the cars themselves were so small, that there was literally no where on the floor to put any of our luggage or backpacks. We had to fill a top bunk with bags, just to have room to walk in the cabin. We ordered the food on the train, but with 7 of us, there was hardly room to sit, let alone place a tray of food. We were all stuck with food in our laps, and unable to stand up. The food was awful, and much of the wet, messy food was left over. They left us alone forever, so no one came to collect the leftover trash. As we finally went to sleep, we discovered the “clean” sheets, were stained black with grease, and full of rips and holes. We did end up taking another overnight train ride on another trip in Vietnam some years later, but with much, much lower expectations.