Thinking of dipping a toe in the water of family travel adventures further afield? Want to give your kids a raft of new experiences which will have their eyes popping and the most dedicated Fortnite player dropping the controller and engaging with enthusiasm? If so then I would imagine that Thailand has probably hit your radar at some point.
Thailand offers a long list of incredible destinations and experiences; your kids will be gaping in wonder at the sights, colours, sounds and smells of this unique Asian destination. Thai culture is known for being warm and welcoming, particularly to families. It’s easy to find friendly and helpful faces wherever you go.
With a rich cultural history, modern and efficient infrastructure including good travel links and healthcare, extraordinary wildlife and natural wonders, incredible food, paradise islands and beaches, hectic, fascinating cities and interesting transport options, whats not to like? There’s something to keep everyone happy, from the tots through to the most demanding teens. And while it’s true that the cost of flights is going to be considerably higher from the UK than travel to European destinations, when you balance that with the fact that it’s possible to stay and live very cheaply in Thailand, it suddenly it doesn’t look like such an unreachable option. If you’re serious about taking the leap but not sure where to start or how to finance your trip, our article on long term family travel has some good ideas to share.
Thailand is a constitutional monarchy whose Royal family are held in high regard. Buddhism is the main religion and much of the country is scattered with beautiful temples and statues honouring the Buddha. Note that one should always treat any image of the Buddha and indeed the Thai royal family with respect. In particular it is impolite to point at the Buddha, including with feet. (If sitting in a temple ensure you sit cross legged or kneel, do not sit with your feet pointing towards Buddha.)
If you’re time limited focus on activities and areas that you think your family will most enjoy. Here’s a nutshell guide to just a few possible areas of interest:
Known as the Gateway to Southeast Asia, Bangkok is a vibrant and exciting city which will leave the most cynical teenager wide-eyed. As soon as you step out from the airport you’ll know you’re some way from home. The exotic smells, beautiful temples, colourful markets and crazy traffic all combine to make a feast for the senses. Find a quiet, local spot to stay away from the biggest tourist hubs (Bangkok old city is an area I’ve loved) so you can escape to peaceful relaxation after a day of exploration. Avoid the heavy traffic by utilising the Chao Phraya river ferries or travel on the super efficient and affordable Skytrain. Check out our top things to do in Bangkok with kids.
Chiang Mai is situated in the north of Thailand and is the seat of the former Lanna kingdom. Easily reached from Bangkok either by flight or by (much more interesting) overnight train. Compared to Bangkok it has a laid back vibe and is a great starting point for exploring the north of the country, where you can rub shoulders with elephants, take a bamboo raft downriver, visit or stay with a remote tribe and have fun partaking in various activities such as rock climbing, whitewater rafting and zip lining.
The Thai islands are famous for their gorgeous white sands, clear waters and beautiful and abundant sea life. Everything from wild Full Moon parties to luxury yoga retreats or chilled beach huts and quiet backpacker paradises can be found here. There are hundreds of islands to choose from, all with unique characters offering different experiences to travellers. You can stay in an exclusive and fully inclusive family resort, or in a hut on the beach with no electricity for a true Robinson Crusoe experience… and everything in between. Take some time researching the islands that will suit your family best.
Khao Sok National Park
Conveniently located not too far from Phuket, Khao Sok is just one of the breathtaking national parks Thailand has to offer. It is best known for it’s lush jungle interior and Cheow Lan Lake where you can stay on floating raft houses and take trips into the jungle interior. Home to an array of wildlife such as gibbons, long-tail macaques and hornbills, there are also wild elephants, sun bears and tigers, although these are very rarely seen.
Situated not far from Bangkok on an island at the confluence of three rivers, Ayutthaya was a capital of the former Siamese kingdom founded around 1350. It was a centre for trade and was once one of the biggest and most wealthy cities in the world. Largely destroyed by the Burmese in 1767, the remains which mostly consist of ruined temples and palaces are an UNESCO World Heritage Site and major attraction to visitors.
As well as the gateway to remote national parks, incredible waterfalls, caves and activities including whitewater rafting, Kachanaburi is a place of more recent historical significance. During the Second World War, Japanese forces used POWs and conscripted Asian labourers to build a rail route between Thailand and Burma. Part of this was a bridge now known as ‘The Bridge over the River Kwai’ (after the 1950’s novel which told the story). Known as the infamous Death Railway, many died during the construction. They are paid tribute in the museums and memorials of the area.
These are some of the best known highlights of Thailand. There are plenty more places to be explored if you want to go further off the beaten track.
Top tips for family travel in Thailand
- Try the street food! It is incredibly cheap and delicious! Pick stalls that appear busy and well populated with locals.
- Make sure you have good travel insurance that covers all eventualities. We recommend speaking to World Nomads.
- Avoid the sun during the hottest part of the day.
- Learn a few key phrases before you go, get the kids to practice using them at every opportunity. They will be rewarded at least with smiles for their efforts!
- Make sure kids stay well hydrated and drink bottled water. Although most ice is made from clean water, if in doubt avoid it.
- Consider a direct flight if you can, or maybe build in a couple of days stopover at a different destination en-route to make your trip into a bigger adventure and break up the journey.
- Don’t try to pack too much into your itinerary. The heat and humidity, combined with unfamiliarity of the culture can leave kids (and adults) in need of regular downtime. Plan maybe one activity per day and then spend the heat of the afternoon relaxing.
- Travel like a local! If in Bangkok for example try travel in a tuk-tuk, river taxi or songtheow. If you are staying on a very quiet island with little traffic, you might consider hiring a couple of mopeds to explore with your children. Make sure they are well maintained and you have good helmets that fit.
- Try at least a two destination stay, or maybe three if you have time. Thailand has so much to offer. Consider a few days in the city, followed by some nature immersion (think jungles, spotting gibbons and other rare wildlife, river rafting and elephant interactions for example) then finish with a few days snorkelling and relaxing on a glorious sandy island beach beside turquoise waters…
- See if any festivals are occurring during your trip. One of the most famous is Loi Krathong where beautiful handmade Krathongs are floated down the rivers carrying the wishes of the people.
- Don’t necessarily rule out travel ‘out of season’. Thailand’s dry season runs from November through to March but travel either side of that can be more affordable and less touristy at prime destinations. September / October can be a great time to visit the north for example.
- Use good suncream and mosquito repellent generously. Personally I always go DEET free and use Incognito Mosquito Repellent.
There are an eyepopping array of activities available for families in Thailand. From taking a tuk-tuk to the Grand Palace and the giant reclining Buddha at Wat Pho in Bangkok, learning to cook a Thai meal, snorkelling over coral reefs, bathing an elephant and visiting a hill tribe near Chiang Mai or building a bamboo raft to float down the river… you can be guaranteed there will no be complaints of ‘I’m bored’ or ‘There’s nothing to do!’
Thailand is an amazing destination for families. Don’t be put off by the distance, kids are fantastically resilient when it comes to travel. Seeing a totally new culture and different ways of life through the eyes of your children is surely one of the most rewarding experiences you can have.