It may be a city that never sleeps, but Bangkok is also heaps of fun for kids and families (really!). Here’s what we did with two kiddos in tow.
In a past life (before kids, when I still enjoyed going out past 10pm), I spent a lot of time in Bangkok. Not only were most of my clients at my former job based there, but it also just made for a super fun, cheap, easy (and let’s face it, crazy) weekend away from Singapore. Flights are plentiful, hotels are luxurious yet well-priced, the food is to-die-for (and again, SO cheap!), and the nightlife rivals any city in the world.
I last visited Bangkok a year before my daughter was born; we’d hoped to make it back in the interceding years but just never got around to it. But then last month we had relatives in town from the U.S. who were keen to visit, and it seemed like as good a time as any to take the plunge and bring the kids along. There would be no Soi Cowboy or Muay Thai Fights on this trip, but there was still plenty of fun to be had (though if I’m being honest, my 4.5-year-old’s hands-down favorite part of Bangkok was the hotel. You’ll understand why in a minute).
Here’s how to have a great time in Bangkok with kids!
Where to Stay
Bangkok has a number of fab areas with clusters of great hotels; you can find clean, basic 4-stars for under $100 a night, cute boutique hotels on quiet side streets (called sois), and even the luxest of 5-stars hotels can usually be had for around $300-$400. Airbnb is also an increasingly popular option, especially with families.
In my experience, the key in Bangkok is to ensure you’re close to two things: 1) The specific sights you want to see and 2) Public transportation (whether it’s the amazing BTS Skytrain, the MRT subway or even Chao Phraya Express Boats). The city’s notorious traffic is simply brutal, and it’s far more pleasant (not to mention cheaper) when you can zip around by rail or water. This is especially so with kids – who generally aren’t the biggest fans of car rides to begin with.
Along these lines, my three favorite areas to stay in Bangkok are Sathorn Road (equidistant between the river and shopping, close to Lumpini Park, and some of the city’s most stylish nightlife), Ratchadamri (great shopping and easy skytrain access to a number of tourist sights), and Sukhumvit Road (trendy shopping and restaurants, but closer to some of Bangkok’s, uh, seedier haunts). Plenty of people love staying along the river or on backpacker central Khao San Road, but neither is really my cup of tea.
On this trip we elected to stay at Banyan Tree Bangkok, an absolutely beautiful (and huge) hotel on Sathorn Road that has an especially Thai flavor. My husband and I had both stayed at the Banyan Tree on separate occasions and are big fans of its service, facilities (the spa and restaurants in particular), and spacious rooms. Even for non-guests the hotel is a destination unto itself thanks to Vertigo and Moon Bar, the rooftop restaurant and bar, respectively, on the 61st floor that offer incomparable 360-degree views of the glittering skyline.
But our #1 reason for choosing the hotel on this stay was our familiarity with its all-suites layout, which is absolutely fantastic for families. My husband and I, our two kids, and our helper stayed in a Two-Bedroom Suite that comes with two bedrooms (each with its own en suite bathroom, rain shower and huge bathtub included!), a living room, and a kitchenette. With a toddler who likes to eat his meals at 5pm, it was easy to feed him at the big dining room table with the high chair that the hotel provided. Two-Bedroom Suites actually allow for two additional rollaway beds (and the bedrooms are quite spacious), so it’s easy for big families to comfortably stay together just as you would in an apartment – with the bonus that you have daily housekeeping and amazing hotel amenities like an outdoor pool and spa right on site!
Our room also included access to the Club Lounge on the hotel’s 19th floor, which not only serves round-the-clock buffet breakfast, snacks, and drinks (handy when you’ve got a finicky 4.5-year-old) but also has a colourful kids’ playroom with puzzles, books, games and other toys. Maggie and Tad were both in heaven.
The hotel is under a 10-minute walk from the Lumpini MRT station, but it also has a number of free shuttles, including a free tuktuk to the Saladaeng BTS Skytrain station, and a free bus to Chatuchak Weekend Market (more on that below). Because Sathorn Road is a main thoroughfare, taxis and tuktuks are always super easy to get as well.
Things to Do
As long as it’s not raining, few things in Bangkok are as enjoyable as a boat ride on the Chao Phraya River. You can pack into a public transport boat that makes regularly scheduled stops at Wat Arun (The Temple of the Dawn), the Grand Palace and others for between 15-29 Baht (about SGD .65-$1.30). You can also just hire a private boat at the dock if you don’t feel like waiting around (plus you have it all to yourself); if you negotiate, expect to pay around $50-$60. Both of my kids LOVED cruising down the river (life jackets were also provided). With a breeze and the occasional splash of water it’s a bit cooling, and you just get a fabulous view of the city and its inhabitants going about their daily life.
Our first stop was The Grand Palace, a series of throne halls, temples and government offices dating back to the 18th century. The Grand Palace is about a 10-minute walk from the river (at least it was with one child on our shoulders and another in a baby carrier). The key attraction here is The Emerald Buddha – the most important Buddha image in Thailand, thought to date from the 15th century – though with over 30 different buildings (many of them jewel-encrusted), statues, and murals throughout the complex, I simply love walking around to marvel at the opulent splendour of it all. That being said, we were hardly alone – the crowds were stifling. If we hadn’t had out-of-town guests we wouldn’t have taken our kids here, although Maggie did enjoy looking at the murals and statues. NB: The restrooms do not have changing tables (we learned that the hard way), and visitors are required to cover their shoulders and wear long pants, dresses, or skirts. Admission is 500 Baht (about SGD 20) per adult. You can buy tickets online, although the wait at the ticket booth wasn’t too bad.
About a 10-minute walk around the corner is Wat Pho, home to the giant gold “Reclining Buddha”. Maggie not only enjoyed marveling at the stature of this 46-metre-long, gold-plated Buddha image, but she also loved placing a small coin in each of the collection bowls that line its sanctuary hall – each making a satisfying plink! as she dropped it in. Wat Pho (which is also the national training centre for traditional Thai massage, and actually has massage trainees on site!) is much smaller in scale than the Grand Palace, which made it more pleasant to visit with small kids.
The Jim Thompson House – easily reached by Skytrain – was another site that I enjoyed visiting with Maggie, as it’s quiet, cool, and filled with fascinating Thai antiques and early-20th century artifacts (for the very same reason, I would not bring a wiggly toddler!). Visitors are required to take a guided tour, which lasts about 35 minutes, but can then explore the lush grounds on their own. With so much greenery, and because it backs onto a canal, it’s easy to forget you’re smack in the middle of bustling Bangkok. Admission is 200 Baht (about SGD 8.50), and kids under 10 are free.
Bangkok rivals Singapore for its stunning shopping malls; like here, they’re a great place to escape the heat and you can usually find some pretty excellent food as well. Some of my favorites include Siam Paragon (also home to Bangkok’s own KidZania), CentralWorld, Terminal 21 and MBK (all handily located along the Skytrain line).
If you spend a weekend in Bangkok, it’s an absolute must to visit Chatuchak Weekend Market, the largest weekend market in the world, spanning 27 acres and comprising over 15,000 stalls. If you can imagine it, you can probably find it at Chatuchak, whether it’s vintage clothes, a live puppy, original works of art, homewares, weapons, or anything in between. Needless to say, this is THE spot to go for all manner of souvenirs; I also picked up a number of cute cotton blouses at about $5 each, Maggie snagged herself a pink tuktuk toy and handmade bath bombs (in a lovely Thai Jasmine scent!), and my aunt bought about a kilo of Thai tea. Be sure to pick up a free map when you get there (there’s a Skytrain and an MRT station on site); there are tantalizing food stalls everywhere, along with all sorts of refreshing coconut and ice lolly carts (which is how we kept our kids happy while we shopped). NB: Maggie took one look at the public restrooms and refused to enter – try to use the potty beforehand if you can! There’s a lovely park between the market and the train stations; apparently there’s also a nice Children’s Museum in here but to be honest our kids were so worn out, we didn’t have time to visit. Next time for sure!
In the very cool Thong Lor neighborhood (Sukhumvit Soi 55), which is home to stylish Thais as well as many expats, a newish mall called The Commons has a variety of western food stalls and other lifestyle attractions (it’s a little bit like Pasarbella here in Singapore, but much more lively). We enjoyed a craft beer while the kids danced along to a live guitar performance. There are a number of outdoor spaces where kiddos can wiggle, as well as a cute children’s café and play space, Little Pea.
Lumpini Park is known as Bangkok’s version of Central Park, and provides a tranquil, verdant stretch of shaded walking paths, a manmade lake, and leisure activities between Ratchadamri and Sathorn Road. There are two playgrounds with sand pits, as well as paddle boats in the central lake.
Finally, this isn’t a kid-friendly activity, but in my opinion no trip to Bangkok would be complete without a massage. Full-on Thai massage, with its herbal compresses and painful stretches is pretty good, but when I’ve been traipsing all over town there’s nothing I love more than a good foot massage. My go-to place for years has been HealthLand Spa, a local chain that a number of my Thai clients recommended to me when I used to visit frequently on business. It’s not the fanciest place – the waiting room is so busy it feels like a train station – but it’s clean and upscale (not at all skeezy as you could easily find in Bangkok), and you can get an amazing 60-minute foot massage for just 400 Baht (about SGD 17). Just try to not fall asleep in the comfy chairs and cool, dark room mama. I dare you! Yet another reason why I love the Banyan Tree: HealthLand has a location about five minutes down Sathorn Road via tuktuk (or 20 minutes on foot).
Speaking of the Banyan Tree, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention its own world class spa, which offers an array of signature treatments and gorgeous products. It was such a treat nipping down to the beautiful spa for a 30-minute foot massage one afternoon while the kids napped. And the hotel also provides complimentary neck and shoulder massages each day by the pool. Score!
Where to Eat
One of my good friends in Singapore is Thai and when I asked for her top restaurant picks, she assured me, “Honestly food is good pretty much everywhere in Bangkok, so plan around the areas you’ll be. Even the food courts in malls have amazing food.”
Sure enough, every meal we ate was nothing short of fabulous. At the Banyan Tree, we loved our huge breakfast buffets at Romsai (and the kids loved playing outside in the lush garden), while we also had a great dinner at the in-house Thai restaurant, Saffron, which offers stunning views from its 52nd-floor perch. And of course on our final night we enjoyed a rooftop cocktail (and yummy desserts) at Vertigo.
After visiting the Grand Palace and Wat Pho, we stumbled upon Err! Urban Rustic Thai, which happens to be curated by the team behind Bo.lan (one of Bangkok’s hottest restaurants). Seriously every single thing on the menu was so delicious – be sure to order lots of the pickled nibbles, and the different varieties of spicy Thai sausage. For what it’s worth, when we showed up they said we’d need to eat quickly as the restaurant was booked out, although I don’t see any obvious spot on its website for making reservations. If you know when you’ll be visiting, perhaps send an email ahead of time to reserve a table?
Another night for dinner, we walked to Nara Thai in the basement of the Hyatt Grand Erawan. While Nara Thai actually has a location here in Singapore at ION Orchard, the food in Bangkok is unsurprisingly a cut above (and so affordable!). The curry is rich and flavorful, the salads are fresh and spicy, and the extensive appetizers are to die for. The Spicy Fried North Eastern Pork Balls and the peanuty-taro balls are my must-tries. This is a popular chain with locations in most of Bangkok’s biggest malls.
Perhaps our most special meal was at Issaya Siamese Club, which is run by celebrity Chef Ian Kittichai and has repeatedly been named to San Pellegrino’s list of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants. The setting in a century-old Thai villa surrounded by tropical gardens set the perfect tone, which was only bolstered by the warm, friendly service and outstanding Thai-fusion cuisine that combines local techniques and ingredients with high-quality meats from Australia, New Zealand and the U.S. They also get bonus points for a super simple online reservations system!
On top of all these places, there is also street food seemingly around every corner in Bangkok. I try to stay away from meats that look like they’ve been sitting out all day, but can never get enough of fresh pineapple, or stir-fried pork and garlic (so simple, and yet it always tastes so much better in Thailand!).
Other stuff to know if you’re traveling to Bangkok with Kids
Because of the crowds and broken sidewalks, I wouldn’t bother bringing a stroller, however if you’ll be spending a lot of time at your hotel, or plan to be indoors a lot at various shopping malls, a lightweight stroller could definitely come in handy. I preferred to bring 15-month Tad around in a baby carrier.
Both of Bangkok’s airports are about 40-45 minutes from the city center. If you’re traveling on the lighter side, the Bangkok Airport Rail Link from Suvarnabhumi is a super fast (and cheap, at 45 Baht/ SGD 2) way to get into town. We were not traveling light, and so the Banyan Tree helpfully organized a large van with car seats for the kids. Bangkok’s famous pink taxis are also plentiful, and will run you about $20-$30.
ATMs are everywhere, including the arrivals area of the airport. Try to have lots of small bills (20s, 50s, and 100s) on you at all times.
In the time it took me to write this article, I could have flown to Bangkok and already gotten a massage. I just might have to start planning a return trip with the kiddos, and hope you will do the same, mama!
Banyan Tree Bangkok, 21/100 South Sathon Road, Sathon Bangkok 10120, Thailand, www.banyantree.com/en/thailand/bangkok