Durian fruit may not be brought into the Skytrain, nor anything else that could have a strong smell. It is quiet in the above-ground express train through the big city. Quiet and odorless – actually the complete opposite of the city that’s passing by us outside the window.
We are here with our three children – one yawning, the second laughing with a Thai woman sitting nearby – after a short sit-in on the walkway of the well-frequented Skytrain, when my child refused to walk anymore – and the third sweating in the baby carrier.
Bangkok with toddlers – was that a good idea?
Rewind, 30 years earlier: I was the little kid then. Bangkok, that was the city with all those smells for me. With a river that dragged along, slow and brown. At whose arms many people lived, in rickety wooden huts with footbridges from which children jumped, whooping joyfully, into the dirty broth.
Bangkok, that was a lot of gold and little temple bells ringing in the wind – bells which we later fastened to the roof gutter of my parents’ home in Switzerland, reminding me of this city again and again over the years and becoming a symbol of my own wanderlust.
But my love of this Asian Venice actually came many years later – when I was old enough to visit the Grand Palace and Lying Buddha without being bribed with a Coke. I like the contrasts between modernity and tradition, the people, and, still: the smells. I wanted to show my favorite city to my family.
Arriving in Bangkok
Several flights leave daily from Zurich to Bangkok – I personally recommend the following connection if departing from Switzerland because it gives the kids the best shot at some decent sleep on the flight: Departure 17:30, arrival 10:30 with LX180. By the way, here are some tips for flying with small children.
Also worthwhile: A VIP transfer upon arrival in Bangkok. You get channelled through immigration, get help with your luggage and tired kids, and then someone drives you to your hotel. This can be booked through a travel agency: We did it via our partner webook.ch. Costs about 50 CHF ($50 USD) per person.
Bangkok with kids: Where to sleep?
A very, very important decision. Big cities are exhausting, and long distances are an additional stress factor. We chose Anantara Riverside Hotel on our last trip, thanks to a recommendation from www.fernwehmitkids.de.
The hotel was a refuge, very child friendly and relaxed, located directly on Chao Praya. The kids club (from ages 4 and up) was more of a recreation room than a place where the staff actively entertained the kids; but it was still a cooled room where our kids could briefly get rid of some energy from time to time.
Almost everywhere in Thailand, unfortunately, no more than 4 people are allowed in a room – not even a baby with her own bed – which always doomed us when trying to book accomodations. Finally, we organized a larger family suite instead of the suggested two separate rooms (if it had been up to us, we would have all fit into one room; but that was not permitted). My tip: Simply book for four, and then dance in as five. A definite “No” is rare in Thailand.
The pool was also very relaxed, with a basic restaurant. Two “Monitor Lizards” live on the grounds, but don’t get too close to them – as my son had to learn that the hard way. Although I’m not a big fan of hotel shows, the evening performance in the main restaurant was a highlight for the kids – and as it turned out, also a good introduction to the local culture. The monkey god “Hanuman” accompanied us for many more weeks.
And now the downside: The Anantara Riverside, unfortunately, sits on the “wrong” side of the river, which means that you first have to take the ferry before almost every outing (it leaves every 15 minutes for the ferry station Sathorn Pier and the Skytrain station Saphan Taksin). With older children that’s no problem, but with ours the trips became very long.
During a future stay, I would make sure to choose a hotel within walking distance of a station on the two main BTS axes. Ideally, the river would also be nearby, as ferries are often the fastest way to get around the city.
On previous visits, I found the location of the Shangri-La very good (although it’s not a ‘family hotel’); or there’s a hotel that has come an incredibly long way since my backpacker days, but is still a great deal (ab 60 CHF / Nacht): The Bossotel Inn.
Getting Around Bangkok with Kids
There are basically four ways to get around Bangkok: On the river, with the Skytrain or Metro, by taxi, or by tuk-tuk. Everything’s easy as a couple travelling together, of course, but with kids there are one or two things to consider….
On the Chao Praya
Ferries with different colored pennants travel between the main tourist attractions (see timetable here) as does a Hop-On / Hop-Off system. A good hub to get on is the Sathorn Pier. Some hotels along the river also have their own ferries. You either pay wherever you embark, or a cashier collects the fee during the trip. Please note the seats reserved for monks.
BTS Skytrain / MTR with Kids
The Skytrain is the fastest way to get around within the city. There are two main axes, and from them you can get almost anywhere. The ticket machines only accept coins, unfortunately, and of course, they are rarely handy – so be sure to leave enough time for the ticket counter or send someone in advance to buy the tickets. It pays to get a day pass for anything more than one return trip. Kids 90 cm and under ride free.
A few stations have elevators or escalators, but many don’t, or they are hidden. So you can take a stroller – however, I wouldn’t recommend it unless it can be folded together very quickly and carried. Under no circumstances would I attempt this with a full-sized pram.
The ticket must be scanned in a turnstile twice, so don’t throw away it away after entering.
Taxi in Bangkok
There are colored taxis in BKK on every corner. Actually, a mere second of fleeting eye contact is enough for a tourist to be surrounded by at least three drivers. It is best to drive with “meter”, i.e. the taxi meter, and you should also tell the taxi driver to turn it on. Many drivers will claim that the meter has, unfortunately, “just broken.” If you’re not fluent in Thai, you won’t attempt to dispute it. So: Either change the taxi at that point or negotiate a fixed flat rate, which should ultimately amount to about half or at most two thirds of what the driver suggests.
The taxis do not carry child seats or boosters. We didn’t have ours with us, but I can recommend the Mifolds, which fit into every bag. I was forced to hold the baby in my lap.
Warning: From about 4 p.m., the evening traffic starts in the city center and there is no getting through it. Better to take the Skytrain then.
Yay, so much fun! Seriously, riding in a tuk-tuk is really fun and you should do it at least once as a family – for a short journey and not necessarily at rush hour. Be prepared for more tough negotiations – the tuk-tuk drivers often demand a price many times higher than a taxi. Also keep in mind that the smog in Bangkok can be really noxious, so you don’t necessarily want to expose the kids to it longer than necessary. It’s for good reason that most tuk-tuk and moped drivers wear a protective face mask.
Our own tuk-tuk adventure started with a lot of laughs and ended with us grabbing a taxi, exasperated after 40 minutes in the exhaust fumes – and at the other end of town, according to Google Maps with expensive roaming. And also pretty much right at the kids’ bedtime. Good Times. But that comes with the territory.
Bangkok with kids – what’s there to do?
Simply heading out spontaneously in a big city is an idea that usually ends with frustration, I’m afraid. Bangkok is hot, sticky, oppressive – the smells and sensations alone are quite exhausting for many children (and their parents).
That is why the best plan is: One activity on the itinerary per day. Spend the rest of the day by the pool or in the hotel, and schedule in a lot of breaks. A list of all the things to do would push the limits of this blog post, so some ideas are listed separately.
Bangkok in an emergency
We were all fine this time. But, unhappily, our family friends had to visit the emergency room because of pneumonia. They highly recommend the Bumrungrad Hospital, or Samitivej Hospital is also an option with several locations. In general: Always take along a good first-aid kit.
- Change money in advance and make sure you have Baht in small notes. Taxi drivers or street vendors can’t do much with large bills.
- Always take along a sarong or light jacket. Moving from the heat outside to air-conditioned rooms is a catalyst for bronchial infections. Also, shoulders must be covered in temples.
- Always carry water with you. Have I mentioned the heat?
- The Thais love children. LOVE them. This means that they want to touch them, take pictures with them, touch their light-colored hair. You should prepare older children so they know what to expect.
- The Thais love their king, too – the new king maybe just a little bit less than his father (but shhh, I didn’t say that out loud). Under no circumstances should you make any disparaging remarks about the king or the royal family.
- A roaming package, a local SIM card, or a portable Wi-Fi device is a good idea. It helps a lot to be able to check Google Maps or Waze in real time for current traffic conditions.
Bangkok with two small children and a baby – we were met with wide eyes whenever we told people about our plans to make a longer visit of what would have been just a stopover. And our stay showed us once more what makes that subtle difference when travelling with kids: Don’t plan everything for and around the kids, but with the kids’ needs in mind; accommodations where they can run around and play; and above all, really short trips when moving around the city.
By the way, despite defiant toddler sit-ins and tuk-tuks getting lost, the kids really liked Bangkok. We did, too. And we’ll be ready to jump right into the next big city, too.
I was also in New York City – but without kids: NYC – ein Girlsweekend zum Copypasten
And Los Angeles is worth a visit with kids, too: Los Angeles with Kids.