“You’re going Where??? To Thailand??? And you you’re taking the kids??? Wow…” That pretty much sums up the reaction we got when we told people where we were headed over Thanksgiving break.
I understand their reactions. After I got married and started planning to have kids, my motto was “I’ll never stop travelling! We’ll just bring the kids with us, of course!” In my previous life (as I like to call it), I was blessed with a love of travel. I visited 5 continents and over 25 countries and I had no intention of letting a silly little thing called “motherhood” get in the way of continuing my adventures!
Well lets just say that the reality of parenthood set in 12 years ago when my husband and I had our first child. I mean really…sippy cups and strollers, 15 hour flights, unsanitary water and no “kids menus”??? …who were we kidding?
Now, don’t get me wrong, we still travel and try to instill a sense of adventure in our boys (ages 12 and 10). But up until a few months ago, we kept it domestic, Hawaii being a huge trip. That all changed when we realized we had over a hundred thousand frequent flyer miles that were going to expire if we didn’t use them!
After doing some research, I realized that the mileage required to go to Asia vs., say, Mexico really wasn’t much of a difference (check out your plan). I was fortunate to travel through Southeast Asia in my 20’s so I knew it would be a great place for kiddos. Its exotic and captivating and very sensual. Generally speaking, that part of the world is more about the sights, sounds and smells surrounding you at any given moment than visiting churches and museums. It varies from big cities to jungles to some of the most beautiful beaches you’ll find in the world. All that being said, it’s the perfect place for family travel with kids. Thailand in particular has something for everyone and that’s why we chose to make it our first family overseas adventure.
So, to get started, here are a few general pointers to help you plan your trip:
- A few months prior to your trip, go to a travel doctor or your primary care physician and get started on your shots. What vaccinations you need depends on where you’re headed and some of them have an incubation period. If you need the typhoid vaccination, I’d recommend the shot vs the live virus which is a 3 day pill regimen that made my kids a bit sick (its live whereas the shot is not)
- If I can give you one tip about flying with kids on a long flight, its to bring a pillow big enough for them to rest their head on! The airplane pillows aren’t enough for them to spead out on your lap. I brought old throw pillows for the flight with the intention of ditching them at the Bangkok airport. But they helped the boys get so much more comfortable on the planes (and train in HK) that I couldn’t get them to trash them! They hauled them all over Thailand with us and back home! Go figure!
The old disposable throw pillows we brought were invaluable. I’m bringing my own next time!
- Because we only had 8 days on the ground (I suggest at least 12 if you can make it work), we chose to see Bangkok and then head south to the tropical beach areas. If you have a few more days, go North to Chang Mai…I highly recommend it. Unfortunately we just didn’t have the time this go around.
- We flew Cathay Pacific from San Francisco to Hong Kong and then on to Bangkok (Great Airline, by the way. The kids loved the snack bar in the back!) It was a long full day journey but we made the best of it. We had an 8 hour layover in Hong Kong which was just enough time to break up the trip by hopping on a train to take in the city for a few hours. Hong Kong travel is really efficient and easy so if you have to stop there, I would recommend trying to schedule a long enough layover to go see this beautiful city (6 hours is probably the minimum). It was truly amazing!
One of the piers overlooking downtown Hong Kong.
- We arrived in Bangkok at about 4:00 PM Thai time. A couple of important things. First off, I would highly recommend having a hotel booked for at least the first night (I’ve always preferred to wing it when it comes to hotels but having two kids in tow makes me nervous so we pre booked everything.) You’re so tired after a whole day of travel, the last thing you want to do is try to navigate the hotel abyss. Once you know where you’re staying, you can use Google Maps to decide the fastest way to get to your hotel (yep, it works internationally too!). We were exhausted so we opted for a taxi…big mistake! Had we mapped it, we would have seen the extensive RED on the freeways! It took us 2 hours to get to our hotel due to traffic. The train would have only taken 45 minutes!
- The Thai people might just be the kindest, most welcoming people on the planet. And I cannot overstate how fabulous they are with kids! They live by “sanuk” which roughly translates to “fun” but it means much more than that. It means to relish every moment and be content even if things are exactly as you’d have them. For you, as a traveller with kids, it translates into a general feeling of safety and enjoyment. There is also a genuine attitude of graciousness and playfulness, especially toward your little ones.
- Get a Lonely Planet https://www.lonelyplanet.com/thailand months in advance and really read it. Have a good idea of what you consider a must see vs what you’d like to see. Navigating the sprawl of Bangkok and visiting other parts is time consuming and you want to have a general idea of your itinerary. I bought the Thailand version and actually rented a Bangkok specific one from the Library to help hone in on the intricacies of the city
- Hotel room bed counts in Thailand are listed differently than what we’re used to in the U.S. We were not able to find a room with two double/queen beds. When they refer to “double” they usually mean one queen bed. They will allow you to have one kid in bed with you (triple occupancy) but if your child is too large to share your bed, you will need to ask for a roll away cot and they always charge about $20 more per bed. Triple check with them about this as it can be confusing and the room may be too small
- Our favorite meals were at little hole in the wall makeshift restaurants so don’t be scared off by their humble appearances. The food is fresh and authentic and the kids always had the choice of Pad See Ewe or Pad Thai (every picky eaters favorite)
Family run food stalls like this are cheap and delicious
As far as our sightseeing adventures in Bangkok go, I’m not going to go into the details as there is a seemingly endless amount of information to be had on the internet. What I do want to do is to bestow upon you a few words of advice when tackling this amazing city.
A few tips and highlights for visiting Bangkok with kids:
- Travel in Thailand is unbelievably affordable and especially in this city. Accommodations in Bangkok range from as little as $10 a night hostels up to fancy $500 hotels. We are older now (our backpacking days are pretty much over) so we opted for mid range boutique hotels/motels. We wanted to be near the river, the Grand Palace and Wat Pho, but also wanted a bit of a laid back traveller atmosphere. The Banglamphu area fits this bill. We chose the Chillax Resort Hotel https://www.chillaxresort.com/ because we wanted a pool to cool off in when the heat got to be too much. It was a really nice hotel with a cool rooftop pool and a gorgeous, romantic bathtub, but the room was just too small for a family of 4. So after the first day, we moved down the road to Nouvo City Hotel http://www.nouvocityhotel.com/. It still had a rooftop pool but cost about $30 less and the room was much more spacious. I’d definitely recommend checking it out.
- Tuktuks are ubiquitous in Thailand and in my opinion, a must do (at least once). If you fear for your safety, you are spot on! But hey, the kids LOVE them and if you can stomach it, you have to try it out, even for a short trip! Make sure you decide on a price up front and if they try to “stop for gas” don’t allow it. The newest scam (for tuktuks and taxi’s alike) is to try to “make a quick stop for fuel”…they just want to take you to a store to sell you something. Just say no and to let you out there and they’ll back off
Tuktuks are fun if not the safest way to get around
- When you visit the Grand Palace and Wat Pho (both of which can be seen in one day) go EARLY! I mean get there as soon as they open. We waited until about noon and by then, it was extremely hot and humid and the crowds are horrendous! Nothing like heat and too many tourists to make photo taking with kids more difficult than going to the dentist!
Taking a rest from the heat and crowds at Grand Palace
- Try to find the Amulet Market https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g293916-d8768930-Reviews-Amulet_Market-Bangkok.html. It’s a great place for the kids to pick up souvenirs and if the rumor is true, bring them good luck! It’s hard to find so you’ll likely have to ask several people in the area to guide you there. Our kids loved it!
Shopping for Amulets
- We visited Ayuthaya and loved it. Its about an hour outside Bangkok. You can take a train there for cheap but we hired a taxi for the day for 3000 baht. The temples at this World Heritage sight are pretty spread out, so if you’ve got kids in tow, its easier and much more efficient to just visit one of the temples and hop back in the taxi for the next one. Just sayin’
- If you have kids that love animals and you have time to kill in Bangkok on a weekend, Chatuchak Weekend Market may be worth a trip for you. You will see animals in cages that will blow your mind! (and make you want to call animal control! How can this be legal???)
Yep, you’re not seeing things! That’s a pet hedgehog for sale at Chatachuk market!
After 3 days in Bangkok, we moved on to the Southern part of Thailand…We chose to do the Andaman Sea side (vs. the Gulf of Thailand). We wanted to sea kayak through the karsts of Phang Nga Bay and visit the beautiful beaches of the Andaman.
A few pointers for the South:
- If you’re headed to the Andaman side, you pretty much have to fly if your time is limited. There are quite a few cheap airlines and it only takes about an hour or so
- Mosquitos are relentless all over Thailand and they are particularly bad in the south. Per my travel doctor, our mosquito repellent regimen was this:
Mosquitos bite through your clothes so spray them prior to leaving with Sawyer Permethrin Clothing spray https://sawyer.com/products/type/clothing/
And for your skin, use Ultrathon Insect Repellent Lotion http://solutions.3m.com/wps/portal/3M/en_US/Ultrathon/Products/ It’s a cream that works for 12 hours and unlike other deet products, it doesn’t soak into your skin. It sits on top of it so its not as toxic. I’m not kidding, this combination was incredible! Mosquitos love us and the only time we got bitten was right after getting out of the water and not re applying!
I knew from past experience that Phuket was a little too well travelled for my liking (reminds me of Waikiki) but we went to Phuket for the sole purpose of going on the John Gray Canoe trip. You have to be in Phuket in order to do this tour. This organization does an incredible job of touring the Phang Nga Bay on kayaks while respecting the environment (many tours are not eco friendly). It was seriously a highlight of our trip…the scenery was out of this world, it was so cool to kayak inside of the caves, the food was incredible and they were amazingly attentive to the boys. Its not cheap but I highly recommend it. Read more about what makes this tour special at: http://www.johngray-seacanoe.com/trips/thailand/day-trips/hong-by-starlight.html
Kayaking through the sea caves
Making banana leaf offerings on the boat
Make sure you ask to have Sunny as your guide! He was the best guide and I think he was assigned to us because we had kids and he was the most experienced.
Floating the offering at starlight. Can’t explain how fabulous this was.
We stayed at a little hotel in Karon called In on the Beach. http://www.karon-inonthebeach.com/ Like I said, Phuket is not my ideal location in Thailand but I must say, this was a great little hotel and it was literally on the beach. The water is 82 degrees and we all swam until the sun went down! There are a few small restaurants within walking distance so all in all, it worked well for us. If Phuket wasn’t one of my favorites, it ranked at the top of my kids list. They thought it was the best place in Thailand!
Swimming at sunset right outside our hotel In On The Beach
Bodysurfing in bathtub warm water on Karon Beach
From Phuket we took a ferry to Railay Beach which was much more our style. It’s a laid back peninsula south of Krabi. It seems more like an island because the only way to get there is by long tail boat.
A couple things about Railay with kids:
- There are 2 sides of the island, one with nice beaches (west side) and the other that is more of a muddy mess at low tide(east). As you’d imagine, the West side accommodations are quite a bit more expensive but we liked being able to walk right out onto the beach so we stayed there. That being said, its only a short walk from East to West so if money is an issue, stay in a cool jungle pad on the East and walk. We stayed at Sand Sea Resort and it was perfect. The only issue is that they won’t pull in extra cots for the kids so you have to get two rooms which is obviously more expensive http://www.krabisandsea.com/
- If your family is itching to see monkeys, this is the place for you! They’re considered pests by the locals as they steal food from the restaurants and cause damage to property but it’s good fun to watch them get into mischief. Go to a restaurant early in the morning to watch the shop owners shoot them with slingshots. We all still crack up when we think about it
Monkeys are abundant on Railay
Our favorite Railay restaurant owner fighting off the monkeys with a slingshot (you can see it in her hands. She was a great shot!)
- You can rent a long tail boat for 4 hours for about 2000 baht and the driver will take you around the islands to snorkel and explore beaches and caves. You flag them down on the beach on the West side but get there somewhat early or you’ll be on a waitlist. Snorkeling was great and the rock outcroppings are stunning
Our first long tail boat ride to go snorkeling
Caving on one of the amazing white sand beaches
Another highlight for the boys was the snorkeling
- If you’re heading back to Bangkok from Railay, you’ll need to catch a longtail boat on the East side to Krabi and then a taxi to the airport
I hope this helps entice you to take your family to beautiful Thailand. Soon. Don’t let travelling with kids scare you as its paradise for the whole family. Its one of my favorite places on the planet and I was so pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to take the kids here. Email me if you have any questions and pleasant travels!
Share an adventure you’ve taken with the kids with us!
My name is Christy and I am a wife and mother of two boys, ages 12 and 10. After graduating from CSU Chico and working as an English Teacher in Japan, I spent 10 fairly successful years as a sales representative in a cross section of industries. I made enough money to afford me the opportunity to travel to 5 continents and over 25 countries. Once I got married and was blessed with being a mom, I decided to stay home and raise the kiddos. Although I wouldn’t change a thing about being a stay-at-home mom, at some point I realized that I needed more than just sippy cups and mommy taxiing so I went back to work part time. I also realized something else…I needed to “get moving” again. I’m raising my kids in the same small town bubble in the suburbs of San Francisco that I grew up in. It wasn’t until after college that I was able to explore the amazing world we live in! That being said, one of the things I was most excited about when taking on parenthood was exposing my kids (at an earlier age) to the wonders of nature and culture here in the U.S. and abroad. I hope you feel this sense of urgency and inspiration to hit the road with your children as as well!