If you’ve not been to SouthEast Asia before, Bangkok might not be the first city you think of as a great place to explore with children, but I would recommend taking a second look! Here are a few ideas for exploring Bangkok with kids…
Having visited Bangkok both with and without the kids, it’s become my favourite city worldwide (so far!) I actually think it’s an awesome place to bring the kids too. Unsurprisingly it’s very different from European cities. It’s a visual, chaotic delight of unusual foods, colourful markets, crazy traffic. There are super modern skyscrapers and shopping malls contrasting with ancient temples and quiet backwater Khlongs (canals) where traditional life by the river hasn’t changed much in 30 years. Using a good ounce of common sense, it’s a place I’ve always felt very safe in. It’s the gateway to much of Southeast Asia, so if you ever find yourself over that way take a few extra days to explore this city which is so rich in culture and colour.
Here are my top 5 things to do in Bangkok with kids, the things we enjoyed most, plus some others ideas if these aren’t up your street, and a great place to stay…
1. Take a guided trip to Khlong Ladmayom floating market
This was a highlight of our time in Bangkok with the kids. Khlong Ladmayom is a genuine market attended mainly by locals (as opposed to the more popular floating markets which are aimed primarily at tourists.) Only part of the market is actually floating, but it’s the real deal and a great place to eat and explore. From there we boarded a long tail and headed into the quiet backwater Khlongs to explore some local life, which included visiting a couple of local homes where crafts were made and sold. It was a relaxing morning spent away from the hot and hectic city streets. We were guided by lovely Pat from www.absolutelyfantasticholidays.com, a local company I would recommend.
2. Explore the maze of streets in Chinatown
Chinatown (otherwise known as Yaowarat), one of the oldest parts of Bangkok is fascinating, crowded, full of the weird and wonderful. Restaurants, food and market stalls line the maze of alleyways that intersect with the main street and each other. Stumble across hidden temples in quiet back roads including Wat Traimit which houses The Gold Buddha Statue (yes it’s REAL gold!). After dark the main Yaowarat Road becomes lit with neon and the place to eat on the street in Chinatown.
3. Visit The Grand Palace and Wat Pho
Although almost always very busy (and hot!), The Grand Palace is unmissable due to it’s jaw droppingly decorative architecture, steeped in rich history. We took our guide Pat again on our visit with the children in order to make the most of the highlights within limited, child-friendly sight seeing time constraints. When visiting you must take ID and dress appropriately (long skirt or trousers, shoulders covered and ideally covered shoes as well.) Watch out for scams close to the gate; if someone approaches you and informs you the Palace is shut (but they can take you on a different and very special tour, usually including visits to a family tailor or trinket shop) politely refuse and walk away.
A short Tuk Tuk ride away is Wat Pho, The Temple of the Reclining Buddha. It is also home to supposedly the best school of massage in Thailand. The Buddha, a mere 160 feet long, is covered in gold leaf and a sight to behold. I love it here, although also very busy it has a more relaxed and peaceful vibe.
4. Try the different forms of transport!
Bangkok transport is more entertaining than most. The best way we found to negotiate the city (if you are close to it) is via the Chao Phraya River. The jump on, jump off river taxis are very cheap and easy as a means of transport. They travel up and down the river stopping briefly at piers along the route. The most fun means of transport (if you are feeling brave) are the Tuk Tuks. They wind through the traffic (at speed) which of course delights the kids. They are smelly, noisy and rather awesome! Make sure you negotiate the price of your journey before you jump on. It’s also very easy to grab a taxi, but be aware the the heavy traffic means it might take you a while to get to your destination.
The Sky Train (BTS) offers a clean, modern, efficient and elevated view of the city. There is also the underground (MRT). These connect the main shopping, business and entertainment areas.
5. Visit the famous (or infamous!) Khao San Road
Khao San Road is famous as the place for backpackers to meet and hang out. Described in the film The Beach as ‘..the centre of the backpacking universe’, Khao San is worth a visit in the evening (early, before things get too crazy) just to eyeball the wide array of street hawkers and live music bars, and to soak up the laid back party vibe. Everything from scorpions on sticks, children’s toys, hair braiding and tie-dye clothing can be found here. However do keep a close eye on your belongings (and your kids!) One of the things the kids were most excited about on Khao San was McDonalds!
These are the things we enjoyed most, but there’s a heap of other stuff to do too, such as:
Chatuchak Weekend Market
The biggest and most famous market in Bangkok, featuring a mind boggling array of different areas and stalls… hold on to your kids, it gets very busy!
The beautiful ‘Temple of the Dawn’ is a Bangkok landmark on the banks of the Chao Phraya and has a unique architecture. I’ve missed out on the last two visits for varying reasons but one day hope to climb the steep steps at dawn and watch the sunrise over the city.
Siam Ocean World
Located in the Siam Paragon Mall, the largest aquarium in Southeast Asia.
A huge green space offering an escape from the humid streets. Lumphini Park has a lake where boats can be hired, nice playgrounds and the odd monitor lizard wandering around.
Jim Thompson House
The former home of American art collector, architect and silk entrepreneur Jim Thompson, this museum consists of six traditional wooden Thai houses which were transported from Ayutthaya. They are home to his collection of Buddhist statues and Southeast Asian art. Maybe a good stopping off point with older children.
If a trip to the zoo if your thing, Dusit Zoo offers a day’s escape from the city streets.
I can’t recommend anywhere nicer to stay as a family than Phranakorn Nornlen. It’s a small and very charming backstreet hotel situated in Old Bangkok, close to The Grand Palace and Chinatown. It offers unique vintage decor, organic food and super friendly staff, and none of the trappings and luxury of the big hotels. Entertainment includes classes in soap making, Thai cooking and sewing, it has good Wifi, a comfy chill out area, rooftop evening restaurant, cafe, laundry and you can have a massage… all the essentials and kids are welcomed! It is a short walk to the nearest Pier from which you can jump on the river taxis. If a local experience is what you’re after, then Phranakorn Nornlen is a brilliant place to stay.
The vibe in this area of the city is much more local, calm and it feels safer than the big tourist focussed areas. The backstreets are a quiet haven from the huge bustle in the wider city, and full of little surprises and friendly smiles. There is ample street food to sample which means eating out is incredibly cheap. Aim for the sellers who are busiest mostly with local people as this is often an indicator of quality. (Give it a go, it’s usually really good!) Or there are a huge array of restaurants. Eating out in Bangkok is often no more expensive than self catering.