Our last few weeks in Bangkok, January 2016

  Bangkok, you’ve been good to us! Homeschool community, easy transport to beaches and Cambodia, some income, a nice apartment, excellent field trips. I’m not sure what comes next, but it will be hard to beat the past few months. Anyway, here are our last few Bangkok weeks.

We spent a nice afternoon at the Bangkok Arts and Cultural Center, right off the Siam BTS station. The building is so sleek, all white and modern, and there is so much natural light. You can walk up a spiraling ramp to the top floor! 

 

The admission was free for all of us, and we saw the two large exhibits in the galleries (photography by the popular Thai HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn and Thai abstract artist Ithipol Thangcholok) well as a hallway exhibit of adorable Czech children’s book art. The kids spent most of their time coloring beautiful coloring pages in a nice area set up for just that. 

   

We ended up at the Museum of Siam kind of by mistake. A tuk tuk driver brought us there despite our  request to “turn RIGHT!” in two languages several streets before. It was so hot and the museum had been on our radar anyway, so we went with it. It is an interactive museum about Thai history and identity. Only 200 baht each for us parents, the kids were free.  

   It is housed in a beautiful 19th century building that used to be the Ministry of Commerce. The exhibits seemed very modern and possibly even recently installed. There is an introductory video with several silly, engaging characters that reappear in monitors as one tours the museum. I think we learned a lot!  I especially liked this exhibit on the diversity of ships and people that shaped Ayutthaya, the ex-Thai capital whose ruins we visited last month.

 The kids liked the 19th century dress up clothes mixing European and traditional Thai styles. 

   

We went back to the vegan food court, took DH this time, and spent some time at the boisterous Chatuchak weekend market again, with its 15,000 vendors. It was very hot and crowded but we knew we didn’t have many more chances to go. Afterwards, I could persuade only Cleverly to continue adventuring with me, and we went to the Thailand Tourism Festival at Lumpini Park.  

 I am so glad we went! It is a 5-day festival in which they make the park into a mini Thailand, with 5 areas representing different regions of the country. There are even little roads to direct you among the regions.

 We saw traditional dancers that brought to mind the apsara dancers carved on Angkor temple walls. They moved slowly and posed with precise hand and foot movements to recorded traditional music.

   
  

We also saw a performance of all men dancers accompanied by live music including a choir! They had elaborate costumes and performed in front of a traditional style house erected for the festival.

     
 It was wonderful to watch, and the music was haunting. It was all in Thai so we didn’t understand the story. At one point, there was a king riding a golden elephant. 

 Aside from the performances, there was so much else to see. We saw a ‘floating market’ on land with traditional boats housing the vendors. 

 

There were also modern rock’n’roll musicians, regional crafts like fabric art, and a lot more things we didn’t see.

A few weeks ago was Children’s Day! We had heard about one in Japan years ago and the kids felt ripped off. “Why don’t we have that here???”. The standard adult response of ‘every day of children’s day’ is not very satisfying. Anyway, in Thailand it meant kids riding free on the BTS, free entry and special activities at some government buildings, and Ponies at the mall:

 And we also went to the teak mansion Vimanmek Palace on Children’s Day. It was built in 1900 by King Rama V, used for such diverse purposes as royal residents and storage until 1982, then renovated that year by the current Thai Queen Sirikit. These are not my photos; we had to check our bags and photos are not permitted on many places so I don’t have any of my own. It was a gorgeous building.

   

I had a day by myself and I went to the National Museum. I’m glad I didn’t bring the kids so I could geek out on all the artifacts at my own pace. It’s not interactive or very modern, in fact it’s almost shabby in places and had a dusty forgotten feel at times, which only made me love it more. I did not take a ton of pictures but I couldn’t resist taking some of the funeral chariots. There have been used in very elaborate processions going back centuries and even current times, see photos and video from a 2012 funeral here

   
The place had maybe 15 buildings, some under renovation during my visit. The artifacts go back to prehistory and through different manifestations of Buddhist culture such as Lopburi, Sukhothai, Bagan, and the Khmer of Angkor Wat fame. I became interested in Buddha footprints, which we had seen at shrines here.

    
 New to me was the Wheel of Law, which often had a sitting deer statue nearby.  The deer represents the location of the Buddhas first sermon at a deer park.

  
 They had a nice stone Ganesh, flanked by two smaller ones. 

 
And there were smaller statues of various other  dieties, like the 12th century Kali goddess below. A statue I saw of a kneeling Buddha statue looked so lifelike, I kept looking over my shoulder to make sure it hadn’t moved. 

 

This post is getting long, more to come in part 2!

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Elephants World, January 2016

Don’t get me started on elephant places in Asia. On second thought, do! I’ve put a lot of time into this. 

 Some Elephants World residents 

I really wanted to have an ethical elephant experience with the kids, so I looked around online quite a bit. As it turns out, there are many sanctuaries, more trekking companies, and even more rides and shows.  

 Elephant statue at Angkor Wat Elephants are all over Thailand-as part of the royal imagery and on souvenirs, working and performing in shows, and, increasingly rarely, in the wild.  They are the national symbol and have a long history entwined with the culture here.  

   
 
 They are also abused and mistreated terribly. After researching briefly, I learned that riding on a howdah- a canopy seat for 2 or more people to ride on an elephant’s back- hurts the animal and can cause permanent damage. I had suspected this in the US and never allowed the kids to ride elephants at carnivals and the like. Even riding bareback on an elephant’s back is bad for the elephant. The best way to ride is on the shoulders, though it is widely agreed that it causes them stress to give rides at all, with the possible exception of their lifelong caregiver known as a mahout (‘ma-HOOT’). So, somewhat disappointingly for the kids, I decided we would not ride elephants. I do think this was explained well when we were at the sanctuary. 

   
 I looked into visiting and/or volunteering at several sanctuaries, which cost about $70-$150 per person per day- it costs a lot to feed these creatures, and sanctuaries need to cover mahout and other staff salaries and often turn a profit as well. It is a relatively recent phenomenon for visitors to seek an ethical program as opposed to riding the elephants or watching them perform, and some places are moving towards the former while hopefully phasing out the latter. It is a work in progress.
We went to Elephants World about 100kms west of Bangkok near the town of Kanchanaburi. We took a neat old train to get there, similar to the train we had taken to Ayutthaya.

    
 We stayed a night there and we were picked up the next morning to go to EW. I had signed us up for a 2-day program. I would like to have stayed longer, but the budget was stretched. DH was working and was willing to miss the experience, so it was just the girls and me.  

 We had a brief orientation then fed the elephants some fruit and vegetables. There are 22 elephants at the sanctuary, most female and most with quite sad stories of being abused and overworked in logging (now illegal but still being done), performing/begging in cities (also now illegal), and/or carrying tourists in howdahs at trekking companies. Even worse, we heard that elephants are sometimes drugged with stimulants to make them work harder logging, or with depressants to help them with the overstimulating city environment. Most elephants at this sanctuary are older but there are three youngsters ages 3,4, and 8. 

    
   
It was amazing to be so close to them. We could touch their muscular trunks and wrinkled skin. 

  

 After their breakfast, they went to the river. We walked with them to the beautiful River Kwai that runs through the property. 

    
 Next we made sticky rice for the toothless older elephants. We learned that in the wild, elephants lose their last set of teeth around age 65 and die soon after from malnutrition, being unable to eat enough to sustain themselves. In captivity, they can be fed soft foods and can live to over 100! So the rice was puréed food for the toothless older animals. 

    
   
Bananas were mixed in with the rice for more nutrition. The guide told us cooked squash are also used in season. 

   
The rice was set to cool until later in the day. The elephants had some time in their ‘spa area’ where there is dust and mud and some rough trees for scratching. 

    
   
Next we had lunch and afterwards, the elephants had a mud bath. There is a viewing platform so you can have a good look. 

    
Watching the two ‘toddlers’ (the 3 and 4 year old) was so entertaining! They played like puppies, with their adoptive mother Nemochi nearby. We heard that when the babies arrived, there were serious discussions among the older elephants about who would act as mother to them. Nemochi was chosen and she looks like a great mom! I am not sure why they are not with their biological moms. We learned that elephants have strong family units, a similar lifespan to people and they should remain with their mothers until adolescence at around age 12 or 13.

    
   

Up on the viewing platform, Truly got mud splashed on her from all the activity! 

 We harvested cornstalks next on a different part of the property.  

    
 After that, we fed the stalks to the elephants. They knew the routine and reached into the truck to grab the stalks themselves! They loved eating but they were always gentle.

    
    
Next we finished making the rice. We added vitamins to the mixture as we rolled it into balls. 

    
 Then it was time to feed the old ladies!
    

The middle elephant below isn’t supposed to get the rice balls but she always butts in and tries! She got one from an unsuspecting child this day!
   

We got to wash the elephants in the river next. So much fun!! 

    
   
That was the end of the day program, and the beginning of the even more fun for us! We stayed in a beautiful new building near the river and near where the elephants sleep. We had a large room with five beds! There was a terrace where we could watch them.

    
 

We walked around the newly-quiet grounds after the day visitors had left. We had dinner, then watched a silent film from 1927 called Chang. It was filmed in northern Thailand and showed indigenous people living and dealing with challenges of living in the jungle- namely tigers and elephants- not always ethically, in fact they kill tigers and mistreat elephants. But it was a different time, so it’s somewhat forgivable I guess. It was an interesting film by directors who would go on to make King Kong a few years later. Afterwards we went back to our room and went to sleep. 

   
We got up early and with binoculars and books, went birdwatching. I’m not much good at this, but I liked seeing the sunrise and hearing the birds. We saw quite a few but I could not identify them. Beautiful! We spent the morning walking around with three elephants, their mahouts, and a guide named Sarah who was just wonderful. We went through jungle mud and different parts of the river. It was my favorite part so far, just walking around with the elephants. I didn’t bring the camera but just enjoyed it all. After lunch, we watched the elephants playing in the mud as we had the day before, which is such a joy. After that, we took a truck ride upstream and floated down the Kwai for almost an hour with life vests on for flotation. This did not involve elephants, by the way. Just beautiful views, a quiet river, and floating peacefully. Bliss! We were with Sarah, a mahout, a young Australian couple and two young women from Germany. Everyone was such nice company and we chatted as we floated along. Not long after that it was 4pm and time for us to go. What a great experience!

Here are some thoughts:

* Definitely stay two days if you can. All the sanctuaries I looked at online offer similar day 2 experiences to what we did, and it was so lovely, as was staying overnight. You could also opt to participate again in the day program, go hiking, get a massage, or just wander the grounds, which could also be fun.

*We learned some fascinating things about elephant psychology. They are one of only eight animals (like humans, dolphins, and primates) who recognize themselves in a mirror. They have been known to stand watch by injured humans until help arrived. They mourn their dead, moving bones at times and visiting these ‘graveyards’. The sanctuary had a moving story about the death of a resident elephant who died at an old age. Somehow the death was communicated to nearby wild elephants, believed to have known the deceased, who came to the river as the elephants and staff commemorated her passing, to witness and mourn their friend.

* These sanctuaries may offend some animal rights folks. You may see chains, ropes, mahouts using bull hooks, and elephants being commanded to do things. This is not a preserve of wild elephants as we experienced in Africa. These places are in different stages of improving the lives of working elephants and their mahouts, and it is not always perfect. Some places are for profit. Some give elephant rides in howdahs for part of the day, even as they educate about this causing harm. EW only recently stopped giving rides (they used to allow shoulder rides while the elephant was in the river) when visitors and volunteers requested it. 

*Mahouts have a long and interesting culture going back at least 900 years. They use words in communicating with elephants from an ancient form of the Khmer language. They are sometimes paired with an elephant when they are around the same age, under 10 years old, and remain together for life! They are usually, but not always men. Mahouts have been socially high class through the ages, such as when elephants were used in warfare and when the royal family kept elephants.

Buddhas and bikes, Bangkok, December 2015

  Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho

I had been wanting to visit this place since we arrived in Bangkok over six weeks ago, and finally we were there! I was standing next to the 46-meter long golden reclining Buddha, amazed by its size and enchanted by its calm expression. Many important government structures and the above temple are in the same area in Bangkok near the Chao Phraya River.  The streets were decorated in yellow for the king’s birthday.

  

 The kids were uninterested so this was just DH and me. 

    
   

Bike tour

Another thing the kids did not want to do: bike around Bangkok. So again we parents went and we had a great time! 

    

This is the old customs house:
   
We went with the amazing Go Bangkok rental and tour company. I don’t like to mention businesses but this place was great. They have tour guides but you can also opt to use a tablet with GPS and one of three wonderful tour options. Raymond the owner was so welcoming and helpful. We took the 17km two hour day tour. We went slowly and took about twice that amount of time. It sent us on a labrynth of old Bangkok, including Chinatown, a mosque, many temples, and twice crossing the Chao Praya River by ferry boat. Mr. Fantastic described the experience like looking at a pop-up book; every turn showed a new, colorful, unexpected tableau of this vibrant city and its hidden corners.

    
    
  
Apparently, the tower below is called a chedi, this particular one was restored recently, and it received a UNESCO award for the restoration!  

 Here we are attempting a selfie on the ferry:

  
   

We went back and did the same tour with another family. Since their kids went, ours were excited to go this time! 

    
  

We went back to the same giant Buddha, also through the market, and I tried to take different pictures this time around.

    
   
We went up and around and inside the giant white stupa this time around. There was a museumthere and you can go out to the balcony and also see up inside!

    
    
 Like most wats, it also has an active shrine. People can buy little squares of gold leaf and put them on statues and walls. The gold flutters and sparkles from the walls.

  
    
   We biked on some dedicated bike lanes, like this one next to the river.   And we biked through so many wats and little alleys. I did not get most of the names.

    
 We passed this game of hacky sack- meets-tennis-meets-basketball. There was a commentator with a microphone and everything! 

   
At the end of the tour, we could see our route on the GPS tablet thingie: 

   
And it was a great day! 

   

Ayutthaya, Thailand December 2015 part 2

The third and last stop was Wat Chaiwatthanaram. It was especially pretty in the sunset, and replete with photographers. It is a popular place to view the sunset. King Prasat Thong built this Wat in 1630. One translation of its name is “Monastery of the Victorious and Prosperous Temple”.  

  
   

As we exited the boat, the river was behind us and the sun was setting behind the ruins. 

    
 There was enough light to see other parts of the Wat. I understand it is accessible by land as well, where other structures and the active parts of the temple are visible, but we stayed near the river and toured the magical ruins. 

    
    
 After a while, it was time to get back in the boat.  

    
  

 The driver of our boat pointed out the high-water mark from floods in Ayutthaya in 2011. Apparently there were floods in 2012 and 2014 as well. It is an unfortunate part of life these days, and I wish the best to the people of Ayutthaya and to these structures which have withstood the human and natural threats through the centuries. 

 On a footnote: after the boat took us back to our starting point, a tuk tuk was there from the travel agent who sold us the tour tickets. We asked to go to the train station, but we ended up back at Wat Maha That. A show was just ending. It was to celebrate the UNESCO site designation of the Ayutthaya ruins, which occurred in December 1991. We had heard about this and tried to attend the show earlier but the timing was not clear.  It seemed to happen when we were on the boat tour, and we chose the latter. We ended up seeing these impressive creatures after their performance:

   

They were painted white. We had seen them near the show grounds the previous day, grey colored and without costumes. Now they had these elaborate outfits on, including earrings. We also noticed chains on their legs. I am hoping to have an ethical elephant experience here and I’m doing some research, and while elephant rides and shows are commonplace, I am hoping for something more respectful of these magnificent animals. All the same, these were so interesting I had to take a picture. Due to the crowds, we had some trouble getting a ride to the train station but eventually found a motorbike taxi and made it there, then back to Bangkok and the rest of the Fantastics.

Bangkok and day trips, December 2015

Artist house 

   
The Artist House is a beautiful workshop and performance space housed in a centuries-old wooden house on a canal in Bangkok. ‘The Venice of Thailand’, by the way, has an extensive canal network with bus-like public transport boats. At the Artist House, hey perform puppet shows in the traditional style almost as if they are ceremonies. There is a 400 year old stupa, religious stone tower, behind the stage. 

   

  
We got there early so we could see the art gallery and explore a little. 

    
   
There are statues by the canal, and also a place to feed the hungry fish and birds. 

    
    
 Each puppet had three puppeteers who wore all black with masks and moved together. It was like a graceful prayer dance.  It could get silly, too, as the puppets came into the audience at one point. 

    
   


Chachoengsao

This was a short day trip that was disappointing in that we didn’t see any dolphins, but it was still interesting and close enough that we had time afterwards to go to the street fair (see below). This is not a popular tourist attraction, so it was a bit tricky to figure out. Several dolphin species, notably the strange-looking irawiddy, enter the Bang Pakong River from the Gulf of Thailand in November to February each year. We went to the town of Chachoengsao to look for them ourselves. We thought they came upriver to that town, but it was recommended to us by a local to go further south to where the river meets the gulf. We took a minivan for the 20-minute trip, then found a dolphin-themed pier with a few fishermen sitting there but no boats. We eventually found a bodega owner who called a friend with a boat, then drove us to the pier. We took a two-hour ride in a colorful wooden boat around the river and gulf and saw some neat silver fish jumping in the water, but no dolphins.  

    
    
   

Bangkok street fair 

This event took place in Lumpini Park and went on for several days. We went twice! Lumpini Park is a beautiful quiet green space in this boisterous bustling city. I walked through it once on my own. Oh, and there are alligator-looking ‘monitor lizards’ there!

   
    
So the Bangkok street show takes place here. There are street performers from all over the world.  

        
   
We saw some amazing performers, and I loved the fact that many were different from what I have seen in the past. Many were Asian, no surprise there, but they were so humble and almost prayer-like about their acts. Like the puppet show at the Artist House, performers often faced away from the audience and kneeled for a quiet moment before the show. It wasn’t done as part of the act, or done ostentatiously at all, it seemed quite genuine to me. Despite the zaniness of the shows themselves, performers bowed to the audience at the start and finish of their show and when I could understand them, they thanked the audience and said they felt honored to perform. There was a lack of sarcasm and attitude that I really appreciated.  Here’s Truly onstage with the Twin Dragons – twin brothers with a comical martial arts act, and Cleverly with one of her favorite performers:

   
Also the monitor lizards and free cotton candy were big hits! 

  

 Many people were wearing yellow to commemorate the birthday of the King of Thailand. Thais really love their King, who was crowned over 60 years ago and brought honor to the monarchy, which had had hard times, and a level of stability to the country. His birthday is also National Day and Thai Father’s Day, so you can see December 5th is a day of celebration here. They call him ‘Dad’ and we saw numerous signs in English proclaiming ‘we love our Dad’. There was also a bike ride called ‘Bike for Dad’ that took place a week later with tens of thousands of participants throughout the country, and in fact in other countries as well! So you may notice a lot of yellow shirts in the street show pictures. Similar to our experience in China during their mid-autumn festival, the crowds were happy and peaceful.

Jim Thompson farm 

 This trip was organized by the Bangkok homeschoolers group we have been lucky enough to get to know. We had visited the Jim Thompson House in Bangkok and learned of his revitalization of Thai silk work in the 1950s-60s, and now we were to see the farm and silk works he had established before his mysterious disappearance in 1967.  

     

  The farm is about 3-4 hours from Bangkok and is only open for about a month once a year. There are fields and fields of flowers, a ‘village’ with traditional houses, and buildings with people working on looms. It is large-scale agrotainment, with all the tourist shops and accoutrements you would imagine, but with interesting Thai and silk components. We moved among the areas in brightly painted busses, some that looked like watermelons and silk worms. 

  

There were rice harvest and threshing implements: 

    
 And the teak buildings on stilts, similar to the ones Jim Thompson had moved to Bangkok for his home. 

    
 The silk looms and raw silk were lovely to look at and so soft to the touch!

    
    
   

Just some more random photos from a photogenic place: 

    
    
    
   

That’s the update for now!

planning the first few months of RTW, part 1

It’s getting closer, friends! Exciting and terrifying, the Global Fantastic Adventure gets closer every day.

Warning: this post is long and a bit confusing as I consider different routes and expenses.  I am mostly doing this to preserve links and thought processes as we try to figure things out.

We have been looking at logistics lately and, sadly, it looks like India may be out. Surprisingly, the infrastructure for getting from one peninsula- southeast Asia- to the one next door- India- is daunting. We were hoping for a ferry or interesting travel by land however it looks bleak. It looks like going to India would involve 2 extra flights – a serious consideration for our budget for the six of us. We have been planning after Asia to go West to eastern Europe by train. The trains appear to go through northern China, not from India.  Getting on the Transiberian Railroad seems to require us getting back north to Beijing, possible by rail compared unlike going from Thailand to India since we are trying to avoid airfare x 6. Anyway, that is an overview, a little confusing and I apologize for that. Here is some more budget planning.

Budget prediction time!  East Coast to Vancouver to China

We are planning about 20 days to Vancouver, with several days in San Francisco. Total planned budget:  $2300 – a little over $100/day.  This is a maximum, I hope to save on food and emergency numbers.  Here’s the breakdown:

Driving to San Francisco is about 2800 mi/30 MPG x $4/gallon gas = $375 for gas

Food: $30-$40/day x 20 days = Max $800 (hopefully less!!)

Housing: maybe 15 of the 20 days will be camping. We prefer state parks, but may have to resort to private campgrounds in a pinch. Example of a state park in Iowa is Wildcat Den, near Davenport Iowa off rt. 80. It is $9/night for primitive camping with water but no showers. A private campground near rt 80 in Grand Island, Nebraska near is $32/night including showers and a pool and wifi. Let’s average that to $25/night for camping x 15 nights = $375. We should assume at least 1 hotel stay for $150, just in case.  So, total = $525

Emergency: car repair, extra hotel stay, etc : I’d like to allot $500. Let’s face it, the car may break down entirely and then we are on the bus! But also: the car may make it and we can sell it, at least for scrap: $200?

After San Francisco, we have to get to Vancouver and I’d like to stay two nights there. San Fran to Seattle is 800 miles/30 MPG x $4/gal gas = $107  We will probably stay a night in Portland with friends or maybe camp along the beautiful way. Sell car in Seattle, get rid of all our camping gear 😦 greyhound to Vancouver is $75 for all 6 of us, but I believe we have to buy the tickets in advance or it is much more. The trip is 4 hours. I found this Vancouver airbnb place that sleeps six for $124/ night. Planning for 2 nights = $260

That ends the first 20 days.

Then we just have to get to the port sometime before 1pm so we don’t miss the boat! We are paying for this repositioning cruise in advance (it’s about $6500 incl. taxes + gratuities + insurance. It is a splurge at over $430 per day but we have mostly decided we want to do it. As a comparison, flying from NYC to Bangkok would be about $3000 + approx 14 days room+board, added since they are included in cruise price). 15 nights onboard including a day we lose due to crossing the international date line. We have to be careful not to spend money here for things not included in our cruise price such as: Wifi, alcohol, spa treatments, excursions, special restaurants.  We get to explore Alaska (1 night) and Japan (3 nights) as the boat docks, one big reason for choosing the cruise. Then we are in Shanghai.

Shanghai and China

Big shock with China: the visas.  Per the Chinese Embassy, it appears to cost $140 per person plus what sounds like an excruciating beaurocratic process in both NYC and Washington, DC.  Minimum just for us to enter the country = $840.  We will do this in the next few months.

In Shanghai, we would stay at an Airbnb or a regular hotel for a night or two to figure out our next move. This airbnb place would set us back about $450 for their 3-night minimum. Here is a youth hostel, it appears we would have a 3-night minimum for $260 total. This place, another airbnb, is $293 for 3 nights. Here is a budget hotel for Y359 (Chinese Yuan)/night, which is US $57.44. We may have to commit to a place to stay in the process to get a visa, which wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.  From there we would spend time in Shanghai, we could go to see the terra cotta warriors as we have looked at, and eventually we would head down to SE Asia.  If we could find a cheap, interesting place to stay in China, especially if we could learn some of the language, I’d stay a month or so, but I am more excited, at least for now, to get to SE Asia.

China to Bangkok

Yeah, ok we could fly, but where’s the fun in that?  I want to see the area, travel with locals, and check out the train system.  But just for comparison, I did a quick check and got:

Flight for 6 Shanghai to Bangkok: $1372

We may fly the opposite way after a few months in SE Asia as we head to Beijing for the 6-day Beijing-to-Moscow train.  Then again, we may do the train/bus trip the opposite way to check out other things we may have missed.  I love this flexibility and the option to avoid planes!  We may try to do the whole trip without planes!  It is partly the cost, but I feel we would miss out on local sights and opportunities if we always jetted from place to place.

So, for this Shanghai to Bangkok portion of the trip, here we go.  I think there are child discounts that I am not seeing online, and even without those, it looks to be an affordable option. There are issues of connecting at different points, and it may not be the most comfortable option, but after the cruise we have to keep expenses down.  If we are sleeping on a bus or train, that saves us lodging costs as well.

We plan to go to Bangkok to get vaccines as I have looked into. Train to Hong Kong:hard sleeper overnight is $62 pp, likely with discounts for kids. So less than $62x 6=$372 total. From there, we could fly to Bangkok or go overland.  Flight looks to be about $180 per person ($1080 for us). Overland is 3 days, max $150 per person per Rome2rio ($900). The same site has a range, minimum for which, not including kid discounts, same trip, is $714

So: train to Hong Kong and fly to Bangkok for 6: $1452

train to Hong Kong and flight to Kuala Lumpur then train to Bangkok for 6: $1374

train to Hong Kong then trains/busses to Bangkok for 6: $1849 (incl visas)

Here is an option I have to look into. I am not sure of route…  looks like train to Hanoi, bus to Vientiane, train to Bangkok. Train (as recommended by seat61) to Hanoi is 2 night sleeper trains with a day in Nanning in between. This is $68/person x 6 = $408, then Hanoi 24-hr trip by bus to Vientiane $30pp = $180, then train from there to Bangkok is $11 for 2nd class sleeper = $55 since the twins each pay 1/2 price.

Two considerations here: visas and itinerary.  Right now, Vietnam requires a visa in advance which we would get in China if possible.  It looks to cost $312 for 6 of us, I’m hoping for a child discount.  Laos costs $35 per person payable at border x 6 = $210, again, hoping for a child discount!  Thailand no charge for visas right now.

The price is looking steeper for this overland travel, but it includes some nights sleeping on train, also we would get to see these countries.  I look at it as a tour of the countries and a slow travel way to see the area. We may even decide to stay awhile in Vietnam or Laos, though I have my eye on Cambodia for a place to live for a month/months.  The visas seem to allow for 30 days, so we could stay a week or more in Laos and Vietnam if we want to. No visa fee in Thailand, BTW. But I plan to stay in Cambodia for access to Thailand, and I have assumed we will want to spend time there.

Thinking about flying part way: what about going by air from Shanghai to Singapore and using the highly recommended train from Singapore to Bangkok?  It may actually be cheaper than overlanding, about $340pp x 6 for us = $2040, ugh. Kuala Lumpur, on the same train route, is also an option. $320 ($1920, still a lot) appears to get you from Shanghai to Kuala Lumpur. All of this is to say, we may boat to Shanghai, fly to Kuala Lumpur, then take a train to Bangkok before settling in Cambodia.

fly to Singapore, train to Bangkok: $2382

fly to KL, train to Bangkok: $2202

Train from KL to Bangkok: this appears fairly straightforward according to Mr. Seat 61. KL to Butterworth, apparently, is how the trip is done. This seems to be a 6-hour trip, however there is a time change so I believe it is longer. Anyway, $13 per person is the 2nd class (recommended) fare. Then Butterworth to Bangkok is the next leg, 20.5 hrs and only one fare option, $34 per person. That makes it $282 to get my family to Bangkok from KL.  If we do not choose this option, we may make the trip anyway since it sounds great and I have a friend in Singapore.

In Bangkok, we would stay a few days and get vaccines. If we were to stay in Bangkok for a week, there are a few options. Here is an airbnb place for $209 a week.

It would be around late November if we were to spend a month in China and a month getting to Bangkok. Three months of the trip gone!  But wonderful so far.

That ends this planning part for now, I’m working on a part 2 where we live in Cambodia for a month/months, then go to Beijing for the train to Moscow.