Back to the Big Mango

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.

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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.

Our Singaporean Pit Stop

NB I wrote this post last week, in Singapore but was too busy shopping to finish writing it. Hopefully posting it from here in the Philippines isn’t too confusing…

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Each country we’ve moved on to in our travels has been more modern, more developed, more reliable, richer, cleaner and safer than the last.

In the mountains of Nepal we were walking through regions where everything not made from wood or yaks had to be carried in on the backs of porters, and even in Kathmandu, all roads were single lane and buying anything above necessities was often a laborious task taking up much of the day, if they were available at all.

Arriving in Thailand seemed like being transported into the future – landing in Bangkok was like being swept into a sci-fi film, with its fast cars, neon signs and slick crowds… until we reached Malaysia, where everything again grew bigger and less ramshackle.

But now we have reached Singapore, and suddenly even Malaysia seems ramshackle.

We came travelling in part to escape our safe, predictable, comfortable Western lives. We wanted adventure. We wanted to experience life as the other half of the World’s population live it. And we have. But as well as being stimulating, travelling is also tiring. So arriving in what is essentially a modern Western city after six months on the road is rather a relief.

It’s a chance go shopping without endless haggling, take taxis without arguing over fares, to travel by easy-to-understand, punctual public transport, to enjoy people speaking perfect English, to drink the water and trust the food, to have your privacy respected by strangers, to trust the police. Not that there aren’t downsides: it’s expensive, commercial and scarily strict. But we’re only here for a week. Hopefully we can behave ourselves.

And the city itself is amazing. The skyline is a mosaic of skyscrapers, the monorail is clean and fast, the streets are clean, the people healthy-looking and well-groomed. Like Central London with the grubby bits erased.

So, for a brief few days before we fly out to the Philippines, we’re recharging our batteries and depleting our savings. We’re visiting sights (the zoo, Universal Studios, the ArtScience museum, the famous Raffles Hotel), gawping at the architecture, eating Western food, spending hours in the seemingly endless shopping malls refreshing our well-worn wardrobes, collecting a parcel in the only poste restante we trust in the region, buying gadgets… I’m even going to a game shop for an evening to indulge my hobby of wargaming.

I reckon I’ll be ready to leave here before long, but until then, we’re all enjoying the relief that is Singapore – a home from home while our money lasts.