I started badgering my parents to come visit me almost the minute I moved to Bangkok.
I never expected it to actually happen, but, after not seeing my parents for nine months, I walked across Thanon Phra Athit at 9am on April 26th to find them casually eating breakfast while looking out on Bangkok’s Chao Phraya River.
Our three weeks traveling together in Thailand flew by. We started in Bangkok, took a little weekend trip to Kanchanaburi, then headed north for Chiang Mai, then, finally, south to Krabi for some relaxing beach time. It was such a treat for me to get to experience the country as a tourist (as opposed to a resident), participating in activities like elephant mahout training, Thai cooking school, and snorkeling tours. I honestly had a tough time keeping up with my parents; they understandably wanted to squeeze in as much as possible into the three weeks, whereas I was used to justifying my lazy travel-loafing habits with “ehh I’ll do it next weekend.”
It was probably the coolest thing we’ve done as a family, ever.
So, here it is, That Time I Traveled with My Parents in Thailand, in their words:
Michelle: Anything you want to say before we begin?
Kim: It’s so great to see you. I’ve been missing you. I’m happy we came to see you in this place.
Dave: It’s great to see you in your environment. I’ve learned so much about Thailand, and about you; it’s been an unbelievable experience for me, not just to be in a foreign culture, but to see you so adapted into it. Last time we hung out with you, you were a UGA girl, now you’re a Thai woman, if you know what I mean.
K: It’s great to see you negotiating and surviving by your wits in a country where you don’t speak the language. You’ve learned to adapt so well. I have high admiration for you.
(Go on, go on…)
D: Yes, it’s been amazing seeing you communicate with the local people. Picking up on their smiles and happy culture…even though they’re thieves and liars and they rip you off. [laughs]
(My parents fell prey to a scam in Chiang Mai in which a friendly Thai stranger recommended they go to the “Thai Tourism Office” immediately to book accommodations for the south because “100,000 Chinese tourists are on holiday in Railay and Ao Nang and you won’t be able to book a thing!” After failing to convince my parents that everything would be fine if we didn’t book ahead and I don’t think Railay could even accommodate that many people, I remained alone on a bench outside Wat Chedi Luang while my parents, unfortunately, booked accommodations in Middle-of-Nowhere, Ao Nang and We-Didn’t-Even-Try, Koh Lanta for the coming week. When we realized we’d been scammed [“Where are the 100,000 Chinese tourists we were promised??”], we ditched Ao Nang for Railay and “cut our losses” as my dad would say. Railay was where I wanted to take my parents from the very beginning and they were very pleased once they arrived on West Beach.)
M: So what was your favorite experience in Thailand?
D: Coming to Railay, truthfully. It’s so tranquil and beautiful, being in the jungle. It’s so laid back and peaceful and quiet, after the hustle and bustle of everything in the cities. Another favorite was when we first landed and immediately walked around Khao San Road. That was a trip – what, 2:30, 3 in the morning? We ate some street food…my adrenaline was pumping. I also loved going to Kanchanaburi. I loved the bungalow place we stayed at. It was serene. The foot massages were great.
K: Elephant riding, and the whole elephant camp thing. I liked sitting out on the terrace at our hotel on the river in Bangkok eating breakfast. I’ve also enjoyed meeting different people during this trip, but of the visitors that we met we didn’t meet that many Americans. And we met almost no one who was our age.
D: I felt good about being the oldest ones around.
M: There are other tourists your age but they’re in the resorts in Phuket. I have to say, I was really proud of you guys for being adventurous and flexible and trying new things instead of isolating yourself in one of these fancy, all-in-one resorts.
What were your expectations about Thailand before you came here?
D: I didn’t expect Bangkok to be as busy as it was. I didn’t think it would be as chaotic and I didn’t think the traffic would be relentless, non-stop, everywhere. I thought transportation would be easier, that the subway system would be much better and the sidewalks wouldn’t be as congested and hard to walk on. I didn’t anticipate how many people would be on the BTS on a Tuesday night! That to me was amazing.
K: I thought Bangkok would have newer buildings. I didn’t expect the amount of clutter and messiness.
D: All those wires! I expected more pollution on the streets in Bangkok. It’s amazing – there are no trashcans and somehow the streets are clean. It did have an odor; the smell was the first thing I noticed about the city. I thought Thai food would have more variety in general. The beach definitely met my expectations. I expected to see people from all over the world, and that expectation was met.
K: How outside everything is was surprising to me.
D: Yes, how outside all the shops and restaurants are. And all the consumerism! The amount of markets – and they weren’t even for tourists – they were for Thais. I thought I would see more art here.
K: I expected to learn more about Buddhism. I still don’t understand – I saw a lot of statues of Buddha and a couple of things about what he says, but I don’t know what the main beliefs are or if they have a sacred day… I have mixed feelings. What does Buddhism do for the people here? Does it help them? When we talked to the monk during the monk chat in Chiang Mai he spoke about self-improvement, which I really like. But I see the amount of gold and how lavish the temples are…there’s something about it that strikes me as hypocritical. The temple is lavish and ornate but the monks are starving themselves and wearing a single robe every day.
M: As far as the beautiful temples go, Thais are very aware of appearances, so I would guess they make the temples beautiful to appeal to followers so they want to come and pray.
K: I’ll tell you what bothers me: I see what I think is ecological devastation here. I expected to see more wildlife. I don’t see any birds, although I see those geckos everywhere. I expected to see more of the sex industry. I didn’t realize you have to go to a certain area to see it.
M: Yes, Thailand seems to have that reputation abroad, but once you’re here you see how subtle the whole culture is. I mean, maybe besides the old-white-dudes-married-to-younger-Thai-ladies phenomenon.
Moving on, what was your favorite thing that you ate?
K: The food we cooked during our cooking class!
D: The street food: Coconut soup (tom kha) and chow fung wide noodles (HE MEANS PAD SI EW): greasy, fried, delicious. Soups were great. Soups were my favorite.
K: Grilled fish on Railay was pretty good. The Old Man’s food out in Nonthaburi near your school.
Daveo opens potato chips. True story.
D: [While crunching on Lay’s Original] Eating Thai food for breakfast was interesting. All of the eggs surprised me. Cause in America you eat breakfast eggs and that’s about it. I mean these guys eat eggs in everything.
M: I was surprised at how quickly you guys caught on to the Thai-food-for-breakfast thing. It took me months to transition from 8am sugary cereal to salty, spicy cabbage soup.
So: how would you compare this trip to other trips abroad?
D: Well we haven’t been to many places…Just Mexico and Greece. I’ve never spent this much time abroad so it’s hard to compare… Ex-ing out the wats, there wasn’t as much history or Thai music here. I remember in Greece it was Greek music and in Mexico it was Mexican music.
K: What’s similar is the development aspect: how deconstructed everything is. In America, everything is a corporate entity. Everything is recognized, standardized, homogenized. Here it’s individual proprietorships, everything seems entrepreneurial.
D: What do you mean? The 7-Eleven’s are everywhere!
K: That’s true…It just seems like an individual can have his own business and not be part of a larger entity. I don’t know if it’s better or worse than what we have at home. I’m sure there’s a downside to the lack of standards.
M: What about your least favorite experiences in Thailand?
D: Two of our hotel rooms. The bus ride back from Kanchanaburi without air conditioning, truthfully. Do we have to remember these?
K: The constant bargaining for everything got tedious for me. Arriving at our guesthouse in the middle of nowhere in Ao Nang and realizing we got scammed was a pretty low point.
D: When we lost mom. That was the worst! I was so excited about going to Sukhumvit…the one place I wanted to go that I didn’t get to experience because we spent the whole time panicking and trying to call the police to report a missing person. I still feel bad about that. Fighting with you…that was pretty bad. I anticipated us having disputes cause we haven’t been around each other for so long. And when you left Atlanta you were very stressed out, and now you’re a totally different person.
M: What would you say you have learned from this trip?
D: How to be friendly and nice all the time. Which is actually very southern.
K: Yeah, there’s something similar here to American southern hospitality.
M: Funny, I never thought of it that way.
K: I’ve learned that it’s okay to be inconvenienced; nothing bad is gonna happen. The bus trip coming back from Kanchanaburi without air conditioning for four hours was a major inconvenience – we were hot and sweaty but we got back.
D: I’ve learned to be happier, mellower. People didn’t seem as uptight – they’re more open-minded here. I guess the one thing I’m taking back is having more respect for you. Realizing how you got it together since you’ve been here. You’re so self-sufficient. And I’ve learned to listen to you more.
K: I learned you need less toilet paper than you think you do.
M: [Laughs] Always. Any plans for your next trip?
D: I don’t know. Maybe Costa Rica, maybe Israel, coast of Spain, Italy…Those are such different trips.
K: Bali sounds good to me!
And with that, I was forced to bid my parents farewell for at least another two months. They’re headed back to the daily grind in Atlanta, clearly with some fresh perspective and passion for travel and I’m off on my own, on the road again. I spent our last night in Railay purging my body in a bout of The Worse Food Poisoning I’ve Ever Experienced/Norovirus; I was retching and shitting nonstop for seven hours, but now I’m completely, and very literally empty inside, which somehow seems like a symbolic way to usher in my next phase of solo travel.
I’ll miss you, family, but I’ll see you soon, when I come home. Eventually.