Thailand is my happy place. The country as a destination has been an open secret with Australians for decades, and my first visit in the mid 90s had me hooked. Bangkok was just chaotic, noisy, exotic, enticing, and colourful enough for me to fall in love.
I’ve been back more than once and taken my two children there for a family vacation. They loved everything about it! If you’re considering Southeast Asia for your next vacay with the kids, there are plenty of reasons why Bangkok rocks for families.
Tuk-tuks or sam lor are the ultimate in transport — especially if you’re a kid! Not unlike sitting in a high-speed shopping trolley, tuk-tuks offer unfettered views as they zip along Bangkok’s streets, and they’re also easy and cheap to hire.
The Chao Phraya River sweeps through Bangkok, providing the city with another transport artery. A cheap and fun way to get around — without the traffic — is to hop on the Chao Phraya Express ferry. Or you can ride a longtail boat along Bangkok’s hidden network of waterways and see another side of Thailand’s relentless capital.
Bangkok is awash with open-air food stalls, carts, and pop-up outdoor restaurants along commuter stations, by the river, and in popular areas of the city. In the mornings, expect to see stalls selling coffee and patongo (sweet deep-fried dough).
Pull up a plastic chair on the sidewalk and order anything from stir fry to spring rolls, salad and satays to pad Thai — all prepared right in front of you. If you’re worried about your child getting ill, ensure a bit of due diligence before you dine. Check if there’s a crowd, and bonus points if other families are eating there, too. Determine if the stand or cart looks clean and whether the ingredients look and smell fresh. When it comes to spiciness, ask for it to be mild, and skip the condiments (you can always travel with sachets of ketchup, which is practically a food group for most kids). The beauty of street food is it’s cheap — and fresh — so if your little ones do wrinkle their nose up at what’s placed in front of them, you’ve only spent a few dollars.
All around the city you’ll also find carts selling fresh pineapple, papaya, and watermelon in small plastic bags with a stick for spearing the juicy chunks of fruit. After all, who doesn’t love eating food off a stick?
Part of the fun of travelling with kids is seeing how other people live. Even simple things like learning how to say “hello” and “thank you” in Thai are fun to master (it became something of a party trick when my children finally perfected the words), or knowing to greet locals with a slight bow and a smile.
Get up close and experience some of Thailand’s culture at Wat Pho, one of Bangkok’s biggest and most impressive temples. It’s a great place for kids to explore (Wat Pho is enclosed) and stare in awe at the 46-metre-long gold Reclining Buddha. Wat Pho is also the headquarters for teaching traditional Thai massage. If your children are old enough, they can sign up for a massage, or — as I found — you may have willing sitters in the form of other massage therapists while you bliss out for half an hour in the capable hands of a Thai masseuse.
Finally, like in many Asian countries, I’ve found the Thai people love children — which makes travelling as a kid even more joyful. Don’t be surprised if the staff at your hotel offer to whisk your kids away to play while you finish your meal in peace.
I want you to go all the way to Thailand and hang out in the mall? Yep. On those days when you want to escape the humidity or the tail end of the rainy season, escape with the kids to the mall.
The Siam Paragon mall is not only home to luxury brands like Prada — it also houses an aquarium, funky bowling alley, and VIP theatre with the kind of luxury experience you’d expect to find on a first-class flight.
Spend the day gazing at fish at the Sea Life Ocean World Bangkok. The aquarium is in the basement of the Siam Paragon mall and houses more than 30,000 sea creatures. (While some of the hands-on activities for children — including a petting pond with starfish — have come under scrutiny by visitors, the aquarium is affiliated with the SEA LIFE Trust, a charity dedicated to the conservation of marine wildlife and their environment. If you go, please visit responsibly and notify the aquarium of any concerns.)
Finally, then hit up the Blu-O Rhythm and Bowl on the fifth floor of the Siam Paragon mall. The glow-in-the-dark alley comes with a resident DJ spinning retro tracks and wait staff who serve food (and a cold beer!) while you concentrate on bowling that strike.
Bangkok is the ideal springing-off point to dozens of idyllic tropical islands. Take a flight from the city or, for real adventure, hop on the overnight train with sleeper cars. Wake up the next morning a boat ride away from paradise.
With more than 3,000 miles of tropical coastline, it’s no wonder Thailand attracts families from around the world. Kids know the rules of tag are universal and we discovered you don’t need to know much Thai to take on the locals at foosball, either. On Thailand’s low-key islands like Koh Phayam, Koh Lanta, or Koh Mook, you can spend your days hunting for crabs in rock pools in the early morning, potter around barefoot building sandcastles in the sand, or snorkel in the aquamarine blue water. There’s usually a hammock nearby if it all feels too strenuous.