Have you heard of Songkran? It’s a great way of keeping cool, having childish fun and mixing with locals.
Riding 500km through Thailand in 5 days. Raising $5000 for the kids. Let me tell you about my idea…
I've travelled a lot in my life - with and without kids. And I will continue to travel for as long as I can, as much as I can.
We always remember the good times, even though they aren't all good. Now it's time to crack open the treasure chest and let a few rip...
In this series, I will tell the tales of when things go wrong. It can be near disaster to mild discomfort. Embrace it. If you travel, you will chance upon some not so positive times. Learn from the experience of others, realise you are not the only one. It's all part of the journey. Without fear, new adventures and mild despair, there is no learning, excitement and wonder. Lean into the fear. If you feel uncomfortable, that is where life is changing.
Some of the lessons I'm probably yet to learn, but here are my experiences.
#1 Most Dramatic. The tsunami.
Ok, so before I go much further, let me explain. A tsunami didn't eventuate, but for about five hours we thought a disaster was on its way.
We were strolling through the gardens of our resort, back to our beachfront villa, when another Aussie guest came zooming past on a golf cart yelling 'a tsunami is coming, quick, a tsunami is coming'. Hubby and I, strollers holding our two sleeping children in front of us, look at each other confused, then decide to turn back to the reception area where we had just come from to check what is happening.
'Yes, there is a tsunami warning. We are recommending all guests head up to the roof of the hotel.'
'Um, ok'. We turn to where she is pointing, my heart is pounding, and wonder how we are going to lug both strollers up the five flights (plus) of stairs. Something catches my eye as we look. It's the staff carpark - what seems like every staff member of the hotel is jumping on their bike and zooming off. I get even more concerned. Me always being inquisitive, I ask the doorman where they are going. 'Up the hill or to their home', he replies.
'Where would you go?' I ask. He points through the carpark and says there is a big hill right there that goes straight up. We make our decision, thank him and start running.
He is right; the hill starts just the other side of the road from where the car park sits. About a third of the way up I decide we need to buy as much water as we can - since we could be stuck up there for god knows how long. I beeline it into a closed restaurant and ask for water. She only has four bottles left, so I buy them all. We then continue our ascent.
We must look tired, or the locals are ultra friendly. A couple of times a friendly local comes and picks up our strollers and carries them up the hill for us. On one location, the local insists we are high enough, that the water won't make it this high, but I can see more hill and more altitude, so we push on. Sweat is pouring down our foreheads and backs, it's amazing the energy you have with adrenalin pumping fierce through every body part.
Finally, we make it nearly to the top. We are high, and I am satisfied that no wave will reach us here. My heart is still pumping at dizzying speed. Now my mind is asking a million questions.
How will I feed Ashton, who is bottle fed, with only one bottle of formula?
What if Belle gets hungry?
Oh no, I've lost all my photos of the trip?
I've lost my computer, and my work?
How will we get to the airport?
I don't want to go to the airport; it's at sea level.
It's going to be crazy, and dirty, and still life-threatening when this ends.
How long will we be stranded in Phuket for?
A beautiful local on her scooter potters past and asks us back to her home. She is asking all the families back to her home for food and to sleep. We take her up on the offer. It's only 50m or so further up the hill, and it means the kids will be out of the sun.
Another Australian family from the resort we are staying at comes to the house also. Belle plays with the little boy while Ashton sleeps - oblivious as to why we are up a hill in the middle of nowhere. Our friendly locals feed them colourful sugar treats, packets of chips and, as night falls, cooks us all up eggs, vegetables and rice.
During the hours we spend with them, they are watching the news on tv and trying to translate what is being reported.
We hear -
Indonesia is wiped out
Hundreds have already been killed
The wave will hit Phuket about 9 pm
There are three 8m waves
So you can understand we are trembling with fear while trying to remain calm. I ask the Australian mum of a little boy Ashton's age if she can breastfeed Ashton if needed. I also ask them if I can borrow their phone to call home. I phone my Dad, the only number I can remember, and tell him what is happening - then to pass the information on to the rest of the family. I don't know if I can ever explain the feeling of telling your dad that you are in a life-threatening situation, thousands of kilometres away, but 'should' be ok. 'I love you' seems so much stronger than any other time.
Ben also starts asking a few questions -
Shall I go down and get the formula
What if we go halfway down and find out what is happening
Should I go down and get a bag full of stuff - it's not meant to be here in the next hour
Of course, I say no, it's not worth risking his life over. The wave could hit at any time - we only hear very roughly translated news reports.
At 9.30pm, after our local family had offered us, and ten others, their precious 3x3m tiled lounge floor to sleep on, we cautiously (and me very scared) inch back down the mountain. Lights around the town. There are few people moving around the streets. I am scared and don't want to go back to our beachfront resort. I convince Ben to see if we can get a room in a hotel on the hill somewhere. We try the first one we see but it seems nobody is there. The second one is full. Then we see a tourist family walking towards us. We ask what is happening. They say 'we think it is all called off'. Not the most reassuring, but it does make me feel slightly better.
There is nothing else between our hotel and us so we dash to the reception. They confirm the tsunami is called off, and we can return to our rooms. But I'm not convinced. We are in a beachfront room and I can't shake my tension. I ask for a high floor room and am told all are full. Shattered, I ask if we can move resorts. But after a couple of calls, we are not having much luck. They offer to test our room alarm for us, which goes off in a tsunami warning. I agree.
Finally, at midnight, I sleep lightly while Ben is awake watching tv and catching up on tea. Our daypacks are packed, ready to run, sitting near the doorway tonight. Later, when I notice Ben has turned the light off, I sleep even lighter, listening to every noise. To say I had a bad sleep was an understatement - I couldn't wait to leave in a few days time. But, that wasn't to be the end of it.
Just before dawn the next morning, our alarm goes off. I am up and out of bed, daypack on back and putting both kids in the strollers before Ben could even turn the light on. I didn't care I was in my summer pyjamas and that everyone would see. I commented I could smell smoke when we opened the door then ran. Not many others were up, but I didn't care. We made it to Reception in record time and were surprised only to see a few people there. I would have thought if a tsunami was coming, everyone would be hasty.
But not everyone was there because there was no tsunami coming. It was a false alarm, the alarm going off by accident. I would normally have been furious, but I was too exhausted. We had only managed a few hours sleep, the kids eyes were goggling with tiredness, and now we were up for the day.
Ben and I commented that day, if it weren't for our flight leaving the next day, we would be making arrangements to go home early. There is only so much you can take in one holiday, and this experience, on top of Ashton cutting a tooth and running fevers for the first seven days, was just too much.
FYI, the movement that happened underwater that set off the tsunami warnings ended up being peaceful. The tectonic plates moved horizontally instead of vertically causing a minor ripple. Apparently, with the movement, if they had moved horizontally, this story would have had a very different ending. A tsunami bigger than the Boxing Day one would have been on its way. So we are told.
Note to self.
Try to listen to people with better English.
Keep my phone usable but just disabled.
Learn an escape route on arrival at the holiday destination.
What have you learned from something going wrong on holiday?
Another will be opened in downtown Phuket, both operating around the clock, in an aim to crack down on tourism crooks.
Crooks that range from ripping off tourists in jet-ski scams, accusing tourists of damaging the rental jet-skis and demanding huge sums for repairs to threat of physical violence.
I went to Phuket last year, and can certainly see how many scams there could be, and how the unassuming tourist is an easy target. Thai newspapers report that Russians, Koreans and Chinese have been active in both Phuket and Pattaya, some using Thais as nominees in setting up businesses to con foreigners. So it's big business.
It's just another reminder of how we need to be careful when travelling. Travel not only securing your personal belongings, but thinking with your head screwed on. Don't trust people on the street. Don't buy drugs. Don't say you will buy something, then change your mind. Don't go down into the slums. Don't take too many chances.
Do have fun. Do take notice of things. Do secure yourself. Do let your family and friends know your plans. Do get things in writing. Do use reputable companies.
I have been conned, probably more often than I know it. The one that comes to mind, is arriving at Peru airport at midnight, hotel booking in hand, being led astray by a tour company saying the hotel had closed, and they will find us a better hotel. They found us a hotel, but also at an extra cost. They also had us come in for a meeting the next morning, where they sold a 'cheap' package for travelling through Peru and Bolivia, including a tour of the Inca Trail. We weren't in any harm, the tour was brilliant, but we did pay much more than we should have.
That, I guess, is where planning and common sense comes in. Research what things cost, know what you want to do, and have options.
Travel is a wonderful thing, and can be so fulfilling and exciting. But with all excitement comes its dangers - stay safe.
Tip: bless 'em.
Going on holiday doesn't stop the tantrums, the dirty nappies, the naps, the getting up in the middle of the night, the need to go to playgrounds. It does stop late night jaunts, long lazy meals, relaxing with a book, and lazing in the bed every morning before ambling to a mid morning breakfast.
It closes a number of doors, but where one door closes, another opens. Literally.
IN MOST CULTURES, CHILDREN ARE THE CENTRE OF ATTENTION.
You are invited in to families homes, people stop and chat, the children encourage conversation, you are looked after, and above all... you learn and experience more. You get out to the where the locals hang, venture to new frontiers (heck, go out the back gate!), meet many people in one day, and see a different way of life to your own back home. Whether you are travelling in your own state, or across the other side of the world.
In Phuket we were welcomed into a villagers home for the night. A woman on moped asked only families to come in. We were fed, offered a place on their lounge floor, and taken care of while a tsunami warning played out down below. Going up, locals even carried (yes, carried) our strollers up the hill in sections for us. Helping to get us away from the impending tsunami even faster. Thankfully, it never came, but we were safe indeed with locals.
In Bali we played on the beach and grass with local kids. None - adults or children - could verbally communicate with each other but so much fun was had.
Here in South Australia, we are constantly chatting to locals, finding the best coffee, playgrounds and places to go.
Have kids, will travel. Use it to your advantage to get more adventure and fun into your holiday. Get curious, and have it sated.