I first heard of Nicoletta Romei when she started following All Abroad Baby on Twitter. I discovered that she ran a children’s boutique in Thailand and I became intrigued about her life. How did this Italian mum of two, who grew up in a calm seaside town on Italy’s southernmost island, Sicily, come to live in the Asian tropics of Bangkok? Nicoletta tells us about some of Thailand’s must-see places and why living in this South East Asian country makes her smile.
What do you do?
I own a children’s clothing and accessories store, which is also the very first online children’s boutique in Thailand, Simplykidz. I’m also the CEO of the Romei household – when I’m not in the office you will find me at home taking care of my hubby, Romeo, and my two little red-haired monsters, Flavio, 4, and Giorgia, 2, and not forgetting our two dogs, Ettore, a basset hound, and Achille, a pug.
How did you come to live in Thailand?
My husband moved here with his family when he was four years old. He grew up in Bangkok, but went to university in Italy, where we met. After he graduated from university he wanted to move back to Asia to work at his father’s factory. I followed him to Thailand and a few years later I gave birth to Flavio and Giorgia here.
What is your neighbourhood like?
Before 26 October last year, our neighbourhood was a beautiful and quiet residential area surrounded by trees and fields, located 25 minutes north of Bangkok. But on that day a terrible flood hit us and our house went under water in what was considered to be the worst flooding that Thailand had ever experienced. We had three metres of water that engulfed everything and lasted for 40 days. We were forced to move into town and start a massive renovation of the house which, ten months later, hasn’t ended yet. So at the moment, our ‘new’ neighbourhood is: traffic, skyscrapers, and a lot of pollution. We just can’t wait to go back to the fields on the outskirts of Bangkok and see what our renovated house will look like (that’s my husband with Flavio and Giorgia, pictured below, cycling around our old neighbourhood).
What do you and your family do on a regular day out?
Every Sunday we go to Church. Then we like to have brunch with friends in one of the many incredible hotels that Bangkok has to offer. When not brunching out, my son loves to eat Peking roast duck, a delicious Chinese dish. We recently found this restaurant called Four Seasons, it originates, not from China, but from London! And it has the best roast duck in town – if you don’t book a table in advance you will find yourself queuing for over an hour. After lunch, the kids love to visit the fish at Siam Ocean World, or we check out the wild animals at Dusit Zoo. We are always off to somewhere where the kids can be entertained and have fun.
Tell us about a typical day for you in Thailand…
We live quite far from the school, so the kids have to get up early and we leave home around 7.30am. They spend so much time in the car that I think they consider it as an extension of our house! They usually start breakfast at home and this continues in the car, where they also watch a movie during the trip. The school journey can sometimes take up to one hour, depending on the morning traffic.
My children go to an international preschool that follows the British curriculum. The years are divided into Nursery 1 (18 months to two years old), Nursery 2 (two to three years old), Kindergarten 1 (three to four years old) and Kindergarten 2 or Reception (four to five years old). After this, they start school from Year 1 up. My daughter is still doing nursery and she finishes around 12pm, while my son finishes at 2pm. Thankfully, we have a driver and he spares me the multiple trips back and forth while I’m at work at the store.
I try to be home by the time Giorgia wakes up from her afternoon nap, and by the time Flavio returns home from school. I like to play with them before they have dinner, at 5.30pm, then they go to bed at 7.30pm. In the afternoon they usually play together in the playroom and during the cooler hours – when the sun starts to set – they love to play and run around outside in the garden. They have everything they need: a sandbox, a slider, trampoline, picnic table and lots of outdoor toys!
Do you watch much TV? If so, what’s a big TV show in Thailand right now?
My husband and I don’t have much time to watch local TV and we always prefer a good movie than a TV show.
What is your favourite Thai recipe?
I still can’t cope with the extreme amount of chilli that Thai people put in their various dishes, so at restaurants I am always requesting them to “mai sai prik kha”, which means not spicy, thanks! One of my favourite Thai recipes is Som Tam Thai (pictured below) – a raw papaya salad eaten with sticky rice. It’s a dish originally from Laos, that then became very diffused in Essarn, the north eastern provinces of Thailand. Another favourite dish of mine is influenced by Muslim cuisine and it’s called Massaman Gai – a chicken recipe cooked in a mild coconut red curry. This recipe is from the southern part of Thailand, where the majority of Thai Muslims live.
What is the biggest media story at the moment in Thailand?
Probably the biggest media story, that has lasted for the past six years, has to be the debate about ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Many of his followers are still around and, of course, they want him back, whereas there are many others that have sworn war against him.
What have Thai politicians been arguing about lately?
There are many arguments going on, as in all politics worldwide but, mainly, I think the biggest debate is related to the massive flooding that Thailand underwent in 2011. How did it happen? Whose fault was it? Will it happen again?
Being a local, what are some must-see places people should visit when they come to Thailand?
The Grand Palace (Wat Phra Kaew) and the ancient city of Ayutthaya. It’s an amazing journey of old Thailand – especially if you are new to Asia. It’s very fascinating to see the temples and the old Buddha statues that Thai people have been venerating for many years.
Another must-see place is The Temple of Dawn (Wat Arun), pictured left, on the Chao Phraya River. There’s a river boat trip from The Mandarin Oriental Hotel to Wat Arun.
Also, don’t miss some resort therapy – Thailand has so many luxury tropical resorts all over the country with great food, services and spas – a visit to one of these is an absolute must. One of my favourites is the Centara Grand Mirage in Pattaya, a themed hotel based on The Lost World concept, with tons of sliders that kids love (that’s us in the pool, pictured below). Another amazing place is the Hyatt Regency Hua Hin, with the best mango juices in the world and a wonderful sand and pool area for kids.
What makes Thailand feel like home?
The Thai people and their beautiful free smile. Everywhere you go, you are always welcome here. I miss Italy and the western lifestyle, its architecture, design, food and countryside, and my family and friends of course. But at the same time, Thailand has been so good to us that right now if anyone were to ask me to go back and live in Europe I would almost feel like a fish out of water. They call Thailand The Land of Smiles and it’s just so true. Everybody smiles at you here – Thai people are very warm and kind-hearted.