As our kids near that age where it’s time to start planning that first big family vacation, we start thinking about where to go. What’s a perfect destination for making those treasured family memories? Sure, Disneyworld bounces to mind, but what if you’re seeking a family trip that’s a little more unusual, and educational? Thailand checks off all the boxes!
Animal Encounters in Thailand
Forget riding around on a mechanical flying elephant. Thailand offers fulfilling interactive experiences with the real thing. Children can become a mahout (elephant caregiver) for the day. Many programs allow them to help prep the food for these gentle giants. If your child is game and not too squeamish, they can even feed the elephants by sticking their banana filled hands inside the gentle giants’ mouths. Many programs include bathing with the elephants too. It’s a great way to spend a day.
The Family Guide to Thai Food
While not themed to your favourite Disney movies and characters, Thailand has the best food for even the pickiest of eaters, young and old. I know because not only did I give birth to one, I AM one. This concern comes up a lot when I chat with parents about travelling to Asia but they really needn’t worry. Thailand has some of the world’s best street food from Pad Thai noodles to green and red curries. If the kids are missing a taste of home, pogo sticks and pizza are just as easily found. You can choose the heat quotient that matches your family’s tastebuds
Note that Thailand is maybe not the best choice for Families with peanut allergies. Peanuts figure prominently in most Southeast Asian cuisine. While you can definitely survive a trip by choosing the higher-end restaurants and hotels, this also removes a lot of the fun. The quality of medical care in Thailand is excellent, but still, nobody wants to test it out on their first family trip abroad.
Water Sports in Thailand
No theme park submarine voyage can compare to swimming alongside real live clownfish (yes, those fish) and snorkelling around vibrant sea anemones. Enjoy the warm waters of either the Andaman Sea or the Gulf of Thailand. For something a little tamer, choose one of Thailand’s many family resorts with gargantuan pools, or better yet... do both!
How Affordable is Thailand?
Disneyworld is a blast, but it can get expensive quickly. A 4-star property on-site will run a family of four approximately 5500 USD with food and park passes. A week in Thailand at a 4-star property (the equivalent of a 5-star in the US) usually comes in under 2000 USD. That includes a huge buffet breakfast that would put the Mandarin to shame. Meals at restaurants for a family of four are usually under $30. Agreed, it can be a long flight and there are no direct routes out of North America, but kids are resilient. Once they land and get a good night’s sleep under their wings, they’ll forget all about it.
Thailand Health and Safety
According to Wikipedia, 94.6% of the population of Thailand would call themselves practising Buddhists. Whether you believe in the eight basic tenets of the faith or not, most of us can agree that kindness is at the heart of the religion. In fact, Thailand is known as the “Land of Smiles.” There is a calmness about the country, and even in the big city of Bangkok that makes one feel safe.
Should any malady or misfortune occur while in destination, Thailand has some of the best hospitals in the world. Even their hospitals feel a little like resorts and the level of care is top-notch.
Family Accommodation in Thailand
Below is a list of just a few of my top picks for hotels in Thailand that really cater to families. It’s in no way an exhaustive list! Just a few hotels I know first-hand that get rave reviews.
5-Star beach stays:
Banyan Tree in both Koh Samui and in Phuket, these are a top pick. They feature the Turtle Club kids programs that include a Ranger programme and a ton of crafts and activities.
JW Marriott Phuket is another great choice. Their MAZE programme includes Thai cooking, dancing, and yoga, as well as circus lessons on juggling, trapeze, and clown courses.
Grand West Sands Resort and Villas (formerly the Centara Grand) has its own Splash Jungle Water Park on-premise. Ten thrill filled waterslides make it a family favourite, so I’d be remiss not to include it, however, my recommendation would be to do a day visit instead, or you won’t ever want to leave the resort grounds! After all, your family doesn’t want to miss Thailand proper.
The Katathani Phuket in Karon Beach offers six adult pools and four shallow kiddy pools plus a host of activities for the whole family. It’s clear that this resort focuses on appealing to families and it’s affordably priced.
The Holiday Inn Resort Phuket Mai Khao Beach is located a bit further north, away from the noise and madness often associated with Patong, This property has a ton of kid-friendly activities.
On top of all these reasons, the one thing that Thailand promises that no North American theme park can deliver is the eye-opening experience of travelling to a country so very dissimilar to our own. Introducing children to new cultures can be hugely inspiring. While Thailand is one of the wealthier nations in southeast Asia, the northern hill tribes practise subsistence farming where nothing is wasted. They don’t have big screen TVs blaring Netflix from their living rooms, and sandals cover their feet as opposed to Air Jordans. Of course, every good parent aspires to teach their children to appreciate all that their privileged worlds have to offer, but actually seeing the polarity that exists between the two worlds can be life-changing. At least it was for my children. That alone was worth the price of admission.
No doubt, Thailand makes an ideal destination as a first trip abroad. The only drawback is that very few destinations will ever compare.
11 May 2020, 6:37 p.m.