It is Chinese New Year again and our third (and final) one in Shanghai. Having already done our Chinese New Year in the city penance once, it was time to get out of Dodge yet again.
Initially the plan was to visit to a new country. I mean a new-for-me country and that is becoming increasingly hard for me to do in Asia. I had a few ideas. I had been debating about someplace in the Middle East, particularly a country where a good friend is posted, but as I was bidding one country in the region I decided to hold out until after I had secured my onward assignment. Having waited until that auspicious time I discovered it was going to cost me an arm and a leg and maybe a few digits to make that trip, so I started to look closer to home. I hemmed and hawed. I recalled a friend from Shanghai had visited Krabi. I looked up the ticket prices. Yikes! Chinese New Year price gouge. I closed my eyes and hit “purchase.”
This will be our last big trip from Shanghai. It comes in the middle of the crazy wrapping-up-my-work-and-life-in-Shanghai and preparing-to-move-across-three-continents period so I wanted it to be easy. I have been to Thailand so many times I have lost count (I can say that about no other country). Although I had never been to Krabi, and that appealed to me, it is, for the most part, just a beach destination. As a result there was no pressure to go here and there to see things. I made few plans other than to book a resort hotel with kids amenities.
This vacation has turned out like no other. First it is because of the kind of hotel where we stayed. While we did stay at an all-inclusive resort hotel in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic in October 2015, this is not my common travel practice. That hotel too was quite isolated. The Holiday Inn Resort Krabi Ao Nang beach is not. It is located on the main strip in the beach town. We have options to head out and about. But for the first several days I simply chose not to do so. Secondly, C is finally old enough to go to the Kids’ Club all by herself. I had no idea how this would impact the vacation, but my goodness, what a change! She spends hours and hours there coloring, making crafts, watching kid-friendly television and movies, playing with LEGOs, and making friends. The very first day she won the title of “dancing queen” at the Kids Club dance party (complete with crown and snack prize) and was invited to a birthday party to be held at the club the following day. This has led to the third difference in this vacation- the amount of things that I have been able to do on my own. Unfortunately, given that this trip comes at a time when I am under a lot of pressure to manage our move on top of other commitments, I did bring some “work” with me. In the course of the week I have written three blog posts (this one included), completed uploading a huge number of photos from my computer to a cloud storage (and in so doing learned just how incredibly slow my Internet is in Shanghai), have reserved several hotels for during my home leave in popular places where hotels are likely to sell out, started and finished my next book club book, and started and completed my taxes!
I know, I know. Not exactly the things dream vacations are made of. While my daughter was at the Kids Club I did also go for an ill-advised run (my first in months) in the sweltering noon heat and took advantage of the hotel spa more than once for some very much-advised massage. My daughter and I also were able to spend a lot of quality time together in the pool, at meals, walking along the beach or to shops in town. I asked her about her time in the Kids Club and she shared her artwork and stories with me.
We also did some special activities together. On the fourth day of our vacation C and I went horseback riding. C loves horses and the only brochure to catch her eye at the nearby travel and tour booth was the one with horses. I grimaced. She’s 5. In most of my online research, places generally allow horse riding from 8 and a few places from 6. I quietly informed C of this and she burst out in tears. I told her we would ask. We sat at the booth with baited breath as the attendant made the call and had what felt like the longest conversation possible to find out the answer to what seemed a simple question “what is the minimum age for this horse riding activity.” C patiently waited the verdict. Just kidding. She asked me every 5 seconds if she could go horse riding. Imagine my surprise when the woman told us that C could in fact go horse riding as all of the horses are led. C gave a few fist pumps and danced for joy.
We waited in the hotel lobby for our pick up. C scanned every vehicle and immediately noticed the truck with the pictures of horses when it drove up. We sat in the back of the songthaew, on the long benches, a side for each of us. There were no other passengers and we made no stops to pick up anyone else. The wind blew through our hair and C let out whoops of delight. I felt an incredible feeling of lightness and bliss. At the riding center, some 15 minutes away by truck, we disembarked and were quickly given our mounts. C could hardly contain her excitement — her own horse!
The ride was one hour along the beach. I felt fairly confident that C would grow bored with the riding after 10 minutes, 15 minutes tops. But she did not. We had gone a full 50 minutes before she told me that she would like to go back to the barn. The beach was okay — the tide was high and there was little beach at all, with the horses stepping into the shallow water to get around low hanging branches. There was little scenery. A few long-tailed boats floated near the shore and a few of the iconic rocks jutting out of the sea that Krabi is famous for were visible in the distance. Yet none of that really mattered. My horse followed behind C and as I watched her sit proudly on her very own horse, chatting away to no one in particular(the horse? the Thai boy who led the horse? To me?) I simply felt happy.
When you ask C what her favorite animal is she will tell you that she loves ALL THE ANIMALS. But I know she does have a particular fondness for cats, horses and elephants. To round out our holiday I decided on one more activity–elephant riding coupled with an elephant bath. This time the truck that picked us up would pick up 8 more passengers, filling the back of the songthaew. There were no other children and though at first I worried about this – is this a child appropriate activity? what kind of mother am I? – I soon felt an absurd amount of pride to be able to give C this kind of experience. We set off on the elephant trek through the jungle, crossing some streams. Our elephant ride in Chiang Mai was 15 minutes and plenty long enough (ooh, my bum!) so I had some concerns about a full hour but again it was just right. After the ride we were given fresh pineapple and water but C had disappeared – I found her sweeping up leaves with a Thai mother and her 2 year old son. We all then headed to the river to help a playful 7 year old elephant take her bath. The laughs we had! Some of the best money ever spent.
It was not easy to leave Krabi after such a wonderful week especially now that I am back in cold, grey, poor air quality Shanghai. We relaxed. We played. We had adventures. I wrote. C made friends. I saw a glimpse of C’s increasing independence (and mine). It was just what C and I needed and I am ready (sorta, kinda, do I have a choice?) to tackle the last ten weeks here.
(I am also VERY happy to report that I neither forgot to pack something for the trip nor lost anything, which given the last few trips and all that I have on my mind is a major accomplishment.)