Trip to Thailand, January 2013

I wrote my trip journal out longhand while we were still abroad (finishing on the airplane in one of Marcus's crayons, actually, since no pen was handy), and I finally managed to type it in and revise it at home.

Wednesday 12/26, Day 1

Why Thailand? Well, six years ago Robert had said he really wanted to go to Thailand, but we ended up going to India instead as our exotic trip. This year, he’d been feeling stressed from work, excited about his upcoming birthday, and also bad that Samantha hadn’t been anywhere internationally, so I seized the time between Christmas and my start back at work to plan a fun trip—Thailand met the bill: stamps in our passports, good food, elephants, and a very baby-loving, family-friendly culture. Since we’d be there over Robert’s 40th birthday, I also planned the trip in part as a present for him. Finally, our good friend George, whom we met long ago in 1994 at MIT playing Magic: The Gathering, had been living in Thailand for nine years and was now engaged to a lovely Thai woman, Pat, we’d briefly met when he visited Boston this year—they promised to be great hosts and said they’d love to meet up with us and show us around a bit while we were in Thailand, so it became a plan.

We had two kids, two rolling duffel bags checked, and then two backpacks (big and small, which could be zipped together into one bag and then rolled along as well—thank you, Ikea, for a great product!) plus my Timbuk2 messenger bag as carry-ons. Our plan was to spend two weeks in Thailand and then two days in Tokyo (really just a 50-hour layover) on the way back home. Thailand is 12 hours ahead of Boston, though, so with the travel time plus time zone changes, our schedule had us leaving Boston at 7:00 in the morning on the 26th and arriving in Bangkok at 11pm on the 27th.

On the day after Christmas, therefore, we got up early to start our trip. My goal was to get out as early as possible after to holiday to avoid storms: we had a fast connection to Atlanta (2 hours), then a flight to Narita/Japan (13 hours), then on to Bangkok (7.5 hours).

Christmas night Marcus took a bath and put on a clean set of “day” clothes and went to bed in them. When we woke him up on the 26th he just had to go to the bathroom, brush his teeth, and put on his shoes. He was sleepy but okay, and at 5:00 we called for a cab and headed out. Samantha was fine, even though she had a cold and a low-grade fever (she was on Day 3 of it, and actually on the upswing).

In the terminal and at the playroom at Logan Airport, waiting for our first flight.

Snuggled up on the planes.

The kids enjoyed the play area at Logan, and then in Atlanta we got to take the train all the way to terminal F, the pretty international terminal with a very nice food court. We had a two-hour layover, and it was just enough time to get there, find our gate, use the nice large family restrooms, and eat. We got a chicken and bean quesadilla, a southern-style fried chicken taco, a side order of rice and beans, and then an Asian-style rice bowl of stir-fried caramel chicken from two adjoining places. All the food was very good quality and nicely prepared. Marcus ate part of the quesadilla and the chicken from the taco and some of the Asian rice with a side of stir-fry sauce (I had to go back to request a less-spicy sauce for him, but they were happy to oblige). Little One ate some rice as well, and we went straight from lunch to our gate, to look at our big 747 for a minute or two out the window before pre-boarding.

We had Economy Comfort seats on Delta. They weren’t quite the fabulous lie-flat business-class seats we had going to Mumbai on Air India two years ago, but they were pretty decent as far as seats go. They’d given us bulkhead seats, where the armrests don’t go up in between seats, so we switched with the people behind us and everyone was happy with the trade. The flight attendants seemed not overly thrilled with us—I briefly put a small, neat, Ziploc bag of trash on a surface in the kitchen for a minute, juggling a kid or two, as I passed through the galley and didn’t see anyone, and they made a fuss about it. Robert took Samantha up the steps on the plane, which were a huge novelty, and overall it was a really nice flight. There was indeed a big snowstorm in the Midwest, which we were avoiding by leaving early, so the plane basically flew due north rom Atlanta up to Canada to avoid it before starting to cut west.

Robert kept waking me up by asking me questions, not realizing that I’d been nursing Samantha and responding to Marcus in my sleep. Then Robert would ask something that sounded to the sleeping me as “DOWEWANTCHICKENORBEEFFORLUNCH?” and I’d wake up with a start. He said he thinks I can do more in my sleep than almost anyone else can. Aw, my sweet husband!

The plane food was pretty good—a shrimp cocktail that Marcus ate, and then the two choices—and the kids happily slept a bunch. Marcus was completely out, lying down with his cheek on my lap, all curled up (this is why I need seats with armrests that go up). I slept too, then, and Robert started trying to work his way productively through the movies on the plane.

Marcus woke up about five hours into the flight and finished the shrimp and ate some more snacks that we’d packed (including peanut butter Lara bars, called “Mommy bars” because I’d originally started buying them for me, only to find that Marcus was crazy over them), and then we went to the bathroom, refilled water bottles and annoyed the flight attendants again. Overall we had a great flight to Japan: even though Robert only managed a one-hour nap, the rest of us slept well and played happily. Marcus watched all of “The Lion King,” which he’d seen before, all of “The Polar Express,” which he hadn’t, and part of “Mary Poppins,” which he’d also never seen before, on the seat-back screen. Robert took the obligatory sleeping pictures of us, and we landed in Narita with a two-hour layover ahead of us.

Thursday 12/27, Day 2

Narita is a gleaming, quiet, beige airport. We first went to the nice children’s play area and attached baby “nursery”—great, padded, changing tables and nursing stalls—and Robert changed Samantha while Marcus played rowdily. Then I sat at our gate and nursed Samantha (ignoring those nursing stalls, obviously) while Robert, with a sleeping Marcus on his back, went to a donburi shop and got an order of udon soup and a chicken donburi to go so we could have a nice meal on our next flight.

At the playroom at Narita Airport.

In the fancy bathroom at Narita Airport. Robert is entirely responsible for these pictures.

But literally just as we were about to board the plane, we found out two things. First, we found out that our flight was overbooked because of a cancelled flight the day before, so Delta would give us each $600 in travel credits for future flights, plus a room at the airport Radisson tonight, plus three meals (dinner, breakfast, and lunch) at the hotel restaurant, and book us on the same flight the next night. We decided to send an email to George and take Delta’s offer of a relaxing overnight in Japan. Then, much more sadly, we found out that Robert’s grandmother Helena had had a stroke on the 26th. We took advantage of our unexpected layover to wait in Japan for more information.

Delta brought us up to their Sky Club while we waited for one of their agents to rebook our tickets and process the travel vouchers. Marcus remained utterly asleep as Robert took him off and laid him on an easy chair in the lounge. Robert used his phone and the free wifi and nice iMacs in the lounge to email George and our Bangkok hotel that our arrival would be delayed a day, and meanwhile we took advantage of the free snacks. We had miso soup, congee, pickle maki with really nice plump tobiko, and little chocolate mousse cakes before the agent returned and said she was finished. At that point we went through immigration to baggage claim for our two checked bags and then on to customs. Since it was just the four of us, rather than an entire planeload of people arriving, that entire area of the airport was fairly deserted, and we breezed through.

We walked right out the airport and over to bus stop number 16, where we waited just a few minutes for a shuttle bus to the Radisson that Delta had arranged for us. As we found out the next morning, this is the hotel where Delta puts all its flight attendants and pilots, and the crews call it Camp Narita affectionately. We checked in and went straight to the dinner buffet. Marcus woke up at that point in the hotel lobby, after initially having fallen asleep on Robert’s back, then being transferred to a chair, then back on Robert’s back, then through immigration and customs and outside and onto a bus and into the hotel, sleeping the entire time. He couldn’t quite figure out how we got here, but he soon gave up trying and just threw himself into dinner, which was quite nice. I liked their iced tea machine, with pitchers of milk and “gum syrup” next to it, and Marcus liked the cook-it-yourself fresh udon, which he got to eat on colorful Ikea kids’ plates. There was also a big assortment of Japanese-style French cakes for dessert, with raspberry or passionfruit-mango sauces you could add to taste, and we sampled all of those. Samantha, meanwhile, who’d fallen asleep in my wrap on the way to immigration, also slept through customs and the bus ride, kept sleeping through almost all of dinner.

Eating dinner, breakfast, or lunch at our Narita Radisson.

Our room was just barely large enough for a king-sized bed and a table and chair, but the bathroom was large and very Japanese. Marcus was initially a little freaked out by the heated seat on the toilet, though he was then intrigued by the bidet features once Robert explained them to him. Marcus and I took a bath and then we all went to bed around 10:30 that night.

Friday 12/28, Day 3

Robert, Samantha, and I woke up at 4:10 in the morning, so we got up, changed a diaper, and let her play on the floor for awhile with us while Marcus kept sleeping. After Marcus woke up and Robert took a shower, we went down to the breakfast buffet, just a few minutes after it opened at 6:00 in the morning.

Breakfast was just an overall wonderful experience. Robert ate some of everything, delighting in ordering his omelet “Japanese-style” (or “underdone,” according to the man next to him, who was waiting for his own omelet much less enthusiastically than Robert was for his) at the made-to-order omelet station. Samantha ate some fried rice, lots of congee, and most of a breakfast sausage. Marcus ate at least six of the pink-rimmed semicircular dish cakes, a bowl of Rice Krispies with milk, two cups of Japanese apple juice (which tastes a lot more like a very light, crisp cider than our apple juice), about three bowls of rice, some with a seaweed-sesame-salmon seasoning mix on top of it, some rolled in sliced seasoned “green one” (crisp nori). I had about as much rice, mine sprinkled with seaweed-sesame seeds and eaten with scrumptious moist grilled mackerel, plus a few small and creamy chocolate croissants and some miso soup. It was a hugely satisfying meal for everyone involved.

After breakfast and a quick run through the hotel’s kids’ playroom, we took the 9:30 shuttle bus to the nearby Narita Aeon Mall. Marcus, exhausted, rode on Robert’s back as we walked around the mall for a too-short hour, soaking up the atmosphere at every turn and buying a few small packs of mochi from the supermarket. Most notably, I was able to find my much-loved walnut mochi, which Junko had introduced me too way back in 1999 when she brought some to Los Angeles as a present from Japan, and which I'd never found successfully in the US. We ogled the free molded plastic strollers, in both infant and toddler sizes, but we didn't take advantage of them for Samantha. Robert was fascinated by the array of appliances in the Sears-like anchor store--refrigerators with six doors and small compartments!

At the Narita Aeon Mall.

On the shuttle bus back to the Radisson.

At 11:10 we took the shuttle back to the hotel and then went down to lunch--the least exciting of our free meals, but still, the sea bream sashimi and the curry on rice, alone, were for me something to write home about. Marcus played in the outdoor playground with two small Japanese boys while we finished lunch. It was about 50 degrees out and he was chilly in just a sweatshirt and pants (since we were mainly dressed for Thailand, after all, and still in the clothes we'd flown in), but he made do, coming and going on his own through a patio door into the dining room.

We let the kids play another few minutes in the indoor play room after lunch, and then we took the 2:10 shuttle bus to the airport. After an extremely complicated check-in process, they finally figured out how to honor our upgrades and get us on today's flight to Bangkok, business class, and at 3:45 we headed toward security. Marcus had been sleeping since the shuttle to the airport, where he'd fallen asleep with his head on my lap and then been transferred to Robert's back, where he napped through the entire paperwork process and remained sleeping as we sailed through security (where, incidentally, Robert was sad we didn't take advantage of the free leather slippers to use and instead walked through shoeless like barbarians). After a fast pass through immigration we ended up at our gate, and Marcus continued sleeping on my lap again while Robert and Samantha refilled our water bottles and took a walk around the airport.



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Created: 1/15/13. Last Modified: 1/15/13.