A Family Trip to Thailand
An account of our trip to Thailand in March and April.
Age of kids during trip: 2 and 5.
Update: This post is about our first trip to Thailand with kids. We have since been back three more times. Now that we’ve seen pretty much everywhere I would rate my favorite family destination in Thailand as Railay. After that, Koh Samui. Bangkok is awesome for its food and energy. Chiang Mai (and the overnight train trip there from Bangkok) is pretty close to a must as well.
We flew with Eva Air from Seattle to Taipei, and then Taipei to Bangkok. We had flown with Eva on a previous trip to Indonesia and had much the same experience as Eva is a competent but unremarkable airline — though this time they did lose our stroller en route. (We got a $300 refund a few weeks after we got home.)
After landing we passed through immigration without any problems, grabbed our bags, and a taxi got us to the Amari Watergate Hotel in the Pratunam district in downtown Bangkok.
We spent our 24 hours in Bangkok, touring the local street market, eating at the hotel’s very good Thai restaurant, and swimming in the pool overlooking the city.
Journey to Ko Samui
We had planned to take the train down the coast to Surat Thani – either on a overnight train or with a stop in Hua Hin – and then ferry across to Samui. But when we saw how cheap the flights were we booked a ticket to Surat Thani departing on the morning of our 2nd day. The combined flight, bus, ferry and taxi ride made for a long day getting from Bangkok to Samui.
In hindsight I would have stuck with our original plan to take the train or have spent a bit more and flown directly to Ko Samui. (Bangkok Airways owns the airport on Samui and thus is the only airline to fly into the island.)
I’ve taken the overnight train before and the connections to the morning ferry across to Samui and Ko Pha Ngan are fairly painless. Not so with the plane.
A bus departs the airport for the ferry terminal and the trip takes a good two hours. Then wait for the ferry and another 2 hours across to Samui. It is hardly arduous travel but by the time we finally reached our hotel on the island we were exhausted.
Bophut, Ko Samui
We stayed in Bophut, on the north side of the island and a short drive to both the airport and Chaweng. There isn’t a lot to Bophut but the beach is outstanding — perhaps one of the nicest beaches in all of Thailand. You can wander along the sand to find a number of places to eat and drink. As with much of our time in Thailand we would usually spend the morning at the beach and the afternoon at the pool, if our hotel had one. Though they seem very similar to an adult, to our kids they seemed to be wholly different activities. And when they had grown tired of one, the other one still seemed intriguing.
Chaweng Beach, Ko Samui
Chaweng is the fun but very touristy epicenter of Ko Samui. The main attraction for us, was the wide variety of good places to eat. We did some Italian, some Indian, and some Mexican. The beach really comes alive at night and we had a lot of fun doing the evening stroll along the sand looking for some place to settle down and eat. We enjoyed our 3 nights here but were glad to move on to someplace quieter.
Mae Nam, Ko Samui
A relaxing low key town popular with long term travelers. The beach isn’t as nice as Bophut but there are more restaurants and cafes. If you are in Mae Nam be sure to eat at La Trattoria up near the main ring road. One of the best meals we had in Thailand.
Railay Beach, Krabi
Railay (also spelled Rai Leh) is a great spot over on the east coast of the country. We flew from Samui to Krabi, a flight that lasted less than an hour. From the airport it’s about an hour by taxi or bus to Ao Nang and then from there a long tail boat gets you to Railay. The boat operators have to have a full boat before leaving for Railay, so the wait can range between 5 minutes and an hour. The boat ride itself takes about 20 or 30 minutes.
Railay is blessed with 2 beautiful beaches, easy access to sea kayaking and rock climbing, and a variety of longer day trips as well. Railay is essentially a peninsula and it’s important to note that the west beach is great, while the east turns to mud flats at low tide. This doesn’t make the east beach an unattractive option however as these hotels are much cheaper and it’s just a short 5 minute walk from one side to the other.
From Railay we took an early morning boat back to the main land, this time heading south from Railay as opposed to from the North when we arrived. Then a short taxi ride to the Krabi airport and the flight back to Bangkok.
Back To Bangkok
On our 2nd pass through Bangkok we stayed in the backpacker district of Khao San Road. We were expecting some lively – maybe too lively – young backpacker activity that we could easily allude by ducking into a quiet restaurant or returning to the hotel swimming pool. What we got was complete unfettered chaos. It turned out it we had landed in Bangkok just before the Thai Songkran festival – a week long carnival of water fights, face painting, water fights, eating, drinking and more water fighting. Our oldest boy bought a water gun and joined in with the Songkran fun.
Where We Stayed
Amari Watergate, Bangkok
The Amari is a very nice hotel at pretty reasonable rates considering the quality of service and amenities. We got a very good deal with Priceline, but almost any online web site has steep discounts so if you do stay here don’t book directly with the hotel. A very nice open air pool is on the 8th floor with views of the surrounding city. Several malls, the skytrain and Siam Ocean World are nearby if those things entice.
Viengtai Hotel, Bangkok
On our way home we stayed at the Viengtai Hotel in the Khao San Road district. It was a very clean respectable hotel in the frenetic backpacker district. The main selling point was the beautiful pool. Clean, long and deep it was wonderful after negotiating the Songkran crowds.
World Resort Koh Samui, Bophut, Ko Samui
Despite the title this isn’t anything like a resort, but a very pleasant relaxing bungalow style hotel with great breakfasts, a nice pool and fantastic stretch beach. We stayed 3 nights and loved it.
Montien House, Chaweng, Ko Samui
A nice hotel with a decent pool and good stretch of beach out in front. Perhaps the Montien lacks a little character, but no one goes to Chaweng for ambience.
Maenamburi Resort, Mae Nam, Ko Samui
A very simple bungalow style hotel. Clean spare rooms go for about 1500 THB. A very friendly group of workers made for a nice stay.
Sunrise Tropical Resort, Railay Beach, Krabi
The rooms were fantastic. Beautifully decorated with an open air shower. The pool was equally great. The food was OK at best, and perhaps that’s being generous. Rooms go for 2000 THB and up. The Sunrise is on Railay’s east beach and thus to do any swimming or beach lounging requires a short walk along dirt paths to the west beach.
As always check the cdc web site for vaccination and malaria recommendations. But compared to other destinations in South and South-East Asia Thailand is about as safe and easy as it gets.
Bangkok is the center of cheap flights for the region so you should have a lot of choices in how and when to get there. Enter some dates – preferably flexible dates — into Kayak then proceed to the web sites of the cheapest airlines to see if their web sites offer an even better deal. Bangkok is a great place to buy cheap tickets, so if this is part of a extended trip don’t feel you have to book all your flights before starting your trip.
Traveling around Thailand is easy, cheap and often painfully slow. It’s as if the country has made it half the way to a Westernised idea of efficiency on punctuality. Trains and buses tend to leave on time, but then enter some strange time warp where 50 miles on the map can take several hours. Be patient and have fun. You’re traveling right?
Air Asia can be the remedy for many of these road trials and tribulations. They seem to be adding routes every couple of months and prices only go down, not up. Their web site is great and easy to use.
I’ve been to Thailand 4 times, in 4 different seasons and can say that when planning a trip don’t let climate determine where and when you’re going to travel. You can get great beach weather in the wet season and be doused with rain in the dry season. The weather patterns on each of the coasts vary a fair bit as well, so if you’re getting crummy weather on one coast it’s always an option to travel across the country and see if you get sunny skies.
Really make an effort to get away from the more touristy spots. This advice applies everywhere of course, but I think it’s especially relevant in Thailand. After a few days of interacting with jaded hotel owners and tour operators on the tourist trail you’ll be shocked at just how friendly and inviting Thais can be when you see them in their local element. It really is the land of smiles. And if you have kids, forget about it. You’ll never want to go home.
Destinations don’t get much better than Thailand. Safe, beautiful and relatively easy to get around, the country offers seemingly all the amenities of the west while still retaining a lot of the old Thai culture and hospitality. Make an effort to get off the beaten track and you’ll be rewarded with some of the friendliest people, most beautiful scenery and fantastic food the world has to offer.