So here it is. Our last day of travelling. Our last day of squashing up into a single hotel room. Our last day of eating every meal in public. Our last day of spending every waking moment in each other’s company.
Early tomorrow morning, we get a tuk-tuk or taxi to the airport and spend pretty much the whole day on planes (with an exciting 4 hour stopover in Oman to relieve the monotony), eventually piling out at Heathrow after 16 hours of travel. Then it’s just one more bus journey up to Leeds (a mere 4 hours and with a guaranteed seat each instead of plastic chairs in the aisle – luxury!) and we’ll be home.
We’re cutting it fine. School starts just four days after we get home. We have no food in the cupboards. We have no bedding. We threw out our old sofas before we left so there’s nothing except kitchen chairs to sit on. And what things we do have are all boxed and stacked ten-feet high in the garage. It’s going to be a busy few days.
But I think it will also be exciting, rediscovering all our possessions and seeing why they all seemed so important that we had to carefully store them away all year. To be honest, I imagine quite a lot of it might be going straight to the tip rather than back into our house. When we’ve lived out of two backpacks (plus the girls’ small ones) for a year, it’s hard to imagine needing a ten-foot garage stack of stuff.
Actually, when I wrote that we have no food, it wasn’t strictly true. We all sat around our laptop by the pool yesterday, salivating as we put together the most enormous online Asda delivery ever. Some of it is essentials. Some of it. But mostly it’s just cheese. The sheer amount of choice was just too much to resist, and it was just so incredibly easy. A few hundred clicks and before you know it, Asda’s shelves are empty and our fridge and cupboards are full. Wow! No need to haggle with tuk-tuk drivers to get there, dodge stray dogs on the street, jump over open sewers, struggle with indecipherable labels or mysterious vegetables nor any need to visit twenty shops to get twenty things. We’ve also bought all the girls school uniforms online, winter coats, recorders (!), a case of wine… come to think of it, maybe we have missed having stuff after all.
But possessions aside, I think our girls will be in for a culture shock when we return to the UK. Their memories of home are already fading and I really think the little differences will be a surprise to them: wearing coats or tights or shoes, everyone understanding them when they talk in public, not having to put on sun cream or mosquito repellant, having to spend time away from their Mummy and Daddy, sitting still in a classroom…
Backpacking as a family has sometimes been hard work and we’ve all felt growing pangs of homesickness over the last month or two but we’ve seen some amazing stuff, been to some awesome places, learnt things about different countries you could never pick up without going there, had a ton of fun and are closer as a family than we’ve ever been. I’m glad we spent all those years saving up but I’m also looking forward to getting back to “normal” life. Things that had started to feel mundane will be exciting. Choosing to go back to the familiar is a very different thing to being swept along by the daily grind.
And I also think the trip will anchor us. In time – such a big life change will always give us the perspective to say whether any event happened before or after we went travelling – but also in reality: it’s humbling to see with your own eyes how most of the World’s population lives. It’s a lot harder to complain about your life or feel stressed over small upsets when you’ve seen what others often have to deal with.
But going home is not until tomorrow. Today we go to the beach for the last time, and tonight we’re having a special meal to toast our trip – to celebrate our year in Asia, were going out to an Italian restaurant. Salute!
By Jemima (aged 9)
Sugar Beach is in the Philippines. It has almost no rocks or sea urchins. Sea urchins are large or small spiky dark or any colour really but mostly black or an occasional black and white urchin. But as I have already said, mostly black. They are fish things and very simple creatures. Besides, even if there was an urchin or an occasional rock, especially if it was under the surface, there is amazingly clear water, though there are no fish.
The water is safe and has no current which makes it even safer. It is not too deep at all but just the right depth. The sand at the bottom of the sea is soft and there are no crabs.
It is a very nice place including the amazing resorts like Taka Tuka Lodge and the food, Lego and dogs at Sulu Sunset. All in all it was worth the journey. Sorry, am I getting carried away with resorts? Anyway, it’s time for Pu Kao Lak now. Here we go…
Pu Kao Lak
It was lovely swimming in Pu Kao Lak, which is in Thailand. The amazing pool had lots of different parts such as a large main part with the coolest water and a small part that we could make a whirlpool in. The water is cool in all of the places and a relief from the boiling weather of Thailand. There is an infinity edge to the pool and it is a lovely thing.
Also there is a water bar which we once got a drink from and it is lovely. With the water around our feet we sat and drank our lovely drink.
Dolphins sometimes spout water and we played at being mermaids and the dolphins were our showers. It was very fun.
I loved Pu Kao Lak. I absolutely loved it.
Legoland Malaysia is amazing fun. There are good surprises such as, well I’m not going to tell you or you won’t find them surprising.
The water park is good and has great water slides and a lot of fun. Also in the water park there was a bucket tipping water. It is not really swimming because the water is too shallow but there is a wave pool you can swim in.
As well as the water park there is the main park which is even better. If you come while the rollercoaster called the Dragon is open then go first on the Dragon’s Apprentice to build up. All the other rides are amazing, too.
Go to Legoland Malaysia if you can.
Erewan Falls is in Thailand near Kanchanaburi. It is a good place to play and there are fish that nibble your toes. It is very, very nice there and good for relaxing in the amazing athmosphere.
The water is icy cold so I wouldn’t stay in for too long if I were you. It also feels natural to swim there. I love Erewan Falls.
The rocks were fun but quite sharp as I found out when I just happened to cut myself. I think that I slipped on the rocks because they were rather slippy.
It was absolutely lovely there. I loved it.
Komodo National Park
Komodo National Park is a good place to swim if you go to the right place. If you don’t get a tour then there are currents that could suck you down to the bottom of the ocean. If you are in the right place, there are amazing fish and coral. It is like another world under the ocean. You don’t even need a diving tank, just snorkeling is enough.
You might see a manta ray or a turtle, sea snake or octopus. Mummy saw an octopus and thought it was an alien because she only saw its head. It was very funny. You could also see komodo dragons on land.
It was amazing.
We’ve been building up to today for weeks. Months, even. We’ve booked into a posh (for us) resort in Tangalla, Southern Sri Lanka for three days of swimming pools, huge buffet meals, comfy beds and aircon because today, all my children turn nine. And, being my children, they love buffets. And they’ve always loved nothing more than splashing about in water. And, well, the comfy beds and aircon are just a bonus.
As they slept last night, we did our best to transform the room into somewhere exciting. We hung up the “happy birthday” banners and bunting we bought in Bangkok on the walls, and blew up the balloons we bought in Cambodia. Janet had already snuck back to the room earlier to wrap up the presents we’ve been squirrelling away whenever we saw something suitably portable, and I had added several new books to their kindles (virtual presents being the most portable of all).
At breakfast, Evie came back from the buffet with a plate piled high with cake and chips which I thought summed up today rather well. These few days are a break from budgeting and eating cheap local food.
We bought the girls boomerangs so we’ll head down to the beach to try them out later, too. And little plaster of Paris moulding sets that well have to make very carefully in our posh hotel room. Between that and the pool and gorging ourselves, I think the rest of the day should contain lots of nine-year-old fun. Plus we managed to pick up three Swiss rolls and some “9” candles so we can sing “Happy Birthday”.
We’ve been anxious that being abroad for their birthday would make our girls homesick but now that it’s here, and they seems happy and excited, I’m starting to feel excited, too. When Scarlett opened her eyes and saw the sparkly banner over her bed, she squealed, “How did you do that?!” And her sisters popped up from their own beds, wide eyed at the decorations and balloons everywhere and, all piling into our big bed for happy birthdays, I think we’ve made it ok for them.
Since turning eight, my girls have only spent one month in the UK. Eleven countries and all kind of adventures and accidents later, their birthday feels like a milestone. Once today is over, we only have 14 days of travelling. Turning nine marks the beginning of a year where we’ll be going home, returning to jobs, school, home ownership and all the normal routines, rewards and responsibilities of a sedentary life.
But today, that can all wait. Today we splash around in the pool, play on the beach, eat ourselves silly at the hotel buffet and play with presents. Worrying about coming home and coming to terms with the idea that my babies can possibly be nine years old and on the cusp of teenagerdom can wait for another day.
When swimming in the ocean, remember to take the wallet containing nearly a hundred pounds in cash and your only bank card out of your swimming shorts’ pocket. Unlike me.
By Evie Hadley (aged 8)
One reason everyone should go travelling with their family is because it means you can try a lot of different foods like fried insects, snakes, amazing Thai fried rice and Vietnamese phô.
Strange Asian Languages
You can learn a lot of different languages such as Thai, Bahasa Malay/Indonesia, Cambodian, Vietnamese, Nepali and many more besides. Now I can say “three twins” (meaning triplets) in five different languages: fet sam (Thai), tumba tika (Bahasa Malaya/Indonesia), gom blua bai (Cambodian) and sinba (Vietnamese).
Another thing I really enjoyed was spending a lot of time with my family because I don’t get to see Mummy and Daddy as much at home. I miss my friends quite a lot though. I also miss NanaRara*. My Mummy and Daddy are our teachers whilst travelling which I really love.
I absolutely love trekking because there was an amazing view of white-peaked Mount Everest through a curtain of trees. There were many more mountains such as Gokyo Ri (which we climbed in the snow).
You should come to Nepal and see Elephant-roamed Chitwan where you might make a large friend!
* Nanarara is the phrase Evie and her sisters use for Janet’s parents. They got Nana and rara (they couldn’t say granddad) conflated when very little and it’s stuck.
By Scarlett (aged 8)
- I think I’ll miss having a broken leg because of all the special attention. Still, I wish I hadn’t had the accident. I say this because it was very painful at the beginning, also it went on and on and on for 2½ months. It never saw the sun, consequently it grew paler and paler.
- I think I will also miss having a lot of time with my family. I will miss having nearly all day with my sisters to play. Also having little school as you will hear about in the next paragraph. We do not have much time at home because of all the different things that we do not do here such as Mummy and Daddy’s work, going to school, and diving lessons.
- Homeschooling I will also miss because it is much shorter than normal school and still I think I learn just as much.
- I will miss trekking because it is good fun and it is an amazing maze of cliffs and steep drops. At first it was tiring to the legs and shoulders but it got easier and easier as we walked. The places to stay were cheap and an exciting experience.
- The views of Nepal are stunning as are the birds of prey. We saw golden eagles flying below us, great blue-looking mountains soaring above us and scraggly, old, dying, dead-looking trees grew around us. Beautiful views stretched out surrounding us. Views appear all over the place: sunsets, beaches, mountains, jungles and islands.
By Jemima (Aged 8)
Get a Rabies Injection
I think you should get a rabies injection if you are going travelling to stop you getting a disease named rabies. Also to avoid it you should stay away from street dogs and monkeys unless you are on a tour to see them – the monkeys, not the dogs. This will help you stay safe and happy while travelling.
Look Before You Cross the Road
Always look before you cross the road. If you do not look before you cross the road you might get run over. Sometimes cars can go the other way to the way they go in England. Sometimes you need to look left then right then left and sometimes you need to look right then left then right again before you cross the road. Sometimes there are tuk-tuks, motorbikes or even elephants to look out for! This will help you stay safe and happy while travelling.
Use Trip Advisor
I think you should use Trip Advisor to think of places to stay. It is very helpful and tells you if places have bed bugs, how nice they are, if you should stay there and if they are too expensive or not. Use it to help you decide where to stay and then you can write your own review. This will help you stay safe and happy while travelling.
Book Places Before You Stay
Once you have decided where to stay, book a room or they might get full. Only book the room for one night in case you don’t like it. If you don’t like it then look for somewhere else to stay on Trip Advisor and book in there for one night and so on. If you do like the first place, ask if you can stay however many nights you want to stay. This will help you stay safe and happy while travelling.
Put Suncream On Every Day
If you put suncream on every day. It will stop you getting sunburnt. If it is an extra hot day (for Asia) put suncream on regularly. Also, if you are in an extra mosquito infested kind of place you should put deet on.Also carry a bottle of deet and a bottle of suncream around with you. If you get bitten by mosquitos, put Anthisan on, and carry a tube of Anthisan with you. Deet is a liquid that you spray on your skin to stop mosquitos biting you. This will help you stay safe and happy while travelling.
The Big Mango is Bangkok, by the way. And we’re back.
This is actually the fifth time we’ve passed through the city in our travels. But on our previous visits, we didn’t want to stop around because of the Shut Down Bangkok protests, then there was a curfew after the army took over, but the situation has settled down now so we’ve rented an apartment for nine days and have been alternating at sightseeing and using the luxury of an apartment to pretend that we live here.
Janet and I both love this city and we didn’t want to go home without having spent a little time here, and shown our kids around, so we’re here again, right at the end of our time in SE Asia. Of all the cities we’ve visited, it’s the wildest and most exciting. Everything has an edge here. Sometimes it feels like you’ve been transported into the future, at others like you’re in an incomprehensible otherworld, but always like you’re at the centre of something dynamic and barely-controlled. Not dangerous, mind; just thrilling.
We’ve also been reveling in city life. We’ve spent days in big malls, awestruck at the abundance of stuff. After Cambodia it just seems so decadent and astonishing to see shop after shop brimming with more things than anyone could ever buy. And things we need: new Crocs for our girls and a new wardrobe for Janet from Uniqlo, her new favourite shop.
We’ve done the tourist thing and visited temples, including the massive reclining Buddha at Wat Pho which, despite being ram-packed with SLR-wielding farangs, is still a must-see and the who-needs-adventure-playgrounds Wat Arun over the river. We’ve travelled around by sky train, taxi, tuk-tuk, motorbike taxi (never again!) and, best of all, on foot. And we’ve visited what turned out to be two of our girls’ favourite places on the trip: Kidzania (where kids get to try out different adult jobs earning and spending money) and Dream World (a theme park where Evie finally got to experience a ride that turns you upside down).
Just having an apartment is exciting enough. We have three separate room (plus two bathrooms)! A year ago that wouldn’t have been anything special but after so long sharing one room with travel beds filling the space on the floor between whatever beds the hotel provides, it feels enormous. We have a sofa. We even have a dining room table. There’s a kitchenette. A fridge. A washing machine!
The girls can run around and play without having to be shushed and ordered down off the walls. We don’t have to usher the whole family outside by 10am in order to stop ourselves eating our own children. It’s even possible for everyone in the family to be in a separate room by themselves (if there are two of us in the toilets)!
Who’d have thought we’d revel so much in home comforts? Things like sitting around a dining room table eating a meal in private rather than a restaurant have become real pleasures. Lying on the sofa watching my girls singing tunes from Frozen, or just playing on my ukulele, feels like luxury. I’d never considered how great it is to be able to put our girls to bed then have a different room to sit up and chat in. But it is! Janet even whooped when she saw the apartment has the washing machine. No more waiting for dirty clothes to build up enough for a trip to the laundry to be worthwhile. Clean clothes every day!
It feels like coming home, being in Bangkok. The city is familiar, we know the food – and the abundance of street food means we can find all our favourites, we can speak enough Thai to get along, we have space and time and, for these nine days, our mounting homesickness seems to be on hold. We’ve found a home from home.