Thailand with Kids
A Children's Tropical Wonderland
Blessed with an extraordinarily varied landscape, a very agreeable tropical climate, rich culture, a friendly, ethnically-diverse populace, and a rather well-developed tourist infrastructure, Thailand is not without reason one of the most popular travel destinations on the globe. Add to that the fact that the locals invariably are extremely fond of kids, and you have the almost perfect getaway for a family vacation.
Kick boxing lesson (Muay Thai) at Samjuna Resort
Most North Americans and Europeans strive to spend the most precious weeks of the year in a warm climate and somewhere close to a nice beach. The southern region of Thailand certainly won’t disappoint them in this respect, as its literally thousands of miles of shoreline are dotted with hundreds of seaside resort towns, while the turquoise and deep blue waters of the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand are strewn with islands and islets of any size and in any state of development, from fully-fledged party places to absolutely pristine, remote Robinson-Crusoe islands.
But the country’s mountainous North also imparts its very own charms with a slew of ancient towns and cities steeped in history and featuring bustling markets and interesting cottage industries. Plenty of lush rainforest covers the mountain ranges for trips to hidden waterfalls, remote hilltribe villages and age-old hilltop temples, and countless rivers and brooks are ideal for rafting and kayaking adventures. The northern provinces are also home to numerous elephant camps, where visitors can experience these magnificent creatures safely yet close-up.
Below are a selection of activities in these two regions in Thailand to visit with your kids; and it’s really just a tiny, tiny fraction of what we can arrange. Once you have experienced Thailand and its enormous amount of leisure activities, you’ll probably wish to have stayed a little longer. Chances also are high that your offspring will begin pestering you (“Please, daddy, please!”) to soon visit this tropical wonderland on the other side of the world again. If you are stopping over in Bangkok, view our family adventures in the Siamese capital.
Khao sok, Kachanaburi, Chiang Rai and other remote places offer lush jungle adventures and settings from another world. Bamboo rafting, kayaking, cycling, elephant trekking and other amazing activities will provide plenty of thrills. Dramatic luxury lodges and resorts offer comfort among the spectacular landscapes (below).
Southern Island Life
While Thailand’s largest island Phuket is without doubt the country’s most important beach tourism hub with exhaustive shopping and dining options, and of course lots and lots of wonderful hotels, it can get uncomfortably crowded, especially during the high season. You might be well advised to check out one or another of the many smaller outlying islands, which can be easily reached from Phuket by hired boat or regular ferry. They may not offer the same over-the-top infrastructure development as their big sister, but their ecosystems are more intact, their beaches cleaner and less prone to being overrun by package tour hordes, yet offer some lovely accommodation choices and decent dining venues. Due to their relatively traffic-free environment, they’re also much safer for kids than bustling Phuket.
Just east of Phuket and across magnificent Phang Nga Bay lie the “twin islands” of Koh Yao Noi and Koh Yao Yai (literally: Small Long Island and Large Long Island), which are only separated from each other by a narrow channel. Koh Yao Noi in particular has carved itself out a niche for visitors who are looking for a more exclusive island retreat away from Phuket’s highly commercialized tourism environment. It is blessed with about half a dozen of breathtaking, palm-fringed beaches of gleaming white, powdery coral sand. The shallow, crystal clear water is safe for children and there are no dangerous currents. Each beach usually only has a couple of luxurious resorts, so it never becomes over-crowded. As the island is inhabited, you also can make excursions to traditional fishing villages. The interior invites to extensive nature walks among cashew tree, coconut and fruit orchards.
The lovely island of Koh Tao (Turtle Island) lies in the western Gulf of Thailand northeast of Phuket and across the thin and long stretch of land that forms southern Thailand. Part of Surat Thani province, the island is a clearly perceivable notch down from Phuket’s sometimes overwhelming hustle and bustle and thus perfect if you want to escape the crowds with your family. The surrounding sea sustains a myriad of tropical sea life and numerous coral banks, a fact that has made Koh Tao a mecca for scuba divers and snorkelers. The island’s long stretches of unspoiled beaches fringe shallow bays, which are safe for children to splash around, because they are generally calm and lack the often strong undercurrents that characterize those of Phuket. In recent years comparatively small Koh Tao (only 21 square kilometers) has also seen the emergence of a number of elegant and very comfortable up-market resorts, whose architecture perfectly blends into the palm plantations that blanket the island.
A little further away from Phuket and hard on the border with Malaysia sits Satun, one of Thailand’s smallest provinces. Its main claim to fame is breathtakingly beautiful Tarutao Marine National Park, comprising an archipelago of 51 islands and tiny islets, of which only one, boomerang-shaped Koh Lipe, is inhabited by indigenous sea gypsies, who settled down here about one century ago and established a village. It is also the only island, where a handful of rustic – but comfortable enough – beach resorts can be found. The archipelago’s status as a national park prohibits the building of large hotels, which also is the reason why Tarutao has so far been spared from mass tourism and uncontrolled overdevelopment. This of course makes Koh Lipe the perfect destination for a true Robinson Crusoe-style island holiday.
The tiny island’s three main beaches are virtually deserted, their shallow waters exceptionally clear. There are no cars on the island as there are no roads, and commuting between the beaches is done on foot (it only takes about 15 minute to cross) via a network of narrow paths enveloped by unbridled greenery. From Koh Lipe you also can explore the archipelago’s other islands. The largest one, Tarutao, which gave the entire island cluster its name, was once a penal colony for political prisoners and also served as the shooting location for the reality TV show “Survivor: Thailand”. Visiting the archipelago is best by charter boat for the entire duration in the mainland port town of Pak Bara. The skipper and his crew will sleep on board and will be on call 24/7.
If islands are not your thing, visit Khao Sok National Park, which is just a couple of hours drive northeast from Phuket. The vast park (739 sq. km) comprises the largest uninterrupted stretch of virgin rainforest in Thailand and according to researchers is older and more diverse in its flora than the Amazon rainforest. It is also home to a large variety of wildlife, including several monkey species (macaques, gibbons), Malaysian tapirs, langurs, deers and even elephants, which with a little luck can be observed during a jungle trek. A number of luxury eco resorts established just outside the park boundaries offer canoeing or kayaking on one of several rivers, visits to serene Chiao Lan reservoir lake, bicycle excursions and a host of other activities to keep you and the kids occupied.
After Bangkok and Phuket, the northern city of Chiang Mai is the third most-visited place in Thailand, and of course that is not without reason. Within its square ancient walls surrounded by a broad moat, Chiang Mai boasts literally dozens of centuries-old and incredibly picturesque temples. It also is noted for its world-famous, sprawling Night Bazaar, an extraordinarily broad selection of excellent dining and wining establishments and top-rated accommodation choices. However, most kids tend to become rather bored of prolonged and excessive shopping and dining, but Chiang Mai easily tends to their needs as well.
Chiang Mai Night Safari is a government-run nature theme park encompassing 327 acres and it’s only the third nocturnal zoo in the world (the other two being in Singapore and the Chinese city of Guangzhou). Many animals species are nocturnal or at least only come out after nightfall to feed. At dusk, visitors either board range rovers or minibuses especially fitted with spotlights or negotiate safe walking trails in order to track down and observe up-close more than 400 different indigenous and non-indigenous animal species during their nightly activities in the open park grounds, an exciting adventure for kids. The park is divided into three habitat zones: The Savanna Safari Zone primarily exhibits species that live in Africa’s savannas, like zebras, giraffes, wildebeests and rhinos. In the Predator Prowl Zone you’ll be able to get a glimpse of both Asian and African carnivores, such as tigers, lions, crocodiles and Asiatic black bears. Lastly, the Jaguar Trail Zone primarily features various Asian and South American species like jaguars, capybaras, Brazilian tapirs and fishing cats. Of course, the park also is open during the day and a visit during that time is not any less rewarding.
To feel first-hand what it must be like to live in the rainforest canopy, take your kids to the hugely popular Flight of the Gibbon ziplining adventure just outside Chiang Mai. This long-established park occupies a vast swathe of natural rainforest. The treetops are interconnected with more than 5 kilometers of ziplines high above the ground. Some 33 platform stations provide resting points between the lofty flights from tree to tree that will elicit delighted laughter from the young ones, while more vertigo-prone moms and dads (if they even dare to take part) probably will scream in sheer terror. However, absolute safety is ensured throughout the adventure as all groups are fitted out with appropriate gear and also are accompanied by two trained instructors, appropriately called “sky rangers”.
Chiang Mai is noted for its fine arts and crafts, ranging from textiles, pottery, to intricate wood carvings. Children of all ages can discover the traditional techniques of the region's craftspeople, working hands-on in small workshops (above), to create their own unique souviner from their trip to Thailand.
No visit to Thailand would be complete without learning about the fascinating and important process of growing the country's main crop—rice. Rice of course is the main ingredient of Thai cuisine, but the importance of rice is entertwined in the history, culture, economy of the country as well. The "rice cycle" or proecess of growing rice is actually complex and requires special conditions for growing. Your children will roll up their sleeves and learn along side farmers, unlocking the secrets of rice cultivation in Thailand (below). [Read more about the Rice Cycle]
Children and adults alike are fascinated by elephants, and yes, they are indigenous to Thailand. It would therefore be only appropriate if you also paid a visit with your kids to at least one elephant camp while you’re here. Just about 35 km (and thus an easy day trip) south of Chiang Mai in the neighboring province of Lampang lies the National Elephant Institute of Thailand, which houses almost 100 of the gentle pachyderms. Several daily shows give you a hilarious insight into the many talents these gray giants harbor, including painting and making music (the institute even has released several CDs recorded by the “Elephant Symphonic Orchestra”!) and you can observe how they’re being bathed by their mahouts (elephant handlers) or carry huge tree logs. Elephant rides are also offered, and in the gift shop you can purchase a wide selection of souvenirs, including elephant dung paper.
For a more exclusive elephant experience, visit there are elepehant camps in the remote Chiang Rai province, about a 3 to 4-hour-drive north of Chiang Mai (or a 60-minute flight from Bangkok), where we can rrange private encounters with the gentle giants. The camps are situated in the “Golden Triangle” region, where the borders of Thailand, Laos and Myanmar (Burma) meet. The main elephant camp is set up as a working mahout village, meaning that the elephants and their handlers are not just there for tourist display, but are actually deployed in the logging industry, in street and other construction projects. Needless to say that your kids and you can nevertheless participate in lots of elephant-related activities, including rides, bathing, feeding, grooming and jungle trekking with their new friends.
These are just a few examples of activities we can arrange for your family in Thailand. Contact us for specific activities your family and children enjoy when traveling or have interest in.
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