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Samurais and Superheroes: Prepare the brood for crazy cartoon capers in Japan

Cartoon-loving families will be in for the adventure of a lifetime in Japan. The land of Pokemon, Manga and Studio Ghibli, Japan is all about the anime, and there’s a cartoonish slant to everything from the food (pretty much everything, from cupcakes to dumplings, can be found fashioned into cartoon character form) and the style of dress – Japan is home to some of the craziest and most colorful street fashion in the world. And going comic book crazy is a genuine cultural pursuit in Japan – while there are two Disney theme parks and the odd nod to Minions and Marvel Superheroes, this is a nation with such a rich tradition of animation that it would be a shame (and indeed near-impossible) not to take the opportunity to admire the local version. With all manner of superhero shenanigans to be enjoyed in Japan, here’s our roundup of some of the best.

Theme Parks Galore

Japan takes its theme parks seriously, as befits a nation enamored with all things anime, many have a superhero or comic book theme. Top notch theme parks can be found the length and breadth of the country, with one of the best being Toei Studios in Kyoto. This working studio created classic cartoon series such as Dragon Ball Z and Sailor Moon, and visitors can visit an extensive cartoon gallery in between samurai shows and white-knuckle rides. Other top theme parks for superhero-loving visitors to Japan include two Disney parks in the capital Tokyo, and   Universal Studios Japan, which is located in the country’s ‘second city’, Osaka, and whose super hero-themed attractions and shows are themed around Western favorites such as SpiderMan, Minions and Superman – if the kids are getting tired of Manga and want to race around in superhero capes, you’ll be in for a whole load of kudos by taking them here. At the other end of the scale, Hello Kitty fans will in there element at Sanrio Puroland, around half an hour’s train ride from central Tokyo in the suburb of Tama. Probably best suited to younger children, the Hello Kitty-themed fun includes an opportunity to visit the famous feline’s house and enjoy some less-than-terrifying Hello Kitty rides.

Hello Kitty Hotel

Hello Kitty Fans can check into a ‘Princess Kitty’ or ‘Kitty Town’ room at Tokyo’s Keio Plaza Hotel, where everything from the wallpaper to the bedspreads and amenities are Kitty-themed. This super-kitsch decor comes at a price – expect to pay around 35,000 yen (roughly $340) for a family room, before taxes.

Tip: Sleeping at Manga Cafes/Kissas

Across Japan’s big cities, Manga tea houses, or Kissas, have evolved from a simple places to flip through Manga magazines and browse the internet, to become a budget-friendly alternative to hostels and hotels. Cafe users can rent private rooms whose large lounge chairs offer the possibility of getting some shut eye, and can be rented in six-hour stints or more. There’s not a lot of room, so this is more for single travelers than for families, but it’s a handy way to while away a wait for an early train, bus or plane.

Visit Kid-pleasing museums

If the word ‘museum’ has your older kids or teens rolling their eyes in anticipation of a tedious cultural pursuit, they’ve probably never been to a Japanese animation museum. Aside from the famous Ghibli Museum in Tokyo (more of which later), there are a whole host of other enticing options such as Kyoto’s International Manga Museum. Fans of the distinctive animation style will be in their element here, and kids can pick a Manga magazine (there are lots in English) and flick through it in the children’s reading room. For something more hands on, the Niigata Animation Museum, an easy trip from the capital, celebrates the surprisingly high number of anime artists to have emerged from the city (notable names include Ghibli animator Yoshifumi Kond; and Takeshi Obata,  creator of Death Note and Bakuman.

Tip: Niigata Animation Museum is a good bet for families with kids that like to get hands on. There are kid-pleasing games involving various manga characters, such as an opportunity to take a run with Lum, hero of the the legendary 1970s comic Urusei Yatsura.  

Tokyo

Japan’s modern capital is packed with an incredible number of attractions to keep those superhero-loving kids happy. Leaving aside the ubiquitous Manga Cafés (some of which double as cheap places to sleep for travelers on super tight budgets) there are museums, galleries and theme parks galore.

The Japanese Capital is home to two big ticket Dey attractions: Tokyo Disney (the first Disney theme park outside the United States, fact fans…) and DisneySea, which has a fun ToyStory ride that’s likely to thrill fans of the films about Woody and hls pals.

Tip: Fans of Studio Ghibli (creators of dreamy works such as Howl’s Moving Castle and Spirited Away) shouldn’t miss the chance to visit the superb Ghibli Museum in Tokyo, don’t expect to just rock up with the family – tickets must be bought in advance and are only made available at certain days in the month, and with specific ticket agencies. Full information can be found here.

Eat at Anime Cafes

Tokyo is chockablock with cute anime-themed cafes that are sure to be a big hit with the kids. At the Pokemon Cafe in Chuo, kids and grownups can chow down on Pikachu-shaped donuts and dumplings; fans of masked superheroes the Kamen Riders can check out a whole load of memorabilia and Rider-themed food at Kamen Rider the Diner in Toshima, while Gundam Cafe attracts as many grown up comic fans as kids, with its statues, decor and food themed around robots, known as Gundam – arguably Japan’s most enduringly popular anime series.  It’s located in Akihabara, famously a Mecca for anime fans with its many comic book stores and manga cafes.  There’s even affordable Anime accommodation at Anime Station Hostel, which has private rooms, games consoles, and a whole lot of Manga magazines to flick through, with rooms starting at around US$50 (5,400 yen)

Bullet Trains and Beautiful Scenery: Here’s Why Japan is a Dream Destination For Train Loving Families

If there’s one country that’s virtually guaranteed to thrill anyone with even a passing interest in railways and rail travel, it’s Japan. The national pride in its trains is such that there’s even a term  densha otaku – ‘train nerd’- for those with a passion for rail travel. Japan’s superfast bullet trains are famous worldwide, luxury sleepers ply some seriously scenic routes, and forget hanging around on drafty platforms waiting for delayed or cancelled trains – even regular rail services in Japan run punctually every.single.time. The country is justifiably proud if its trains, and families in Japan can visit any number of railway-related museums, most of which are designed with younger visitors in mind. We’ve cherry-picked some of the best reasons for train lovers to visit this fascinating country.

TIP: Buy before you fly

To save time, money and hassle, buy a Japan Rail Pass ahead of your trip. Valid for travel on almost all of Japan’s public rail networks (check the website for exceptions), including the bullet trains, the passes are valid for periods of one, two or  three weeks, are available only for those living outside Japan, and should be bought online BEFORE arrival in Japan. Leave plenty of time, as you’ll need to wait for an exchange order to arrive by post – once you arrive in Japan, this exchange order can be validated at dedicated exchange offices – most major rail stations in Japan have them, but again,  check the website for exceptions.

Faster than a Speeding Bullet

You don’t need to be a rail buff to have heard of Japan’s bullet trains. These ultra-speedy railroad superstars are famous the world over, and can zip families in Japan from one destination to the next in no time flat. As well as being fun to ride, the speedy bullet trains, also known as Shinkansen, reach speeds of up to 320km/hour and are a practical way of cramming a lot of sightseeing into a short trip. Shinkansen trains serve much of the country, from Kagoshima in the south to the island of Hokkaido in the north. There are some notable gaps, but most major tourist sites in Japan have a Shinkansen stop relatively nearby.  Some of the most popular routes are from Tokyo to Osaka and Tokyo to Nagano, with the opportunity to hop on and off at cities such as Kyoto and Yokohama. The needle-nosed trains can turn a 10-hour epic intercity journey by regular train into a hop of under three hours, and feel satisfyingly futuristic. If you weren’t a train nerd before coming to Japan, the bullet trains might well be enough to convert you.

Epic Overnight Journeys

Sleeper trains in Japan aren’t just for getting from A to B, they can be fun alternatives to a hotel bed for the night, and a near-essential experience for train fans in Tokyo. At the top luxury end of the spectrum, the ultra-exclusive Shiki-Shima, which launched in 2017 and whose 10 carriages have everything from chandeliers and piano lounges to a kitchen with Michelin-starred chefs. With prices ranging from around $2000-$10,000 per person for 2-4 day itineraries around Eastern Japan, a ride on Shiki-Shima may be more fantasy than reality for most visitors to Japan, but there are plenty of more affordable sleeper car experiences – the good news for visitors on a budget is that the Japan Rail Card is valid on sleeper trains. There are extra charges for beds (as opposed to seats) and for private cabins, but sleeper trains are generally clean, well-staffed and a great way to see the Japanese countryside roll by.

A Whole Heap of Railway Museums to Choose From

The national obsession with trains and train travel means there’s very little chance of train-loving families running out of rainy day options in Japan. The country has more railway-related museums than you could shake a stick at, and these kid-friendly educational establishments are dotted across the country. Aside from those of the capital Tokyo (more on that later), some of the standouts include Kyoto Railway Museum, which has the country’s largest collection of retired railway vehicles, from historic steam trains to super-modern shinkansen, and the forward-looking, SCMaglev Museum and Railway Park, which allows visitors to take a peek at futuristic maglev ‘levitating trains’, as well as being a  virtual train conductor on a fun simulator. At the other end of the modernity spectrum, the Usui Pass Railway Culture Village, near the popular tourist destination of Karuizawa in Nagano prefecture, is a hands-on attraction dedicated to the Usui Toge Railway, which was the steepest railway line in Japan during its 1893-1997 lifespan.

Super-scenic journeys

Rail travel in Japan can be an opportunity to admire some glorious panoramas and, again, many of these journeys can be made using the yen-stretching Japan Rail Pass The Tokaido Shinkansen line, for example, runs between Tokyo and Kyoto and has terrific views of Mount Fuji. More dramatic still is the Gono Line, which runs from Akita Prefecture to Aomori Prefecture in the far north of Japan, taking in raging seas , inland snowscapes and Mount Iwaki, on a journey that has been hailed as offering some of the best coastal scenery in the world. Luxury Resort Shirakami trains offer an opulent way to see the scenery, but it’s just as incredible when seen from the window of a regular local train (yes you can use your pass!)

Boxout: Ninja Trains

Kids not interested in trains? Throw in the word ‘Ninja’ and see if that changes their mind! The Iga Railway, in Mie Prefecture visits Iga-Ueno village (famed as the birthplace of ninjas), and ninja-themed trains designed by Manga artist Leiji Matsumoto make the 16km trip between Iga-Ueno Station and Kintetsu Iga-Kambe, and families can have fun spotting the ‘ninjas’ hiding out in strategic locations at the stations.  

Tokyo

Japan’s capital is a modern metropolis served by speeding bullet trains and a comprehensive metro system, and there are further treats in store for train enthusiasts in the big city.

Visitors can enjoy sake and fusion food with a super-close view of speeding trains at Platinum Fish in Manseibashi. This glass-walled restaurant has undergone various incarnations – until recently it was N3331 (named for a celebratory hand-clapping motion from the Edo era)- and is sandwiched on the site of an old train station platform slap bang in the middle of  two fast train lines. Manseibashi Station was open between 1912 and 1943, and many original features have been preserved at this one-of-a-kind restaurant.

Stay in a Stationary Sleeper Train

Fixtures and fittings from a retired sleeper train make for a quirky accommodation experience at Train Hostel Hokutosei. The entire lodging experience – from the reception to the cabin-style dorms and the ‘onboard’ cafe bar – recreates the experience of being aboard one of the popular overnight trains that traveled between Tokyo and Sapporo for nearly 30 years, before being taken out of service in 2015. With dorm beds from around 2,500 yen (around US$23) the hostel welcomes families with children aged 4 and up. For something a bit more luxe, the Tokyo Station Hotel has upmarket,if predictably pricy, lodgings (family rooms from around $400, or 43,000 yen) right next to the  Marunouchi South exit of Tokyo Station.

In a country with so many railway museums, it’s no surprise to find a couple in the capital. Beneath the elevated tracks at Kasai Station, on the Tozai Line, the Tokyo Metro Museum is aimed squarely at kids, with tons of hands-on exhibits, but is also an illuminating experience for adults interested in the history of the city and its transport system. The smaller, Japanese-only Tobu Museum right next to Sumida train station, is similarly kid-friendly with plenty of interactive exhibits and visual depictions of Japanese transportation throughout the ages.

Fairytale -themed activities in Thailand

South East Asia has a reputation for embracing all things kitsch and comic-book colorful as well  as floaty and fairytale-esque, and Thailand is no exception. Kids (and grown ups, for that matter) with a love of unicorns and a taste for all things bubblegum-bright may already have heard of Bangkok’s Unicorn Cafe, and it’s just the tip of a colorful iceberg. Families in Bangkok can embark on magical, memory-making adventures filled with fairytale temples, princess tea parties and frolicking unicorns….and if your tribe’s tastes run more towards bad fairies and hobgoblins, don’t worry, Thailand has you covered there too. With a bit of story-spinning, you can sneak a bit of sightseeing in among the Unicorn-spotting…

See a Real-Life Fairy Palace

Whimsical and ethereal, the White Temple in Chiang Rai, Northern Thailand, looks like a frozen palace from a fairytale. Still unfinished, the vast, snowflake-white temple has been a work in progress since 1997, and kids who love fairytales and princess stories won’t need much convincing to visit here. The photo opportunities are almost unlimited, and fanciful families in Thailand can let their imaginations run riot amid the beautiful, intricately-carved buildings and manicured gardens.

Visit a Magical Jewelry Store

The White Palace can be visited as a side trip from Chiang Mai, and fairytale-loving families in the Thai city should treat themselves to a visit to Fairytales Jewelry and Accessories. This sweetly-decorated store offers handmade jewelry and trinkets fashioned after fairy princesses and magical woodland creatures, which will appeal to grownups as well as little ones.

Families in Chiang Rai will find accommodation options in all price brackets, but those who want to extend the fairytale theme might want to consider booking a family room at the Pingnakorn Huaykaey Hotel (rooms from around 5000 baht). Here the rooms, dining spaces and gardens are all fairytale-fabulous, with antiques, glittering chandeliers and peacock murals. Added bonuses for families with kids are a lovely outdoor pool and great gardens.

See Thousands of Fluttering ‘Fairies’

Butterflies are about as close to fairies as the natural world gets, and families in Thailand between May and September can have a magical encounter with some 400 different types of the fluttering beauties at Pang Sida National Park, in the eastern province of Sa Kaeo.  Over some 6000 square kilometers, the gorgeous natural park has famous waterfalls and bird-filled jungle, making visitors’ encounters with the butterflies all the more magical. There’s camping close the entrance, as well as little, straw-roofed chalets that look for all the world like magical woodland dwellings. A good, reasonably-priced option is Mulberry Pang Sida (chalets from 600 baht) has lovely gardens, floaty mosquito nets and a good breakfast, within easy reach of the park.

Tip: Thailand has a rich tradition of folk tales, usually with a moral message to instill good behaviour in children. To nurture an interest in local culture, it can be fun to read Thai fairy tales to your children as you travel the country. You might find them at English language bookstores in Thailand, or buy this one online before you travel

Bangkok

It’s home to the famous Unicorn Cafe, and it’s fair to say that a visit to this sugary-sweet cafe is pretty much mandatory. Bubble gum pink and baby blue colour schemes set the tone for a visit here, where even the spaghetti is rainbow-hued, and visitors can step into furry unicorn onesies for their dining experience. There are chandeliers and ornate furnishings fit for any princess, and fluffy toy unicorns everywhere you look. Predictably, the menu is dominated by swirly, brightly colored ice creams and cakes, but there are always unicorn-horned burgers (and that rainbow spaghetti) should you want to tone down the sugar rushing.

Dream World Theme Park

There are many theme parks in Thailand, but Bangkok’s Dream World will have the most appeal to little princes and princesses. From the turreted entrance to a fairytale castle and rides and gardens themed around fairy tales, this is one theme park that will really get kids’ imaginations racing.

Eat (and shop) like a Mermaid…

Giving the Unicorns a run for their money in the mythical beast stakes, the Mermaid Castle Cafe in Siam Square offers diners a chance to don a mermaid tale and apply super-bright mermaid makeup before settling down to super-bright cupcakes and milkshakes, amid a sea of mermaid-themed design details. And the bubble-gum pink fun doesn’t stop there, the cafe is just one corner of a multi-floor building that also features mermaid-themed stores selling toys, jewelry, clothes and accessories, all with the same magical mermaid theme.

…Or Drink Like an Iron Fairy

Grown ups looking for a bit of magic without the sugary-sweetness will find it at the cool Iron Fairies Bar on Thong Lor, which feels like entering a spooky fairytale. Every corner of this imaginative space is filled with curiosities such as bottles of ‘fairy dust’, and the strong cocktails will soon have you flying. A menu of steaks, burgers and other grounding meals will stop you spinning off into the ether.

TIP: If your tribe’s taste are a little more black magic than sugary sweet, try Mocking Tales – a cafe-bar themed around a dark fairy tale, which has an array of spell-binding cocktails as well as a famous ‘Smoking Mountain’ dessert which sees a burning chocolate mountain melt away to reveal a mound of delicious ice cream.  Alternatively, diners can dress up in witches’ costumes to celebrate Halloween all year round at Kaethy the Witch tearoom in Lat Phrao, where the trick-and-treat theme includes eyeballs floating in your drink, spider cupcakes and all manner of ghoulish goings on.

Escape to a Hidden Fairytale Palace

The bustle of Bangkok can be overwhelming, but a stay at Phranakorn-Nornlen Hotel (family rooms from 4000 baht) in Dusit will soon revive flagging spirits. A quick boat ride from downtown, it’s a cute and quirky fairytale of a hotel set in leafy green gardens, with a brightly-coloured decor that looks like Toytown meets Fairyland. Staff treat little ones like little princes and princesses, and there are all manner of crafty activities laid on to keep boredom at bay while parents unwind a little. Magic.

No matter your age, if you’ve a taste for all things fun and superhero-themed, Thailand will be right up your futuristic street.

Colorful, characterful and often chaotic, Thailand is a place where visitors can let their imaginations run wild and indulge a hankering for some superhero-style adventures. This is a nation famed for its affection for comic books and collectibles, and grown up geeks join kids in spending entire days browsing the toy stores of downtown Bangkok and Chiang Mai. It’s a country that isn’t afraid to embrace the fun, fantastical side of life, and the 2018 opening of a Marvel Theme Park in Bangkok has sealed Thailand’s reputation as a killer destination for fans of superhero thrills and spills. Here are some unmissable highlights:


See Superheroes Guarding Temples…

In a bid to boost visitor numbers, Buddhist monks at a number of Thailand’s ornate temples have commissioned enormous replica superheroes to stand guard at their gates. The statues have no religious significance, according to their creators, but rather are designed to keep kids from complaining while their parents appreciate the more sedate charms of the temple itself. One of the first temples to hit upon the idea was the Wat Tamru temple in the central region of Samut Prakan, where a giant green Hulk and other superheroes sprang up in 2016. Since then, a number of other temples have followed the trend, including Wat Ta Kien, just outside Bangkok, which is watched over by three towering Transformers.

And Admire a Marvel-ous Mural

At the magnificent, and as yet unfinished, White Temple in Chiang Rai province, Northern Thailand, Neo from the Matrix and King Fu Panda join Batman and a whole host of other Marvel heroes on a giant mural inside the intricately-crafted Ubosot, or main temple. It’s an unexpected sight among all the serene images of the Buddha and the artful carvings, but playing ‘spot the superhero’ is a sure-fire way to keep kids entertained on a visit to this eye-boggling temple.   

Tip: Adults might want to keep an eye out for depictions of the fall of the Twin Towers, as well as other major real world events, which have caused controversy among some Western visitors.

Within easy strolling distance of the temple, the Heun Baan Rong Khun Resort has very affordable rooms (from 600 baht) in a cozy, family-run spot with bikes for hire and gardens for kids to play in.

Eat Superhero Ice Cream in Chiang Mai

Ice cream is almost always a winner, and when an ice cream cafe comes with a hella vegan options and a superhero theme, well, that’s pretty much going to please everyone in the family. At Ice Love You in Chiang Mai, there are Minions on the windows, Spiderman on the walls and a whole lot of other comic book capers going on inside. The handmade ice creams (traditional and vegan) are the stuff of ice cream dreams, and come in a kid-and-adult-pleasing array of colors, flavors and dessert combinations.

Tip: When in Chiang Mai, it’s worth paying a visit to the Blockland Lego Cafe, which opened in 2017 and allows visitors to make everything from model Death Stars to Princess Castles before or after a bite to eat.

If you’re in the market for a little luxury in Chiang Mai, the Shangri La Chiang Mai will make families feel totally pampered, with fancy pools and dining, and extra touches such as kids’ foodie treats every day, a kids’ pool and a good indoor play room.

Bangkok

It’s hosted a gigantic Comic Con event each year since 2018, and the opening of The Marvel Experience Theme Park in 2018 has put Thailand well and truly on the map for fans of comic book capers – for around 850 baht, visitors to this massive interactive multi-dome complex can live out their every superhero-themed dream, with 4D motion rides, a 3D cinema and a chance to see superheroes strolling around, like Disneyland with Marvel characters.

It’s far from the only superhero fun to be had in town, though. In a country renowned for its comic book and collectibles stores, Bangkok is home to some of the biggest and best. Among the many Marvel-themed stores, check out Animate Bangkok on the 7th floor of the MBK Building, for an enormous range of Manga models, magazines and every kind of collectible you could imagine.

There’s also Thailand’s biggest toy museum, BatCat Museum,which will thrill kids and big kids for hours with its gigantic displays of action figures, superhero paraphernalia and collectibles of all vintages.

When hunger strikes,  families can refuel amid collectors’ item artworks and comics at Tezuka Shoten & Cafe, billed as Bangkok’s ‘first Manga cafe’. The cute decoration will appeal to all ages, and there’s a dedicated space for browsing and shopping as well as the cakes, ice creams, coffee and waffles that will keep energy levels up to superhero level.

There’s no shortage of family-friendly hotels in Bangkok, but a good mid-range option is Navalai River Resort, which has a lovely rooftop pool with views over the river and city, perfect for resting little legs (and adult-sized legs) after a day’s superhero adventuring. Rooms are great value, starting at  $66 (just over 2,000 baht).

Tip: If coming to Bangkok during ComicCon, book in advance, as hotel rooms fill up fast, and prices can soar. Check dates and plan as far ahead as you can.

Tropical Thailand is a destination that lends itself well to adventures by train. Whatever your travel style, there’s a train journey to suit it. Imagine lazy days winding through the hills watching beautiful landscapes unfold at one end of the comfort spectrum, or chatting with locals in cramped carriages at the other extreme. Families with kids will find train travel in Thailand a lot more comfortable than bus travel, and it’s more scenic and less stressful than air travel – no hanging around airports, queues to pass through security, etc.

Fans of trains and train travel will find their railway-based adventures in Thailand extend beyond the journey itself. There are train-themed cafes and bars, iconic railway stations, incredible station hotels and even a food market with trains rushing right through the middle.

Families in Thailand will find that train travel is part of the thrill of the trip, it’s an exciting way for kids to see the country and its people, and sleeper trains tend to be a novel alternative to a hotel bed.


♣ There are three classes of regular train in Thailand – Third Class is the least comfortable, but often the most entertaining option, but better suited to short journeys than long haul trips, due to the less-than-luxurious wooden seats (when you can find a seat, that is…)

Second class steps up the comfort level and is popular with backpackers and familieson a budget – families can sit together on seats facing each other, which convert into beds at night on sleeper trains, and some carriages are air conditioned.

If the budget allows, First Class is the best option for long haul train journeys in family, offering comfortable seating and sleeping, private carriages, and a secure travel experience – the price still compares favourably with air travel and/or the cost of a hotel bed. Train tickets can be bought at rail stations (buy in advance if you’ll be traveling during public holidays), but it’s sometimes easier to book through a reputable agency. Although they’ll charge a commission, it’s often cheaper and less hassle than making a special trip out to the station.


Dodge the speeding trains at Maeklong Railway Market

Just short of an hour’s train ride from Bangkok, this bustling produce market it (in)famous for the honking trains that speed right through the middle of the shops and stalls. It’s wonderfully Instagrammable, but make sure you take photos from a safe distance – don’t let kids hang around on the rails, and move away from the tracks if you hear the train horn! The trains rush through at a pace, but barely ruffle a feather or squash a mango, and the market workers, well accustomed to the spectacle, merely return to their vocal sales patter as though nothing happened. Trains leave from Bangkok’s Wongwian Yai Station each morning, and cost around 10baht. It’s also possible to take a cab or bus, but hey, the train’s the thing.

Visit an Incredible Railway Station at Hua Hin

One of Thailand’s most emblematic train stations, Hua Hin is literally fit for royalty. Built in the 1920s to welcome King Rama VI and his family when they headed to the nearby beach, the ornate style and exuberant decor is a major tourist attraction today. The Royal Waiting Room, built in the style of  Maruekkhathayawan Palace, is a world away from your average cramped and uncomfortable waiting area. Almost as grand, the nearby Railway Hotel (now owned by Centara Group, rooms from around 5,000 baht)) has sweeping lawns, luxurious accomodation and staff dapper in uniforms that call to mind the area’s royal past.


♥ The kids and I LOVE trains, and we try to experience as many kinds of trains as we can, in every destination that we go to. We went on train journeys in India, Thailand, Vietnam, China, Mongolia, Japan, Turkey, Austria, Italy, France, and Israel. We especially liked the Mongolian night train, the Bangkok sky train, The express super-fast train in China, and the metro in Istanbul.


Bangkok Train Adventures For Families

There’s very little that can’t be found in Bangkok – for better or worse, it really is a case of seek and you shall find. That doesn’t apply only to insalubrious activities – if you’re looking for a cute pet cafe or, indeed, good clean train-based fun, you’ll find it here.

Ride the Skytrain

The best way to move around this traffic-choked city is by riding high above the streets on the smooth, affordable Skytrain. Great fun to ride, the BTS, as locals know it,  covers large swathes of the city (see map) , and runs from 6.30am until around midnight. If you’re traveling with kids it’s a godsend, as traveling from one spot to another becomes part of the fun rather than a chore. It can take a little getting used to ticketing etc (there’s some useful info here) but once you’ve got the hang of it, the BTS is a doddle to use. If you can’t reach your destination overground, head underground – the MRT, or Bangkok metro, is modern, cool, clean and essentially a pleasure to use, with plenty of elevators and ramps for families with strollers.

Take Tea and Cakes in a Train Cafe

You can take tea in a train without fears of spillage at Tales Cafe Hostel in Khaosan – an uber-funky cafe-hostel-co-working space designed to look like the interior of a contemporary, chrome-filled train. The cafe is strong on cold brews and matcha tea, while the hostel is about as chic as backpacker options get, with all mod cons and dorm meds styled to look like train sleeper cabins (beds from 350 baht). The private room is a good option for families with young children, and kids will love the idea of sleeping in a ‘static train’.

Meanwhile, at Inn Train, there’s a good selection of cocktails, coffee, Thai and international food, and once again there’s an opportunity to share a co-working space with the digital nomad gang. The whole thing is designed to resemble a train, and there are board games to keep kids busy while grownups catch up on their emails or just relax with a drink.

Take an epic train journey

There are many epic long rail adventures for the taking in Thailand (including some retro-chic luxury options with Orient Express and some back-to-basics fun to be had rattling along in budget carriages). For a shorter journey that delivers plenty am emotional whack, take the three-hour ride from Bangkok to Kanchanaburi, which takes in glorious countryside before arriving in the picturesque town. It also passes over the Bridge of the River Kwai (made famous by the film of the same name), which is part of the infamous Death Railway built by Allied Prisoners of War during World War II, and as such is something of a harrowing- though scenic and very worthwhile – experience.


♣ Tip: Food and Drink on Thai trains

Many travelers picture themselves sipping drinks in a Thai railway bar as the scenery glides by, or chattering over shared beers in a busy second class carriage. However, alcohol is actually now banned on Thai trains (as are cigarettes, although some determined smokers do sneak a few in on occasion). With rare exceptions, food on fancier trains tends to be underwhelming and overpriced, so it’s usually a good option to bring your own supplies, and while the vendors selling everything from chicken to rice cakes onboard is entertaining, families should bring along easy eats and snacks for fussy eaters, as options will be limited once you’re chugging along the tracks.


 

Thailand might not be at the top of every bookish traveler’s must-visit list, thanks in no small part to its reputation as the destination of choice for backpackers looking for beaches and booze buckets.

But while Thailand certainly has a wild side, it’s also a heck of a cool destination for those who love nothing better to curl up with a good book – it’s not hard to ditch the Full Moon Party crowds, find a quiet corner of a stunning beach, and work your way through a stack of books as you work on your tan.

Thailand is, in fact, a nation of readers – and as such it was UNESCO’s World Book Capital 2013 – a title given in honor of the country’s dedication to promoting reading across all ages and sectors of society. In Thailand’s towns and cities, you’re never more than a few feet away from a bookstore or a newsstand selling paperbacks and graphic novels, and popular ex-pat destinations such as Chiang Mai are famous for their abundance of second hand bookstores, well stocked with English-language titles.  Not only that, but the country is home to a surprising number of spectacular libraries, book-themed bars, cafes, and even a super-chic library themed boutique hotel.

Whether you’re coming for time alone on a beach with a good book or looking to keep the kids quiet, Thailand won’t let you down on the book front. Read on for our pick of the best Thailand experiences for bookworms

Stay in a library-themed boutique hotel on Koh Samui

With a subtle literary theme to its design and over 1400 books for guests to flip through in its large library complex, The Library is a beach-facing boutique hotel famous for its blood-red pool and its Instagram appeal. While its certainly not one for the budget traveler (rooms from around $280 per night), bookish types with cash to splash will lap up a night or two at this spot overlooking Chaweng Beach, which has a casual-chic bar and restaurant on site, meaning those lost in a good book might not want to leave the premises for the entire stay.

Find out what else you can do with your kids in koh samui

Visit Bangkok’s loveliest library

There’s a sweet Thai short film called The Library, and most of it is filmed on location in the very photogenic Nielsen Hays Library, off Surawongse Road. Opened in 1869 by a group of resourceful British and North American Women as the Bangkok Ladies Library Association, the library was the first non-profit organization in the country, and its backstory that could easily be made into a novel in itself, and today is an excellent place to bring kids, thanks to a cute childrens’ corner and a regular program of Saturday morning reading activities as well as book festivals and craft events developed with young readers in mind – check out the programme here.

More awesome activities in Bangkok you can find here.

Get Lost in Book Browsing in Chiang Mai

Rumour has it that Chiang Mai has more bookstores than bars, and whether that’s true or not, there’s certainly enough second hand book shops here to keep even the most ardent of readers happy. A large number of English-speakers settling in this scenic, chilled part of northern Thailand. A lot of fun can be had planning a bookstore-hopping tour of the city, but if you visit just one, you might want to make it Suriwiong Book Centre – the oldest and largest bookstore in town, with a good selection of kids’ books and plenty of English titles.

click here to find few lesser known activities for families visiting Chiang Mai

Get a Boozy Book Fix

Booze and books under one roof, seriously, what’s not to love about that? There are several places to browse for books then curl up with a cocktail and read your latest purchase, and not surprisingly most of them are in the capital. Although the famous Wonderland-esque Bookshop Bar is now sadly closed, there are several other good spots in town, with cool kids making a beeline for the so-hip-it-hurts Jam Factory, a  converted warehouse complex with bars, restaurants, shops and Candide Books & Cafe – you can get a caffeine fix in the bookstore itself, then sip a cocktail nearby with your new read.  Dasa Book Cafe is another popular cool kid hangout, and no bookish trip to Bangkok is complete without a visit to Zombie Books, an uber-hip spot where a sharply-dressed indie crowd comes to leaf through books by day (again, there’s a good children’s section) and dance to live music and DJs by night.

Find Interesting Indie Bookstores Across the Country

It’s not just the Thai capital that’s dramatically upped its game  in the kooky-chic bookstore stakes. Interesting independent bookshops are cropping up the length and breadth of Thailand – ranging from colorful, kid-focused spots to contemporary nocturnal hangouts. Back in Bangkok, BookMoby Readers’ Cafe, located on the fourth floor of Bangkok Arts and Culture Center, has ambitions as big as the city’s skyscrapers – it has its own in-house publishing company, hosts international literary festivals, and also holds regular heavyweight literary events. Elsewhere, there’s books, ceramics and jugs oftra at Tai Talad in Chonmuri, Eastern Thailand, and perfectly-roasted coffee beans, cinema screenings and artists’ markets alongside the books at Bookhemian, in the famous beach destination of Phuket, to name just a couple.

If you thought Bangkok’s potential for foodie family adventures was limited to bingeing on bugs or playing tummy-bug roulette with street snacks, think again. Families in Bangkok only need to scratch beneath the surface to find a whole world of yummy surprises, from fairytale-esque cafes strewn with fragrant blossoms, to hidden gardens where peacocks keep diners company as they nibble dainty cakes.

There’s no denying the kid-pleasing appeal of Bangkok’s famous animal cafes (visitors can hangout with raccoons by a mock-up swimming pool at Pooltime Cafe, or cuddle giant canines at the aptly-named Big Dog Cafe, but these places are packed with tourists and locals all clamouring for their dose of furry cuteness. Similarly, while it’s well worth a visit to Rot Fai Market, Khaosan Road or Chinatown for a chance to get a bug-shaped protein fix, you’ll be jostling for elbow room with the backpacker brigade. If you’re looking for something a little more under-the-radar, check out these family friendly spots that haven’t yet been hit up by hordes.

Perhaps Rabbits’

No, that’s not a typo, there really is a stray apostrophe hanging over that final S, and it’s far from the most mysterious thing about this gorgeously whimsical cafe. The real mystery is just how this super-sweet spot remains under-the-radar. Loosely themed around Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland, you half expect to see Alice herself strolling by with the white rabbit among the cute kid-sized tables and chairs in a space be-decked with fancy floral arrangements. The attention to detail is incredible – from the decor to the sweetly designed cakes and pastries, and there’s a colourful little cubby hole where kids can read books and play with toys. The cafe holds regular tea parties and cake-decorating workshops, but it’s worth popping in any time for the Insta-worthy chocolate-filled top hats, ‘bunny egg’ cheesecake (140 Baht), and the house speciality – a particularly rich ‘Rabbit Hole’ chocolate cake (190 Baht). Finding the cafe is a bit of an adventure in itself – the entrance is hidden off the main drag, around 10 minutes’ walk from Ekkamai BTS station, Exit 1.

Mocking Tales

If your brood are more about slugs and snails and puppy dogs’ tails than sugary sweet confections, then you need to visit this cafe-bar in the hipster haven that is Thonglor. The decor is part Medieval dungeon, part Dungeons and Dragons fantasy land, and the menu consists of items with names such as Dragons’ Fire Breath and Inferno Mountain (the latter being a gobsmacking creation in which a chocolate tower is set ablaze to reveal balls of molten ice cream beneath the surface, 380 Baht,, but enough to feed a family); and unlike many kid-friendly cafes, there are savory dishes too, a welcome relief from all the sugar rushes. Expect bowls of fake eyeballs, creepy-looking coats of armour and other objects of interest to not-so-sweet imaginations. You’ll find Mocking Tales at Thonglor 10110, Bangkok. As a relative newcomer on the Thonglor strip, it’s not yet overrun with cool kids, although the bar does a roaring trade after dark.


♣ Box out: Animal antics

Animal Cafes are very much a thing in South East Asia, and Bangkok has embraced the trend with gusto. If your kids can’t bear (pun intended) to leave without sharing a dining experience with a furry friend, they can choose from cats Caturday Cat Cafe, Dogs (Big Dog Cafe) or even meerkats and other exotic animals at Little Zoo Cafe (although the animals are well treated, this last one might not sit well with those who aren’t keen on animals in captivity, it’s your call)


Gardens of Dinsor Palace

Another Thonglor high point, this ultra-classy spot feels like a real escape from the heat and buzz of central Bangkok. A formal restaurant and more kiddie-friendly cafe are set out in the picture-perfect grounds of a genuine Thai Princess’s palace, and the white swans gliding over pretty ponds compete for attention with a couple of parading white peacocks. Dress up for a visit here, and don’t expect budget offerings,but for a family meal to remember it’s worth splashing out (just keep an eye on toddlers if you’ve been enjoying the house cocktails, you don’t want them literally making a splash in those enticing ponds…). Brunch pancakes certainly won’t break the bank, at under 300 baht for a plate of buttermilk pancakes with fresh fruit and whipped cream. Dinners and afternoon teas are fancier affairs. The cafe, restaurant and gardens are at 1217/2 between Sukhumvit Soi 59 and 61, Klongtan-Nue, Wattana 10110

Insects in the Backyard

Culinarily curious kids are unlikely to let you leave Bangkok without chowing down on at least one good big bug. But if you’ve yet to be convinced of the merits of eating insects, this 2017 opening might be the place to try creepy crawlies for the first time. Possibly the world’s first fine-dining insect restaurant (yes, that’s right), this smart space highlights the ‘superfood’ status of bugs (high protein, low fat, high calcium,sustainable…) and the menu (mains from 300 baht) aims to prove they can taste good, too. Salads come piled high with water beetles, seared scallops have a caterpillar garnish, and even the tiramisu is jazzed up with cocoa-dusted silk worms. The range of classic cocktails might help dubious diners find a little Dutch courage.  Insects in the Backyard is at  Chang Chui, 460/8 Sirindhorn Road.

for a full itinerary for food loving families traveling in Thailand check this article.


♥ Tip: Set aside a few hours for your trip here- Insects in the Backyard is located inside the fascinating Changchui Market – a creative hub stuffed with  fascinating sculptures, street art, stalls and assorted artsy offerings, such as a hipster barbers and a cute bookstore. There’s even a cinema showing suitably arsty titles.

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Li-bra-ry Cafe

Got bookworms in the family? Yearning for some quiet time? This cute hideaway from Bangkok’s smoggy streets has books galore, some of the best coffee, cakes (a bargain at around 100 baht) and milkshakes in town, and a particularly good gyoza soup. Kids who are a little young to curl up with a book can make new friends in the cafe’s play area, and there’s free wifi (bring headphones) – upstairs ups the serenity factor (you’ll need to remove your shoes), but for a quiet break and a coffee where you can hear yourself think, this is a real treat.  Li-Bra-Ry is at  2 Soi Sukhumvit 24, Yak Soi Metheenives, Sukhumvit Road,

Kraton Flying Chicken

Sedate and serene, this is not. If you’re looking for a Bangkok food adventure that will go down in family history, take the kids to this unique spot, where roast chicken (choose ‘Fly Chicken, from the menu, at under 200 Baht it’s a bargain, considering the spectacle involved…) is literally catapulted through the air along a purpose built run way onto the spike-helmeted head of a man riding a unicycle. Yes, only in Bangkok…don’t expect Michelin stars,but do expect a lot of fun, and perfectly palatable Thai noodle dishes and other kid-friendly staples. Making occasional appearances on ‘World’s Weirdest Restaurants’ lists, it’s a truly surreal experience, which is enhanced by the on-site Karaoke rooms. It’s a bit of a walk to find the place (but you’ll know it by the chicken-throwing scene painted on the external sign) – from the BTS Sky Train station, take Exit 1, and walk some 500 meters north along Sukhumvit Road before crossing the walkway. (Or get a cab from the station)

And if you are looking for some more crazy adventures with your kids during your trip to Thailand, see this article :-).

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Bangkok might not win any beauty contests, but it competes at the highest level when it comes to shopping. Families in Bangkok can while away entire days browsing malls dedicated to toys and collectibles; beautiful handmade clothes for kids and grownups come in at surprisingly affordable prices, cute wooden toys can be found in abundance, and there’s no end of opportunity to haggle over the price of electronic goods.

With more malls, shopping quarters and markets than you can shake a stick at, it can be hard to know where to begin getting that retail therapy fix in Bangkok, which is why we’ve cherry-picked the very best spots for you and your brood to shop in this big, bright and sometimes bewildering city.

Zombie Books

Books, booze and zombies. That’s pretty much every kid and adult taste catered for, so there shouldn’t be any problem in enticing the family to this uber-cool bookstore in the middle of Royal City Avenue (RCA, known as Bangkok’s party quarter). The carefully-curated collection of over 10,0000 titles includes vintage kids books in English on the first floor, and there are nooks and crannies galore for flicking through the pages post-purchase. A co-working space and gallery caters to an artsy crowd, and the brightly-decorated third floor bar (yes! a bookstore with a bar!) serves up fruity concoctions with zombie/monster-inspired names that are sure to be a hit with the kids while parents sip their grown-up mixed drinks. Vintage sci-fi and horror prints on the wall It’s open until midnight and attracts a hipster crowd after dark, but families with littlies won’t feel out of place here during daylight hours.

GachaBox

Thais loves their collectibles, and GachaBox is one of the best spots in town to shop for them. It’s hard to know who’s going to love this place more – grown-up nerds or their kids, but what’s certain is that it’s possible to spend entire hours here playing ‘name that character’ while browsing the seemingly endless shelves of cute replica superheroes, cartoon characters and collectible ranges such as Fluffy House and Be@rBrick. It’s located on Siam Square – a known cool kid hangout home to any number of hip boutiques and street stands – so grownups can convince themselves that they’re hip young things as they drool over ultra-rare Star Wars figures. Gachabox has a handily central location on Siam Square (opposite the super-ritzy Rolex store).


♣ Fun fact: Giving the kids spending money? Tell them to check out what’s on the back of their Bahts. Each Thai coin is emblazoned with the image of a Thai temple, and all of them are in Bangkok. See if they can recognize, for example, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha (1 Baht coin); the Marble Temple (5 Baht coin) or, if you’re feeling generous, the Temple of Dawn (10 Baht coin).


Check out some of the lesser known attractions for families in Bangkok

Plan Toys

There’s a simple joy to the wooden toy, and the Thais have never fallen out of love with these retro-style creations. One Thai brand that has built up a great reputation internationally is Plan Toys, which has impeccable sustainability credentials (the imagination-firing toys and games are made from natural rubber wood trees, with no fertilizer used in the soil for three years before harvest, and the wood is dried using a chemical-free kiln-drying process). Covering all age ranges, the colorful toys range from tiny pull-along animals to entire magic kingdoms, and the focus is on encouraging imaginative play involving the whole family. Plan Toys ships internationally, but families in Bangkok shouldn’t miss a trip to the flagship store at Sathorn 10, Bangkrak.

Hallo Heidi

This cute and colorful clothing store ticks a whole lot of boxes for trend-obsessed kids and their long-suffering parents. Made in durable, breathable fabrics with stitching that’s made to last, the girls’ and boys’ lines include floaty cotton dresses and fun jumpsuits as well as cartoon-stamped tees and hard-wearing shorts, all of which help kids and their responsible adults keep their cool in the Bangkok swelter. Their sneakers and sandals look as good as they feel, so you won’t be shoehorning your five-year-old fashionistas into ‘dull but practical’ footwear. You’ll find Hallo Heidi at 5 Phetchaburi Rd, Thanon Phetchaburi, Ratchathewi.

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♥ BOXOUT: If the kids are flagging in the Bangkok heat, a day at a mall may be in order. It’s more exciting than it sounds – as well as that blessed air conditioning, sparkling clean bathroom facilities and surprisingly impressive range of offerings in the food court, you’ll find family-friendly treats such as a giant aquarium (at Siam Paragon); a rooftop water park (The Mall); ice-skating, and even Thailand’s own Madame Tussaud’s (Siam Discovery).


Almeta

For a real treat, kit yourself and the littlies out in handmade silk creations from this renowned Bangkok brand. Almeta ship to luxury stores across the world – including Bloomingdales – but there’s unparalleled range  (and better prices) at the plush Bangkok store (the company motto is ‘cocoon yourself in luxury’). Manufacturing top-quality silk goods since 1992, the firm offers made-to-measure clothing and ready to wear pieces in more than 1,000 different silks, taking in every color of the rainbow and myriad subtle shades in between. And if you think silk sounds like too much hard work for dressing messy kids, seek out the range of ‘lazy silk’ machine washable items. For extra jazz and pizzazz, some ready-to-wear clothing is accessorised with feathers, seashells and other natural trinkets. You’ll find the Almeta showroom in Sukhumvit, opposite the Grand Millennium Hotel.

Papaya Vintage

Prepare to spend a fair few hours digging for treasures in this gigantic warehouse close to the more famous Chatuchak Market (in itself well worth a visit for kids’ toys and gifts, including traditional toys made with banana leaves, and some fun and funky clothes), which is jam-packed with old-school toys, comics, and collectibles of every kind. Vintage film posters, giant Star Wars figures and all manner of crazy costumes add to the fun, and Instagrammers will have a whale of a time snapping away. You might even come home with some valuable vinyl or an abstract art vase, who knows?

It’s a little out of town, at Soi Lat Pharo 55/2, Lat Pharo Road, so well worth combining with a weekend visit to Chatuchak Market.

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Ahh, Bangkok, with your to-die-for desserts you are really spoiling us. Sweet-toothed families in the Thai capital should get ready for some serious sugar rushing – and some serious camera-snapping too. Bangkokians take their sweet stuff seriously, and the appeal goes way beyond merely tasting good – appearance is everything here, and that extends to that sugary confection you’re about to spoon into your mouth.

Some Bangkok desserts have made international news – the insanely huge ice cream feasts at Mo and Moshi – for one, but there are plenty of places where you and the family can tuck into those sweet treats without joining a huge queue of guidebook-wielding tourists. Whether you’re all about the ice cream or planning a treat for a unicorn-loving tot, our carefully-curated list shows you where to get your spoon into those damn fine desserts in kid-friendly settings.

The secret one: Floral Cafe

Bangkok’s vast, sweetly-scented Flower Market in Pak Klong Talad  is a tourist attraction in its own right, but only a few visitors know that there’s a gorgeous little cafe hidden among the fragrant flora. Floral Cafe is accessed by a hidden flight of stairs behind Napasorn florist, and once your inside, you might find it hard to leave. Chandeliers hang from the ceiling, immaculate flower arrangements and bright blooms sit on every available surface, and the cakes and coffee are some of the best in town. The homemade cakes (from 150 baht) impress with their size and intricate icing details, and they pass the taste test too, while the frappes are heaven on a hot day. You’ll find the cafe at 67 Chakphet Road – it’s worth combining with a visit to the Flower Market.

Here are few more lesser known activities for families traveling in Bangkok

The not-too-sickly-sweet one: Mori Dessert Bar

 This is one of relatively few places in Bangkok that caters equally well to kids looking for crazily-coloured explosions of sugar, and grown-ups looking for more serious desserts. Alongside a collection of cakes fashioned into cartoon characters, and a famous range of hyper-colored milkshakes that see brightly-colored slabs of cake perched atop the shake itself (along with lollipops for good measure); there are more subtle creations such as strawberry mille feuille (180 baht) and some excellent matcha. If you’re lucky enough to visit around the turn of the year, try the Hanabiraa traditional flower blossom sweet, here made with sakura. A serious patisserie that’s also great fun for kids, this one’s a win-win.


♥ Tip: Need extra cash for your trip to cake heaven? You’re never far from an ATM in Bangkok, and most will accept all standard international cards. One word to the wise, though – the cash comes out before the card, so don’t walk off with your money and leave the card behind (doh!).


The Cuddly One: Hungry Bear Pancakes

If your little cubs’ energy levels start dropping mid-shop at Siam Paragon, treat them to a meal at this super-cute cafe. Pancakes come in all manner of guises – both sweet and savory, from 130 baht, add an extra 15 baht for DIY toppings). There’s even an opportunity to set up a teddy bears’ picnic on the artificial grass, if you get here outside the busy lunch times.

The super-chic one: Sretsis Parlor

Foodie fashionistas, step this way. This beyond-fancy tea room is the latest venture from chic Thai fashion label Sisters (yes, Stretsis is the label name backwards…) and is an intimate, immaculately-appointed ‘living room’ that looks like something straight from the pages of a style magazine. It’s a surprisingly family-friendly space (although you’ll want to come nicely dressed and tell the kids to mind their manners if they want to get their paws on those super-sweet desserts). The grownups can sip tea from bone china (or Champagne from a crystal flute), and the signature cakes (from 250 baht) are decorated with tiny frosted flowers that look (almost) too good to eat. Stretsis Parlour has a suitably grand address: It’s located on level two of Bangkok’s Central Embassy.


∴ Boxout: Candy Colored Cabs. Yep, everything from the cakes to the cabs comes brighter than bright in Bangkok. What’s up with the colorful cabs? It’s really as simple as denoting which cabs belong to which firm (like the locals, you might soon find yourself picking a favorite color ‘team’ during your stay.


The cuddly animal one: Caturday Cat Cafe

Feline-loving families can’t go wrong at this kiddie-pleasing spot, where friendly moggies wind their way around diners’ feet as they sit among colorful scatter cushions and tuck into seriously good desserts such as a rainbow crepe cake, chocolate shock cheesecake, and a deliciously gooey chocolate cake with ice cream. At around 140 baht a pop, desserts here won’t blow the budget, and simply flicking through the menu (set out like a photo album) and the ‘hall of fame’ of cat portraits on the wall is a fun activity in itself.

And if your family likes nature and animals, here is whole route for nature loving families traveling to Thailand.

The Whimsical One: Perhaps Rabbits’

Just on the right side of twee, this Alice-inspired cafe remains pleasingly under-the-radar. With astonishing attention to detail, the owners have created an enchanting space where kids and parents can enjoy Mad Hatter-style tea parties, complete with colorful tea sets, dainty sandwiches and the most intricately-decorated cakes imaginable (made fresh each day at Perhaps Rabbits’ own bakery, just down the road). It can be tough deciding between so many super-sweet confections, but chocoholics can’t go wrong with the Rabbit Hole mud cake, which is rich in both chocolate and caramel, and comes decorated with cute icing bunnies.

The famous one: Unicorn Cafe

Want to feel like you’re having a tea party inside a sherbert-fueled fever dream? Even if you’ve never entertained the idea of tucking into brightly-hued layer cakes while keeping company with a whole host of My Little Ponies, chances are that at least one of your kids has. At Unicorn Cafe, everything is bubble gum bright – even the spaghetti – but it’s the rainbow-colored cakes that will have excitable kiddies fizzing with delight. Sink into a fluffy pastel-colored armchair and try to resist calls to throw on a unicorn costume for a photoshoot with the family. Tasteful it’s not, but a visit to this place will be a literal dream come true for many an excitable pre-teen. Unicorn Cafe is at 8 Sothorn, around 10 minutes’ walk from BTS Chongnosi

Spice up Your Family Trip to Ulaanbaatar With these Off-Radar Activities

If you’re planning a family trip to Ulaanbaatar, chances are high that you like to take the road less traveled. Officially the coldest capital city in the world (a word to the wise: come in the short, warm summer or be prepared to do battle with sub-40 temperatures), the Mongolian capital rarely features in any international lists of the best places for family holidays. The allure of Mongolia is largely about its wide open spaces and proximity to wild nature, and Ulaanbaatar is often overlooked as a tourist destination due to its severe Soviet architecture and pollution (especially during the winter, when locals understandably burn a lot of fuel in order to warm their homes). Families who do make it here – perhaps for a few days’ stop off before heading into the countryside-  often find themselves surprisingly taken by the place. There are a good number of appealing museums, an intriguing mix of the modern and the traditional, and children will likely make friends very quickly at the local parks or skating around the town squares. Under-the-radar activities here tend to be more about getting away from the noise and smog than beating the tourist hordes – tourism here is still very much in its infancy, but these crowd-free spots are sure to add even more color to your family’s Ulaanbaatar experience.

Stay in a Ger

A what now? You might know these traditional nomad dwellings as yurts, but in Mongolia it’s a ger, and many Mongolian families still live in these round, tent-style homes. You don’t have to stray far from the high rise apartment blocks of downtown Ulaanbaatar before spotting the ger districts, and some families in the surrounding countryside open up their homes to travelers keen to experience a taste of traditional life. It’s thought that up to half of Mongolian families live in gers, and these well-insulated felt homes do a good job of protecting their inhabitants from the harsh winter conditions. A handful of companies in Mongolia now offer ‘luxury ger’ experiences, but while it’s by no means good form to just turn up at a ger camp and ask a family if you can bed down for the night, travel guides in Ulaanbaatar (many don’t have an online presence yet) can point you in the right direction. There are tourist ger camps in the stunningly beautiful Terelj National Park, which have a few mod cons, but asking around is normally enough to secure a stay in a family home, where the owners will often throw in home-cooked meals and nightly music performances for a very modest nightly rate.

Drink Airag (and Offer Vodka)

Strictly one for the grownups, this – it would be rude not to sample the local tipple (quit literally), if you’re staying in a family home, turning down a drop of the hard stuff is considered very bad manners. While it’s not hard to find more standard booze such as lager, this is the authentic booze taste of Ulaanbaatar. Airag is a potent drink made from fermented mare’s milk, and is usually ladled out of a large container into dauntingly large bowls or cups. It’s perhaps not what you’d describe as a pleasant taste, but after a couple of spoonfuls you might not notice the slighly acrid flavour. In return, offer a bottle of vodka, which is usually very gratefully received and likely to be opened – and shared – on the spot.

Visit a Hidden Monastery in Terelj National Park

The third-largest protected area in Mongolia, the mountainous Terelj National Park is also one of the most beautiful spots in the country, and feels like a real escape to wild nature, just a short distance from the city. Pass the tourist ger camps on the southern edge and families in Ulaanbaatar can find outdoor activities to suit their energy levels and the kids’ ages. There’s some magnificent trekking to be done hereincluding the tough hike to Arypala, some 3km from the photo-worthy ‘Turtle Rock’ at the park’s entrance. A stiff, winding climb leads to a small Buddhist temple and meditation center reached by extremely steep steps. The views from the top are worth the climb. You can always bribe kids and teens with the promise of archery classes – there are several places to practice this traditional sport within the par, and staff at the ger parks can point families to the nearest bow and arrow site.

Visit a Puzzling Museum

Families in Ulaanbaatar can put their collective intellectual skills to the test at the somewhat hidden ‘Intellectual Museum’, which is more kid-friendly than it might sound. A museum dedicated to puzzles and problem-solving, the first task to complete is finding the place 🙂 – a 30-minute walk from most of the downtown tourist attractions in a residential part of town. Once here, expect giant chess sets, the Mongolian version of a Rubik’s cube, and a whole host of other games that will keep kids and adults busy for hours. It’s a good rainy day option, but worth a visit even when the sun shines.

Give the Kids a Break from Mutton

Meaty, mutton-based dishes tend to be the mainstays of Mongolian dining, but there are plenty of international restaurants in Ulaanbaatar if the kids start griping about local fare. Reclaim your sanity for a moment by promising them some ice cream or frozen yogurt. The centrally-located Moyo does a nice line in Froyo with fruity toppings, so parents visiting Ulaanbaatar with kids can get some vitamins into them by stealth.