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What the heck happened to Yellowjumpsuit?

I know we’ve gone dark for the last few months and it is high time we fill everyone in on the details.

My Dad had a very serious medical emergency at the beginning of February, while we were sunning ourselves on the beaches of Ko Lanta island in Southern Thailand. It was obvious to us that we needed to be home to support him and the rest of our family. We received a message on a Monday morning and were back in Texas by Wednesday afternoon. Most of that time was spent in transit, but we did manage to squeeze in one last awesome (and melancholy) day at our pristine, secluded beach.

En route, we talked a lot about what we were going to do next. We had plenty of travel time to discuss our future (in between handing out snacks to the boys). Two big factors were 1) we weren’t sure how long we would be needed at home and 2) we blew a ginormous hole in the budget by taking a last minute flight from Thailand to Texas. It seemed like it was probably time to end our trip (for now).
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Doing the Thailand Two-Step

After a couple of days in Bangkok it was moving day. We were headed to Pak Chong, a town near Khao Yai National Park. To say this was a day unlike any we have ever experienced would be an understatement. It featured stressful taxi rides, train-hopping, two-stepping, one whole-roasted pig, and a Danish talent show. And fireworks, of course.

Our plan for the day was to take a train from Bangkok to Pak Chong where we would be whisked away to a mountain resort. Easy enough. The first challenge came early when our laundry had not yet returned and we needed to be on the way to our 10 am train by 8:30. I was apprehensive about navigating a new train station, especially in an unfamiliar language and culture so I wanted us to get there with plenty of lead time. We have done our share of chasing after trains when we traveled without kids and I don’t want to try it with them. In hindsight I am not sure what I was thinking. Hua Lamphong train station turns out to be like just about every other decent-sized station in the world, except with much friendlier help at the information desk.

Our drive was like this street but with 25000 more vehicles

We managed to get our laundry at about 9 and hopped in a cab which then proceeded to come to a complete stop in the morning rush hour. We crept through the city and checked the time about every thirty seconds. I have not read “The Secret” so I don’t know enough to think positive thoughts. I have pretty much manifested ourselves a missed train and a ruined day – and it isn’t even noon yet!

On the plus side, our slow pace allows me to appreciate all the wonders of each block of Bangkok between our hotel and the station. For one thing, it looks like each block specializes in stores that sell just one thing. There’s a block that sells just lawn mowers (a mystery, since there aren’t too many lawns around), there’s the red paper lantern block, and then a block selling nothing but flags from around the world. I think to myself, “who in the world would need an Icelandic flag in this town so badly that there are seven stores to serve them?” And those seven stores are all shoulder to shoulder on one block.

We screech into the train station around 9:50. All hope is lost as far as I am concerned. We have to find the ticket window, wait in some hideous line, find the platform, find the car and board – all by 10:05. We’re lugging one bag too many and two confused kids.

“May I help you?”, asks the lady working the information desk in front of the station. [click to continue…]

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Our First Days in Bangkok

Recovering from jet lag has been no fun. But that hasn’t kept us from exploring Bangkok. So far I’m struck by the contrasts of the city. One moment I’m admiring the lotus blossoms in the hotel’s pond and then we take a few steps outside and we’re dodging a pink bus and 25 swarming motorbikes. Oh yeah, traffic patterns are completely opposite here – I keep forgetting they drive on the left side of the road.

Despite our best efforts to take it easy on our second day we still managed to do a lot. We visited the Golden Mount which involves some serious stair climbing that rewards you with a nice 360 view of the city from the top. On our walk there I noticed all the stares we are getting. I don’t know if it’s because I look slightly Thai (thanks to my Mexican and Chinese heritage) or if the 4 of us as a family just stand out. Whatever the reason I’ve gotten used to people stopping and staring and pointing.

Bangkok

View from The Golden Mount, Bangkok

On the other hand, our one on one interactions with Thai people have been nothing but pleasant. Their hospitality and friendliness has far exceeded our expectations and have made this visit to Thailand really memorable. Since we don’t speak the language we find ourselves many times relying on their kindness to help us out. I realized this is the first country I’ve visited where I haven’t been able to at least “get by” in the language which is at times frustrating and humbling. We’ve all managed to learn to say “hello” and “thank you”. At the end of just about every interaction everyone gives a slight bow with their hands placed together in front in them (kind of like a namaste nod in yoga). It exudes such a warmth and it’s easy to reciprocate when words fail me.

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What can you find on the street in Thailand?

  1. Porkball noodles (not meatballs)

    Noodles by The Travelista, on Flickr

    Chowing down on porkball noodles

  2. Stinky fruit – durian – the world’s most stinky fruit. Really!

    Durian smells like rotting canteloupe and armpits!

  3. Tuk-tuks are taxis, but smaller (a lot smaller). It doesn’t really look like a car either. It has no windows and three wheels. Here is a video I made while we rode in one.
  4. Chicken on a stick (also called satay).
  5. Crepes – yum!
  6. Restaurants – double yum!
  7. Fruit shake and juice stands. They have crazy shakes and juices, like watermelon juice or carrot, apple, and orange juice.

    Tasty and just 30 baht (1 dollar)!

  8. There are red trucks with seats in the back that take you to far places like the zoo or other special places.

    The Red Trucks are like shared taxis

  9. In Thailand they have 7-11′s, too! They are easy to find and some even have slurpees.
  10. Monks – which are like a priest and they pray all day at temples. Sometimes people put money in the monks bowls.

    Three monks walking down the road in Bangkok

  11. Massage places are pretty much everywhere.

    Massages are cheap and everywhere

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One (sleepless) Night in Bangkok

I don’t know who’s idea it was to nap at 4PM today but we did, even the kids fell asleep, and then we all woke up at 2AM. Ah, good old jet lag and the crossing of 13 time zones leaves us wide awake in the middle of the night.  Any other sane people out there might try and go back to sleep, but not The Singletons – we put a pot of coffee on.  So I thought I’d re-cap our time so far in Bangkok for the benefit of friends and family back home and in an effort to keep up with our blogging.

We were quite relieved after arriving at the Bangkok airport to find our airport transfer waiting for us.  Last thing we wanted to do in our bleary eye haze was to be hunting down a legitimate taxi.

I had trouble finding a hotel in our price range that was available and that would accommodate the four of us.  So I upped the price a little and wow, what a difference a couple hundred Baht makes.  I found a great boutique hotel near the old part of the city offering a special rate.  As always it’s hard to determine if “what you see is what you get” with hotels online but this one truly lived up to the photos and more.  Our family suite has two connecting rooms, a small kitchenette, a living area, and a small outdoor area.  This is a lot of bang for the baht!

Feung Nakorn Balcony Hotel

Ahh, this bed was just what we needed after 36 hours of travel

We managed to get a few hours sleep after arrival even though Ignatius was quite restless after sleeping on most of the flights.  After a hearty breakfast we were able to plan our day which involved seeing a nearby temple, Wat Pho. [click to continue…]

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On Marathon Flights: A Cautionary Tale

I haven’t had a thirty minute nap turn into a nine hour nap since college. It is 2 AM on our second day in Thailand. We ignored all advice to stay up as late as possible to fight jet lag. Instead we went to bed around 5 PM for what was to be a quick nap and now we are all wide awake in the middle of the night.

Our flight here was about as grueling as I expected, but had the added element of uncertainty given the winter weather that hit the south. We got up around 2:30 AM Tuesday to get ready and make our 5:45 flight to Atlanta. On the way to the airport the flight was cancelled. Fortunately the line of people at the Delta counter wasn’t too long and only mildly hostile. By 4:30 we were booked on a 10 AM flight to Minneapolis followed by a connection to Tokyo. Perfect.

Now what to do with two sleepy kids and two grumpy adults for the next five hours? We opted to sit next to a businessman trying to read a book. He moved within the first five minutes so we had the section all to ourselves. Score 1 for the kids! We did our best to keep them entertained and out of trouble for the next few hours. But they were excited and better rested than Josie and me. The adults were trying to catch catnaps while the kids were be-bopping around the terminal. [click to continue…]

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The Winter 2011 Plan

We’ve been back home for the holidays for a few weeks visiting family and friends. Technically we were also supposed to be preparing for the next leg of our journey, but that’s hard to do when people are passing you plates of great food and providing great company. However, we leave town next week for three months and we are officially in major-league freak out mode.

So what better time to write about what we’re getting ready to do?

Here’s the plan, as we know it so far. On January 11 we are headed to Bangkok where we will spend three weeks touring Thailand. This flight might actually be the end of us. Josie says I need to think positive thoughts, but I’m not sure how many positives there are to three connections, three countries, and thirty hours of air travel. I’m positive something is going to go wrong? I’m positive we will lose at least one bag and/or child along the way? I’m positive I will get an “enhanced patdown” at a security screening? Let me chew on this a bit. [click to continue…]

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Casa Saltshaker

I’ve always loved the idea of a secret supper club where you eat fabulous food and meet interesting worldly people. It’s also no secret that I love food and new experiences. I blog about Fort Worth restaurants and I contribute to Fort Worth Foodie magazine. Months before I arrived in Buenos Aires I was researching the food scene here. An interesting place kept turning up in my research that got my food radar going, Casa Saltshaker.

Casa Saltshaker provides a unique experience in Buenos Aires, or just about anywhere really. Casa Saltshaker runs one of Buenos Aires’ “closed-door restaurants”. The funny thing is Casa Saltshaker is neither a restaurant nor is it closed-door – if you have a reservation. Casa Saltshaker itself is not a restaurant but rather the private apartment residence of Dan Perlman and Henry Tapia. Dan prepares a 5 course meal of what he terms “fancy home cooking” every weekend for a small group of diners that partner Henry hosts. Basically, a nice dinner party with a few perfect strangers that you happen to pay to enjoy. It reminds me of the Sunday salon that Jim Haynes hosts every Sunday in Paris. This salon just happens to have more of a culinary emphasis.

Casa Saltshaker isn’t just for foodie insiders only – you can make a reservation right on their website. After some brief contact with Dan, which I’m sure is just to ensure that he’s not letting some crazies into his home, your reservation is confirmed and you are set. You will be emailed their address and arrival instructions.

Dan chooses his menus based on his culinary whims and he often uses historical events that fall on the date of the dinner as his inspiration point. For example, the day of our dinner fell on Cypress Independence Day, so our dishes were Cypriot-inspired. This is not the place to find authentic Argentine cuisine. For starters, Dan is not from Argentina. He comes to Buenos Aires via New York and the mid-west. Dan brings years of experience in food and wine in New York as a trained chef and sommelier to his Porteno apartment, so you can expect a fantastic meal. Not only will you have great food but more than likely you’ll find interesting company as well. Part of the fun is sharing the experience with total strangers and getting to know them during the evening. And a cocktail at the beginning of the evening helps break the ice!

Casa Saltshaker

Pre-dinner

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Iguazu Falls with Kids – Part III

Garganta del Diablo
We saved the best for last and took the Ecological Train to the start of the Garganta del Diablo trail on the second day.  The guide states that this trail takes about 2 hours. This is all flat with no stairs.  The catwalks however hover over the river.  I’m scared of heights and I did not like the feeling of being over the river so we went quite fast on these trails.  It’s all worth it though once you get to the Garganta del Diablo.  We put on our raincoats and put on our packcovers shortly before we got there.  The mist coming off the falls can be anywhere from a light shower to more of a soaking.  Naturally, lots of picture taking goes on here.

Sendero Mancuco
We did not have time to do this trail and I don’t think our kids would have been up to it.  We were told that you can spot more animals on this trail than on the other trails so if you have the time and energy I would suggest you check it out.

Tours
There are several tour operators at the entrance of the park selling different tours of the park.  Some of the tours offered are a jungle tour, a bird tour, and a boat tour.  The boat tour seems particularly hair-raising because it takes you right up to the bottom of the falls – you can hear the screams of the people on the boat from land!  Of course these are all extra and the costs add up especially for four people.

Tour of the Jungle

Ignatius uses binoculars to spot wildlife

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10 Things to do on a Rainy Day in Buenos Aires

We spent a sunny and warm weekend outdoors at all the parks, ferias, and outdoor spots in Buenos Aires. But we awoke this morning to a chilly, rainy city. That is no reason to despair! Buenos Aires has a ton of great indoor things to do and see that you tend to overlook on the beautiful sunny days.

1. Spend the day at the Museum
In Buenos Aires it’s easy to spend a day at a Museum. Check out the Evita and MALBA museums then have a great lunch at the museum restaurant, both of these museums have excellent cafes. Live like a Porteno and have an extended lunch and take refuge from the rain soaked city.

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Cafe at MALBA

2. El Ateno Bookstore
Take some time and browse around the “bookstore to end all bookstores”. Get lost in this grand bookstore housed in an old opera house and forget about the rain outside. Pick out a book or magazine and enjoy it while lounging in a cafe. Avenida Santa Fe 1860.

3. Lounge in a Cafe
At every hour you will find Portenos sitting and reading in a cafe with not a care in the world. Take a cue from them and don’t try to slog your way through the city in the rain. Take a break, bring a book, and enjoy a coffee.

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Cafe Cortado

4. Cafe Tortoni
Cafe Tortoni is not the cafe you want to lounge in (unless you like being surrounded by hordes of tourists) but it is a must-see in Buenos Aires. Stop by and tick visiting one the most famed and oldest cafes in the city off your list while enjoying a submarino and churros in old world elegance. A submarino is a submarine shaped chocolate that you drop into hot or steamed milk. Stir up and enjoy!

5. Go Underground
Check out the Manzana de las Luces or “Block of Enlightenment”. Take a tour of this historic Jesuit community and learn about all the history that has taken place there after it served as home to several government institutions. You will also get to take a peek at the secret tunnels that connected to different parts of the city. Tours take place at 3PM.

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Manzana de Las Luces

6. Go to the Movies
Go grab some popcorn and check out a movie. Most new releases are in English with Spanish sub-titles so you will still be able to understand the dialogue even if your Castellano is weak.

7. Museo Particitivo de Ciencas
This one’s for the kids.  The Museo Participativo hands on science museum is loads of fun for kids no matter what the weather outside. Lots of activities to keep the kids entertained and they might even learn something along the way.

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Aidan at the Museo Participativo

8. Take a cooking class
If rain is in the forecast plan on taking a cooking class. Learn how to make traditional Argentine dishes with Teresita, or if you want something more eclectic Casa Saltshaker also offers a variety of innovative cooking classes that are sure to inspire.

9. Go Shopping
Buenos Aires has several indoor shopping malls (Alto Palermo, Abasto, and Galerias Pacifico) where you can browse and of course they host plenty of coffee shops to stop and have a cafe. If you have kids the Alto Palermo mall has a game arcade. Abasto even has a children’s museum, Museo de los Ninos.

10. Take a walk in the rain
Grab an umbrella or a raincoat and pick out a walking tour. The streets are less crowded and you will have the city practically to yourself to explore!

Museo Evita

A little rain doesn't stop us

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