Who says kid-friendly and luxury don't go together? They certainly do in Thailand. From exploring the temples of Bangkok to feeding elephants in Chiang Mai and snorkeling off the islands, there's endless fun for kids in this Southeast Asian gem. And with luxury hotels offering over-the-top amenities for families and amazing kid programs, you can relax (perhaps with a nice spa treatment?) knowing you and the kids can have it all.
Thailand's lively capitol is full of temples waiting to be explored that the whole family will be awed by. Kids will love the colorful tiles at Wat Arun. It can get crowded, but if you head there early in the morning you can have it practically to yourself.
If shopping is up your alley, don't miss the city's famous floating markets. Opt for the Khlong Lat Mayom Floating Market where the locals tend to shop rather than the more touristy Amphawa market.
Kids (and parents!) will go gaga over Safari World, the non-zoo zoo. Head to Safari Park for an incredible drive through the open park where you can have up-close animal encounters with tigers, giraffes, zebras and more. For even more remarkable animal encounters, visit Sea Life Ocean Bangkok where you can partake in a diving adventure in their oceanarium and come face-to-face with sharks while being carefully escorted by experienced guides. For those who don't want to get wet, you can also see the marine life from a glass-bottom boat.
Cool off from the Bangkok heat with a dip in the SO Sofitel Bangkok's infinity pool. You'll feel like you're swimming through the city thanks to its skyline views.
The Mandarin Oriental is an institution in Bangkok, but you don't have to stay there to enjoy its opulence. Head there for afternoon tea at the Author's Lounge, a light and airy room with plenty of history. Pro tip: The Author's Lounge has a smart dress code that also applies to kids, so make sure you come dressed appropriately.
For one of the best views in the city, stop by Eagle Nest Bar at sunset for a stunning view of Wat Arun from across the river. After the sun goes down, you can watch the temple light up. Be warned that you have to come here early to snag a table since it's small and fills up quickly.
The Anantara Riverside Bangkok is an ideal oasis for families. Located on the west bank of the Chao Phraya, it offers a tropical reprieve from the hustle and bustle of the city. Kids can splash in the huge pool or families can take the shuttle boats across the water for easy access to the rest of the city. For a little more space, opt for their family suite or two bedroom river view suite. If the spa is calling your name, you don't have to leave the little ones behind. They have a special spa menu for kids age 7-12 that includes indulgent bubble baths, Princess and Rock Star facials and a massage using chocolate and orange blossom oil. For those under the age of 7, they can customize the experience. Don't miss doing a dinner cruise so you can enjoy tasty Thai dishes on a wooden barge while taking in iconic sights as they light up at night.
Head up north for cooler temperatures, mountain views and temples galore. For an unforgettable experience for the whole family, spend a day with elephants. Be sure to do your research to make sure the place you are visiting is reputable and does not abuse the elephants in any way. Two good options are the Elephant Nature Park and the Ran-Tong Elephant Save & Rescue Centre. Both help rescue and rehabilitate abused elephants in the area. Experiences range from half-day programs all the way up to multi-day programs. Kids will go nuts over interacting with the gentle giants and getting a chance to give them a bath and feed them.
No visit to Chiang Mai is complete without heading up to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, located at the top of a nearby mountain. If your kiddos are early risers, take advantage of this and head up there early before the crowds to witness majestic sunrise views of the city below.
Wander through the old city and stop in at any of the numerous temples that catch your eye along the way. Many are within easy walking distance of one another. Or, if little legs start to get tired, it's easy to grab a tuk-tuk to take you around or most hotels can arrange a car for you.
The Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai is a destination worthy of the trip alone. Set just outside the main city, it features sweeping views of emerald rice fields and misty mountains. The Residences are ideal for families of all sizes, offering multiple bedrooms, a dining area and a private pool. The Residences also come with butler service so you can truly kick back and relax without any worries. The kids' programs and offerings here are also next level. Beyond the incredible kids' club, young travelers can also participate in unique experiences like bathing the resident water buffalo or learning about rice planting.
Not to be missed is a cooking class with the resident chef. After visiting a nearby market to buy fresh ingredients and see how the locals shop, adults can try their hand at creating traditional Thai dishes, while kids can learn to make simpler versions of favorites like vegetable spring rolls.
While often known as a place for partiers, the other side of this island offers a quiet and relaxing beach retreat for families. Here you can lounge in the sand and soak in the salty waters for total bliss.
If your kids are interested in learning to surf the waves, Surf House Phuket is the perfect place. Adults can enjoy the laid-back vibes and sip on a cocktail while kids take advantage of the surf simulator where instructors will have them up on the board in no time.
For more adventures, zipline through the air high above the jungle at Flying Hanuman.
Phuket is also a great home base for exploring some of the neighboring islands. The nearby Phi Phi Islands are famous for their iconic rock formations jutting through the turquoise waters and creating glittering bays perfect for taking a dip. However, due to their popularity they can often be overrun with tourists. For a less crowded experience, opt for a private boat charter that can take you on a custom tour and help you avoid some of the tourist trap areas. Many of the boat tours also offer snorkeling, kayaking and other water activities as part of the fun for the day.
Banyan Tree Phuket is where the Banyan Tree brand got its original start. And it doesn't get more relaxing than the pool villas. With multiple bedrooms so there's plenty of space for everyone, every villa also has its own private pool. The staff always goes the extra mile and they even put up a customized sign on each villa with your family name on it, a touch that kids and parents can delight in. Explore the vast property on the complimentary bikes (they have bikes for kids too) or opt for a round of golf on the on-site course. The beach is easy to get to on your bikes or by golf cart and never too crowded. Kids can also become Banyan Tree Rangers while learning about the environment. In the evening, families can savor an in-villa barbecue experience that can be customized for everyone's tastes.
Located on the private island of Koh Kood, Soneva Kiri is the ultimate in family-friendly luxury. The adventure starts with the small private plane and boat you take to get to the resort. Though it sets the bar when it comes to luxury, its laid-back style means you can really embrace their motto of "no news, no shoes" throughout your stay and truly unplug. Kids will make a beeline for the chocolate room and can also indulge in choosing from the extensive list of ice cream and sorbet flavors that are available all day.
The uber eco-conscious property's villas are all built with sustainability in mind and use locally sourced materials. The villas range in size from one bedroom all the way up to six, so no matter how many are in your brood there's a spot for everyone. Kids will almost certainly want to stay in the "tree house" room located up the stairs and with a private waterslide coming off the balcony that will take them splashing into the pool below. Every family is assigned a "Miss Friday" when they arrive who is in charge of taking care of all their needs.
The Eco Den, made just for little ones ages 1-5, is staffed by childcare experts and full of delightful toys, while The Den is the club for older children. Kids will never get bored here where everything from learning to play Thai instruments to going out on a snorkel tour is offered.
Families will also love movie nights. Lay back in a little bed and munch on popcorn as you watch a giant screen over the water. There's an earlier showing just for kids and a later one for the adults.
It's easy to get around between cities on regional airlines. Bangkok Airways offers several flights per day to and from all major cities in Thailand. The prices are extremely reasonable and you won't have to worry about trying to cram everything in a tiny backpack like you have to on budget airlines. They also have lounges in the Bangkok and Chiang Mai airports where you can relax, grab a bite to eat or even hit the massage chairs before your flight.
By Hannah Freedman