Thailand is one of the most popular countries for families visiting Southeast Asia. With beautiful beaches, bustling cities, scenic mountains, and lush forests, Thailand has a little something for everyone. Many international visitors planning a trip to Thailand will fly into the city of Bangkok, but have their sights set on Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, and Phuket. In my pre-trip research, I found that Bangkok has developed a bit of a bad reputation in the travel blog world due to it’s traffic, congestion, overall pace, and salacious nightlife. Having just spent 5 days with my family in and around Bangkok on a recent trip to Thailand, I can say that I found the bad reputation unfounded. We had a fabulous time exploring temples, visiting night markets, eating great food, and venturing to the outskirts of the city for day trips and an overnighter. Below, you will find the top ten things I would recommend for families visiting Bangkok!
1. Get Around Town on Tuk-Tuks, Taxis, Sky Trains, and Metros
The first thing you’ll want to do when planning a family travel itinerary for Bangkok is to bring yourself up to speed with transportation options. Taxis and tuk-tuks are the most convenient, but the BTS SkyTrain and MRT Subway Metro are a great option as well. My son absolutely loved riding around in tuk-tuks and taking the SkyTrain. He probably would have been happy and content doing that all day long. Make sure you have Google Maps downloaded on your phone for walking directions to BTS and MRT stops throughout the city, and you’ll be able to get anywhere you’re planning to go.
2. Visit Wat Pho, the Grand Palace, and Wat Arun
Visitors could probably spend weeks in Bangkok without visiting all of the temples open to the public. For those with tighter time constraints, there are three you definitely don’t want to miss. The first temple I would recommend visiting is Wat Phra Chetuphon (Wat Pho), where you will see the giant reclining Buddha. This is the temple visited by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton back in 2012.
After a visit to Wat Phra Chetuphon (Wat Pho), you’ll want to pay a visit to The Grand Palace. The Grand Palace is really a large complex of buildings and has been the official residence of all the kings of Siam and Thailand dating back to 1782. The palace was commissioned by King Rama I, and Thailand is now ruled by his descendant King Rama X.
After visiting The Grand Palace, take a ferry across the Chao Phraya River and visit Wat Arun Ratchavararam. Wat Arun is one of Bangkok’s most recognizable landmarks and is supposed to be a gorgeous site at sunrise (jetlag kept us from seeing that). The central prang tower of Wat Arun is the main feature of the temple, with its white base glittering with multi colored and multi faceted porcelain. At the top of the central prang, you will see the seven pronged trident of Shiva, and around the base you will see many different Chinese soldiers and animals.
3. Shop at the Markets
After a day visiting temples, pay a visit to one of Bangkok’s many markets. Our favorite market was the massive Chatuchak Weekend Market which has over 15,000 stalls divided into 27 sections. We also really enjoyed the Ratchada Rot Fai Train Night Market, which came alive with every kind of food offering you can think of.
4. Take a Day Trip to the Floating Markets and Train Market
Damnoen Saduak is one of the most popular and well known floating markets in all of Thailand. The market is built along the Damnoen Saduak Canal, which was constructed in 1868 to connect the Mae Klong and Tha Chin Rivers. This was a major transportation line before development of roads in Thailand a century later. The marketplace is still a full operation, but is geared up for tourism and visitors that make the 100-kilometer trip out from Bangkok.
On our third day in Thailand, we had a full-day itinerary planned after spending our first two days at a slow pace in Bangkok warding off any severe jet lag. The schedule for the day had us driving out of Bangkok to explore the Mae Klong Railway Market, heading over to the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market next, and then finishing our day back in Bangkok to experience the Grand Palace.
I had read a lot about the Mae Klong Railway Market before we arrived, and was very interested in seeing how a train could possibly make its way through the middle of a live and bustling marketplace. Once we arrived, I was shocked by how close the stalls and stands were to the railway. My shock was quickly distracted by the sights, smells, and sounds of the lively market.
After spending some time exploring the market for an hour, we noticed a buzz in the air from the marketplace and its stalls. In an instance, the awnings were retracted, and the people of the marketplace began to quickly pull their wares away from the train track. We looked towards the commotion and the direction of tourists pointing cameras, and saw the light of the oncoming train. The train was moving very slowly, but it was still a little hair-raising for it to pass so close.
5. Take a Trip to Ayutthaya
The historic city of Ayutthaya is a UNESCO World Heritage site located 80km outside of Bangkok. Founded in the year 1350, Ayutthaya was the second capital of the Siamese empire after it moved from Sukhothai. The city was destroyed by the Burmese in the 18th century, but the remains of the prang towers can still be seen today.
One of the most popular places to visit in Ayutthaya is Wat Mahathat, where visitors can see the Buddha head that is stuck in a tree. Wat Mahathat was built during the 14th century and stood until the Burmese invaded Ayutthaya in 1767. One thing that is noticeable all throughout the city is that the heads of many buddhas were taken off during this time. After the invasion, Ayutthaya was left abandoned and was overgrown by brush. Nobody is quite sure how this Buddha head ended up where it is now, but it was discovered when the Thai Department of Fine Art began restoring the area in the 1950s.
6. Enjoy the Restaurants and Street Food
Thailand and Bangkok are world famous for the amazing variety and quality of the food and street food available. What makes the food even better, is how cheap it is for families on a budget. Most dishes in restaurants can be had for around 100 baht, which is around $3.00. Street food can be purchased for even less.
If you’re feeling ambitious and have a stomach made of iron, there are some unusual food options that are sure to delight the foodie in you. I’m not an adventurous eater, but it was still amazing to see the scorpions, centipedes, frogs, rats, and other food options.
7. Visit Jim Thompson House
When I first read about the Jim Thompson House museum, I thought the name sounded a bit out of place on a Thailand itinerary. After a little more research, I came to understand how an American businessman and architect created a world renowned half acre complex in the heart of Bangkok. Jim Thompson was a trader of Thai silk, and was a collector of Southeast Asian art. At the time, neither was well known internationally. Jim Thompson mysteriously disappeared in 1967 and his house was turned over to a foundation that runs it as a museum.
8. Take a Walk Around Yaowarat Road Chinatown
Yaowarat Road is the main street that runs through Bangkok’s Chinatown, and is where you are sure to find anything and everything you could imagine wanting to buy. There are restaurants, street food vendors, jewelers, electronics shops, and more. If you’re in need of something in Bangkok, you’ll be sure to find it in Chinatown. Chinatown is one of the oldest areas in Bangkok and has been the center of trading for the Chinese community for nearly 200 years.
9. Visit the Ari Neighborhood
There are a number of neighborhoods in Thailand that are worth a visit, but Ari is the one I enjoyed most. Soi Ari has a bit of a hipster vibe and offers a ton of great cafes, restaurants, and shopping. Of all the places I visited in Bangkok, Soi Ari is the one I could see myself living in.
10. Take an Overnight trip to Kanchanaburi
If you have time for an overnight trip while in Bangkok, make sure to take a hard look at Kanchanaburi. Kanchanaburi is most known for the Death Railway that was constructed during WWII by prisoners of war. There are thousands of Allied soldiers buried in town at Kanchanaburi War Cemetery. This story was made into a movie with “The Bridge on the River Kwai” back in 1957. After walking along the bridge for a while, we hopped onto the train and took a journey along the river.
We stayed at the magnificent U Inchantree Kanchanaburi hotel which is situated right along the River Kwai. The hotel has an infinity pool, a restaurant along the river, and plenty of places to relax and take in the view.
Comments or Questions?
Are you planning a family trip to Thailand? Have you already visited. Feel free to reach out and let me know what you think of my 10 recommendations!