My husband, 15-year-old step-daughter, 7-year-old daughter, and I are departing for SE Asia on April 1. We are thinking of visiting Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam, although we are open to other destinations. We have one-way tickets, and businesses we can run as long as we have Internet access, so we are open on time frame.
Most of the advice I have received has been from folks who stay at hotels and enjoy shopping and museums. There is absolutely *nothing* wrong with this. However, it's not really my family's style. First of all, we have limited income, so we'll be trying to avoid expensive accommodations, food, and attractions. Second of all, we would prefer to see more of what the culture is like from the locals' perspectives, rather than from a tourist perspective. Lastly, if we really like somewhere, we might stay for quite a while. So we'd like to get an accurate picture of what it would be like to live there while we are visiting, in case we want to put down roots.
So, what advice does anyone have? For cities to visit, first of all, but also for any insider's tips or things to keep in mind as it pertains to family travel? My step-daughter enjoys martial arts, and my daughter enjoys performing arts. If there are good cities for these types of activities, it would be great for them to experience doing these things somewhere in SE Asia, so we might seek those places out in particular.
Thank you for your time!
If you are on a limited budget and want to see what it might be like to live in the region then the first thing that strikes me as worthwhile for you would be couch surfing.
Cities to visit - Hanoi was one of my favourites in the region.
Martial arts - I believe MADMAC (a regular poster) has a keen interest in this so he might be able to help with the specifics here.
#2 chinarocks has been a member since 17/6/2011. Posts: 738
I'm an Issan guy, so I will limit my response to that. The first issue you have to sort is visas. So I would recommend you look into how you can get long stay visas for you and your family before you arrive. In Issan in virtually every provincial capital now there is Tae Kwon Do and Mauy Thai. I don't the second is of interest, as it's a high impact event. Even TKD can be rough, but it's more popular with the ladies to be sure.
Staying in one location is an idea I actually favor, because it allows you the time to make real friends and learn the language. Language and people are culture. So if that's a real point of interest, then I think that's the best way.
Performing arts are going to be a little tougher. I can't speak to Chiang Mai, but I suspect we are now (concerning Thailand) leaning strongly towards Bangkok. Is there something specific she's interested in?
It is possible to do what you want to do, but the last issue you have to contemplate is education. The only other couple I know who did what you did home schooled.
Chinarocks - this is great advice. I have heard of couch surfing but we hadn't really looked into it yet. It seems that all guesthouses and other low-cost accommodation options that we've looked at so far are made for individuals or couples. There don't seem to be any rooms large enough for all four of us, and if we have to pay for two rooms then that blows our daily budget out the window.
We will look at at Hanoi. My husband had heard good things about this city as well.
Can we message individuals on this board? I'm just wondering if I can reach out to MADMAC on my own.
MADMAC - Thanks so much for weighing in. My step-daughter is actually in Tae Kwon Do at the moment, so she'd probably prefer to stay in that, although she's open to trying some other styles.
My daughter loves musical theater the best. She just finished a professional run of The Sound of Music. If she had to break down the areas in order of interest, she'd probably say #1: Singing; #2 Acting; #3 Dancing. She also plays the piano.
We actually are homeschoolers. So we're all good there. Would love to hear if the homeschooling couple you knew had good/bad experiences with one thing or another.
For the visa thing, since we don't know for sure where we will want to end up, can we still look into long-term stuff after we've arrived? Or do you feel there's a distinct benefit to doing something before we depart?
Well if you stay long term in one location, renting a house (which is not expensive out where I am) is easy enough.
You could certainly find somewhere for your daughter to take lessons on an instrument, piano might or might not be problematic depending on location.
The couple I knew who home schooled had just one real problem - their kids were isolated from the community. So they didn't learn to speak the language well (in spite of years living here) and they didn't socialize with local kids. They basically had no friends. The boy (who was 14) desperately wanted to play baseball, and that wasn't available (but it shouldn't be an issue for you guys). They have since returned to the States.
You can message me right here on travelfish if you are interested in anything else. I live in Mukdahan, a small provincial city on the Mekong river.
Oh, and ref the visa - much more difficult if you try and get a long term visa after you arrive. Consulates in the west are very lenient about the rules, they just want the visa fee. But once you get here, it can get trickier. And since you are not married to an indigenous person, and not working on work permit, now you need to be creative.
You would need to get educational visa and study something.
One way tickets r no good without a visa as the airline might not let u fly.
Also if u have limited funds u might want to plan a lot more to see if its viable.
Dont know any home schoolers. Rather rare. Kids prefer to be playing with other kids.
2 adults and 2 kids u would.need an income of at least 50, 000 baht a month.
Also health insurance is needed.
In the get real department its better to just have a holiday and book return flights which r cheaper and saves a visa. Then if u like the area plan again from home.
Vietnam requires a visa beforehand while Thailand gives u 30 days without a visa. Cambodia and Laos can do at the border.
Well Leonard, if they're earning their money from the internet in the States, they are very likely to be earning more than 50,000 baht a month. But yeah, I don't think sorting the visa out once you are on the ground is a good idea. I think you need to make a decision up front where you will be spending the bulk of your time.
A family of four living on 3,000 USD a month would be considered "limited funds" in much of the western world. That definition means different things to different people. To backpackers, 50,000 baht a month is the jackpot. To me, that would be wholly insufficient.
Thank you for weighing in, leonardcohen1. The one-way tickets have already been purchased, so that is a done deal. We have heard of the issues you mention regarding visas, and we will cross that bridge when we get to it if it is a problem.
I would like to mention that homeschooling does not equal isolation. MADMAC - I think it is sad that the homeschooling family you knew did not hang out with local kids. And while kids like to sometimes hang out with other kids, they also like to hang out with other people who enjoy their company, regardless of age. Especially if they are teens, and are headed towards adulthood anyway. At least that is how it is with our kids. In reality, we do not all have to hang out with adults exactly our age, and kids can learn a lot from people of all ages. We do not plan on isolating ourselves, so unless locals want nothing to so with us, I am not concerned about isolation.
And if we go and it does not seem like a good fit, we move on in our travels. Such is life. You show up somewhere, try something out, and figure out if it is working or not.
I think that MADMAC is right when it comes to people's individual needs with respect to income. It is all relative, depending on lifestyle. We happen to live off of way less than most Americans, which is one reason we think we can do okay in SE Asia. The story would not be the same in some other places in the world. I just mentioned that in my original post mostly because we will be sticking to a certain amount that we will want to spend each day, and so hotels will not be an option.
I do appreciate everyone's time and information here.
Then apartments / rented houses would definitely seem to make more sense to me. But again, this requires planning. i don't think it will work if you try and shoot from the hip. It reinforces the idea of deciding where to stay before you leave.
Part of the reason you have some isolation in home schooling, particularly here, is because school is a social environment for kids. Their most significant social environment aside from family. If your kids are with you all day, they are not with local kids. How can they be, since the local kids are all in school? So that's a challenge. Thai is not easy to learn, and they'll be speaking English all day. I would say they'll need to find a school where they can at least go and learn Thai. Even if it's in the evening. Otherwise I doubt they'll learn much. They just won't get exposure.
This all assumes you want to live in Thailand. I think you have to suss that out first. Because for a lot of reasons I think you'll have to make that call before you leave.
As for the one way tickets - buying them is not a problem. But you might find that boarding the aircraft is. My mother had this problem, because technically you are suppose to demonstrate your intent to leave the Kingdom when you arrive. That is done with a return ticket or a visa showing you are not leaving. But you have neither. Now, defacto in Thailand I don't think they care or check. But leaving from a western country, they do care and do check. Sometimes it leads to problems. So buying the one way ticket, no problemo. But the airline might not honor it.
What we've heard from people who have experienced this is that most folks do not get hassled, but if worst comes to worst they make you buy a return ticket there at the airline counter. Which folks have reported that they've gotten around by charging a fully refundable ticket on a credit card on the spot, and then calling and canceling said ticket after arriving in the country. Who knows. We actually have one-way tickets to Australia on June 20 (they were super-cheap on sale so we figured we were so close, we might as well check it out, albeit shorter-term), so maybe they'll take that into consideration.
Do you think that local adults in the community would be welcoming to our kids? I still feel like they could learn Thai from adults and not just kids during the day. So if we ended up interfacing with any folks from the community, they could learn that way. Just a thought.
Unless you guys speak Thai, just turning up and expecting the locals to be friends with you is optimistic. Most of the foreign people who live in Thailand have business there or Thai friends/partners. Generally Thais can be friendly but if there is a huge language barrier you wont get far. Little English in remote regions.
What is the point of the trip? You sound like gypsies
Well Leonard is correct here. Thais are friendly, but to establish real relationships you need a vehicle to do that. Something that you do in common with other people. That's really what drives human relationships. My friends here play chess, dance, or train in TKD. That's because that's what I do. So all of my close Thai friends are engaged in one of those activities.
If you think about it, families are closed units, and what exposes those families to ties outside the family unit are work (not helpful for you in this case), school (again, not helpful for you in this case), and hobbies. As I see it, your challenge will be fostering new relationships around some activity. Certainly not mission impossible. Just have to figure out what that's going to be. For your TKD daughter that question seems to answer itself. For the rest of you, it appears to be an open question.
So to answer your question - no, your kids are not going to learn Thai from their adult social contacts. Those will be limited and your children are at an age where they won't just pick it up. They will need schooling, or they will need immersion, which means sending them to Thai school, something I would not recommend as they don't speak Thai (even if it were allowed, and I don't think it is). So this brings us back to private schooling. That is not terribly difficult to find. A few months on the ground and you'll have a better feel for what is doable and what not. But again, I strongly recommend you work out the visa situation first. I don't think you appreciate how difficult that can be.
I hear you on the private school expense.
I know this has been done before, I've read about other homeschoolers/worldschoolers who have traveled to just about every continent and have had great experiences. I guess I just need to dig deeper to find those folks. I have a friend who lived in KL for two years and had a great experience, there was even a homeschoolers' group there that started posting planned social events through Facebook. Looks like I need to do some more research on that end.
Dancing - well, I think there's a touch of dishonesty in some of those accounts (I've read two myself). They come from rejectionists, people who reject their societies status quo and are looking for alternatives in education for their children. Because those sorts of people already have an agenda (to attack the status quo) they are of course going to paint their alternative as something attractive. One lady I read about travelled everywhere. She was divorced, her kid was in tow. Like you, she earned her income from the internet. They were moving about constantly. They had the plus that her 13 year old boy saw a lot of the world. The negative was that he, like her, had no real friends. How could he? It takes time to develop deep friendships and he didn't spend enough in any one place. He never got to play organized sports, even though he really wanted to play soccer / football. His mother was his only teacher, friend, confindant. She glossed over this, but I considered it a very unhealthy situation for the boy. And his relationship with his father was geograghically removed as well. Your case if of course different, and some of these obstacles are surmountable, I think you just have to be realistic that's all.
As for private schooling - well, mine is free. I have a teacher and he teaches me to read and write and pronounce words and grammer every week. The quid pro quo is I teach at his friends school for free to underpriveledged kids. But maybe my situation is just a lucky one.
Still, the language structure, tonal nature and complex writing system are such that I don't see you guys just picking it up without some sort of formal instruction.
What about Leonard's suggestion of Malaysia? As he says, it is more structured, and used to be a favorite location for expat families. The language uses romanized script too, which makes it easy to read for westerners and the sounds are similar to English. Worth considering, anyway. Cheers.