Thailand offers bountiful beaches, rolling jungle, spiny mountain ranges…there’s so much to see, do (and eat) here, that families can find it hard to know where to start.
Eating is a large part of the fun, but it can appear challenging at first, as so much of the food is spicy. Note the phrase ‘mai phed’ (no spice) for eats without the heat. While adventurous older kids might be excited to chow down on deep fried bugs, there are gentler options too, such as mango with sticky rice (served as a dessert or light lunch), noodles, and super-crispy spring rolls filled with meat and/or fresh crispy vegetables. Children are warmly welcomed at Thai restaurants, making dining out relatively stress free. Follow our itinerary for eating your way around Thailand with kids but be warned, you’ll probably want to come back and visit all the places you missed the first time.
Day 1-3: Bangkok
Crazy, colorful and chaotic, Bangkok is perhaps better known as a destination for thrill-seeking adults than for its child-friendly activities, but family trips to Bangkok can be surprisingly rewarding. There are theme parks, oceanariums and playgrounds galore, so set aside at least three days to fit in a couple of big ticket attractions. All that noise can be a little draining, however, and street food can be hard on delicate little tums, so take the stress out of mealtimes by visiting an ‘all under one roof’ spot such as Helix – the ultra-modern food hall at EmQuartier mall. There are some 50 restaurants here, serving everything from spring rolls to American-style burgers, and it’s easy to push a stroller from one spot to another.
For something a little more ‘local’ grownups shouldn’t shy away from sampling the street food that is available across the city. Check out the Old Town (or Banglamphu) for Khao gang (curry rice), which is popular fuel at breakfast and lunch, and sees a variety of veggie and meaty curries piled onto a plate of rice, and typically costs the equivalent of under $1.
Tip: Foodie visitors in Bangkok should also be sure to check out the famous Chinatown (Yaowarat). There’s a Chinese flavor to much of Bangkok’s dishes, and this vast Chinatown is said to have kickstrted the famous street food scene.
Day 3-7 Chiang Mai
All aboard the sleeper train! The overnight rail journey from Bangkok to Chiang Mai is a fun one, and kids tend to enjoy being tucked into comfy bunks for the trip (book first class rooms to up the comfort level if the budget will stretch). There’s a whole host of activities on offer for foodie families in Chiang Mai, and kid-friendly food is both easy to come by and highly affordable. As is so often the case in Thailand, food courts cater to every taste, and families should also check out the handful of cafes with play areas, such as the German-run Nic’s, which has trampolines for the kids and gin cocktails for mom and Dad. At Cooking Love in the center of town, kids can watch the dishes being prepared in front of their eyes, and it costs less than $4 for a family to tuck into child-friendly mild chicken and mango curries, washed down with coconut water.
Tip: Families in Chaing Mai can learn to whip up traditional Thai dishes such as Pad Thai, with kid-friendly classes organised by Asia Scenic, close to the center of town.
Day 8-11: Pai
It’s a bumpy-yet-fun 3.5 hour mini-bus ride along mountain roads to the welcoming ‘hippy’ community of Pai. There’s a big vegan community here, so travelers in Pai with kids can recharge the batteries with super-fresh dishes whipped up with the abundant local fruit and vegetables – kids will enjoy the juices that are available for well under a dollar, and there are several informal cooking schools here too. By night, Pai’s famous ‘Walking Street’ fill up with vendors, and it’s fun and safe to stroll around, checking out the various treats: try the sugary grilled bananas as a kid-friendly alternative to the meat and seafood on a stick.
Day 12-16: Golden Triangle
Head back to Chiang Mae and either overnight or take the 4-hour minibus ride (or an organised tour if budget allows) up to Chiang Rai, the river city at the edge of the Golden Triangle – so called because it is the point at which Thailand, Myanmar and Laos meet. It’s known for its breathtaking scenery, elephant sanctuaries and endless rice paddies, and visitors to the Golden Triangle with kids can fuel cycling or hiking adventures with treats such as dim sum, grilled chicken, fresh smoothies or miang kham tea leaves stuffed with shredded coconut, peanuts and ginger.
? Box out: The Saturday and Sunday Walking Street Markets are popular with locals and visitors alike, and see vendors selling everything from backpacker-chic clothing to snacks (yes, there are crispy bugs to try, should you fancy it).
Day 17-20 Ayutthaya
Back down to Chiang Mai, then board an overnight train to Ayutthaya – sleepers are available for less than $20 p/p, VIP cabins slightly more, but turn up early as tickets sell out. Kids can rampage around the ruins of this ancient city, see temples galore, and for around $10 families in Ayutthaya with kids can feast on absolutely delicious freshwater prawns, sprinkled with salt and cooked over hot coals and enjoyed on the deck of floating restaurants. There are a handful of good hotels and guest houses here, and it’s well worth spending a few days to get a feel for the history of the place.
Day 21-22 Bangkok
It’s around 90 minutes’ bus ride back to the capital, where families in Thailand might want to overnight before heading in the direction of Thailand’s magnificent island beaches. Check out food malls for easy eats that won’t upset the stomach before the journey.
Day 23-29 Phuket
After all that exploring, foodie families will likely be ready for some time chilling on Thailand’s famous island beaches. Phuket is one of the best spots for families, and is easily reached by plane – several operators ply the 80-minute route from Bangkok, with flights costing as little as $50. Treat this as a vacation in itself, and settle in for a week of swimming, snorkeling, theme parks, water parks, and an abundance of playgrounds both natural (all that jungle) and manmade (this is a very kid-friendly spot). Many hotels here offer international dishes, and burgers, pasta and pizza are all easy to come by, but for a real taste of Phuket that will linger long in the taste buds, try the sizzling wares cooked up by the street food vendors. As well as Thai dishes, you’ll find Malaysian, Chinese and Indian dishes on offer.
? Box out:
Going Bananas: Bananas grow in abundance in Phuket, and they make their way into many a street treat. Banana pancakes are cooked on a hot plate, drizzled with condensed milk and cut into stacked wedges; deep fried banana on sticks is a sweet delight, and it’s whizzed into smoothies.
Day 30: Back to Bangkok and it’s bye bye Thailand – for now!