Grand Bend, Ontario during COVID

Things have changed in the world…have you noticed? Covid has pretty much turned everything upside down, and I feel like I am adjusting daily. While trying to keep our family safe, we also strive to keep a sense of ‘normal’, and a good dose of ‘fun’. Without the ability to go to school or see her friends, it’s been tough to keep things positive around here.

Most recently, my husband has been busy building a deck at our house, which has meant he has been busy doing back-breaking labour, but family time was at an all-time low. So one weekend, when Chris had an extra Monday off, we decided to go for a drive to one of the best local beaches we know in Ontario: Grand Bend.

Beaches everywhere across Ontario only opened a week or 2 ago. They were shut down to visitors to avoid COVID transmission. As many regions across Ontario were permitted to open up to Phase 2, that meant beaches were a go! We cautiously ventured out to the beach on a Monday that would typically not be as busy as they would be on a weekend.

Perhaps the beach looks busy, but we found it’s really just the angle of the photo that is deceiving

Let me tell you, there’s not much I love more than a good beach. I’m not a person who enjoys tanning, per-say, but I love the heat (under the safety of a beach umbrella!), and I love the water. It’s soothing to me, and I find, in the summer especially, I crave it. Grand Bend, on Lake Erie, is one of the most beautiful beaches around. I hadn’t been there in years. So going to this beach in the middle of a world pandemic with our 5 year old child was a special, first time experience, I guess!

So when we got there, parking was easy. It was evident it was a less busy day than usual, but tourism was still booming in this popular Ontario beach town. Chris and I agreed, getting out of the car in Grand Bend was like stepping back in time, like COVID wasn’t a thing. Almost. Some people were wearing masks, but everyone was spread out enough that social distancing wasn’t a big concern. All of the stores and restaurants had directional markers, and plexi-glass covering all of the tills. The stores didn’t seem to be requiring masks, so we generally stayed away, but we did our part to stimulate the local economy by buying lunch at a local restaurant (which had a great take-out menu as well as booze to-go, which we didn’t take advantage of this time!). Once we hit the beach, it was a beautiful oasis that allowed us to just be a family and not worry about that crazy bug.

Despite some of the pictures and reports coming from the first open weekend of Grand Bend (I’ve heard they have since closed down part of the beach areas because of overcrowding https://www.narcity.com/news/ca/on/toronto/grand-bend-beach-was-slammed-with-people-this-canada-day-photos), we felt quite safe there on a quiet Monday, and people respected their distance. From those picture angles, sure, the beaches look slammed, but during our visit, we found everyone kept their distance and we had 0 concerns. We were able to easily access the beach, and make some great summer memories. I’m glad we went when we did, because I have a feeling many of these beaches are headed for a shut-down as more out-of-towners flock to the outdoors for the only summer escapes available at the moment. Keeping the tourists coming to these locations is both a blessing and a curse at this time, while businesses struggle through a raging pandemic.

What we’ve learned about Thailand

We read a lot of things about Thailand before visiting.  This was really a trip 5 years in the planning until we could afford to go. Now that we have traveled around different areas of Thailand (Bangkok, Kata, Rawai, Chiang Mai),  I’ve accumulated a list (in no particular order) of things we noticed:

– Metered Taxi drivers will inevitably try to avoid using their meter and charge you a flat rate that will be considerably higher.
When we arrived in Bangkok, for example, the taxi driver offered to drive us to our hotel for 200 Baht. I insisted on the meter, and the ride ended up costing only 100 Baht.

– Chartered taxis and tuk tuk’s alike will make an extra stop at a jewelry shop because they get a commission for bringing people. The drivers collect stamps and get paid when they fill the card. This happened to us a couple of times. We went in to look around and didn’t buy anything. The driver was thankful. We’ve been told the jewelry is a scam, but not all the shops had terrible prices. The shops were clean and air conditioned,  so not too bad.

image

– Thai people love babies. It is a daily occurence that we walk down the street and people get excited and run over to say ‘hi’ to Evey and smile at her. If my daughter has learned nothing else on this trip, she is awesome and worthy of worship 😉

– Bartering is expected for shopping, taxis, boat rides, etc. We found it best practice to not barter at the food stalls or places with small prices, because it’s so cheap already. Also, it seems like restaurants are set prices, too. Canadians are not known for bartering well, apparently, but we did our best. Ultimately, you pay what you feel comfortable paying and what it’s worth to you.

– The image of Buddha should be respected: you can photograph it, but don’t use it as decor, get it as a tattoo, or deface it in any way

– The Thai national anthem is played once a day. It’s respectful to stop what you are doing and stand.

– Papaya salad is way hotter than you would think. Way.

– Most places we encountered took cash, not Visa. But there are ATM’s everywhere, and especially in front of 7/11’s, which are equally everywhere. We take out cash every few days so that we aren’t carrying large amounts around.

– A lot of products like soap have ‘whitening agents’ in them. This is because Thai people see white skin as esthetically pleasing. As a result, we had difficulty finding soaps without these ‘agents’ at small shops.

– There are tons of places to get your laundry done. They charge by the Kg, and a load costs only a couple of bucks. I will begrudgingly do our own laundry now that we are back in Canada.

image

– There are tons of places to eat, and so cheap there is no point cooking yourself. For even cheaper meals, street meat abounds. We had this wonderful kitchenette and used it to make instant coffee and store our empty beer bottles 😉

12473511_10100806870792160_3946998117400067408_o
A Vegetable & Fruit Vendor Also Selling Gas in Recycled Wine Bottles

-People are very entrepreneurial. This may be by necessity (few jobs available). Many places are family-run businesses, and it’s easy to support local. Many places provide several services to pay the bills (tattoo shop/currency exchange, tour agency/ laundry/gas sales, restaurant/internet cafe/ motorcycle rental).

– Quite recently (within the last  5 years), it has become very easy to fly all around Thailand to the major cities. We are told that prior to this, there were not many flights and you had to take the train (slower, but enjoyable), or drive. The opportunity to fly allowed us to get all over Thailand in very little time, and this was the easiest and most convenient method when travelling with a baby.

– There is a saying about the ‘Thai Smile’ in Thailand. It refers to how friendly Thai people are. We truly found this to be right. Everyone was welcoming, kind, and helpful. We always felt comfortable chatting with folks and getting around. When we came back to Canada, we missed that warmth! (and not just the weather)

That’s all I can think of for now. Reading through this list, I can’t wait to go back!

Thailand: Where we slept

It’s inexpensive to travel around Thailand. You can stay very cheaply (read: $6/night) for a backpacking hostel in some areas. With the baby (& in all honesty, for our own comfort), we stayed in hotels, which cost us slightly more, about $30-45/night. Still, for this price, we felt it was worth the ‘splurge’.
We didn’t pre-book many hotels because we had heard you can get better walk-in rates, and we also didn’t want to be held to a particular schedule. Want to stay an extra few days in Chiang Mai? Great, just book it!
We did try to ‘walk-in’ and book a couple of times, but because we were travelling at the beginning of the busy season (Nov – Feb), most places were booked solid in the areas we were in. Plus, with baby, it wasn’t practical to be wandering around with our luggage and nowhere to stay. It also put us in a poor bargaining position, because we were evidently desperate. Anyway, we tended to research and book places online as we went. Here is a break down of the places we stayed in, some great, some not so great.

The Vismaya, Bangkok
$30/night in Oct

This was one of the places we booked ahead of time, as our first hotel upon arrival in Bangkok. This is a nice, modern hotel near the Suvarnabhumi airport. It’s fairly new, and I would recommend booking the airport shuttle offered through the hotel because it is cheaper, and we found that the taxi drivers didn’t know where it was.
We arrived at 7am, so we had booked our room for the previous night because we wanted to check right in and go to sleep. We later found out that the hotel guarantees early check-in, with an hourly rate surcharge (A really nice convenience if you get there way before check-in!).
The room was clean and modern. There was a shower and a tub, although the shower tended to have intermittent water pressure. I’ve heard it can be like this all over Thailand, but we didn’t encounter this anywhere else. Our only complaint with the room is that the air conditioning had to be kept at 22 degrees, which was downright freezing. So we wore sweaters in the room and turned off the air conditioning when possible.
The pool is kept very clean and the restaurant serves a variety of great food. The breakfast buffet includes both Thai and Western breakfast and is quite complete.
We enjoyed this place so much that we booked it again on our way out of the country.
The hotel itself is close to the airport but nothing else. People generally only stay a day or two before they head to their next location, it seemed. We stayed 2 nights in order to adjust to local time.
Oh, and room service is 24 hrs, which is great when you’re jet lagged!

Sugarpalm Grand Hillside, Kata
$40/ night in November

We stayed at this hotel for 3 nights. It is in a great location, walking distance to the beach and most Kata restaurants. The pools are beautiful (no. They’re gorgeous!) and every room is facing them. The staff are very friendly, and we had an effortless airport transfer. However, we would not stay here again because there was a dead cockroach on the porch upon arrival and the room had a musty/mildew smell that wouldn’t go away.
Based on other reviews, I’d say maybe other rooms don’t have this issue. Otherwise a nice hotel.

The Title, Rawai
$35/night in Nov

We stayed in Rawai to enjoy the scenery and food. We weren’t disappointed! The Title was a perfect location, right across from the beach. You can’t swim in the water here due to the mooring boats, but this didn’t bother us. It was great to walk out and see the long tail boats and speedboats lined up.
When we checked in, they couldn’t find our reservation, so we were finally upgraded to a room with a separate bedroom (ideal with baby!). Our room had a kitchenette, and I believe they all do in this condo-style hotel. Despite the kitchenette, we didn’t cook once, not even once, because food is so inexpensive all over Thailand!
The staff are helpful, the room is modern and clean (decorated in Ikea furniture, but new and clean). The pool is immaculate and so appreciated.
we booked 5 days and then extended our stay 5 more because we enjoyed relaxing here so much.

Roseate Hotel, Chiang Mai
$35/night in Nov

A little torn about how to review this room. We stayed for 5 days in November. At first, the room was clean, well maintained. However, we found the air conditioner quite bad at, well, cooling. It seemed to take hours to cool the room properly.
Then we noticed a horrible smell that just got worse as the days passed. We were very happy to leave by the last day due to this sewage-like smell. In the hotel’s defense, we never reported it.

Can’t complain about the staff, who were great, and the breakfast was excellent with both thai and western options. The location was walking distance to many great. Maybe you’d have more luck with a different room.

The Prince hotel, Chiang Mai
$30/night in Nov

This hotel is old, dated, in need of renovations, whatever you call it. It IS getting those renos, but the whole building is under construction and thus filthy. The hallways are disgusting, filthy and rotting. Our room was not much better. We had to ask for our room to be mopped and fresh linens. The replacement linens came back with just as many stains. The towels were no better.
The bathroom needs to be redone. It is ‘well used’ and not comfortable to get clean in.
I’m sure this will be a great hotel with character when the renos are completed. It’s just too bad we had to be here while in this condition. There seems to be no effort to keep the place clean while demolition is happening. The only redeeming qualities were the 2 lovely and clean pools with poolside bar, and kitchenette in every room. And the artwork. The artwork was pretty cool.

Galare Guesthouse, Chiang Mai
$30/night in Nov

This was probably the best value for our money of all the places we stayed in Chiang Mai. With its traditional Lanna style and homey charm, we felt quite comfortable here. We pre-booked this months in advance because we were staying during the Loy Kathong (lantern) festival, and hotels sell out. We got an excellent price considering this. It was an excellent spot to see the festival from a less hectic area. Walking distance to the Night Bazaar, and right along to Mai Ping River. We were able to set out a mat and watch the lanterns float in the river, as well as up in the sky next to fireworks. One should be warned, though, that Loy Kathong goes on for 2 – 3 nights, and can get pretty loud! We were missing our earplugs at 4 am when fireworks were still going off seemingly on top of our heads. This isn’t in the hotel’s control, evidently. It’s prime location also has downfalls. We would definitely stay at this hotel again.

Railay Princess, Railay
$60/night in December

This was the last week of our trip, and we wanted to spoil ourselves a little bit. We had wanted to see the iconic limestone mountains, and we certainly got that. This hotel is modern and well maintained, with a top notch restaurant and a pool with gorgeous limestone backdrop. We did have an issue when we got there that the room smelled musty/moldy. Since we were staying 6 nights, we decided to request a different room. The new room had a slight cigarette smell, like someone had smoked outside the window. Strangely, we still decided to stay and accepted their offer of a scented candle to freshen the room. The smell did go away, although now typing this I’m not sure why we didn’t complain again.
Anyway, the hotel was enjoyable and in a good location. We got what we expected and the staff were always very receptive. The room was well maintained by housekeeping, and the pool was always the perfect temperature.

Eating our way through Rawai, Phuket

Apparently Phuket Province is not known for its culinary creations.
However some of the best food we had while in Thailand was in Rawai. There were so many great spots to eat, I thought we’d break them down here.

DSC01945.JPG

Anywhere along Rawai Beach

There are a string of restaurants,  many family owned, along the eastern side of Rawai beach road. The seating is along the water side, while the restaurants are across the road, so the waiters run your order over. The menus are huge, and we didn’t once order something we didnt like. Besides the food, the sea view is awesome, the breeze is cool in the evening and there is people watching on the street side, too.

DSC01763.JPG

Gypsy Alley
At the very Easterly end of Rawai, next to the Pier, is a Gypsy fishing area. The fishermen display their catches for the day, you pick what you’d like to eat, and the restaurants across the alley will cook them for you. We picked up squid, clams and scallops. Each were cooked in different sauces or bbq’d according to their menu.

DSC02218.JPG

Rawai View Café and Bar
This spot is a little off the beaten track, but worth finding. It is perched on the hill overlooking Rawai. The views of Rawai beach and surrounding islands are spectacular. The decor has a beach-hut vibe with a thatched roof and driftwood furniture. We ordered the curried beef and it was divine.

DSC02197.JPG

The Flipside
I’d be amiss if I didn’t mention this restaurant.  It’s a chain, but is a great place to get delicious twists on burgers, fries and nachos. The staff are the friendliest we met, and it was a nice occassional break from Thai food.

Au Four et Au Moulin
Again another departure from the typical Thai fare, this French restaurant had excellent food. We ate here a few times,  ordering 4 cheese pizza (great), and lunch of sandwiches (excellent on baguette bread). They were also one of the only restaurants on the strip with a proper highchair that fit Evey, which was a relief from constantly holding her at dinner time!

Jet lagged baby: 6 days in

image

We’ve been home from Thailand for 6 days, and I think we have finally overcome (the worst of the) jet lag with the baby. It seems that Westbound was even more difficult than going East (which took about 4 days).
With a baby as young as 8 months, it really isn’t possible to do anything differently but let her sleep when she needs to. There’s no keeping her up a few more hours so she meets her regular bedtime. There’s no waking her up at a particular time without epic tears. There’s no reasoning, and daylight doesn’t seem to influence her.
So, we’ve been going with the flow.
As we’re staying at my parents house (re: we sold our house and have nowhere else to go), we holed ourselves in a hotel for the first two nights to avoid major disruption.

Night 1: Absolutely no change from our Asia schedule. We were awake all night and had breakfast at the hotel restaurant in time for ‘bed’ at 7am. Then we slept ALL day, waking up around 5pm for dinner.

Night 2: When we got back from dinner, we slept again, hoping our exhaustion would allow us to sleep through. We were mostly right, but Evey was up for the day at 3am.

Night 3: Back at my parent’s place, Evey went to sleep at 3pm. This was fine, except she then woke up from 10pm – midnight (Chris’ shift), then again 2am – 4am (my shift). She then slept until 6am, and was up for the day.

Night 4: Back to bed at 4pm, with a wake up from 11pm – 2am (Chris’ shift). She slept until 6am. Despite the long shift awake, we start to feel she is getting back on track!

Night 5: This might have been the toughest daytime. Evey had many meltdowns and inconsolable tears. This is either a result of the jet lag and not sleeping properly, or teething, or both! We tried to push her bedtime to 5pm, but it was hard earned as she had a fit and cried alot. I didn’t even manage to get her into her PJ’s, just straight to bed. She woke up for about 30 minutes at 3am. We thought she might stay up at this point, but then slept until 7am. Consider this a huge success!

We’ll see if we are back on schedule now. Evey generally is a very scheduled child, and even in Thailand she took to her home schedule once she adjusted to the time change. The last 6 days have been very hard for all of us, with a combination of sleep deprivation and a frustrated baby. It really does make me think twice about travelling that kind of distance again! But we seem to be seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Here’s hoping tonight will continue to follow a more ‘normal’ schedule.

A Few Home Comforts

Now that we’re home from Thailand, we’re realizing that there were a few things that we were missing from home (aside from the obvious things like family and friends!). They are the simplest things, but we are relishing having them again. Here is a list in no particular order:

– a soft bed: beds all over Asia are typically quite hard. We got used to them, but must admit it is nice to be back in the land of pillow top!

– Peanut butter: We are unashamedly peanut butter and toast eaters. We didn’t find this is Thai restaurants, and only got to indulge when we stayed with my cousin for a few days.

– Coffee with cream: Most places we visited had creamer, and only occasionally milk. Chris is more of a cream drinker, so he is happy to have that again.

– Paying for things with debit: few places we encountered in Thailand were equipped to accept Visa or Debit aside from hotels. Carrying cash and being aware of cash flow became necessary, which we aren’t used to anymore in Canada!

– Seasons: Ok, we weren’t away long enough to see a change, but it was hot in Thailand and doesn’t get much cooler. Ever. We came to appreciate the varied seasons we have in Canada, even if it does hover in the cold longer than we’d like.

– Napkins: Many restaurants had either very small Napkins or simply toilet paper for Napkins. I found myself using tons of little pieces to clean up. It’s just nice to have full-size Napkins again. (Seriously, the little things!)

– High chairs for baby: I’ve mentioned this before, but high chairs are seldomly found in average restaurants around Thailand. This means eating with a baby on your lap, or trading-off who gets to eat while the other entertains baby.

That said, we’ve come back to Canada in December. In Montreal it is on average 8 degrees right now, and we are wholly underdressed for the weather. I can tell you the first thing we are missing from Thailand is the ability to go to breakfast in flip flops and shorts! Also, our breakfast at the airport hotel this morning cost more than a whole day worth of food in Thailand.
So, we win some and we lose some!

Food Poisoning While Travelling with Baby

Well, we’ve finally done it. We’ve been travelling Thailand for 6 weeks and have only now gotten food poisoning. It’s surprising,  really. We’ve been almost foolish with our food choices. Once, in Rawai, Chris ate crocodile meat from a place by the sea that was in such poor shape, it was difficult to see the stove under the junk. Plus, there were no customers around, which is always a bad sign. Still, we haven’t gotten sick until now.
This time, we discovered a strip of restaurants on the beach, up from our hotel, in Railay. Little, open air places, but well attended and cheaper than the hotel restaurants. This place appeared to be even more credible as it advertised as a cooking school.
We were planning to have a large dinner, so we just ordered snacks: fresh spring rolls and 6 chicken wings. Both were quite spicy, so, thankfully, we didn’t feed any to Evey. I only managed to feed her some cucumber from the rolls.
As we went along our day, I gradually felt worse: growing headache, light fever. I chalked it up to my worsening cold, as I had been dealing with a runny nose and headaches for a couple of days. I was irritable, and Chris took care of Evey. By 8pm, I was completely sick. Evey woke up, needed nursing back to sleep. She really doesn’t go to sleep without nursing, so I had to work through that. At this point Chris felt fine, so he offered to go see if the pharmacy was open. I still thought I had the flu. Chris promised to help me the next morning by taking Evey and letting me sleep.
By 11 pm, though, Chris was sick too. And it went on all night. Neither of us could sleep. We tried our best to let Evey sleep. Food poisoning alone is horrible.  Turns out caring for a baby while both parents are suffering from food poisoning is pretty much the worst!
By morning, we dragged ourselves to breakfast,  hoping that toast would help settle our stomachs. We didn’t manage much, and our appetites didn’t really come back for 2 days.
We were fragile, feeling poorly, and dehydrated. However, we were happy above all that it didn’t happen to Evey. It would have been so much harder on her.
We were given the opportunity to be more strict about the types of foods we eat. Our need for food adventure extinguished for the time being! We head home in 4 days, so we will focus on being strong for that journey.

Rainbows and Rainstorms

We walked along a dirt path next to the beach. The tide was low. Longtail and speed boats alike moored close to the shore. Landlocked after a warm day at sea. There were people far out in the muddied water, taking advantage of the low tide to search out crabs and other sea treasures. Young children back from school were digging in the sand, their uniforms getting wet from the sea water.
We pass several fishermen repairing their boats. The smell of paint wafts over us as a boat receives a coat after being refinished.
Some men toil away at fishing nets while others sit nearby eating dinner.
As we approach a row of small restaurants,  we notice one where a young child is crouched down in the dirt. Her mother is holding her pants down while she pees into the dirt next to the restaurant.  We smile politely as we pass. When the girl is finished, she and her mother wave to our daughter in the stroller.
We walk past several restaurants with meager store fronts, and priceless seating. Every seat is sea view, just steps from a row of fishing boats. We pass restaurant owners waving and making faces at our daughter.  We stop to chat with some. One has a 5 month old son, who drools and smiles at us.
As we make our way to a dead end, we turn right onto a paved road, then left. Up a road with no sidewalk,  the cars and motorcycles swerve to give us room. Maybe 25 meters and we arrive at a building advertising Massages: Massages ‘by blind people’. We are intrigued, but the shop seems to have gone out of business.
We arrive at a restaurant called ‘Rawai view Café and Bar’. This restaurant, perched on a hill overlooking the sea at low tide, has incredible views of the entire town and surrounding islands. We can even spot a Navy ship in the far distance. We share the view with only one other table of guests.
image

As we order our meals, we see the skies darken and thunder sound. When ur meals come, the waitress asks us to move from the uncovered patio to under the thatched roof. We oblige and then watch as the staff hurriedly tie down all the furniture with heavy plastic sheets and clips. This isn’t their first rainstorm.
image

From our covered viewpoint, we watch as the storm rolls in, moment by moment.
image

The Navy ship and islands that were once visible disappear behind sheets of rain.
As we are enjoying some of the best curry we’ve ever had, the rain hits the Café in a thunderous way. We are asked to move tables inwards again, as the wind blows inwards.
The waitresses are apologetic, like there is anything they could do to help the weather. We are thrilled, and order another drink. Here we are, in paradise, watching mothr nature from a warm, dry, viewing gallery with delicious food and a whole bar to ourselves.
As the storm passed, a rainbow formed over an island. This rainbow probably only visible to the select few of us lucky enough to have this view point from the hill.
After about an hour, the storm receeded and we decided to walk back to our hotel. It was cooler than when we came, the rain moistening our skin as we walked.
We couldn’t have planned a better last night in Rawai.

These Moments

image

In the end, what we’ll remember are these moments.
Moments marked in time, yet unremarkable.
Together, endless days, aimless wanderings.
Enjoying the world through each other’s eyes.
Feeling our way through a world wholly new.
Slowing our pace for each other.
Deciding to do nothing at all
Still ends up creating a moment.
A moment in time we’ll never get back
But we’ll hold with us forever.