Ultimate Road Trip Guide: Thailand
Why traveling through Thailand with kids is a must
After a few family road trips close to home there will come a time when you’ll think about a family self-drive in a different country. If you choose to go for South East Asia, Thailand will surely come to mind. Thailand is easily a favorite tourist destination for families. Because it is a major tourist destination it’s very well set up for tourists. That makes it a top recommendation for you to dip your toes in when you don’t have lots of travel experience in Asia. It’s cheap and easy to explore. Family friendly accomodation for every budget can be found all over the country. And one of the most important things is that the food is great. Thai cuisine offers something for everyone. You can go for local Thai cuisine, Asian food in general and there’s no shortage of Western food either. The latter will definitely come in handy when your kids are done with sticky and fried rice.
Thailand means “Land of the Free”, but it is better known as the Land of Smiles. The Thai love kids. And that will surely add to the joy of your vacation and makes traveling from one destination to another, which can be tiresome at times, easier for everyone. No matter the mode of transportation.
Best time to travel
Thailand knows two seasons. The wet and dry season. The wet season starts in May or early June and ends in October. The dry season is from November to March. The best time to travel is during the dry season. Most families travel between late June and early September. Is the wet season something that can ruin your holiday? Not in my book. You will get the occasional downpour, but those tend to be short. And the rain also makes for beautiful green fields and you will still get lots of sunshine. And it can also be very hot during the wet season, which makes those showers much more enjoyable.
Epic family road trip from Bangkok to Chiang Mai
This two week itinerary brings you from Bangkok to Chiang Mai by car and ends with a night train back to Thailand. A self-drive through Thailand is a great way to see more of this scenic country and gives you the freedom to stop wherever you please. Driving a vehicle through Thailand has its obstacles. The Thai tend to follow their own rules, in other words they don’t abide by the traffic rules. In Bangkok the streets are crazy busy. I wouldn’t advise you to hire a rental car straight away and explore the city with it. Visit the sights in Bangkok with the great public transportation on offer and rent your car on the day you leave the city. The population of Thailand is estimated at almost 70 million people. And driving in Bangkok can give you the impression that most of them live in the capital. In reality the estimated population of Bangkok is over 11 million people, but the overwhelming quantity of traffic makes you wonder if that’s accurate ;). In short: you drive out of the city will be adventurous enough, but gets much easier after that. Now let’s get started and dive into this ultimate road trip guide through Thailand that will take your family from Bangkok to Chiang Mai in two weeks. It covers all the highlights and leaves you wanting more.
We stayed in Bangkok for a few days. My son was 8 at the time and the flight took us 11 hours so I chose a hotel that’s a little bit outside of the city centre (no Kho San Road type of streets) and with a swimming pool. I really wanted him to relax during the first few days. Ideally you go sight-seeing in the morning and when it gets really hot the kids can get into the pool and you can relax poolside with a cold drink.
What should you see while in Bangkok? We did a lot while we were there, but our highlights were: the Royal Palace (Wat Phra Kaew), Wat Pho, Wat Arun, Chinatown and exploring the Khlongs (canals) on a long tail boat. Oh, and we had a lot of great food and also some not so great food (I fell into a tourist trap on Kho San Road and had a scorpio).
When you’re done exploring Bangkok, I advise you to stay for three to four days, pick up your rental and start your road trip through Thailand.
Looking for 10 things to do in Bangkok with kids? Read my blog post with 10 tips and more for a great family getaway.
We left Bangkok in the morning and our first stop was the very touristy floating market Damnoen Saduak. We did enjoy it though, because it was nice out on the water and we could buy all kinds of fruit that you can’t get in your own supermarket and all the while you can check out all the activity on the docks and on the boats itself that kept on bumping into each other. A really lively and fun experience.
After the floating market we drove for about 50km to get to a stupa in the small city Nakhon Pathom called Phra Pathom Chedi. This stupa is the tallest stupa in the world (127 meters tall). This city and stupa are often overlooked by tourists, but if you want to get a more realistic angle of Thai life then this is the place for you.
Kanchanaburi is well known for its link to the Japanese occupation. We visited The Thailand-Burma Railway Centre, about the history of the Thailand-Burma Railway. It was sad to notice that they didn’t have much information about the Asian labourers. It was much more about the Allied POW (prisoners of war). And while that is very important, it is sad that there was little info available about the hardships of the Asians themselves. After that we went to the cemetery next to the museum. A sad and impressive sight to see.
The Thailand-Burma Railway Centre is suitable from children ages 8 and up.
Of course these visits led up to us visiting the Thailand-Burma Railway aka Death Railway. People call it the bridge over the river Kwai because of the book and movie, but this bridge isn’t over the river Kwai, but over the Mae Klong river. Because of the success of the movie they very smartly renamed the river from Mae Klong to Kwae (=Kwai). All historical errors aside, visiting this bridge does make you think about all the horrors both the POW and Asian labourers must’ve gone through. So please make time for a visit.
Kids will also love it. Maybe they’re too young for a history lesson about war but they will enjoy walking over this bridge and will surely remember this place. Later on in life you can show them the pictures and hopefully remember so when they are old enough you can tell them about the history of the Death Railway.
Sai Yok National Park
The bridge is still very much in use. We left our car, grabbed all our belongings and boarded the train right next to it. The train took us over the bridge and through the beautiful Three Pagodas Pass and brought us to one of our all-time favorite hotels.
Or actually, a floatel. After leaving the train a bus drove us to the Phutakien pier in 45 minutes time. We had arrived in the middle of Sai Yok National Park and from the pier a longtail boat brought us to The River Kwai Jungle Rafts. We had two great nights in this eco friendly floatel. No phone reception, no internet, no electricity and no hot water. Just peace and quiet. Only the sounds of the jungle and laughter of children floating down the river in their lifejackets. And great food.
Erawan National Park
After going back to pick up the car, we drove to Erawan National Park. The biggest attraction is Erawan Falls with its emerald green ponds, named after the 3-headed white elephant of Hindu mythology. The falls have seven major tiers and some small ones. The top tier is said to look like the head of an elephant. Since we spend lots of time in the water at the lowest tier we didn’t get to check out the other ones, which is a pity. I’ve seen the pictures and if you have the time: hike on. It will be worth it and you’ll leave most of the tourist train being at the bottom tiers.
How to keep the kiddos happy during a roadtrip
As much as children love to explore, there’s a limit to what they want to do during the day that isn’t fully kid related. Make them and yourself happy by following some or all of these tips:
- When you arrive in a new country stay in a pre-booked room. You don’t have to find something while you are all already tired and can check in immediately;
- Stay there for two or three days so you can all acclimatize to this new place;
- If you’re in a hot climate then book a place that has a pool, so they can cool off in the afternoon and you can do all the exploring in the mornings when it’s still relatively cool;
- Every now and then find a playground for the kids to let loose;
- Don’t worry if they don’t eat the local food for a couple of days. I always take small but nutritious snacks with me from home to give them if they don’t eat. Worst case is that you have to visit a McDonalds after a few days;
- Bring enough entertainment with you. We always bring UNO along and a travel version of monopoly. Ofcourse we also download games, movies and series onto our iPad for the long hours on the road;
- Bring a first aid kit.
We leave Sai Yok NP and Erawan NP behind us and travel along to Uthai Thani. Not much to see there and so we visited a safari park. Please don’t visit this park! You can cuddle with baby tigers and even with bigger ones. Please note that wild animals like that should live out in the wild and not caged up to learn tricks for us. I’m also pretty sure they drug them, because why else would a tiger willingly do tricks with people and let people sit on them.
I myself have made my fare share of mistakes regarding activities with animals during this trip to Thailand and there are not many things in life I regret more. I wrote a blog post about animal cruelty, but for now let’s stay on topic!
After leaving Uthai Thani it is only a short drive to Sukhothai. We’ve been looking forward to this very much. We stay in a hotel with a pool and in the morning we get into a skylab who brings us to Wat Sorasak, a cute chedi in the shape of a bell with elephants all around it.
And then we are off. Finally we arrive at Sukhothai Historical Park. We rent bikes and that’s a great way to explore this park in all its glory. In the heat it is also very nice to catch a little breeze while biking through this city.
The maintenance of the place was impeccable. Grass cut very short and there wasn’t any litter to be found. Our favorite temples were Wat Mahathat and Wat Sa Si.
In Lampang we visit the Elephant Hospital ‘Elephant Soraida’. No riding or bathing elephants here. But they tend to elephants that are wounded. A great cause. But sometimes you can get decieved. Although I’ve heard good things about this hospital, things could be very different behind the scenes.
If you read this and you know about any kind of harm they might cause these beautiful animals, please reach out to me and I will investigate it further and update this blog post accordingly.
Another tourist trap, but one that we really enjoyed and were we spend loads of Thai Baht: Umbrella Village in the small village of San Kamphaeng. We really enjoyed seeing how they made the umbrella’s and you could choose a design to be painted on your umbrella. I even got my iPhone case painted.
My favorite place in Thailand and one that I would like to go back to someday: Chiang Mai. We went on a lovely hike up to the sawa’s, went for a 21km bike tour in and around Chiang Mai. Had great food (also pizza because my boy deserved it after so much rice and noodles) and relaxed in and by the pool.
After a few relaxing days here we dropped of our rental car and took the night train back to Bangkok where we got in a bus for two hours that dropped us off by a pier. From the pier it was only an hour long boat ride before arriving at our next destination. There’s no better way to end this road trip, than with a beach vacation!
A great way to end our trip through Thailand. Lots to do for adults and kids. We felt safe wherever we went and the Thai are amazing people who love children. Thailand is a great destination for a family road trip!