A short commute from Bangkok, Ayutthaya is Thailand’s answer to Siem Reap. The ancient city of abandoned ruins offers a wondrous place for kids and adults to explore and learn about Thai history. Because it is one of the most underrated tourist attractions in Southeast Asia, it also offers many quiet nooks and spaces to chill and soak all the temples in. Plus it has one of the best interactive elephant attractions in the region. If you're after a great family adventure holiday, Ayutthaya with kids is great.
Ayutthaya is a surprisingly easy option to view Siamese ruins and doesn’t require as much commitment as going to Siem Reap. About an hour’s drive from Bangkok, it can easily occupy a day trip. Better still, organise your visit around an elephant interaction and invest a few nights so you can really relax and enjoy the whole experience.
The most famous ruins (such as Wat Phra Si Sanphet, Wat Mongkhon Bophit, Wat Phre Meru and Wat Rathburana) can be easily walked around with children and the atmosphere alone means you don’t require a tour guide unless you are particularly interested in a more in-depth understanding of the heritage. Walking through the magnificent old city gives a real sense of wonder at the scale of the ancient kingdom and the turbulence of Thai history and children will be awe-struck by the characteristic prang towers.
But while the ruins might be the UNESCO tourist attraction, for kids, it’s the Royal Elephant Kraal & Village that will be the highlight and around which your itinerary should be planned. If you book far enough in advance, you can stay on site and care for your own specifically assigned elephant for the length of your visit – from feeding and bathing to riding the giant beasts. It’s an intimate once-in-a-lifetime experience to get really hands on and up close with an elephant that your kids will be talking about forever.
(Check out baby elephant Bumblebee playing soccer with a watermelon and one of the guests.)
While there are no age limitations, we suggest toddlers under 3 are probably too young for the experience as spending time with the animals is a day-long commitment not conducive to small children who require a lot of hands-on attention but have a short attention span themselves.
Street food is generally not safe to eat. While there are some local restaurants that are fine for adults, they are probably not safe for children. Generally Western-catering facilities (including the higher end hotels) are fine if you avoid fresh fruits and vegetables (stick to cooked foods or fruit and veg you can peel like bananas). Alternatively, bring your own (especially infant formula).
When sightseeing at the temples bring food with you – there are plenty of nice spots to sit on the grass (or the ruins) in the middle of the day and enjoy a memorable picnic lunch.
Temple viewing is best done in the mornings and late afternoons when it’s not so hot. The temples and the busy streets of the very rustic Ayutthaya are not stroller-friendly, so these sites are best travelled with extremely young babies in strapped-on carriers or otherwise children who are prepared to walk.
Basic first world amenities can be difficult to come by so if in doubt, pack it in your suitcase. Any special medications, creams or other necessities should be brought with you.
It is not safe to drink the water from the tap in Thailand. Only use bottled water for drinking and be wary of children drinking water in the shower or the bath.
To read more about the elephants of Thailand, see the suitcases&strollers story Elephant Polo.