From Oman we joined southeast Asian expat-workers heading home and western oil workers on holiday (the Thai airways flight was actually a codeshare with the Oman Petroleum Development Corporation, which apparently operates some sort of airline). Our destination was Bangkok where we'd meet Sarah's brother and whanau and begin the final, southeast Asian leg of our travels. Interestingly, we had a stopover in Karachi, where through-passengers didn't leave the aircraft. Before the new passengers boarded, the crew went through and confirmed that every piece of carry-on luggage corresponded to a passenger who was still on board. Stopovers like this are pretty rare these days!
We met Sarah's sister-in-law Carmen at the airport and, soon after, her nieces Melinda and Vanessa at their school in central Bangkok.
As with our visit with my family in Canada, I'm just going to give a limited account of all the fun stuff we did with the whanau in Thailand.
In Bangkok we ate tons of yummy Thai food. True street food is getting tougher to find, with the government trying to force vendors indoors. But we managed some of that anyway. And had heaps more in fun little restaurants too. Pad Thai, Som Tam (spicy-sweet-peanuty-savoury green papaya salad), green and red curries, Tom Yum (spicy-sour lemongrass flavoured soup), satay chicken, pad krapow (stir fried meat with basil leaves and chillis). I'd been looking forward to this for months, and eating in Thailand was every bit as good as I remembered.
We took a four-day family holiday out to Koh Samet, driving from Bangkok then taking a speed boat across the brilliant blue water for my first visit to a Thai island. Lots of reading, sand castle building, swimming and hammock swinging followed. As well as a few short walks around the island and lots more yummy Thai food (seafood green curry for breakfast is the best!)
While we still had the borrowed car, Michael, Carmen and the two of us took a trip out to Wat Sam Phan on the city's outskirts. It's more modern than the older temples at Bangkok's heart, but this nunnery is centred on a sixteen-storey round building with an incredible Chinese dragon spiralling up and around it as though climbing. It also features a giant turtle that you can walk into, a larger than life-sized white elephant statue and a giant rabbit. And very nice ladies selling still more delicious som tam and pad Thai.
On our own while the family was at school and work, we headed out for a lovely walk along Bangkok's canals and out to the Chao Praya River to watch the once-in-a-generation royal barge procession that forms part of the two-year long coronation ceremony for a new King of Thailand. Given the huge number of people who wanted to watch, and the fact that they all had to queue up, present ID and be photographed to get (free) tickets for the public viewing areas, it all went amazingly smoothly. There were ample free cold water stations, free public transport for the day and municipal trucks had been pressed into service as shuttles for those who lived in parts of the city not really served by public transport.
We didn't really have the best viewing spot, but it was an aural experience as well, with the thousands of rowers chanting, and the timekeepers on the boat banging down their poles in time. Our trip home was on one of the canal ferries ("Klong Taxis"), which are one of the funniest ways to get around the city (and when traffic's bad, one of the fastest too).
Despite the fact that it was "winter" in Bangkok, the temperature was usually over thirty degrees for most of our visit, often with lots of humidity to boot. As such, we spent plenty of time in the rooftop pool at the family's apartment, both for our own enjoyment and swimming, splashing and babysitting with Melinda and Vanessa.
The night before our departure we joined Carmen for a beer at one of Bangkok's rooftop sky bars for an expensive view out over the nighttime skyline. It was the sort of thing we'd be quite unlikely to have done on our own, so I'm glad Carmen talked us into it.
Our final day in Bangkok was early Christmas. Literally. Because we'd be on holiday with everyone and away from home, we built a homemade tree (which looked really impressive, given that it was made from faux-evergreen garlands, a table and a chair), exchanged gifts and, perhaps most importantly, ate most of the gingerbread house that Sarah and I had constructed and the girls had decorated.
That evening Michael (who had another week of work to do before he could join us). saw us all into a taxi as we headed to the train station for an overnight journey to Nong Khai, in Thailand's northeast right up near the Lao border and just across the river from the Laotian capital of Vientiane.
It took a little work to get the girls ready for bed, but with the gaps in their bunk curtains plugged, pajamas on, teeth brushed and bedtime story read, Vanessa and Melinda eventually fell asleep and they, like we, woke up the next morning halfway across the country.