A Thailand survival guide for parents with children
Thailand is a popular family holiday destination, but is not always “family-friendly”. A lot of places in Thailand are still “rough and ready”, well suited to singles and OK for couples, but not entirely well suited to families and young children. It’s not that they don’t want to cater to families, just that they haven’t really had to think much about it.
So, where are the best holiday destinations in Thailand for families with children? What do parents with children need to think about before planning a holiday in Thailand? What sort of accommodation is going to work best for you and your family? And what are the best attractions to include in your itinerary for the children? We attempt to answer these questions and more in this post.
For us, it was always about getting the most holiday we could within our tight family budget – and that’s where Thailand really shines. It always has been and still is one of the most economical international holiday destinations anywhere in the world. Traveling with children is expensive, so why not go where everything else is cheap?
Despite what I said above, Thailand is a very family-friendly holiday destination – it’s just that it’s not necessarily designed to be. But it’s getting better. Most of the popular tourist destinations like Phuket, Pattaya, and Chiang Mai now boast great attractions for kids along with fantastic beaches, mountains, and cultural attractions. In fact, the hardest decision won’t be where to go, but where not to go! There’s just too much to see.
When to take your family to Thailand
This is a two-pronged concept. First, there’s the question “At what age should I take my children to Thailand?” and then there’s the question “At what time of year should I take my family to Thailand”. Let’s look at the first one first.
Thailand is very family-friendly, but that’s not to say that everywhere in Thailand is great for children of any age. Bangkok is hot and a bit dirty and very young children may find it difficult, especially in summer when street temperatures can be up around 40 degrees C. Phuket is very popular with travelers but I’d say it’s not an ideal place to take children of any age because of the strong sexual orientation of many attractions there – but on the other hand, there are some great kid-friendly resorts in and around Phuket too.
Planning your Thailand family holiday itinerary
The biggest challenge you’ll have in your itinerary is moving from place to place. If you only have one or two children it’s not too bad, but if you have three or four and one or two are babies or toddlers, you can expect moving about to be challenging and draining at best. So try to keep your family holiday contained to one or two major destinations.
Our website has lots of posts about the fantastic destinations and attractions in Thailand, so we won’t go into a lot of detail here. Instead, we’ll try to tell you what’s really going to interest your kids and keep them happy while you enjoy the great beaches, fabulous food, and cheap drinks.
Two particular considerations when traveling with children, especially young children, are Thailand’s climate and crowds. Thailand is very popular and major destinations can become extremely crowded at peak tourist times like Songkran (Thai New Year), so it’s best to avoid these times when you are managing young children. Summer in Thailand can be very, very hot and this can make the risks of sunburn and dehydration much greater, so it’s best to also avoid the April-May period for this reason if traveling with young children.
The best places to stay with a family in Thailand
Koh Samui (near Phuket) is one of our favorite beach destinations in Thailand and we highly recommend it for families. It’s a large, self-contained island off the south coast of Thailand with lots of things to see and do and different communities scattered around its coastline to visit. The main road goes around in a big circle so it’s hard to get lost and it’s a pretty easy place to drive yourself in a rental car too.
At about one-third of the cost of the Phuket resorts, the Imperial Boat House Beach Resort on Choeng Mon Beach in Koh Samui leaves you with a lot more money to spend on enjoying your holiday. But that doesn’t mean you’re compromising on luxury, quality, or facilities for a family with children.
The pool and each of the boat rooms are designed to resemble a Thai fishing boat, so it’s pretty quaint, to begin with. These are the best rooms for a family with children, but obviously, they’re also the most expensive (from about $200 a night, minimum 7-day stay). The boat rooms feature separate bedrooms and living areas, an eating area, and a private sun deck overlooking the main pool area so you can see the kids when they’re swimming.
The resort is very child-friendly and the staff is always willing to help and make suggestions about what to do and where to go. The beach below the resort is also great and one of the cleanest on Koh Samui. There’s a small village near the resort where you can interact with the locals and try some cheap and yummy local food.
It’s not in the busiest part of Koh Samui, which is good because that sometimes attracts a big party crowd. But if you want to go to Chaweng it’s only 10 minutes away by car or taxi. The resort itself is pretty huge with a white sand beach and tropical gardens. Lots of nice bars to chill out at in the evenings and they don’t mind the kids tagging along.
Rates: From around US$100 per night
Bookings: Book through Tripadvisor
Address: 83 Moo 5, Choeng Mon Beach | Bophut, Choeng Mon, Ko Samui 84320, Thailand
If this resort doesn’t suit your needs, check out these other top hotels and resorts in Koh Samui. If staying a week or more, consider if a vacation rental in Koh Samui might be more suitable for your family’s needs.
Khao Lak is a resort town on the west coast of peninsular Thailand, about 80 km north of Phuket. The beaches of Khao Lak are a lot like the beaches of Phuket, but cleaner and more friendly. So are the people. Unfortunately, Khao Lak was one of the places that were very badly impacted (pretty much wiped out) by the 2004 tsunami, but it has been rebuilt and is now considered better than ever.
White Sand Beach is one of the most popular places to go in Khao Lak. Enjoy yummy banana smoothies on the beach and relax in a sun lounge under a beach umbrella (80Bt each to hire) while your children play on the soft sand or paddle in the shallows. Stay for the beautiful sunset and some delicious local food at the nearby beach bars. Just be careful to check for jellyfish at certain times of the year. Take the kids for a game of mini-golf or book one of the great family wildlife and eco-tours offered in the town. Your kids will love horseback riding or an elephant trek through the jungle.
The JW Marriott Khao Lak Resort is a popular place for families in Khao Lak. You can enjoy a long, languorous Thai massage by the pool or on the sun deck of your bungalow while keeping an eye on the kids playing in the huge central pool. Or take the kids in one of the 3 km of themed pools like the “lazy river” or the “jet pool” and let them loose while you sneak up to the pool lounge for a quiet cocktail just a few meters away. The gift shop even sells floaties!
Try to book one of the two-bedroom apartments on the upper levels with a loft room so you get two balconies overlooking the resort. If you’re booking a ground-floor room, just be careful because some open straight out into the pool area while others have child-proof gates. The rooms in Blocks 1 and 2 are quieter and more private, but the rooms in Blocks 3 and 4 are more nicely set up although a little noise. If your kids are teens, try to get one of the “swim up” rooms where you can climb straight out of the pool onto your terrace!
If you want to get out in the evening and enjoy a quiet dinner and some drinks without the children, ask the hotel staff about the babysitting service. Make sure to book a room with breakfast because the buffet is outstanding and includes fruit, eggs how you like them, pastries, smoothies, and divine coffee. Some bookings also come with lunch vouchers that you can use in the poolside lounges and bars. But go outside the resort for dinner as it’s pretty expensive in the restaurant. There are some nice cafes and restaurants just outside the resort.
Rates: From around US$150 per night
Bookings: Book through Tripadvisor
Address: 41/12 Moo 3, Khuk Khak Beach, Khao Lak 82190, Thailand
If this resort doesn’t suit your needs, check out these other top hotels and resorts in Khao Lak. If staying a week or more, consider if a vacation rental on Khao Lak might be more suitable for your family’s needs.
Phuket isn’t our favorite place in Thailand, mainly because we don’t enjoy crowded beaches and being hassled by hawkers all the time. But it is still the most popular tourist destination in Thailand and if you’re going to go there it helps to know where to stay.
Treat yourself and your family to some Thai luxury and hospitality at the Banyan Tree Phuket. You might have heard of the Banyan Tree chain of hotels, but this is the original … the one that made the name famous. Snag yourself a family double (2 bedroom) villa with a butler to look after you, a private swimming pool, and your own private garden to relax in. You’ll adore the spa and the indoor/outdoor bathroom.
The kids will love the big pools in the resort, but you’ll enjoy the private pool in your villa when the kids are tucked in bed. Unfortunately, the beach here is not much to rave about although you won’t get hassled much there because it’s circled by big hotel resorts. There are other nice beaches nearby (we prefer Karon Beach anyway).
Although you’re close enough to explore the cafes, street food, and restaurants of Phuket, eating out in the evenings can be a hassle with young children or large families so it’s nice to know the food in the Banyan Tree Phuket is also pretty good – they deliver a great breakfast basket to your room (which the waiters unpack and set up for you) and you can get a fantastic dinner in the Saffron Thai restaurant, but if you get tired of going to the same place to eat please try the golf club restaurant in the resort as well or head next door to the Dusit Thani Hotel which also has good meals.
Treat yourself to a spa and massage and a round of golf! Or take a boat ride out to the nearby islands to snorkel. Borrow some bikes from the hotel and ride around the grounds with the kids.
It’s not the Hilton and it needs a bit of a refresh, but you’ll enjoy yourself here. If you find something doesn’t work as expected, let the managers know about it and it will get fixed pretty quickly.
Rates: From around US$300 per night
Bookings: Book through Tripadvisor
Address: 33, 33/27 Moo 4, Srisoonthorn Road, Amphur Talang, Phuket 83110, Thailand
If this hotel doesn’t suit your needs, check out these other top hotels and resorts in and around Phuket on Tripadvisor. If staying a week or more, consider if a vacation rental in Phuket might be more suitable for your family’s needs.
Chiang Mai is one of our favorite destinations in Thailand and also one of the best places to take a family because the whole city and almost all its attractions are extremely family-friendly. Chiang Mai is usually a bit cooler than Bangkok or Phuket all year round because it’s up in the mountains of Northern Thailand.
Take your kids to the Panda Club where they’ll meet Lin Ping, one of the few pandas outside of China. She’s so famous in Thailand she has a TV channel dedicated to streaming videos of her enclosure at Chiang Mai Zoo.
The children will love the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar with all of its color and excitement as well as great clothes, electronics, and souvenir bargains. If they like the Night Bazaar they’ll enjoy the Saturday Walking Street market and the Sunday Market along Wu Lai Road too.
One of the best places to take the family in Chiang Mai is the Night Safari, where they can ride a train around a park filled with wild animals from all over the world, feed the ducks on the man-made lake, or get their photo taken with a white baby tiger! It’s a real hoot.
If your children are older, take them on the Flight of the Gibbon, a wild zip-line ride through an ancient rainforest with two abseils down vertical drops and a couple of sky-bridge walks through the rainforest canopy. Safety is taken very seriously and the ride is professionally managed.
There are a lot of really good places to stay in Chiang Mai but Yaang Come Village is one of the best if you’re traveling with a family. The hotel has huge rooms set around a central swimming pool and decorated in the traditional Thai Lanna dark timber that makes the experience very authentic. You’d never know when you’re inside the resort that it’s sitting on a busy street in the middle of Chiang Mai.
The staff speak very good English and will do their best to look after all your family’s needs while you’re there. Try to book one of the Deluxe rooms with a pool view if you can (they can be expensive in peak times) because they are so much better than the standard (Superior) rooms, although they can be a bit noisy if there are a lot of guests using the pool. There’s also a family-sized room (111) you can request if you need extra space. There are also inter-connecting rooms for older children.
Rates: From around US$130 per night
Bookings: Book through Tripadvisor
Address: 90/3 Sridonchai Rd | Changkhlan, Chiang Mai 50100, Thailand
If this hotel doesn’t suit your needs, check out these other top hotels and resorts in and around Chiang Mai on Tripadvisor. If staying a week or more, consider if a vacation rental in Chiang Mai might be more suitable for your family’s needs.