BEYOND BANGKOK: THAI FAMILY GETAWAY
On a quest to expose our three teenagers to a culture entirely different from that of Canada we flew to Bangkok this summer with a twofold goal: keep the kids stimulated, excited and energized so that the word ‘boring’ would never come up, and avoid the tourist hotspots in favour of off-the-beaten-path travel that would enlighten and inspire them.
One way to accomplish this in Bangkok is to hop on a bike. Jetlag was still a close companion the morning we joined Tom, a guide at Grasshopper Adventures, for an all-day tour that promised to take us on Bangkok’s back trails. Within minutes of leaving the bike store we were immersed in the peaceful corridors and alleyways of the city’s residential quarters. Our destination was Bang Kruai, 20km away and one of Bangkok’s oldest neighborhoods, and to get there we crossed the impressive King Rama 8 bridge over the Chaopraya River.
Tom knew the quiet alleyways like the back of his hand and expertly navigated through tight residential corridors designed for pedestrian, scooter and bike commutes. The air was fragrant with lush potted plants decorating the alleyways and the heady aromas of freshly fried fish and chicken wings cooking over open flame. It was a hot, sticky day so we stopped for freshly cut mango and the heavenly juice of coconuts. As lunchtime approached we ordered plates of pad thai from vendors at an outdoor, riverside food court, watching as the catfish performed lazy somersaults on the water’s surface. Later, we pedaled past quiet temples surrounded by tall trees, slipping our shoes off to enter the sanctuary and staring in amazement at the massive, gold-painted statues of buddha. We watched meditative monks immersed in their daily rituals and biked alongside banana and coconut orchards, their trees heavy with fruit. We dropped the bikes off feeling tired but exhilarated, energized by the beauty and serenity of Bangkok’s back roads.
Determined to expand our culinary repertoire while we were in Thailand, we enrolled in a class with the Thai Cooking Academy in Bangkok. The session began at an outdoor food market where we handled veggies we’d never before laid eyes on: galangal ginger, kaffir lime leaves, turmeric roots, banana flowers and the rich scents of lemon basil. In the classroom we chopped garlic and onion, bending over gas stoves as we prepared steaming plates of fragrant yellow curry, papaya salad, pad thai and sticky rice with mango. The secret, we learned, is in the mixture of sauces, tropical fruit and veggies that are, for the most part, impossible to locate in Canada. Still, we left with sated appetites, beautiful memories, recipes and good intentions.
The road was calling, so we flew to Chiang Mai for the next leg of our journey: a hike into the Thai jungle and a night in a Palong village. Migrants who moved to northern Thailand from Myanmar in 1984, the Palong set up villages in deep in the jungle and began small-scale farming operations on the lush mountain slopes. To reach our village we hiked uphill through steep bamboo forests, ducking to avoid the webs of massive spiders. It was a muggy 35 degree Celsius day, a regular temperature in Thailand’s monsoon season, and within minutes we were saturated with perspiration, huffing up a mountain with the aid of bamboo walking sticks.
The villagers we met straddled the line between their Myanmar traditions and the draw of modern civilization. Locals commuted on muddy pathways on scooters, a toddler sat with eyes fixated on a mobile phone and the sound of radios and televisions testified that even in an electricity-free village like this one, generators made these luxuries an irresistible draw. As night fell and the chirrup of frogs filled the air, a group of women and girls donned their traditional, handmade sarongs and colourful jackets to serenade us solemnly in their native Mon-Khmer tongue. Then they sat down with my kids for an animated game of cards, one that required no common language whatsoever.
We crawled beneath mosquito nets at bedtime knowing that our Thailand vacation would live long in memory. Quietly, we hope it will inspire our kids to travel meaningfully when they become adults, to venture beyond their comfort zones to remote parts of the world, and eventually, to discover and appreciate their own place within it.
1. Biking: (Grasshopper Tours) A guided bike tour is a fabulous way to experience the back roads of Bangkok and gain insight into local lifestyles.
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