8.26.2014

Thailand: Day 1 & 2 (SLC-LAX-PVG-BKK)

The first part of this post isn't super exciting, but I still need to document it. Jared Loosli drove us to the airport on his way to work in Salt Lake City, which worked out really well for us. We flew from SLC to LAX on Southwest Airlines so we could use our frequent flier miles. It was only $2.50 and 4428 miles per person. (Zero miles for Steve. . . he is my designated companion and flies free with me on every Southwest flight I take until the end of 2015.) 

We got through security in record time because they pulled us from the regular line to do the hand swab  explosive detection thing. (It makes the whole process so much easier and is a lifesaver when traveling with kids because then you don't have to take off your shoes and you can leave your laptop in your bag.) We got to our gate, got everyone settled, and then they announced that our flight was going to be delayed an hour. Not good. We were already cutting things close to make our next flight and didn't have time for a delay. (The Thompsons had just arrived in Los Angeles. They cautiously wisely took an earlier flight that morning to allow for more time.) I immediately got online and tried to figure out if we had any other options. Our itinerary in Thailand was packed, and we really didn't have room for a delay. Especially not that early in our trip. 

After a decent amount of panicking, they finally announced that our plane had arrived. And then the Thompsons texted us some good news, that our flight out of LAX had been delayed as well. 

I can't remember the last time I had flown Southwest. . . certainly not ever with four kids. Steve had talked them into giving him a boarding pass that would allow him on with the A group so we could get a seat near the front of the plane for faster debarking. (And then we had to be a little pushy to get the whole family to board together.) The whole Southwest thing is so strange to me. As is the process of loading the plane from front to back. (Wouldn't it make more sense to load from back to front and unload from front to back? And whose bright idea was it that having a free-for-all on seating was a good idea.) The flight attendant instructed the passengers to review the safety card information, so Adam carefully examined that whole thing: 


He discussed with Kaleigh: 


And asked about a dozen questions: 


By the time we arrived in LAX, our plane had been delayed another hour. Which was good because it was a long walk from Southwest arrivals to international departures. 


These girls were crazy giddy that they were on their way to China:


Okay. . . we all were: 


(Except for Kaleigh. She was all set up with her headphones and we weren't about to disturb her for a picture.)

Then we began our fourteen-hour flight to Shanghai. After purchasing our tickets, I had heard a few horror stories about China Eastern Air. It certainly isn't my favorite airline, but it wasn't as bad as I expected. That being said, there were definitely a few issues. As soon as we boarded that plane, it really was as if we were in China. There were very few Americans on our flight, and the flight attendants didn't understand English very well. When we asked for something, it was a shot in the dark whether or not we actually got it. If we asked for Sprite, we might end up with root beer. If we asked for a blanket, we might get some headphones. We did not have personalized entertainment systems (which I thought was standard on all international flights these days) and the movies they showed were not family films. But the biggest (and still astounding) issue with me was that cell phones were not allowed throughout the duration of the flight. Not even on airplane mode. After takeoff, laptops, iPads, and iPods were allowed, but no iPhones. I had never heard of such a thing and was really bothered. Especially because everyone else in our family has an iPad or iPod, except for me. I tried to get away with using my phone, and even acted like I didn't understand when I got caught, but I finally gave up and studied our travel books. 

I've mentioned this before, but we always request special meals for inflight dining. International flights usually serve more food that kids can eat, so order a variety of meals and hope that you luck out with something good. My favorite is usually the Asian Vegetarian. I am skeptical of meat in general, and even more with meat served on airplanes. The Asian Veg meals usually taste like Indian food, and I love those spices. I also really like the Fruit Platter. Not all of the fruit will be great, but usually there's enough that is to make it a good choice. When traveling with the kids, we usually request at least one Child Meal. (Gross, but Adam is happy with chicken nuggets, etc. And sometimes you score with something super exciting like a CapriSun or a little package of M&Ms.) 


Regardless of what meal you request, there are a few advantages simply for ordering a special meal. Most beneficial is that you always get your food served first. And when you are traveling with four kids who each have six or seven different things to open on their plates, drinks that need to be balanced, and small plates they are trying to pass to you because they don't want them on their trays. . . it's exceptionally helpful to have things spaced out so you aren't dealing with where everything all at once. (It's also nice just to be able to eat first. I don't like spending a lot of money on overpriced airport food, so I am usually fairly hungry by the time I get on the plane.) I have been on several flights where they have run out of the entree options by the time they get to the back of the plane, so passengers are stuck with whatever was less desirable to the rest of the plane. . . which means it's pretty bad. No running out of your food when it's ordered just for you! I also think ordering special meals allows you to get set up better because it facilitates extra communication with the flight attendants. Someone has to come check in with you to make sure they have the right food coming to the right seat, so it's a good time to ask for blankets, pillows, etc. And finally, if you saw some of the "regular" meals we have encountered on international flights, you would lose your appetite.

It was so nice to get off that plane and arrive at Shanghai Pu Dong Airport. . . 


. . . Even if we were dirty, tired, and disoriented. It was 5:30 pm local time, but felt like the middle of the night. The skies were dark and rainy, and the airport seemed strangely quiet. Here we are, going through security. Adam is smirking because he left his iPod in his pocket. It didn't seem very secure, at least not by American standards. 


All eyes were on us in the airport, especially these two girls: 


We had a few hours, so we tried to soak in as much "China" as we could in the airport. Steve quickly withdrew some money from the ATM so the kids could use some renminbi.


They were completely fascinated with the vending machine: 


Of course, we had to try some Chinese Coke. . .


Steve went and tracked down some Hi-Chews: 


He told me he passed a mochi ball shop, so I excitedly took the kids to have their first taste of "real" mochi balls: 


They were gross. So disappointing. . . 


Never trust a mochi ball with eyes.


Excuse the poor cell phone picture, but I hurried to take this one as I was riding down the escalator. They had just announced a change in our departure gate, and it was pure craziness. 


As soon as we got going on our flight to Bangkok, the kids switched seats with the Thompsons again. Bradee came back and sat with us and Adam went up and sat with Maddie. (We clearly got the better end of the deal.) There was a distinct difference in not only the flight attendants, but also the other passengers.  As soon as it was midnight, the girls talked a nice flight attendant into this, since it was technically John's birthday: 

video

Our flight was only about four or five hours long, but they still served us two meals. We had so much food. The Thompsons had packed an entire rolling suitcase full of snacks for the trip, but they could have brought it empty and filled it full with everything we got on that flight. Most of it came in individually wrapped packaging, served in cute bento box trays. Of course Rachel tried to take all of the leftovers (and trays) with us. 

Our flight arrived about an hour late, but we were finally in Thailand: 


By the time we got all of our luggage, withdrew baht from the ATM, and got a taxi, it was 3:00 am. We had some regrets about booking our hotel room because we knew we wanted to get an early start in the morning. This was my mistake with the planning. When we flew to South Africa, we were completely exhausted when we arrived and actually slept in that first morning there. But that's because we had traveled west to east. For this trip, we had traveled east to west, and we weren't sleepy. But as much as we debated whether it was worth it to sleep for a couple of hours, we had already paid for the room and there were no cancellations. And everyone was ready for a shower. 

As soon as we exited customs, we were approached by all sorts of people, asking us if we needed a taxi. We did. . . but not from them. We accidentally went down two floors and then had to come back up one (which was super exciting to the kids because we were riding escalator walkways that moved on a steep incline). I had read plenty of instructions and tips online and in travel books, but it was difficult to recall exactly what we needed to remember for getting a taxi at the Bangkok airport. Luckily, we ended up at the right place. . . but we didn't do things the right way. We walked outside to the taxi desk and told them our destination, and then negotiated a flat fee. Taxis in Bangkok are metered. If a driver tries to set up a flat fee, they are just trying to rip you off. The driver also had us pay the fee at the toll booth (which is the right thing to do if you are paying a metered fare, but we had already settled on an inflated flat fee). See how the meter is turned off. . . we really should have caught on: 


But we were just happy to be in Thailand:


Bangkok is huge with some 8 million people living there. Our taxi driver tried to drop us off at the wrong hotel, but then he finally got us to the right place. 


After paying the rip off flat fee and the toll, Steve also gave our driver a hefty tip. . . we clearly didn't know what we were doing: 


The maximum number of people allowed in our room was only four, so Steve and Adam stayed back while I took the girls to check in at the Centra Central Station Hotel


Here's a professional picture from their website:


We took the wrong elevator (the hotel is located within a mixed-use building) so the receptionist had to chase us down to show us where to go. I was nervous he was going to say something about our extra people, but he probably didn't care because it was so late. (It was almost 4:00 am.) It turns out, he was super helpful. I had asked about train departure times, so he went and looked them up online, printed them out, and delivered a hard copy to our room. (On second thought, maybe he was actually coming to see if we had any more people crammed in there.)

We had booked the large suite and were pleasantly surprised by the size and modern style. We started everyone on showers, which took a really long time because we had to sort through all of our luggage to find things. The kids were hyper and seemed more interested in getting online than getting ready for bed. I finally got out of the shower at 5:30 am. Here was my view out of our hotel window:


Steve and I were not impressed with our mattresses. Definitely the firmest mattress I have ever slept on and I'm not even sure it classifies as a mattress. It felt like a few layers of cardboard covered with a blanket. 


Rachel and Lucy slept watched shows on their iPads in this room: 


Adam and Kaleigh slept in here. For all of two hours. 

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