Vibrant and inviting, Bangkok in Thailand is a great city to explore as a family. Adults and children alike will have a rich experience spending three days in this bustling, colorful metropolis, where modern-day life thrives in tandem with ancient traditions.
If you have just 72 hours in the city, here are my top recommendations for things to see and do in Bangkok with kids, plus insider tips to make your time in this fascinating city less stressful and more enjoyable:
Be immediately impressed, humbled, and immersed in Thai history and culture by visiting the city’s most famous landmark, the Grand Palace, on your first morning. Make your way to Sathorn Pier via the BTS (exit at the Saphan Taksin station), and hop aboard the Chao Praya Express Boat to Chang Pier. For a more private and pleasant ride, hire your own long boat to take you directly from Sathorn Pier to Chang Pier at a marginally higher cost. The Grand Palace, once the home of the Thai King, the Royal Court, and the administrative seat of the government, will delight younger audiences with its colorful architecture, golden spires, meticulously-maintained gardens, and impressive murals. Inside the palace, you’ll find the Temple of Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha), which is home to a greatly revered Buddha that dates back to the 14th century.
A 10-minute walk from the Grand Palace is the equally-as-impressive Temple of the Reclining Buddha (Wat Pho). As its name implies, the temple is home to a giant reclining Buddha, which is covered in gold leaf. Purchase a bowl of coins as you enter the temple so that you can place a coin in each of the 108 bronze bowls that line the length of the walls inside the temple. They say that placing a coin in each bowl will bring you good luck and young children will love the sensory experience, as well as the delightful ringing sound the coins make when they hit the bronze.
Note: As the Grand Palace and the Temple of the Reclining Buddha are some of Thailand’s most sacred sites, you’ll need to dress respectfully; no exposed shoulders or skin above the knee. You will also need to remove your shoes to enter the temples. Since you’ll be traveling via boat and on foot for most of the morning, make sure to lather up with sunscreen, wear sun hats, and bring plenty of water. If you are traveling with young children or babies, a baby carrier or kid carrier is a must. Little feet will tire easily running around the palace and temple grounds.
After a morning in the sun, there’s no better place to find a respite from the heat than at Siam Paragon, one of Bangkok’s largest luxury malls. Siam Paragon is connected to the BTS at the Siam station. While the mall itself is impressive, the real gem for families is Siam Ocean World. One of Southeast Asia’s largest aquariums, Siam Ocean World allows families to marvel at impressive aquatic life, including a Giant Pacific Octopus, several species of sharks, penguins, eagle rays, sea horses, and much more. The aquarium is well-laid out and provides plenty of space for younger children to meander from one exhibit to another.
Popular with the younger crowd are the shark tunnels and the glass bottom boat ride. Teenagers or adults looking for a more thrilling experience can choose to scuba dive with the sharks. And all of this in the basement of a mall – impressive! If you are visiting Ocean World during the week, avoid going during school hours, as frequent field trips crowd the space and make keeping track of younger children more difficult.
After the aquarium, take the escalator to the ground floor of the mall and go local by eating in the food court. In the food court, you can find an array of delicious Thai food for a very, very reasonable price. If all of this activity hasn’t quite exhausted older children, head to the top floor of Siam Paragon to take in a movie at the impressive IMAX theater or one of the smaller, more luxurious VIP theaters. Seeing movies on these screens will not disappoint!
Note: Before the film starts, the Royal Anthem will play and all movie-goers are expected to stand in honor of the King.
Venture outside of the city to Ancient Siam (also called the Ancient City), where you can see over one hundred replicas of some of Thailand’s most well-known monuments and architectural sites in just one morning. The grounds are expansive and offer plenty of room for younger children to run freely and delight in famous Thai temples, fountains, and statues. There is even a copy of a Thai junk boat, a hugely popular option for younger children to explore.
You can choose to tour Ancient Siam via bike, golf cart, or a guided-tour tram. Families with younger children will likely prefer the golf cart option (on top of getting your crew around the extensive grounds, golf carts are just plain cool to cruise around in); while families with older children might prefer to bike around the grounds. The best way to get to Ancient Siam, which is a 40-minute drive from the heart of Bangkok, is to hire a private taxi service.
Note: Plan to arrive just at opening in order to avoid being outside during the heat of the day. As Ancient Siam is a completely outdoor activity, make sure to wear sunscreen and hats and bring plenty of water. Have your camera handy — there are lots of good photo ops at this beautiful location.
In the late afternoon, head to Asiatique The Riverfront. This modern night market, which opened in 2012, is home to Thailand’s largest ferris wheel, over 1,500 boutique shops, dozens of restaurants, live Muay Thai (Thai boxing) matches, and a Thai puppet show. Since Asiatique is only open in the evening and is removed from the main Sukhumvit corridor, it will give you a different perspective of the city. Atop the ferris wheel, you will get a fantastic view of Bangkok. In the market and restaurants, you’ll find just as many locals – if not more — than tourists.
To get to Asiatique, take the BTS to Saphan Taksin station, then follow the signs to the Asiatique Shuttle Boat. The shuttle boat is free of charge and runs every 15 minutes, but be prepared to stand in line. Asiatique is open from 5pm until midnight daily.
Rise early and take the whole family to Bangkok’s famed Chatujak Market. The market itself is a maze, but part of the fun is to get lost in the aisles upon aisles of handicrafts, clothing, souvenirs, artwork, and home goods; this is the place to buy souvenirs and gifts. You can find anything you are looking for in this market, flip flops, candles, flowers, paintings, watches, lamps, toys, t-shirts, elegant porcelain plates … There are some serious bargains here as well.
The market has dedicated stalls where you can have your goods boxed and shipped home. Sellers are generally very friendly, and bargaining is expected. Most stalls open around 9am.
Note: Expect the market to be crowded and that the weather to be hot by 11am. This is the time to sit down, indulge in fresh watermelon juice and a plate of pad thai before taking stock of your purchases. Chatujak market is easily accessible via BTS. Exit at the Mo Chit station, walk through a small park, and you will find yourself at the entrance to the market. Most stalls at Chatujak are only open on the weekend. Use a baby or kid carrier if you are toting around young travelers. Strollers will not pass through the market’s narrow aisles.
After a morning at the market, spruce up and make your way to the luxurious Sukothai Hotel for the Chocolate Buffet. From sushi and gourmet sandwiches on one side of the salon, to made-to-order hot chocolate from chocolates from around the world and a feast of desserts on the other, this is decadence at its best. This charming, well-established hotel is Bangkok classic. In between turns at the buffet, take a walk through the hotel. Not only will your gut thank you for the break, your youngest travelers will be able to release some energy by frolicking among the fountains in the hotel’s inner courtyard. The Chocolate Buffet is offered every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from 2-5pm. Reservations are highly recommended.
Post-gluttony, take the 15 minute stroll from the Sukothai Hotel to Lumpini Park, the largest park in Bangkok. Here you’ll find swordsmen, tai chi experts, and body builders all doing their things in one big, beautiful green space in the heart of the city.
The park has several playgrounds for little ones to enjoy as well as swan pedal boats for hire (note that playground equipment is not up to U.S. safety standards, so keep a close watch on young children around the equipment). If you happen to be traveling in mid-December through mid-February, the Bangkok Symphony Orchestra hosts a wonderful, open-air concert series every Sunday evening in the rotunda at the park. You can hear tunes from the Sound of Music, Indiana Jones, the Phantom of the Opera and much, much more while the kids run around enjoy the wide open space.
The two most central places to stay in Bangkok are along the main commercial and entertainment corridor, Sukhumvit Road, or in one of the many hotels along the Chao Praya River. Staying along Sukhumvit allows for easy access to the city’s sky train (also called the Bangkok Transit System or BTS), which guarantees proximity to city’s best restaurants, world-renowned shopping centers, Chatujak market, and other popular tourist attractions. If you seek a quieter experience, stay along the Chao Praya River, which allows for easy outings to Thailand’s most revered historic and religious sites.
The best way to get around Bangkok is via the city’s sky train or BTS. The BTS is clean, efficient, and hassle-free. If you are traveling a short distance, taxis are safe, inexpensive, and readily available. If you take a trip out of the city, it is best to hire a private taxi service. Most hotels can help you arrange private transportation.
Note: Be warned that Bangkok traffic is horrendous. Going just a few kilometers at the wrong time of day can take you hours. Avoid using public buses and motorcycle taxis. When traveling with children, opt for a baby or kid carrier instead of a stroller, as sidewalks are often poorly maintained or non-existent. If you’re looking to avoid the heat, visit Bangkok between December and February when temperatures are cooler.
Did you know? In Thai, Bangkok is known as Krung Thep, but its full official name is Krung Thep Mahanakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahinthara Ayuthaya Mahadilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udomratchaniwet Mahasathan Amon Piman Awatan Sathit Sakkathattiya Witsanukam Prasit. Try having the kids say that five times fast!
Ease in. Let’s call a spade a spade: Getting to Thailand is a long journey for most everyone. Plan accordingly and make your first day on the ground a “relax” day around your hotel as you adjust to the time zone.
Pace yourself. Bangkok can be hot and humid. Get ahead of it and make sure everyone drinks plenty of water. Fruit drinks are plentiful (fresh pomegranate juice, anyone?) and 7-11s are everywhere — perfect for quick hydration breaks.
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Build in downtime. Don’t try to cram too much into each day. There’s nothing worse than dragging cranky tired kids (or parents) for forced sightseeing “fun.” Instead, plan activities and outings first thing in the morning and leave time for relaxing in the afternoon.
Pack strategically. Keep outside temperatures in mind and pack breathable, lightweight clothing. Pick comfortable easy-on, easy-off footwear for quick removal at temples. Also remember that tank tops and short shorts are not allowed at sacred sites. Skirt the issue by keeping a wrap (or two) with you to drape as needed.
Mix it up. Family members of all ages will quickly tire of too many temples. Intersperse sightseeing with more hands-on activities, whether a prearranged Thai cooking class or a visit to one of the plentiful kid-specific activities: Dinosaur Planet, Fantasia Lagoon Water Park, Kidzania and Pororo Aquapark, to name a few. Even better, pair a few days in Bangkok, which will probably be your fly-in city, with a few days farther south in a glam beach destination.
Take advantage of transportation variety. Bangkok is fairly spread out and traffic can be intense. Try to rely on the BTS (skytrain) and MRT (subway) while you are in the downtown area, and only use taxis as they make sense (just make sure there is a meter). Don’t count out tuk-tuks for short journeys; settle on the price first and indicate exactly where you want to go, without stops. Avoid during the peak morning and evening rush hours.
The Chao Phraya Express Boat is also helpful for getting to major tourist sites, including the Grand Palace and Wat Pho. We do not recommend taking motorbike taxis.
Be polite. You will often be greeted with the traditional Wai Thai greeting (said with hands in prayer — think namaste). It is always appropriate to return the greeting with a smile. While in Thailand, there are a few cultural no-no’s. It is frowned up to point at people with your finger or foot or to be very loud. It is also very rude to touch anyone’s head, even ruffling a child’s hair, as the head is considered sacred.
Stay savvy. If you are approached to buy something, are offered a tour or ride in a public space (especially near major tourist attractions) or see children begging, simply ignore politely and keep moving about your business. There are numerous scams, and it is best to stick to known vendors to avoid being lured in.
Spending only 72 hours in Bangkok does not do the city the justice it deserves, but that’s okay because you’ll be back. How do I know? Because Thailand has so much more to offer beyond Bangkok. Spectacular beaches to the south and beautiful countryside to the north. You’ll fall in love with the Thai people and Thai culture. After all, this is the Land of Smiles.
Editor’s note: Itinerary suggestions by Loren Braunoholer. Travel tips by Amy Andrews.Photos by Loren Braunoholer and Amy Andrews except where noted.
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