Looking for an exotic destination that the kids can handle? Thailand has it: beaches, mountains, elephants, sparkling temples and bustling markets; there's something for each age range. Plus Thais are serious 'cute' connoisseurs, and exotic-looking foreign children trump stuffed animals and fluffy dogs.
Best Regions for Kids
- Eastern Seaboard & Ko Chang
Shallow seas are kind to young swimmers and the low evening tides make for good beach-combing. Older children will like the interior jungle, elephant interactions and mangrove kayaking.
- Upper Gulf
Hua Hin has a long sandy coastline for pint-sized marathons, and hillside temples for monkey-spotting. Phetchaburi's cave temples are home to bats.
- Ko Samui & Lower Gulf
Ko Samui, especially its northern beaches, is a hit with pram-pushers and toddlers, while Hat Chaweng is social, commercial and ideal for teens. Older children can snorkel at Ko Tao.
- Phuket & Andaman Coast
Phuket has amusements galore (including great surf schools), though steer clear of the Patong party scene. There are at least a dozen islands along this coast where families can frolic in the sea.
- Chiang Mai
Families come in droves during European summer holidays to expose their kids to culture, zipline among the gibbons and cycle about town.
Thailand for Kids
Small foreign children are instant celebrities in Thailand and attract paparazzi-like attention. Babies do surprisingly well with their new-found stardom, soaking up adoration from gruff taxi drivers who transform into loving uncles wanting to play a game of peekaboo (called 'já ăir'). If you've got a babe in arms, food vendors will often hold the child while you eat, or take the child for a brief stroll to visit the neighbours.
If your children are shy, stick to tourist centres instead of trotting off to far-flung places where foreigners, especially children, will attract attention. A polite way to deflect spectators is to say the child is 'shy' ('kîi ai'). Older children should be safe from Thai attention.
Some kids might get nervous about the natural chaos of Thai cities and the confusion that arises from being in a new place and having to negotiate transport. Consider giving your children a role in travel planning: reading the map, setting up an itinerary or carrying the water bottles. You're moulding future travellers.
Thai cities can also be claustrophobic and the heat can make it hard to wear out energetic children. Staying at a hotel or resort with a pool will give the kids enough exercise not to bounce off the proverbial walls.
Eating with Kids
In Thailand, the vagaries of children's food preferences are further complicated by a cuisine known for its spiciness. Luckily, even Thai children are shielded from chillies and there are a handful of child-friendly dishes that every server can recommend. Because of the heat, remember to keep your little ones well hydrated, either with water or a variety of fruit juices, including fresh young coconuts or lime juice (a surprising hit with kids).
- kài jee·o (omelette) More oily than the French style but a safe, non-spicy restaurant or street-stall option.
- gài yâhng/tôrt (grilled/fried chicken) Common market and street-stall meal.
- kôw nĕe·o (sticky rice) Straight-up carbs but picky eaters won't resist; sold in markets alongside grilled or fried chicken.
- gài pàt mét má·môo·ang (chicken stir-fried with cashew nuts) Mild stir-fry, popular at restaurants.
- kôw man gài (Hainanese chicken rice) A popular morning and afternoon meal sold at speciality shops.
Health & Safety
For the most part, parents needn't worry too much about health concerns.
- Regular hand-washing should be enforced.
- Thai children are bathed at least twice a day and powdered afterwards to reduce skin irritation from the humid climate; foreigners should aim for at least daily showers.
- Children should be warned not to play with animals as rabies is relatively common, and some pets (not to mention wild monkeys) may be aggressive.
- Dengue is an increasing concern in Thailand and has reached record highs in recent years. Parents should take care to prevent mosquito bites (a difficult task) in children. Repellent creams containing 12% DEET are widely available from 7-Elevens and other convenience stores, but pack some from home before you travel. If your child is bitten, there are a variety of locally produced balms that can reduce swelling and itching. All the usual health precautions apply.
- Thai cities are very loud and can be a sensory overload for young children. Be sure that your child understands street safety guidelines as it will be difficult to focus on your instructions amid all the street noise outside.
- Ancient City, Bangkok Region Open-air museum outside Bangkok that brings together the country's most famous monuments.
- River Kwai Canoe Travel Services, Kanchanaburi Entry-level kayaking experiences in central Thailand.
- Lumphini Park, Bangkok Central Bangkok's largest park has paddle boats, play areas and giant monitor lizards.
- Chiang Mai This province is home to a variety of trekking options, some of which are appropriate for families.
Bangkok's malls are a magnet for teens both domestic and foreign, but there are plenty of other indoor distractions besides.
- BTS Bangkok's above-ground train system is a hit with young kids.
- Chao Phraya Express Boat, Bangkok River taxis are the most fun way to get around the city.
- State Railways of Thailand Loads of kids like overnight train journeys, where they can be assigned lower sleeping berths with views of the stations.
Amenities specially geared towards young children – such as child-safety seats for cars, high chairs in restaurants or nappy-changing facilities in public restrooms – are spotty in Thailand. Therefore parents will have to be resourceful in seeking out substitutes or just do without.
Baby formula and nappies (diapers) are available at mini-markets and 7-Elevens in the larger towns and cities, but sizes are usually small, smaller and smallish. If your kid wears size 3 or larger, head to Tesco Lotus, Big C or Tops Market stores. Nappy-rash cream is sold at pharmacies.
Hauling around little ones can be a challenge. Thailand's footpaths are often too crowded to push a pram, especially full-size SUV versions. Instead opt for a compact umbrella stroller that can squeeze past the fire hydrants and mango carts and can be folded up and thrown in a túk-túk. A baby pack (sling) is also useful, but make sure the child's head doesn't sit higher than yours: there are lots of hanging obstacles poised at forehead level.
For all-round information and advice, check out Lonely Planet’s Travel with Children.