Insider's city guide to Bangkok with kids. Thailand with kids is one of the best family holiday destinations in the world but there is so much more to it than just the beautiful beaches. The capital Bangkok with kids is a sensory overload – humid tropical weather, noise and hustle and bustle. With its combination of emerging first world meets traditional Southeast Asia, this makes it the perfect family holiday destination for the intrepid family, says Cordelia Newlin de Rojas of blog Multilingual Mama. She tells suitcases&strollers her city secrets to exploring Bangkok with kids (she has two daughters Pea, 6, and Plum, 4).
Why should parents plan a family holiday in Bangkok?
Whether you are coming from a neighbouring Southeast Asian country or making a long haul trip, Bangkok is an incredible city and it’s worth spending a few days to get to know this part of Thailand before jetting off to one of the more known beach or tourist destinations. The city has so much more to offer than its legendary traffic and immaculate shopping malls. It's a great way for families to really get a sense of Thai every day life.
Where is your favourite place to take kids in Bangkok?
My all time favourite place is the Red Cross Snake Farm on Rama IV. Apart from being centrally located and accessible by public transport, it feels tropical and like a little refuge from the city’s intensity. The buildings are beautiful and the outdoor snake displays are a shaded walk through a small garden. There is also an indoor museum if you want to take refuge from the heat. They have two shows a day, the milking of the venom in the morning and – in my opinion, the main attraction – a snake handling exhibition, which culminates with the opportunity of posing with a python boa. It NEVER gets old and I am not even a snake fan. Plus I much prefer seeing them there than when I come across them in my garden.
Where is your kids’ favourite place in Bangkok to hang out?
My kids really like running around the parks. Lumphini, accessible from Sathorn, Silom MRT or a short cab ride from a number of Sukhumvit BTS stations [Rama IV Rd., Pathumwan, Bangkok, Thailand], is a favourite as it is near our house and fairly big. You can take a pedalo out and spot the turtles and humongous lizards! During the winter months they put on a free concert late Sunday afternoons which is wonderful and remains one of my daughters’ favourite days ever.
What is the best free activity to do with kids in Bangkok?
There are a number of great free spaces to take kids; one of our favourites is the Butterfly Park [Kamphaeng Phet 3 Rd., Chatuchak, Bangkok, Thailand, +66 2 272 4359]. It's up by Chatuchak inside one of the larger green parks. It’s free entry and it's pretty amazing to see so many butterflies so close up. Kids can then run around in the park or you can hire bicycles to get around.
[For more travel tips on free activities for kids available in most cities, see the suitcases&strollers story here.]
Where is the best place to take kids in Bangkok when the weather is bad?
There are SO many options in Bangkok for hot or wet weather. Every mall has either a free or paying play area. Two top best contenders are the aquarium and Kidzania, both very pricey and both at Siam Paragon shopping mall.
Another great option is Central World Shopping Centre. There is every shop imaginable including a book store with cushions and seats for kids to browse, a free small play area with big wooden slides for a run around, movie theatres, ice skating rink and a digital library with a dedicated children's room called TK Park on the top floor. It costs peanuts to go in. Most of the books are in Thai but there are some English titles, board books as well as wooden toys for kids to play with.
Finally there is also the Science Centre by the Ekkamai BTS. It’s a super cheap entry fee with several buildings. Some of the exhibits are a bit run down and lots of signs are in Thai but kids seem to love it.
What are some of the city secrets that tourists might not know about but shouldn’t miss on a family holiday in Bangkok with kids?
I am still discovering the gems of the city but I’d say the butterfly park is one of them. Also most people think of Thailand as either the urban city or beaches but there are many wonderful outings to do within a couple of hours’ commute from Bangkok which aren’t the laminated options some cab drivers hand out. The city is a nice anchor to use in order to do some over night trips to various destinations not technically in the city but still fairly close by.
There is a traditional Thai puppet show at Baan Silapin [Soi Wat Thong Sala Ngram, Phasi Charoen, Bangkok, Thailand, +66 83 034 9858] most days at 2pm. Call ahead to make sure the performance is on the day you want to visit.
Another option is to visit the Bang Krachao island also known as the “lungs of Bangkok”. Easily accessible by MRT and a short cab ride to the pier you cross the river to this lush green area with few tourists and a real floating market at the weekend. Kudos to the government for keeping this area protected.
There are lots of wonderful temples to visit. If you only have a few days you can visit the Wat Hua Lamphong [Si Phraya, Bang Rak, Bangkok, Thailand] (near Sam Yan MRT) which is near the snake farm. You will often see water buffalo there waiting for Thais to make merits to save them from the slaughter house.
If you want to enjoy a traditional Thai massage, places are happy to accommodate kids. Beds are generally separated by curtains so you can all be together. My girls love them.
What’s the best way for children to have an authentic Bangkok experience?
The best way is not to be afraid to walk around the city and discover the small sub sois [back streets]. Bangkok is full of hidden streets. People can live here for years and only see a minute fraction of the city. To experience life here, the sights and smells, both good and bad, you need to walk around. It’s an extremely safe city. People are overall super friendly. So take the small paths and lose yourself in the back streets.
On rare occasions, people will try to scam tourists but this will almost always happen via taxis or vendors on the main roads in central touristy areas, not anywhere else.
A great option for kids over 3 years old is taking the water taxi and hopping on and off to check out various temples and markets.
Where are your top 3 places for family-friendly restaurants in Bangkok?
Eating anywhere in Bangkok with kids is generally a nice experience since people adore kids. Staff will often want to spend time with, entertain and frequently pose for pictures with your kids.
My personal favorite – and it isn’t a Thai food eatery – is a Middle Eastern and brick oven pizza place called Mama Dolores on Soi Yenakat in the Sathorn area. It is in the open air but shaded. There are big typical Thai cushions and if you ask the waiter they will usually give young kids some pizza dough to play with. When you need a break from Pad Thai and green curry, this is the place to go.
The new food court at Central Embassy, near the Ploenchit BTS, is wonderfully done and provides a bunch of options suiting everyone’s tastes. They have stands set up as vending cards and their placemats are a map to the food court indicating from which region foods come from.
Asiatique Market on the riverfront is a great way to walk around, see the river, shop and eat and, again, provides many food options.
[Thai food, with its strong flavours, can be intimidating to many children. For more travel tips on introducing kids to foreign foods, see the suitcases&strollers interview with celebrity chef Emmanel Stroobant.]
What are your tips for kids' shops in Bangkok?
The markets like the one in Pratunam and, in particular, the Platinum malls are filled with lots of different little venders. Don’t be taken aback by the number of winter clothes sold here. It’s one of the things I still can’t figure out about Southeast Asia.
I personally find herding kids in the open air markets stressful but, if you don’t, Chatuchak Weekend Market is full of gems.
It works with very small kids you can carry in a carrier or ones that are happy walking. The 3- to 5-year-old stage would be difficult as the kids are heavy to carry but tire easily.
There is a shopping mall also worth visiting called Terminal 21 that is set out like an airport. Each floor is themed to a different major city including the rest rooms. It differs from most other malls as several of the floors have little boutiques with independent Thai designers who are incredibly talented versus the usual mall franchises.
Where is the best place to find family friendly accommodation in Bangkok with kids?
I’ve never been a hotel person and, particularly with young kids, I prefer to opt for Airbnb options. [If you choose somewhere that has its own kitchen it means you can cook meals yourself which] is particularly helpful given the spicy nature of much of Thai food.
[For more travel tips on famliy friendly accommodation on Airbnb, see the suitcases&strollers story here.]
For convenience sake, I’d opt for places near a BTS or MRT train line. Some hotels may be off the beaten track but check if they have a hotel tuk tuk that will run you to the nearest public transport. Though cabs are super cheap and plentiful (and often cheaper for a family of 3 or 4 than the BTS), the traffic during rush hour and all day on Fridays makes public transport a popular choice.
Staying near Lumpini Park or Queen Bensajiri Park is nice as you have green space close by for the kids to run around in.
What is the ideal time frame for a holiday to Bangkok with kids?
Whether it’s three days or a week, you can always find things to fill your days. I'd say, in Bangkok with kids, pick a handful of things you know they will like and then head out to the gorgeous countryside.
[Ayutthaya is only about 80 kilometres from Bangkok and make for a beautiful countryside escape with kids in Thailand. Read all about it in the suitcases&strollers story here.]
When is the best time of year to visit Bangkok?
December to January is the time to visit. It's the “cold” season. Thailand gets pretty hot so the slightly cooler temperatures and occasional breeze makes this the perfect time to walk around the city.
What is the best way to move around Bangkok with kids?
BTS/MRT trains and taxis. The BTS skytrain turnstiles close frighteningly fast. With kids, opt to have the agent open the side door.
Tourists love tuk tuks but they are typically overpriced and not safe. Bangkok traffic is LEGENDARY. Avoid traveling at rush hour. Also insist on the taxi metre being used. If the driver doesn’t want to put the metre on, don’t take the taxi.
You will also find that many taxis don’t have seatbelts in the back. If you use a mobile service like GrabTaxi, you will have a better chance at a car with belts.
[For more travel tips on why it’s important to use kids car seats – and therefore probably not safe to use a tuk tuk when traveling with kids – see the suitcases&strollers interview with a car safety expert here.]
What are your top 3 tips for families travelling to Bangkok with kids?
· Good aerated sporting shoes! There are not many sidewalks and the pavements are uneven which makes good footwear crucial for walking around.
· Water bottles for the kids are essential, preferably something lightweight with a strap they can carry themselves if they are old enough so you don't have to be the camel for the family.
· Prepare your children for the site of “soi dogs.” The Buddhist religion prohibits killing animals and, as a result, many of the streets are littered with dogs, often in poor condition. This can be hard on kids who haven’t grown up with this.
Images: Sally Davies, Cameron Julie, Jess Wilkinson