Friday, December 9th, 2016

The Nephew Trip: Adventures with Isaac in Thailand

45

Isaac in Pai

As soon as we started planning the SOTM Tour, Mario and I knew we would have a visitor on our trip: Mario’s nephew Isaac.

Isaac is 20 years old, lives in the small town in the Midlands (central England), and his international travels have been with his family, mostly to Malta. Mario and I wanted to introduce him to a completely different culture and the world of backpacking and teach him how to survive (and survive awesomely) on his own in another country.

Niece and nephew travel is actually a new and growing travel trend. Travel Market Report shares that PANKs (professional aunts, no kids) are increasingly traveling with their nieces and nephews.

A few friends of mine are part of that trend:Β Sherry Ott has her Niece Project, taking each of her six nieces on a trip anywhere they want when they turn 16. So far she’s taken her first niece to Italy and her second niece to Vietnam. Shannon O’Donnell had her 11-year-old niece live with her in Southeast Asia for six months.

When it came time to choose a destination for Isaac’s trip, Thailand was a no-brainer. It’s fun, it’s cheap, it’s diverse, it’s got tons of things to do — and in my opinion, it’s the perfect “first time in Asia” destination.

Isaac was coming out for twelve days and the task of organizing the itinerary fell to me. I chose destinations that I knew well and were high on culture: Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and Pai.

Isaac Mario and Kate

Bangkok

Bangkok’s latest protests had begun kicking off in a few days before Isaac’s arrival in November. One of the results? Almost no cabs would go anywhere near Khao San Road, where we were staying, and our driver from the airport refused to drive beyond the protest at Democracy Monument. No problem! We’d walk right through it.

At this point in time, the protests were largely peaceful and looked more like an outdoor picnic with everyone from the kids to the elderly taking part. We wove our way through the crowds, making our way toward the river. A lady even offered Isaac a taste of her coconut ice cream!

Woman in Chinatown

During our time in Bangkok, we were fairly low-key, taking in the usual activities: street food, massages, Chinatown, temple-hopping, sipping Thai iced tea at every opportunity. Mario and Isaac went to get a fish foot massage and they both screamed like little girls the whole time.

We also took in one special activity: Muay Thai at Lumpinee Stadium. This is the world’s epicenter of Thai boxing.

Muay Thai Lumpinee Stadium

Lumpinee Stadium will be closing fairly soon, and I’m so glad we got to see it in its glory — the fans overhead, the gamblers in the back, girls serving popcorn and beer, the screaming friends and relatives of the boxers, even their mothers yelling from their corners as the two men kicked and punched each other in the ring.

But most importantly, in Bangkok we began teaching Isaac how to get by in a different country.Β Each day, we would give him tasks ranging from negotiating with tuk-tuk drivers to finding the best-priced bus tickets. He was a bit nervous at first, but soon it became second nature to him.

Wat Chedi Luang

Chiang Mai

At the time, trains weren’t running from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. Mario and I both loathe overnight buses, so we booked a short flight for the three of us instead.

Chiang Mai was exactly as I remembered — beautiful temples, fun markets, fantastic street food around the clock, and my favorite form of transportation in Thailand — the songthaew, the shared taxi with journeys costing 20 baht ($0.66) each!

Chiang Mai is a great place to just hang out — and we did plenty of that. Eating delicious food, relaxing in coffee shops, going on photo walks around the old city and taking pictures of everything that looked interesting.

Isaac and the Monk

After visiting Wat Chedi Luang, we noticed a sign up for Monk Chat — an opportunity to speak with a monk and ask questions about Buddhism, Thailand, and monk life. We joined one of the groups and had an interesting conversation with one of the monks, who hails from Pai originally.

“What do you miss the most from your life before you became a monk?” I asked him.

“Playing sports,” he said without missing a beat. Not what I expected!

We had a meetup one night — one of our best meetups yet, with bloggers (nice to finally meet Sam and Audrey!), digital nomads, readers of mine, SOTM fans, teachers, Couchsurfing hosts, and a variety of people who make Chiang Mai their home. Mario and Isaac took 20 Someone Once Told Me photos between the two of them — a record for the trip!

Doi Suthep

We also made a visit to Wat Phra Doi Suthep, a temple that I was too cheap to visit my first time around. (A return journey in a songthaew will run you 600 baht ($18), whether it’s one person or ten people, so we split it three ways.) I loved the gold and the peaceful atmosphere, and it’s become one of my new favorite temples.

The boys finished with a trip to Elephant Nature Park to play with the graceful pachyderms. I unfortunately was swamped with writing deadlines and had to opt out at the last minute. Mario and Isaac came back raving about their experience.

World War II Bridge, Pai

Pai

Pai, located a three-hour, 762-turn drive from Chiang Mai, is such a great little town. I first went three years ago and loved the scenery but wasn’t impressed with the town itself. I think it was mostly due to hanging out with the weird hippies, not the cool hippies.

This time, I couldn’t get enough of Pai! Motorbiking and exploring the landscape during the day, having green smoothies and okonomiyaki on the street at night, getting massages, then finishing with some fantastic live music at one of the bars. Perfection.

It was the motorbiking, in fact, that brought us to Pai. Isaac was keen on learning, and I think Pai is one of the best places in the world to learn to ride a motorbike — bike rentals are cheap, the roads are well-maintained, the scenery is outstanding, and there’s hardly any traffic. Conditions couldn’t get more ideal.

Beautiful Pai

After some quick lessons up and down the street, we set off, exploring the surrounding villages and the phenomenally beautiful scenery.

Pai, formerly a hippie haven, is also a popular destination for musicians. Isaac, himself a music student, was in heaven. Later I bought a ukelele on a whim and he gave me my first ukelele lesson!

Isaac and Kate on the Train

Bangkok Again

It was a short ride back to Chiang Mai, a quick meetup with blogger budsΒ Dalene, Pete, and Diana, and then we hopped on the overnight train back to Bangkok.

The train had started running again a few days ago and it was clear that the kinks weren’t quite sorted out yet — we ended up stopped for hours in the middle of nowhere and ended up being five hours late. A good reminder to you all not to plan to fly home the day after an overnight bus or train to Bangkok! We were glad we had booked in that buffer day.

We finished the trip with a stroll down Soi Cowboy and probably the most entertaining cab driver ever, telling us about his life’s conquests, starting with, “I go with ladyboy once.”

On the final day, Mario and I gave Isaac his final challenge — he would get himself from our Sukhumvit hotel to the airport using public transportation and not a taxi. He passed with flying colors.

Isaac Getting Photobombed by an Elephant

The Aftermath

We returned Isaac to England with all his limbs and no new tattoos, to the relief of his mother. Success!

A few weeks later, I asked Isaac his thoughts on the trip.

His favorite parts:

“There was honestly so many things to choose from…but if I had to choose a few: the food both on the street and in restaurants was just incredible! The bars and clubs have a nice atmosphere too with their open mic/karaoke nights.

I really enjoyed getting deep in the culture like when we went to the famous Lumpinee stadium and got to see real Muay Thai boxing. That was amazing! Viewing all the amazing temples and getting blessed by a Buddhist monk was really fulfilling, I felt so at peace when that happened.

Last but not least, I can’t forget the trip to the elephant sanctuary, it was just such a lovely experience and they were great fun to photograph.”

Was Thailand what he expected?

“There were a few surprises like organizing transport and hiring the motor bikes, I had no idea it was so easy to do. That was a nice surprise. That and I had no idea how hot ‘Thai spicy’ was, that was a shock!

In terms of Thailand itself, I did notice that there was quite a large gap between the people that have money and the people that don’t. But everyone was polite and smiled, I found it easy to talk to locals and share stories and interests with people that live halfway around the world.”

Any plans to come back to Thailand with his friends?

“Most definitely! I’m currently in the recruiting stages with some of my friends and they seem very keen to have a go.

“I know what to do and how to get about and I still remember and employ the safety tips, keeping personal possessions close and wrapping the camera strap around your hand twice, etc.

“I would go back but I’d be tempted to visit the coastal areas and sit on the beach for a day or two before we moved on. It’s still early days and we’re possibly doing Germany in the summer but rest assured that I’ll be back for more Thai adventures, I am Thaisaac after all.”

As for Mario, he had this to say:

“It was a lot of fun to get quality time with someone I first saw when they were a day old, small, pink, and squealing a lot — and now is bigger than me, still pink and still squeals a lot.

“But also, travel really broadens your perspective, makes you grow as a person, and Isaac took to the challenge of coming to Southeast Asia brilliantly. He got fully involved and you could literally see him becoming more confident and less nervous each day. The whole experience did wonders for him and we all had a marvellous time.”

As for me, I was happy to show off Thailand to Isaac and see everything through his eyes. I also loved getting to know him better — I’m happy to have a very cool, very funny nephew-to-be. I can’t wait for the next time we get to travel together — we were talking to him about Berlin, so maybe it will be there!

It was a great family trip, and it won’t be the only trip — next up for an adventure with her uncle and aunt-to-be is Isaac’s younger sister Ellie. We’d love to take her on a trip next!

Have you ever traveled with your niece or nephew? Would you like to do this? Share away!

Comments

45 Responses to “The Nephew Trip: Adventures with Isaac in Thailand”
  1. Silvia says:

    This sounds like such a fun trip – for all involved! I had no idea niece/nephew trips were becoming a thing, but it totally makes sense. Love that you organized learning tasks for him too. And awesome call on skipping the buses – I’m usually pretty laid back about local transport, but buses in Thailand are so ridiculously dangerous.

    • Yeah, taking buses or minibuses is often unavoidable, but the best thing you can do is avoid the “tourist buses” sold in the Khao San area. Ask for the VIP bus; it’s a high-end-ish bus that Thais take.

  2. I fully plan to offer up the idea to my niece (my best friend’s daughter since I have no siblings) when she’s old enough. Too bad she’s not yet 2! My boyfriend’s niece and nephews are also about 8-10 years too young. Anyone have a niece I can adopt? lol

  3. Naomi says:

    I’m already willing my sister to have kids (I want to be the cool aunt) and once they are old enough, I will be recruiting them. It sounds like such a great idea and it seems Isaac got a lot out of the experience too.

  4. This sounds like an incredible trip! I especially am jealous about the Elephant Nature Park and the muay thai gym :). I love traveling with my little sister who is 14, though she seems to think of travel as an opportunity to get tan and shop. I’ll have to work on that.

  5. I don’t have any nieces or nephews over the age of five, but my partners daughter has just turned 18 and really wants to travel. She says I’ve opened her eyes to travel and I’m hoping to travel with her in Thailand (coincidentally) next year! I like your idea of giving ‘challenges’!

  6. Flora says:

    I think travelling with family members is such a different experience to travelling by yourself, or with your friends/significant other. I recently spent a few weeks in rural Brazil with my cousin and it was amazing! Props to you and Mario for being the cool uncle and aunt team – I’m sure you guys will be travelling with Isaac a lot more in the future πŸ™‚

  7. Christina says:

    This is such a good idea – I have been wanting our niece and nephew to come visit us on their own to explore the DC area, I think that would be so much fun! It also seems like a great experience for kids to learn something and go out of their comfort zone. Granted they are still a little too young at 5 and 3 πŸ˜‰ Seems you guys showed Isaac a great time!

  8. Georgia says:

    I have a lot of time for those lovely aunts and uncles who take their nieces and nephews under their wings.

    My paternal aunt was the person who made me fall in love with travel. When I turned 18 she invited me over to spend two months with her in Australia. (I hadn’t been out of England since I was about 14 and thought travelling with a waste of time and boring…crazy thoughts looking back now!)

    I’d last met this woman when I was about seven years old, but she explored Sydney with me, took me on trips to Melbourne, the Blue Mountains and Tamworth, and filled me up with stories of her globetrotting when she was younger – she moved to Oz from England when she was 19, and never came home, spent a year in a Kibbutz in Israel, travelled to Colombia, China and India solo and even now she’s married with children, travels alone regularly.

    She’s one of my biggest inspirations and I couldn’t thank her enough for introducing me to how life-changing and wonderful travel – especially solo travel, can be.

    ANYWAY, Kate, you sound like a kick-ass aunt-in-law and Isaac is lucky to have you!

  9. Laura says:

    This is so nice! I bet that trip was life-changing for your nephew and you all grew closer as well. I don’t have any nieces or nephews but my young cousins are starting to take an interest in travel and even read my blog! One day when they’re older it would be great to travel with them, too!

  10. Renuka says:

    Seems Isaac really had a great time in Thailand. I haven’t traveled with my niece or nephew, or any relative for that matter, but I have had quite a few siblings trips, mother-daughter trips and family trips.

  11. Dalene says:

    Planning to join the ranks of other PANKS and bring my nephew on a trip next year as a high school graduation present. It was great to see you guys again in CM, and Isaac sure seems like a great kid. πŸ™‚

  12. Yes – my nephew traveled with us to Turkey and had a blast. I hope to have his twin sister and his younger brother also join us on future trips.

  13. Clare says:

    I don’t have any nephews or nieces yet, but when I do, I hope to be the aunt who always brings them a bit of adventure – I really like the idea of family travel. We learn more about each other, stay close and teach each other. There’s something to be gained from everyone if you let yourself be open to it. It sounds like you had a really wonderful trip and how lovely to be able to share your experiences and see these places that were already familiar to you through fresh eyes!

  14. Julia says:

    I can’t wait till my Goddaughter is older so I can take her exploring! She is only 1 so have a lot of time to wait. this seemed like a blast!

  15. What a wonderful adventure that you had together! Love that he was able to travel with you, and you were able to show him all the high points of Thailand. Hopefully that inspired and empowered him to travel more on his own now! πŸ™‚

  16. Ian says:

    I’ve always loved Thailand and their culture! I wish I could go there soon.

  17. This is awesome – I will definitely be this aunt someday! The picture of Isaac with the elephant is hilarious πŸ™‚

  18. Megan says:

    Ooh what a fantastic trip! Sadly, I don’t know if nieces and nephews are in my future (I’m an only child, my fiance only has one brother) but I’d love to take one of my younger cousins on a trip. I’ve been trying to convince my aunt and uncle to let her travel with me…hopefully someday soon! I’m one of the only travelers in my family, so I’d love to get someone else hooked πŸ™‚

  19. My son and my nephew are only a few months apart in age. When they were both around 15 my husband and I took the boys on a Caribbean cruise. We saw little of the two of them as they explored the ship, made new friends and enjoyed all the available activities. Not quite the same, but wonderful memories were made.

  20. Diana says:

    Well, my first solo international trip to was to Italy…that trip lasted 6 months and initially I stayed with my godmother…which is the closest thing I have to an aunt. (I only have one uncle..no aunts). It was during this trip I met my husband. Fifteen years and two kids later, I am still madly in love and I guess I owe a lot of that to her! I am hoping all of my godchildren and nieces and nephews will come stay with me in Italy one day too. Even if they do not find the loves of their lives, for sure they will find passion (not just for love…but for life!) Nice job Kate! This trip will remain with your nephew forever!

  21. Sam says:

    This sounds great! I don’t have any nieces or nephews, and while my partner has one (who is currently 2 years old), he also has several second cousins who are coming up to about the right age for such a trip, and I think it could be a lot of fun!

  22. Amanda says:

    I love the idea of niece/nephew travel! It’s great that you and Mario showed Isaac the ropes and introduced him to Thailand! I guess I have to start hoping that my sister has kids someday so I can be the cool aunt who takes them on trips!

  23. Sy says:

    I think it’s great that niece/nephew trips are starting to take off. I have 3 nieces but they are far too young to travel with me yet.

    I quit my job to travel solo similar to you and make a point to send my oldest niece some postcards so she starts to build an early interest in travel.

    Great post.

  24. Nina says:

    Oh wow! I can’t believe you didn’t like Pai at first…Glad you had a better impression this time. It’s one of my fav spots EVER. And it’s even more fun when you get to show it to others. Glad you guys had fun!

  25. Jub Bryant says:

    Great idea Kate, has inspired me to ask m brother if he wants one of the boys taken off his hands in a couple years when they are slightly older (14 and 12 atm)

  26. Tana B says:

    Sounds like you guys had quite the trip. I’m sure that the trip has changed Issac’s view on traveling and the world. Glad he got a chance to experience some real culture instead of only doing the typical tourist things.

  27. I enjoyed reading this, and sent the link to my 26 year old daughter. We are traveling to Thailand in March, and a first for us both. She has never been to Asia, so I’m looking forward to seeing her reactions!

  28. Owen says:

    Looks like a wonderful experience ! I turn 17 this year and am already planning my first backpacking trip, hopefully to India !

    Glad you all had fun !

    • Owen, have a fabulous time! Though I do encourage you to do some research — India is an intense destination. Many people would find it too overwhelming for their first-ever trip (even my veteran traveler fiance struggled to enjoy India amidst the constant scamming, lying, and cheating), but you never know — you might love it! Just be sure to do your research. πŸ™‚

  29. Wow! I love this post. It reminds me of the time I travelled around Thailand. It is an amazing country – the food, the people, the sights, etc
    Loved reading your post – thank you

  30. Arianwen says:

    I love that karaoke was a highlight for him!! There’s no better place to take to the mic than Asia πŸ™‚

  31. Victoria says:

    It sounds like an awesome trip. I really liked the fact that Isaac got to travel with a “cool” uncle and aunt to be, and that he was old enough to appreciate it!

    Both my brother and I married late so our children are still quite young! However, my son is 11 now and my neice is 10. My sister-in-law has agreed to let my niece stay with us for few weeks when she’s about 13 or 14 making my son, 14 or 15. She would learn the language, travel to other countries nearby and generally have a lovely time. I really can’t wait as this is a lovely time for young teenagers and most especially for my son, who is an only child.

    I live in Berlin!

  32. Looks like you guys had a great time in Thailand. Nice to read. I did not visit Pai before, but it seems interested as I read your story.

    I did only day trips with my nephews and nieces. However, It would be a fun idea indeed to do a larger family trip. I keep it in mind as an idea. Maybe I can show them my beloved Thailand and South East Asia as well.

    I did not know the Lumpini stadium will close. Thanks for noticing. I will make sure I go there soon to see a match. As for the protests it indeed looked like a large picnic at first, with everybody singing, being happy, and providing free food to everyone.

  33. I get such a kick out of sharing travel recommendations, especially with fellow travelers who are on their way to a town I’ve just finished visiting….so I can only imagine how amazing it would be to show a family member around all the places you love! Sounds like a dream come true and I’m glad you guys enjoyed it.

  34. I think that travelling with a niece or nephew is a new and great idea. I was also impressed with Sherry Ott and with the fact that you decided to show your nephew who’s like to travel (almost) on your own. You can tell you’ve had a great time!

  35. Katie says:

    I had no idea there was an official term – PANK – but I love that it’s becoming a thing. I have been inspired by other travelers taking their nieces and nephews and have already set up a savings account to take my own. She’s only 10 right now, so we have 6 years, but it’s already so fun to talk to her about locations and look up pictures online. I’ll have to remember to give her tasks to accomplish. What a great idea!

  36. Rebecca says:

    Fun! I’ve got five nieces and nephews who are a little too young at the moment (between 1 and 5 years old) but when they’re older, maybe 10 or 11, I’d love to take them on a trip and show them bits of the world. You’ll be up there on the coolest aunty list now for sure! πŸ™‚

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