Holiday in Chiang Mai with older kids

Once upon a time going on a holiday meant endless searches for 'kids friendly' destinations, hotels, restaurants, meals and the list continued. Once that was finalised and bookings made, packing had to start at least a week in advance following a carefully made list of things to carry. Hand luggage would be even more critical as it would contain the most essential necessities of travel - feeding bottles, drinking water, boiling water in a thermos, baby formula, diapers, change of clothes, changing mat, bibs, colic drops, rattles, and as time went by add to that hard board books, toys, portable toilet seat, snacks and of course the lifesaving noisy keyboard that could captivate their attention for a whole of five minutes! I am not sure which was the easier stage to travel with - baby or toddler days? But never mind, it is now a thing of the past. Our holiday in Chiang Mai last week was a big eye opener to "Honey I 'grew' up the kids!" 

After a long run of endless beach holidays where sun, sand and surf were easy playmates for our super active boys, this time I wanted to move out of our comfort zone going for a bit of challenge. Thanks to the expert advice given by a Hong Kong mum who also runs a travel blog, I narrowed down my search to Chiang Mai and Vietnam. Using the professional services of a travel agency -Flight Centre and its experienced executives, Chiang Mai was decided as the destination for our winter break!

Sharing my experience of this picturesque town in Northern Thailand which boasts of the highest mountains in the country and a river flowing right through the middle of the city. Saa-wat-dik-ha!

Day 1
A direct three hour journey from Hong Kong, our flight with Dragon Air was extremely comfortable. Brand new aircraft, well spaced seats and a great selection of movies. In-flight food was good and the boys managed to feed, rest and entertain themselves pretty well, all without any assistance!

At the airport I was expecting long queues specially since we had to get our visa on arrival. But everything was handled smoothly and with smiles. A few minutes later we were sitting in our 8-seater van on our way to the hotel.

Dusit d2 lobby
Dusit d2, our hotel had very good reviews on Trip Advisor and rightly so. Sometimes, more than the gleaming walls and sparkling bathrooms, all you need is someone to genuinely take care of you, and this hotel seemed to be a specialist in that field! After a smooth check-in by the helpful staff we were taken straight to our room which was a good size room, rating high on the cleanliness and comfort chart. After dropping our bags we were taken to the Club lounge for our complimentary high tea and snacks, one of the privileges of staying in a Club Deluxe room. After that we walked around the neighbourhood for a bit and dined at a local Thai restaurant called Momos. It was nice to sample the local food instead of going to the usual 'child friendly' restaurants. No high chair or play area needed this time as the boys happily tucked into their grub!

Day 2
gearing up
After a whole lot of research I had booked this particular zip-lining tour group called Flying Squirrels The tour costing 1999 baths per person included hotel round trips, a 2 hour ziplining session and lunch. This day was planned specially for my 9-year old who had experienced zip lines before and was very keen on doing one again. I tried coaxing my 5-year old into it but I guess he was not ready yet. So my husband made the supreme sacrifice of staying with him while I could enjoy a day of extreme fun, yes I call it 'extreme' at my age! I was both excited and nervous as our group lined up for safety gear fitting followed by a photograph session. There was another family with young children from Australia and also another girl in her twenties from China in our group. We were taken higher up the hills, through the woods, in a pick up truck and were assigned two guides who were the highlight of the tour since they kept us laughing through most of the adventure. The first zip line was a 'short baby one' according to them but that did not stop my heart from pounding and our young Chinese girl from screaming her way through it on full high pitched volume! The second one was certainly a much bigger drop into the valley and I shut my eyes and allowed myself to be pushed by the guide through that one. A few more zip lines continued and I got more and more comfortable flying like a gibbon after that! My son was much better than me as he effortlessly went from one to another with no fear of heights. There were a few obstacle courses on the way too which I also enjoyed. Rope walking, abseiling, swinging, bicycling and plank walking among a few. My favourite one was the dual zip line where I held my son's hand as we zipped together from one tree to the other. There was also a 600m long zip line which gave an exhilarating feel as one zipped across. The last part involved sliding down a tall slide to the safety of solid ground, where a helper helped us de-gear.

My team

When we reached the base camp my younger son couldn't wait to show me how he had kept busy all this while and I couldn't wait to tell him and my husband about my experience! Lunch was delicious specially the clear soup made from fresh herbs and vegetables. We purchased two photographs as souvenirs for this adventure and soon after our team was called out to be taken back home. I was so glad I did the course instead of just staying in my safety zone. With each passing year I realise how comfortable we get doing what we ordinarily do and henceforth I resolve to try out at least one new thing each year.

Dinner was at Pizza Hut for the boys after which my husband and I went for a stroll to the Night Market which was right across the hotel and yes we did not need a baby sitter this time. Another first! 

Day 3
We decided to take it easy today and made no formal plans. Woke up late and with no feeding routines for the kids, we had a late buffet breakfast. An excellent spread was laid out everyday by the hotel and the first two mornings were spent in just walking across the array of dishes deciding which one to choose. The kids had a gala time too as they went to and fro trying out different things, munching on chocolate rolls, butter croissants and honey waffles! And no I wasn't stopping them. I let them try out whatever they wanted, that's the main idea of a buffet, specially on a holiday, isn't it? I got up for another round of fried eggs and cheese! No one would have guessed that a mug of coffee was all I had for breakfast otherwise!
A part of the breakfast buffet spread

At lunch time we tried out something that Thailand is most famous for......foot massage! My elder son was keen to try it out too and the three of us sat comfortably for a relaxing one hour. Meanwhile my younger son was happy to keep busy on the iPad. While Chiang Mai gets quite cool in early mornings and late evenings, the afternoons could get hot and sunny. After a short visit to a nearby temple, we all wanted to rest and get re-hydrated. A Middle Eastern cafe came to the rescue. The one big difference that I saw in restaurants out there compared to the ones in Hong Kong, is the sheer size and space within. Here we could relax on the lounge seats and hanging basket swings while the food got ready. Service was quick and good. As we walked back to the hotel I couldn't resist another quick trip to the street market. My third one, by then I was already giving out smiles to familiar faces!

Our evening was planned in advance as the hotel had a compulsory New Year's Eve buffet dinner and entertainment included in the price. While I think the hotel had overcharged for this dinner, I liked the fact that we were going to be within the hotel premises so if the boys got tired they could just go upstairs to sleep by themselves. I also liked getting dressed up for this event and ended up taking a whole lot of photographs of the family and the venue which was so beautifully decorated using recyclable paper and handicrafts.The New Year eve's buffet dinner exceeded all expectations. Now it was my husband's turn to take photos of the elaborate spread.

The funny part is that, after the excitement of walking up and down the hall examining all the dishes, the kids settled down for a bowl of pasta and cheese sauce and I with my carrot soup and salad! A platter of cheese and bread followed by a few dessert items kept me busy through the evening. My husband however did full justice to the spread and more than made up for all of us put together! The hotel had given complimentary illuminated spinning tops for the kids which was a great idea and kept them busy while we finished our meal. The entertainment consisted of a wonderful dance and music performance by children. But that wasn't all.

Post 9.30 pm there was a live band playing outdoors where we headed after we tucked the kids in for the night. We sat and reveled in the happiness and music. Then each couple was handed out a Thai paper lantern to release in the sky. A short while earlier we had noticed the dark sky lit up with a hundreds of twinkling lights and were wondering what they were. Now our lantern was about to become one such light in the sky. It is considered that with the lifting up of the lantern all misfortunes fly away bringing in good luck and cheer. And as my husband and I got ready to light the lamp, I couldn't help missing my boys and held them in my thoughts watching the lantern float up and away. 10...9..8..7..6..5..4..3..2..New Year to a brand new beginning!

Day 4
'tuk-tuk' souvenirs from Chiang Mai
Thankfully we hadn't planned anything for this day as it was a struggle to get out of bed. After a leisurely breakfast we decided to visit the famous Chiang Mai temples. We hired a 'tuk tuk' which was an entertainment ride in itself, to the temple.  It was beautiful and quite crowded too as this temple was quite popular amongst the tourists and locals alike. While the boys went inside I preferred walking around the lawns enjoying the quiet peace.

Our next stop was the park as we wanted to give my 5 year old a chance to run around free. Although not too big, the park which also had a pond in it was just what we all needed. While we rested, the boys had fun running around feeding the pigeons and then playing in the playground. We spent much more time in the park than what I had expected and I was very glad that we came.

Dinner was at a local Northern Thai restaurant recommended by the concierge. The open outdoor seating, the river in the background, the best Thai curry I have ever tasted! Need I say more?

Day 5
My birthday! I was so excited to be on a holiday on my birthday and I had made sure to plan everything in advance. Amongst the other 'things-to-do' as given on Trip Advisor, I was keen on experiencing an Elephant camp. I contacted the top two rated agencies but they were already sold out. I then contacted the other few and after reading their reviews I finally picked out the one that offered mahout training and bareback elephant riding!

Bathing the elephant
The day started early for us as we had to be picked up by 8:30 am. This time however there was no fancy van waiting. We were bundled up in an ordinary pick-up truck. My sons of course were thrilled about this new adventure specially since they got to sit near the door. There were 8 of us in the truck and this time I was prepared for a long journey. After about an hour, the truck took a small path that snaked up a non-existent road inviting a whole lot of dust into our eyes and throat. It reminded me of our adventures in Lonavala when my father used to drive us up the hills. Another half an hour later the truck stopped in the middle of nowhere or at least that's what I thought till I saw the first elephant. "We are here, we are here!" my son shouted out glad that the tiring journey had ended. "Is the elephant ride really for one hour?" my husband asked? I wasn't sure whether he was looking forward to it or just getting mentally prepared? Anyway there was no getting out now as we were given some well worn mahout clothes to change into. This activity wasn't as organised as the zip lining one and we walked around looking a bit confused about the next step. Finally a man turned up and told us about the standard safety procedures, then they took photos for the certificate and gathered us together for the training. Earlier we were handed leaflets giving instructions for the elephant in Thai with the English translation. Now I wish I had practised some more as I was called to sit on the elephant. "Raise you leg" they said in Thai, well not to me but to the elephant, whose raised leg I had to climb on. Not half as easy as the mahouts made it look, I was quite clumsy hanging on to the pachyderm's ear for my dear life! My elder son however looked quite comfortable and was also using the commands as learnt! The younger one was a completely different story as he played 'statue' on the elephant's back, sitting tight in complete fear till the mahout dragged him down. No amount of calling or cajoling  made him go back up there. Finally it was just my older son and me who did the bareback riding, while my husband and younger son rode in the secure basket on top of the elephant. I had a great time as the elephant walked in and around the river, holding onto my son, who was at command in front! He also accompanied the elephant to the river and had a field day scrubbing her back! After all his hard work I think he should have been paid by the agency and not the other way round! After having a good lunch we all started our journey back to the hotel.
On top of the world!

I was in for not one but two surprises when we came back to our room. First was when my husband and kids presented me with a voucher for a spa treatment that evening! I had already been gifted with Bose jogging headphones that morning so I wasn't expecting another one. The second was the small complimentary cake sent by the hotel to the room. It said Happy Birthday and I was touched by this wonderful gesture.

Dinner was planned at another lovely Thai restaurant. With the candlelight burning and the live music playing it was just the setting that I loved. The food was excellent and the company even better! The icing on the cake for this wonderful day was when my elder son offered to pay for the dinner from his pocket money! "My treat Mummy! For your birthday." I couldn't have had a happier ending.

Day 6
Last day in Chiang Mai, last day in Dusit D2, last day of buffet breakfast. Many more photographs taken, employee appreciation cards filled in, bags packed, we were ready to leave! On the way back to the airport the car was unusually quiet. Everyone lost in their own thoughts. Everyone trying to hold on to the most impressive memory during the holiday. And like all good things in life, this one came to an end too.

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