3 SMALL KIDS, 2 CRAZY ADULTS, 1 YEAR TO TRAVEL THE WORLD POST 7: 22th October 2016, Mae Nam, Ko Samui, Thailand.
We were bound to make mistakes at some point. And I guess that point is now. It all started because of the internet. This hardly exists in Myanmar and when it does, it is very, very, VERY slow. The kind of slow which means you absolutely cannot download an image and opening a simple text email takes maybe half an hour. Which is a good thing if you want to be in the now and disconnect from the modern world and all of its distractions. But not so good if you need a reminder that there IS a world out there full of normal people that are not on a year-long travel adventure with three kids under 7. And not so great if you need to research your next destination.
Photo caption: Bagan - temples galore
Our plan was always not to plan. To give ourselves the freedom to do what we fancied when we fancied it. So the only thing that was set in stone when we left the UK was that we would be spending one month in Greece as a warm-up to travelling and then flying on one-way tickets to SE Asia, starting with the still pretty-undiscovered Myanmar. Having initially thought that one month was not long enough for us to do the country justice - it is HUGE - and having considered (naively) how we might overstay our month-long visa, we ended up staying only three weeks.
On the whole, they were a good three weeks and the country gets a big thumbs up: the people are genuine, warm, very sweet and totally trustworthy; the food is delicious; the country is beautiful and apart from the tourist destinations such as Bagan and Lake Inle where there is comparatively more pressure to buy certain things, you are pretty much left to your own devices to enjoy your trip in the way you choose. The accommodation however is very expensive for what you get, and after weeks of living in nice but very standard guesthouses, being ill for 7 days with a fever and suffering burn out after having been such conscientious tourists, we were kind of desperate to leave.
Photo caption: some of the hidden gems inside the temples
Because the problem is, in Myanmar, there was no possibility of us NOT being tourists as the accommodation in our it-has-to-be-basic-because-our-pot-of-money-needs-to-last-a-year price bracket was so basic that chilling out in it was not an option: too small, too dark, too depressing. We did end up paying to spend a couple of hours lying by someone else’s pool but in the end we needed a proper break: from moving around every three days, from sightseeing and from being with the kids 24/7.
We initially thought of Myanmar's only beach destination but since it is super expensive (over US$100 a night per room when we try to spend half of that as we always have to book two) and to get there would also require expensive internal flights, we thought we could go somewhere nearby which would be just as nice beach-wise and offer a better standard of accommodation.
Photo caption: some intricate carvings inside one of the temples in Bagan (left); Buddha's mother and auntie with Buddha himself being born from his mother's hip (right); more Buddhas (bottom)
So with ten minutes spare and a very dodgy internet connection at our disposal (if you sat right next to the router you could get a few minutes in before a) a power cut b) the router failed c) you were eaten alive by mosquitoes) we settled on Thailand: direct flights from Myanmar to Bangkok (where we needed to collect more anti-malarial drugs) then onwards to an island. Any island!
I had read about fellow travellers sending their children to a friendly school on Ko Samui so we settled on that. Job done. Flights booked. Hotel booked within walking distance of the school. Sorted. Before heading out to supper I thought we should probably send another message to the owner of the Thai school just to double check that there was room for the three kids (we hadn’t heard from her in a week) and to tell her that we would be arriving in two days time.
Photo caption: playing football with the locals in one of the temple grounds (top left); With our horse driver and some local kids that lived just next to one of the temples (top); yet more Burmese wanting selfies with our kids. We were stopped at least once every five minutes (bottom)
On checking our mail after supper: disaster! The school had shut down with no notice just the day before! And even worse perhaps, our 30 day visa coincided perfectly with rainy season which, on Ko Samui, starts at the end of October (we arrived on the 21st) and lasts until the beginning of December. So having been very excited about the prospect of chilling out, giving the kids some much needed structure (they have really missed school), some sun, sea and sand time and a chance for Andrew and I to get some work done in order to help pay for our trip, all of a sudden I was dreading it. No school, no beach time, no sun, no chance of any time to ourselves to work or chill out and a very touristy, expensive location.
Photo caption: monks heading out to ask for alms (top left); our horse driver in Bagan was a huge hit with the kids (top right); outside the back gate of the largest temple in Old Bagan (bottom left); Andrew dwarfed by its front gate (bottom right)
So here we are on Ko Samui, a stone’s throw from the school that is no longer in operation, with the other French school shut for two weeks' holiday, the sky is cloudy and it is spitting with rain, there is as much wind now as on a blustery, October day in England and we are staying in a pretty expensive hotel surrounded by expensive beach restaurants on a very small budget. In addition to this, Raphael is suffering from his second tummy bug – he was sucking the bus rails in the airport and just cannot NOT lick things or stop eating with his hands – and to top it all off, he left his beloved monkey (without whom he cannot sleep and without whom he has NEVER been parted) in the hotel in Bangkok. They have assured me that it was put in the ‘express’ post to us here yesterday. My fingers are doubly crossed and in the meantime, we are pretending he never existed. Oh, and did I mention that we spent half of our one day in Bangkok in A & E because Xanthe (unsupervised) stuck a cotton bud so far into her ear that she made it bleed and I was worried she had burst her eardrum? It's all fun and games with three kids under 7.
Photo caption: the full-moon festival of lights which is the start of 9 days holiday in Burma. The main temple (top left); monks at one of the smaller temples (top right); a Burmese comedy performance (bottom left); candle-lit temple (bottom right)
As a result of all this, I am not feeling too great about things. In fact I am feeling pretty crappy. Angry with myself that we didn’t plan our next destination better (even though in my defense, I know this was impossible given our unreliable internet connections), resentful that the school we were planning on visiting shut without announcing this on their website and irritated that the probably once-pretty canal next door to our room is being widened in order to let the imminent rains flow better into the sea (think Caterpillar tractors going all day long).
I am also disappointed in myself for not being better at homeschooling (the two hours I spent on it this morning nearly killed me), annoyed that I am missing chats with my best friend and soul mate with whom I never have more than 10 seconds discourse before we are interrupted by one of the kids, and frustrated that I seem to be craving my home routine so much when all I do in England is moan about the cold and how unfulfilled I feel. Worst of all, I am disappointed in myself for feeling unhappy at all. If I were a Buddhist or perhaps an altogether better version of myself, I would be feeling grateful for my beautiful surroundings, my simple but elegant bungalow which is only 5 minutes walk from the sea, the delicious local food, my flat stomach (hooray!) the 30 degree heat and the fact that my children are happy.
Photo caption: Ko Samui - island life
But I guess that is just part of being a human. Just because we are travelling doesn’t mean that everything will suddenly become awesome and that I will suddenly require less time to myself or less time to chew the cud with Andrew. And just because we are somewhere new and exciting doesn’t mean we won’t feel tired or overwhelmed. Or that I won’t miss home. Because I do. I guess this will make returning even sweeter but for now, I'm just going to try and sit with this feeling. However difficult. This adventure was always going to be a journey. Both an outer and an inner one. And facing difficulties and even harder for me, accepting them, is all part of learning to take the rough with the smooth...
To see where we are on a map, click here!
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