Twins – especially one of each gender– are considered to be tremendously fortuitous in Buddhist culture. I learned this first hand on my “mission” to Thailand: Helping my cousin, a single mother of twin 11-month-olds, on a business trip to Bangkok last October.
It was a whirlwind trip, both ambitious and unforgettable. After almost two weeks in Thailand, I can’t say I really got to explore the country as one might expect to do on my first trip to Asia. I was constantly chasing babies, fishing for snacks, making bottles and changing diapers. But in another way, it was the most authentic and remarkable way to experience a country for the first time.
An extraordinary experience took place when we went to an out-of-the-way temple near Bangkok. Barefoot, I was carrying around one of the twins, Moses, showing him the colors of the small, ramshackle temple. Unfortunately, he wasn’t as captivated as I was. Moses was squirming and wanted to get down and crawl. I wasn’t sure if this was appropriate, especially in the presence of a monk who was imposingly seated on a riser like the Buddha Himself and was clearly in the midst of prayer.
Suddenly, the monk stopped, looked up and motioned to let the baby down. As Moses began to crawl toward the saffron-colored being, an infectious Thai smile appeared on the monk’s face. Moses settled at the monk’s feet like a proper devotee and watched intently as the monk began to chant and adorn him with a blessing. My cousin quickly placed his sister, Etia, next to him and she too became quickly spellbound by the holy man and his invocations. We were so captivated by the moment that we almost forgot to try and capture it on film.
Such was traveling Thailand with twins: alternately challenging and uplifting. Despite having traveled with my own kids and being confident with babies, the trip was was difficult, with long flights, little sleep, relentless twin wrangling and tremendous sadness from passing of the Thai king during our stay. At the same time, the trip was transformative: I found being in a colorful and unusual land with the singular purpose of caring for two tiny beings nothing short of cathartic. For a short time, I escaped the toxic chaos of the election, San Francisco 2.0, my own son’s college applications and myriad other commitments and expectations. I returned home feeling younger, fitter and more ebullient than I had in a long time. I fell deeply in love with both the Thai culture and these two blessed babies.
In the months since I’ve returned, the doldrums, details and distractions of life have once again set in. Yet I am reminded of the lightness and positive mojo one receives from traveling in a faraway land with one – actually, in this case, two – compelling missions. Here I thought I was just doing a mitzvah for my cousin but I was the one who gained so much – both tangible and intangible – from the experience. And we both learned a lot along the way about traveling with toddlers (see our list of tips below.) My cousin has a few more trips abroad before the babies are two (when she’ll have to pay for their airfare) so I have offered her my services again… Up next? Chile!
Good to Know
Pick a Caring Carrier We flew Asiana Airlines, a South Korean carrier and I was impressed with all they did for us. We had bassinets on every flight, boarded early and pre-ordered baby meals that were more than the kiddos could eat. The female attendants reminded me of the models in the Robert Palmer “Addicted to Love” video, each with pleasant and identical reactions to the babies. We were grateful these ladies helped us clean bottles and even took a turn holding the twins. There were many kids on the long globetrotting flights, so it was fun to walk the aisles with South Asian, Sikh, Filipino and Korean moms, dads and grandparents.
Layover in Incheon We had a layover in Seoul both ways, and we got to explore Incheon International airport, which has been voted #1 for cleanliness and best International airport since 2005. It was truly remarkable, the ease with which we maneuvered through normally arduous transitions, the choice of food and amenities, and they even had little kid toilets and a captivating kid’s play area. We spent about two hours– waiting for our delayed flight– letting the twins tootle around this toddler gymnasium. It was impressive and the mix of cultures was a joy to behold. A young mom rewound a young Sikh boy’s turban, two Vietnamese little girls were enthralled with the twins and little veiled Malay girls played with Hawaiian kids, as we hoped the twins would get tired out before the long flight ahead. The coffee and shopping were stellar and I caught a glimpse of a plush rest area with full on chaises to lounge on, and have read there is a spa and even ice skating rink—a homage to Kim Yuna, the Korean gold-medal skater from 2010!
Don’t Think “Vacation” Even though I had never been to Asia before, I knew I wouldn’t be experiencing a Thai holiday like I’d heard friends brag about for years. My trip was a positively unique way to visit this magnificent country and it helped that I embarked on the journey with absolutely no presumption of a “vacation.”
Meals Consume Days Once in Bangkok, we checked into the Royal Princess Larn Luang. The hotel was a great “home base” for families traveling with little ones. The first day, we set out for a shopping mall and giant Tesco supermarket to buy supplies: Diapers, formula, wipes, baby food, water, dishwashing liquid and mild detergent — this in an of itself was enlightening given the language challenges. Conversion of pounds to kilos for the diapers, translation of the formula types to ensure the correct match and where to find yellow bananas; there were 20 different types but they were all green!
Having breastfed both my boys well into toddler-hood, and blessed with two skimpy eaters (making up for it now as teenagers) I was unprepared for the adventure of keeping two robust 11-month olds fed and hydrated in an unfamiliar land. My cousin brought a number of snacks and containers of baby food, but as both babies drink a lot of formula, I had to quickly get up to speed on their nourishment agenda.
Once back in our room we set up shop. Thanks to a little fridge we were able to keep things fresh, and a clothesline that pulled out from the wall over the bath was a godsend. The babies were good eaters, putting away much more than my finicky “breast only” boys. Jet lag meant middle-of-the-night meals of baby bananas and cereal, perhaps topped off with a container of food or yogurt. The hotel breakfast was a smorgasbord of European and Asian fare. We brought packets of rice cereal to mix with an egg yolk from the fried eggs on the buffet, and plain yogurt too. The twins wolfed down watermelon, papaya and other tropical fruit. I surreptitiously squirreled away mini croissants for them to gnaw on and hold (even though mom didn’t really want them to have them.)
Consider Hotel Water Clean water for bottles was a chore. We had plenty of bottled water but pretty quickly felt comfortable with the hotel water to clean the bottles because the management insisted it was safe to drink. Fearing a food poisoning episode while on duty, I was incredibly careful with food and drink – my own intake as well – and luckily neither child nor I had any issues. I always carried crackers and fruit to offer them and the new fangled baby food packets were easy to feed them directly through the spout. They loved avocado, banana and watermelon, which I tried to keep cold because the weather was so hot! The fruit was great for hydration and staying cool. I also let the babies have little drops of water when we were out to keep them extra hydrated.
Book a Balcony We were lucky that both hotel rooms had big enclosed balconies–definitely a great must have with small kids, both for safety and to enlarge the indoor/outdoor space.
Venture Out for Adventure We visited many temples, a couple floating markets and took two boat rides, navigating the chaotic and polluted Bangkok metropolis. With little time to prepare, I was solo with the dynamic duo each day so I Googled a site within a 10-block radius of our hotel. The double stroller trek, navigating insane traffic, menacing stray dogs and drenching heat and humidity, felt Herculean. Soldiers stopped traffic and monks helped us across chaotic streets. Taxi drivers, locals and hotel staff helped juggle the babies.
We even took two canal boat tours. It was cooler on the water, but definitely a juggle with the babies. On one tour, the workers just heaved the stroller right onto the gondola-sized boat and at the other, the attendant let us park the stroller at the dock. When the stroller didn’t roll, we used two baby carriers so we could continue to explore.
Try Temple Time We visited a number of temples, each with their own unique flavor. Some were touristy like Wat Sommanat (the Marble Temple), Wat Saket (the Golden Mountain Temple), Wat Arun (Temple of the Dawn) and others were more intimate and quirky. Although the journey was insane, we came to consider temples a true toddler oasis. Inside the walls, the twins enjoyed crawling time in the peaceful compound on cool marble floors. The babies were celebrities and Thais flocked to us like paparazzi.
There was tremendous activity at most of the temples, due to the passing of the King. We got to see and hear deeply soulful mourning rituals and celebrations. At each temple, I was amazed at how welcoming the workers and worshipers were. Many helped me hoist the stroller, watched our gear and never batted an eye when the babies were crawling around the sacred space. At the Golden Mountain Temple, there were giant fans strategically placed around the worship areas and the babies napped in front of one for an hour in the stroller. I can’t think of a time when I felt more at peace. One soldier/monk team guided me to a secret area to change an explosive diaper when it was clear it was NOT ok to do so under the shade of a magnificent and sacred Banyan tree.
Connect without Language It was extraordinary how helpful, warm and genuinely interested in the twins the Thai people were. My command of the Thai language was nil, but I had a few schticks to connect with the locals. For example, Etia, more placid than her brother, has deliciously chunky thighs that my own sons have called “croissants.” When I saw the mini croissants every day at the hotel buffet, I decided to use that word to connect with the Thais who stopped to admire her. It never failed to work as an icebreaker.
Swim with Help Swimming was a big part of the adventure, I recommended my cousin bring blow-up floaties so I could take both babies swimming while she worked. Years ago, my husband and I had taken my then 18-month-old to the Mexican Yucatan and were so smitten with snorkeling in cenotes, while he paddled along in his bottom supported floaty. My husband and I wore flippers and switched off monitoring our son, as we explored caves and pools. My cousin brought these Cadillac-sized floaties so I was excited to take them for a swirl.
I soon discovered how big an undertaking swimming can be with 11-month-old twins. My first outing was quite a comedy sketch. The Bangkok hotel pool was gorgeous and empty, save an attendant. My plan was to keep one in the stroller and get the other sorted and then… I didn’t know what I would do, but I envisioned them both in the floaties and me gliding around the pool with them. It was much harder than I envisioned. The first day a gust of wind blew one floaty to the other side of the pool – thankfully, the babies were totally safe. When I furiously motioned and shouted to get the attendant’s attention, he seemed to be ignoring me and continued to facetime someone using huge gesticulations. I soon learned the attendant was deaf! And once I got his attention, he was very helpful. That said, swimming with twins is really a two-adult job.
Bring a Clip-on Seat Highchairs at both accommodations were somewhat useless as there was no way to strap in the wriggly kiddos. So if you take a crazy trip like this with little ones, it might be good to bring a clip-on seat.
Respect the King’s Memory Our entire adventure was heightened because of the recent passing of the Thai King. We were overwhelmed by the devotion of his people. It was a remarkable time to be in Thailand. I would walk the streets and see both impromptu and official shrines, surrounded by candles and grieving citizens. The country was a bit on edge because the King had been in power for so long and was so beloved. Our Bangkok hotel hosted a number of military top brass and their wives– they didn’t do the buffet, they were served– and they never cracked a smile, even when the babies crawled toward them. Unfortunately, I had not brought a lot of black clothing given the tropical climate, but the concierge offered me a small black ribbon to wear on my lapel and locals seemed to appreciate it.
End with Beach Time After our busy Bangkok time, a three-day trip to the coast was much needed. Hua Hin is a three-hour drive from Bangkok and our hotel organized a van and driver–no car seats of course. The roads were in good shape and traffic not too horrendous, but keeping the babes occupied on the journey was certainly hard. We had a giant bag of toys and board books, Cheerio-type snacks and all the bottle accouterments.
Home to the King’s summer residence, Hua Hin was a popular seaside resort for Thai elite and now is popular with Scandinavian and Baltic package tours. We stayed at a small friendly, family resort I would highly recommend called Anantasila Villa by the Sea. The pool, rooms and public areas were beautifully appointed and inviting and the outdoor eating area dreamy. We met French, New Zealand, Indian, American and Estonian families and watched the kids play together in the pool. Eating breakfast by the beach was glorious. And swimming at the two luscious pools and in the Gulf of Siam as a foursome was a blast: We would swim and splash and then quickly rinse, wrangle and feed the twins because they slept so well post natation.
There is plenty to do in this bustling metropolis by the sea, lots of water sports and spa activities. We stayed pretty close to the hotel and enjoyed the relaxation and slower pace. We did go to a posh night market on a large tuk-tuk, our only experience on the rickety open mopeds crossed with bicycles and a popular and cheap mode of transport all over Thailand. The Cicada Night Market was appealing because there were a lot of local artists and artisans selling their beautiful wares. I was expecting more local crafts but there were incredible painters, shoemakers and other designers. I bought a cutting board, a great tankini bathing suit and my cousin found wonderfully unique baby clothes. The food was scrumptious and the whole atmosphere pretty upscale.
Don’t Forget to Treat Yourself When I was there, friends kept texting and emailing asking if I was having amazing food. I have to say, apart from the divine breakfast buffets, I didn’t really taste the best of Thai cuisine – I was too busy! I did enjoy a few yummy roast chickens at markets and luscious coconut milk right from the nut, but the feast was more for the eyes and heart this time. That said, I did not miss out on all the local specialties: I treated myself to three heavenly Thai massages. Bliss!
by Darya Mead, January 2017
© ROAM Family Travel 2017 – All rights reserved
Keywords: family vacation, family travel, travel with kids, thailand with kids, thailand with babies, thailand vacation, bangkok with kids, bangkok with babies