Tuesday, 20 September 2022

5 Things to do with Children in Bangkok, Thailand

Bangkok is a common starting point for exploring south east Asia as the airport has many flight routes from around the world.  We arrived in the late afternoon and had pre-booked our hotel and transfers to make things easier, but we started to get a sense of how vibrant the city was as we drove through.  As with many big cities, there are different districts and areas and the one we stayed in had plenty to see within walking distance as well as being close to lots of places we wanted to visit.

Bangkok is associated more with 20 year old backpackers than young families but we were excited to see the city and it was a great place to adjust to the culture shock of a new continent as it was easy to find western comforts like McDonalds and soft play centres but there was so much that was unique to Thailand too.

If you are planning a trip to Bangkok with young children, here are five things you could do as a family.

Bangkok with kids, bangkok temples with children



1) Check out the Night Markets

Thailand is known for its night markets and Bangkok has some of the most famous including Chatuchak, Rod Fai and Chang Chui.  The night markets sell everything from clothing to toys and my children loved having a few baht to buy themselves a souvenir.  Bartering is a part of life here and we encouraged them to get involved too.  As well as shopping, some of the best food is available at the night markets and it is an inexpensive way to try new things.  Main meals are available but so is freshly cooked corn on the cob, fruit smoothies in every flavour and some more obscure snacks.  I was happy buying a few interesting looking dishes for the children to try at the markets rather than in a restaurant as it wasn't a problem if they didn't like them.

Bangkok with kids, night market bangkok



2) Central World - Playmondo and ride ons

We wanted to encourage our children to eat what the local children would, but it was all in balance and that meant we were also inevitably going to try Thai McDonalds.  There are several shopping malls that are bigger than anything we have come across in the UK and we picked Centralworld to visit.  We all appreciated the air conditioning and there was every shop you could think, spread over several floors.  What we really wanted to find though was Playmondo.  It was the cleanest soft play we have visited with so many staff on the play floor keeping it clean and safe.  It was also the most expensive soft play we have ever visited which was a bit of a shock considering how much cheaper most things are in Thailand! 

There was an enormous ball pit, a small climbing wall and sunken trampolines as well as usual play centre equipment. There was a smaller area with colouring and crafts too which Cora enjoyed.  Just outside Playmondo were electric ride on animals that you could rent and ride around the mall and these were a big hit with my gang too.  There was also a small arcade area next door to Playmondo.  My children love trying out a new soft play and it gave me a chance to sit quietly with a coffee.


3) Lumpini Park 

There are a few green spaces in Bangkok but we visited Lumpini park which is very central and there was lots to keep children entertained.  On our way in there were men selling fish food and we eventually found the fish who jumped enthusiastically and open mouthed to eat the food we threw in.  There are roughly 400 monitor lizards (between 1 and 3 metres long) roaming the park and my children were convinced they were actually baby dinosaurs. There is a large population of turtles too although we didn't spot any.

The park has walkways around a large lake, a big playground, sports courts and an outdoor gym as well as some public toilets next to it all (not something we saw a lot of).  As it gets dark, the paths are lined with joggers who follow a one way track around the park .  The artificial lakes have swan pedalo boats you can hire for a really reasonable price too.

Lumpini park is the perfect escape from a hot, busy city and is easy to get to via BTS or taxi as well as being walking distance from Centralworld.

Bangkok with kids, lumpini park



4) Take them to see some Temples

It seems a shame to go all the way to Thailand and not take in some of the incredible temples.  You can't avoid seeing the small shrines and there are temples everywhere but there are some really impressive ones that are definitely worth a visit and Bangkok has plenty to chose from.  The Grand Palace, Wat Pho, Wat Arun . . . Depending on your interest, you can either choose one or two and find your own way there, or hire a taxi or tuktuk for a few hours and ask them to take you round to see a few. They sometimes come with small entrance fees but each one has so much to see and the giant buddhas, intricate architecture and vibrant paintings are fascinating for all ages.  

Bangkok with kids, temples in Bangkok




5) Khao San road

Famous as being the hub for backpackers, this is where I stayed when I visited many years ago and I have vivid memories of this street. Lined with pubs, bars and shops selling souvenirs, it was the best place to get cheap food in the day and party at night. It has been hit rather hard by Covid and it didn't have quite the same atmosphere, but it was a fun street to explore with children and a great place to do some shopping.  The children all spent some holiday money here and we tried different fruit smoothies from the stalls I remember visiting when I rolled out of bed in the mornings too. 

Khao San road was in a different part of Bangkok to where we were staying so it gave us a new and less built up area to explore away from our hotel as well.  I imagine staying here after dark there would be a lot more atmosphere, but it is definitely worth a trip with children to go shopping and enjoy some drinks.

Bangkok with kids, Khaosan road






I had planned so much more for our time in Bangkok but of course it was never going to be long enough!  If you are staying longer and want more ideas then check out

A trip to Kanchanaburi
The floating Markets
Visit Ayutthaya
Elephant Sanctuaries
A boat trip down the river


and so much more!


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Tuesday, 13 September 2022

2.5 Weeks in Thailand - Our Family Travel Itinerary

We spent nearly five weeks in South East Asia with our five children and I have had lots of requests to share our itinerary so this is the first part, our 2.5 weeks in Thailand.  Our trip was a mix of lots of research and plenty of flexibility as we made decisions on the road about what we would do and what pace we would move at.  When we were thinking about doing a bigger activity or trip, we sat down as a family to look at the options and we decided together which one we wanted to do. I will note some other activities that we missed in some locations  that I would have loved to do if we had more time! 

Thailand family travel, thailand with kids itinerary



Bangkok

We flew into Bangkok and made sure we had 5 days there to acclimatise to the heat, culture and time zone.  We stayed in Travelodge Sukhumvit 11  which was a fantastic hotel with family rooms, free buffet breakfast and a rooftop pool.  There were plenty of places we could walk to and getting to other parts of the city was cheap.

In Bangkok we visited 
  • Some temples (easily assessible via taxi or tuktuk). Look at The Grand Palace, Wat Pho, Wat Arun and Wat Indharaviharn
  • Shopping centres including Centralw0rld which has the soft play centre 'Playmondo'.  Terminal One is another fantastic shopping mall.
  • Khaosan road, the backpacker haven which has plenty of places to shop and drink.
  • Asiatique on the river front - This wasn't our favourite area though but there are plenty of places to eat and drink as well as some fairground rides.
  • We explored some of the smaller night markets around our hotel, there are so many to choose from.
  • Lumphini Park, where you can feed the crazy fish, see the Monitor lizards up close, ride pedalos and play in the brilliant playground.
  • Lots of time swimming in the hotel pool, admiring the skyline and adjusting to the heat.

If we had more time in Bangkok then I would have loved to do more of the night markets, specifically Chatuchak, and some of the floating markets.  Pororo is a water park on top of a shopping centre that we had considered too.  You can read more about our time in Bangkok here

Thailand family travel, thailand with kids itinerary




Hua Hin

We got a private taxi to Hua Hin as it worked out not much more than a train when we needed to pay for 6 people, and we stayed at Subhamitra Hotel.  The hotel is a great location for exploring on foot and we could walk down to the beach easily as well as being only two minutes walk from the night market which we loved.  We had Thai massages at the night market, ate at fresh seafood restaurants and enjoyed the more chilled atmosphere after Bangkok In Hua Hin there are two water parks but we decided to visit Black Mountain which was a 15 minute taxi ride away.

We arranged a private taxi down to our next destination too as it worked out a similar price to paying for trains and transfers and we could stop as much as we wanted on the journey.  For smaller groups or to save a few pennies there is a train service that runs between these locations. We arranged the transport the day before we wanted to travel through local companies.

Thailand family travel, thailand with kids itinerary




Chumphon

In Chumphon we stayed at  De Sea Almond.  We had picked a hotel right on the seafront and it was a very quiet area where nobody spoke English.  If you need a bit of time out then this is a great area as the beach is beautiful and great for collecting shells and the food is cheap.  It is also close to the ferry pier to get to the gulf coast islands which is why we chose this area.  We only had one night here so we didn't do much other than enjoy the beach and have a little walk.

From Chumphon you can catch the ferry to the three gulf coast islands, Koh Tao (the smallest, best for scuba diving), Koh Phanghan (best known for the full moon parties) and Koh Samui (the largest).  We booked our ferry tickets at our hotel the night before we wanted to leave.  It took us around 3 hours to get to Koh Samui and we had decided because of Ed working, it made more sense for us to just pick one island and have a base for a bit longer rather than hopping between them.

Thailand family travel, thailand with kids itinerary



Koh Samui

In Koh Samui we stayed at  Hotel Ibis Bophut, a seafront hotel on Bophut beach.  The hotel had three pools, a laundry room, gym, restaurant and private beach as well as table tennis area and a small playground and is ideal for families with the interconnecting rooms. We spent a whole week here which gave us plenty of time to make the most of the pools and beach (which offers very reasonably priced rentals of stand up paddle boards and kayaks.  Other things we did in Koh Samui were:

  • Walk down to Fisherman's village to explore the night market (on Wednesdays and Fridays)
  • Watch the fire show (twice) at Coco Tam's on Bophut beach.  This is a beautiful beach bar with beanbag seating on the beach. We had drinks and snack plates of chicken nuggets and chips here.
  • A full day snorkelling speed boat trip with Mr. Tu. We were picked up from our hotel for a trip that took us snorkelling at two locations at Koh Tao and Koh Nang Yuan as well as lunch at another beach. This is our favourite day in Thailand so if you have water loving kids don't miss out on this trip!
  • Saw the temples Big Buddha and Wat Plai Laem. Make sure you either cover up shoulders and knees or borrow one of the free kimonos to be respectful.  It is about 10 minutes walk between the two and there are plenty of places to get cold drinks and food at both.
  • Went swimming in Na Muang 1 waterfall. It is cold and so refreshing and we could see elephants on our way in and out of the area.
  • Went beach hopping.  We saw a few but Crystal Cove/Silver Beach was our favourite.  Accessed through a hostel and cafĂ©, it is a smallish beach with white sand and crystal clear water and we had fish swimming around us. 
  • Walked around Chaweng at night.  There are lots of amazing restaurants (If you want great quality western food then The Hungry Wolf did what Ed described as the best burger he had ever had).  This is a good area to watch a cabaret show too.
Thailand family travel, thailand with kids itinerary



Other things I would have loved to fit in on Koh Samui would be a visit to an ethical elephant sanctuary (One that does not allow riding on or bathing with the elephants), however the children just weren't as interested as I thought they would be.  If we had more time then a day trip to Ang Thong, a national marine park would have been top of our list too for more snorkelling.  Visiting the other islands properly as well would have been lovely - it takes only half an hour on the ferry to Koh Phanghan.


We spent 2.5 weeks in Thailand between these four destinations and I think Koh Samui was our favourite place, probably as it is the most traditional holiday type place. Koh Samui has its own airport which has flights to and from Bangkok and other parts of Thailand (we had to transfer through Bangkok when leaving).  There is a ferry service that runs from Koh Samui over to Surat Thani on the mainland too if you want to continue exploring Thailand or head down to Malaysia. 

Thailand family travel, thailand with kids itinerary



Thailand is such an incredible country to explore with children and everywhere we went was so child friendly.  Each city and area had a unique personality and we only saw such a small part of it.  Please ask any questions about our itinerary or travelling in Thailand with kids either here or over on social media

After Thailand we flew to Vietnam and you can read our Vietnam family travel itinerary here
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Friday, 9 September 2022

Planning Our Backpacking Trip With Kids

I have so much that I want to share about our recent five week backpacking trip to Southeast Asia with our five children. I will write up our itinerary, some information on our favourite places and what worked for us as a family with young children but the best place to start seems to be with the planning.

This was a big, special trip for us, something we have been thinking about for over three years. We inherited a bit of money and decided to spend it on travel, specifically Thailand as it is somewhere Ed has wanted to visit for a long time but we wanted to wait until the children were a little bit older, out of nappies and strollers and able to carry a backpack. Covid then got in the way and along came a surprise baby but we decided it would be easier with Rex being smaller rather than a toddler so we continued planning our adventure.

planning a family backpacking trip, backpacking with kids, south east asia with kids



The Route

I went backpacking after university and my favourite country was Vietnam so I really wanted to show the rest of my family why.  Travel between Thailand and Vietnam was easy so we decided to do both. I really wanted to visit somewhere new to me as well as we were travelling so far so I spent a lot of time looking at flight paths as I knew we would be tired at the end of our travels and Singapore fit the criteria of having both a direct flight from Vietnam and a direct flight back to London.  When planning where in the countries we would visit, a big factor was weather.  It is Monsoon season in much of south east Asia over our summer -something I was happy to embrace as it rarely rains for longer than an hour, but it did influence the routes we would take. I decided to stick to the southern half of both Thailand and Vietnam, and we visited the islands on Thailand's gulf coast as their monsoon season is later and the west coast islands would be wetter in August.  Bangkok is the easiest place to fly into, but we chose to fly out of Koh Samui and into Ho Chi Minh city in southern Vietnam.  I then picked an airport in central Vietnam - Da Nang to fly out of, creating the routes we would need to take across each country.

I always knew I would put it together myself, partly because it is cheaper and our money will go further, and also for the flexibility.  I loved the freedom of backpacking as a 21 year old, being able to change my route or times and I wanted that with the children as it was our first attempt at this kind of travel and I wasn't sure what pace would suit us best.  The first thing I needed to book was flights.

The Flights

There are many apps and websites to compare flights and I would suggest trying a few to find the best deals.  You can set up Google alerts for a few days on one route to keep an eye on fluctuating prices and websites like Sky scanner do the same.  I followed prices for a while to find out how much my flights should be and then waited for them to drop a little before I booked.  This is all time consuming but the flights I was looking at fluctuated by over £200 each, so with 6 seats to book it was definitely worth spending some time researching. We had a little flexibility with our travel dates so I had alerts set up for 4 days to look for which would be cheapest to fly.

As well as booking our outward and home flights, I decided to book flights between Thailand and Vietnam, and from Vietnam to Singapore.  The prices didn't fluctuate as much, but I had set my flight budget and it made sense to have those booked in so I didn't have to keep the money aside during the trip.  Our Vietnam to Singapore flight ended up being cancelled and moved whilst we were away but otherwise we kept to these dates.  Another reason for this, is that both Thailand and Vietnam have a Visa exemption rule for tourists staying less than 30 and 15 days respectively so I needed to ensure we would stick to this (or we would need to apply for and pay for an extended visa), and both countries wanted to see proof of onward travel before you board the plane. At both our London and Thai airport, I was asked to show onward plane tickets so I was glad I had these prepared.

planning a family backpacking trip, backpacking with kids, south east asia with kids



Accommodation

Although it isn't always the cheapest option, I used Booking.com to book most of our accommodation.  It has lots of options, competitive prices and I knew I had all the information I needed in one app.  There are also lots of hotels that offer free cancellation so I could keep flexibility in our plans. The most important accommodation to book before we went was the first few nights in each country and I had set myself a budget for each night.  We needed two rooms, partly because seven is just a lot to fit in one, and also Ed was going to be working nearly full time whilst we were away, so he needed a private room with a desk to work in, and I needed a room big enough for the five children and I to be in when he was on calls and we wanted to have some chill time. The most important factors for us when looking for accommodation were good WIFI (for working), family sized rooms and a swimming pool, so that we had somewhere to cool off.  Location is important but with transport being so reasonable in the areas we were visiting, we didn't mind compromising a little.  I had looked at hostels but with the need for a secure working space and the fact there were so many of us, cheaper hotels were a better option.

The first hotel I booked was our Bangkok one, based almost entirely on the fact it had a rooftop pool and I had always wanted to swim in one. After planning the route we wanted to take, I started booking other hotels for Thailand, but always with free cancellation so that if we wanted to change the pace we could.  The Bangkok hotel was definitely one of our favourites - I will share all the hotels we stayed at in a separate post.

For Vietnam, I booked only the first three nights in Ho Chi Minh City before we left as I wanted to see how things went in Thailand and see what sort of places we enjoyed most before committing to anything and I was really glad that we hadn't planned ahead.  It was low season when we travelled and we had no problems booking as we went (or turning up at hotels and asking to have a look before we were bound).

Booking.com is easy to use and you can look at results either as a list or on a map (helpful if you know you want to stay in the town centre or close to a beach).  You can filter results (we used the free WIFI and swimming pool filters to make sure we didn't fall in love with a hotel that wasn't suitable) but there are others depending on your priorities. You can book far in advance, but we also used it to book for the next day on occasion.

planning a family backpacking trip, backpacking with kids, south east asia with kids



Planning for in the countries

Whilst I wanted to travel with flexibility, I didn't want to turn up unprepared so I bought a notebook and started planning.  For each destination I thought we might visit, I looked up attractions, tips, restaurants and ideas and wrote them all down.  I used hashtags on Instagram to research, I followed expats living in the areas and I googled things.  I didn't book anything but I had a starting point.  

I also used websites like Rome to Rio and Facebook groups dedicated to backpacking to look at the best way to get between destinations and recorded these all in my notebook too.  My notebook was full of ideas and it stopped me feeling intimidated when we arrived in a new location by all the possibilities.  We ended up doing so much that I hadn't thought of, going to places we saw or following personal recommendations out there and I used the same notebook to record everything we were doing so I could write it up when we got home.

As well as planning for what we would do and see, I also printed out the phrases 'no egg or dairy please' in the languages of the countries we were visiting and the exchange rates so that I had something to consult and to show if I needed.  I got some money exchanged into Thai Baht but decided to just take out Vietnamese Dong and Singapore Dollars from cash machines when we arrived in the countries.

ad // One of the most important parts of planning was making sure that we had adequate travel insurance, something that we would never travel with out.  We have a policy with Cover For You which has comprehensive covid insurance as well as extra gadget insurance (necessary when Ed is bringing his work laprops) and zero excess.  


Packing

Whilst I call it a backpacking trip, we actually ended up taking two suitcases between us as it seemed the easiest thing to travel with when I would have a baby on my front as well.  I did a huge pharmacy shop with everything we could possibly need and plenty of mosquito repellent.  We packed 8 light outfits each with the plan to get our clothes washed regularly whilst away and the children had small backpacks each with some toys and tech, spare t-shirts and swimwear in case our luggage got delayed and plenty of plane snacks.  I wanted to travel light enough that we could easily get around and two suitcases was plenty for the seven of us.  Most things are so much cheaper in south east Asia so we were happy to buy anything we might have forgotten rather than packing too many 'just in case' items.

Rex is breastfed so I didn't need to worry about bottles and milk and he mostly eats what we do, however I packed a few familiar safe snacks for him.  I tried to pack enough nappies for the whole trip, knowing that as we used them up, we would create space for souvenirs and it worked well.  You can buy nappies out there, but they are more expensive and lower quality.  I took both a stroller and a baby carrier as the pavements were not suitable for a stroller in most places, but it was useful to have for airports and some destinations when we weren't going far.  Mostly Rex was in a carrier on my front though. Rex also had a small bag of toys, although he is at the age where everyday items like hairbrushes are more interesting.  

planning a family backpacking trip, backpacking with kids, south east asia with kids





I loved planning our trip, looking for bargains and finding inspiration and everything went so smoothly whilst we were away that it felt worthwhile putting in the effort before we left.
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