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Cheow Lan Lake, Khao Sok National Park

Family vacations in Thailand

Cheow Lan Lake, Khao Sok National Park

By Thailand specialist Rebecca

There’s plenty to keep the whole family entertained on a trip to Thailand, regardless of age — from spending time exploring its busy cities to cooking lessons and getting up close and personal with the resident elephants.

You can explore the length and breadth of Thailand easily, whether hopping on an internal flight or, more intrepidly, aboard a train. I suggest splitting your time between Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and one of the beach resorts in the south, taking each destination at your own pace.

Elephants, Kui Buri National Park
Elephants, Kui Buri National Park

Elephant experiences for families in Thailand

Elephants are one of the biggest draws for families on vacation in Thailand. There are a number of initiatives that I particularly recommend due to their ethical conservation efforts. They offer close-up experiences with these docile creatures while keeping animal welfare front of mind (for that reason, they don’t offer elephant rides).

One such organization, the Elephant Nature Park, is an easy journey out from Chiang Mai in northern Thailand. They place the utmost importance on the welfare of their animals and instilling its importance in their visitors.

Cooking spring rolls, Chiang Mai
Cooking spring rolls, Chiang Mai

Cooking lessons in Thailand

Chiang Mai is renowned for its food, and here you can take part in a Thai cooking experience that also gives you a glimpse into the daily life of a local family.

Spend half a day with Mr Prapat and his family, shopping for fresh produce at the market before joining them in their home to learn traditional cooking techniques. Together, you’ll prepare a delicious home-cooked lunch, which will vary depending on the time of year you visit and the freshest ingredients available in the market.

It’s an interactive induction to the spices and herbs that flavor northern Thai dishes, but you can adjust the heat to suit your family’s tastes. While you cook, Mr Prapat will be more than happy to answer any questions you or your children have about local life, culture, and traditions.

Akha women, Chiang Rai
Akha women, Chiang Rai

Staying with a local hill tribe

Living among a traditional tribe and discovering what rural life in Thailand really entails can be an enriching family experience. My preferred option for families is Lisu Lodge, an hour and a half’s drive from Chiang Mai.

The ethos of the lodge is to preserve the cultures and traditions of the local community while allowing visitors to get a personal insight in their lifestyle.

You’re hosted by the local hill tribe and sleep in a traditional stilted house. Meals are cooked by your hosts — there’s no menu, you’re simply invited to sit cross-legged on the floor and served what seems like a banquet of food.

I’d recommend staying here for a night or two so you can make the most of the outdoor activities, such as mountain biking and rafting along the gentle river. In the evening, you can spend time with the tribe’s shaman, who’ll teach you and your family about the community’s culture and traditions.

Lisu Lodge, Chiang Mai
Lisu Lodge
Swimming Pool at the Elephant Hills Camp
Elephant Hills Tented Camp, Khao Sok National Park
Elephant Hills Lake Camp, Khao Sok National Park
Elephant Hills Lake Camp, Khao Sok National Park

Camping at Elephant Hills in the rainforest

Elephant Hills in Khao Sok National Park, in the south of Thailand, is my recommended family ‘camping’ experience. It’s located a three-hour drive from Phuket, so you can easily tie it into the beach portion of your trip if you’re staying on the west coast.

Encased in rainforest with coconut mangroves and jutting limestone karsts, the first thing that hits you is the call of the wildlife — gibbons howling in the day, cicadas calling at night, and the ribbit of frogs.

The main camp — consisting of safari-style tents — is suitable for children aged four and above. Families with children aged seven and over can also spend the second or third night of the stay in the floating tents of the Rainforest Camp. Head deep into your lush green surroundings on a traditional longtail boat, exploring the tributaries of Cheow Larn Lake until it opens up to reveal a row of 20 floating tents.

The lake is 30 m (98 ft) deep and perfectly still, and you can swim in it straight from your tent’s own private deck. The wildlife is more prevalent here, too. Seeing wild elephants is a rarity, but you can meet the elephants that reside in the park’s sanctuary.

Railay Beach, Krabi
Railay Beach, Krabi

Thailand’s best beaches for families

Thailand’s beaches are accessible year round and there are plenty of stays to suit families of all ages and sizes. While the Khao Lak on the Andaman Coast (Thailand's west coast) is better during November to March, families traveling during July and August should visit the Gulf of Thailand to the east.

From Bangkok, it’s just a short 90-minute flight to Krabi, Phuket, or Koh Samui, the gateways to Thailand’s southern beaches.

Beach, Khao Lak
Beach, Khao Lak

Khao Lak

On Thailand’s west coast, Khao Lak is a personal favorite. A one and a half hour’s drive north of Phuket, this is a quiet and unspoiled area with fewer visitors.

Expect a relaxed pace of life and calm seas, with a selection of fantastic hotels, including the Ramada. Although this is a chain hotel, it’s small with everything a family needs for a few days at the beach, including a beachfront location, kids’ club, babysitting service, and inviting pool.

The property is only a short walk from Khao Lak town, which has many local restaurants serving authentic Thai food.

Anantara Bophut , Koh Samui
Anantara Bophut , Koh Samui

Koh Samui

While the main resorts in Koh Samui can be quite commercialized and busy, you can escape this by heading to the north of the island.

Just a 40-minute car journey from Koh Samui airport lies a stretch of golden sand known as Bophut Beach. All of the resorts here are beachfront and the shallow waters tempt children of all ages to paddle around or swim in safety.

Anantara Bophut on the bay is my recommended option for families. Designed in true Thai style, suites are large and the interconnecting rooms ensure everyone has their own space. The hotel also offers a kids’ club and family-friendly cookery classes.

Belmond Napasai, Koh Samui
Belmond Napasai, Koh Samui

A luxury family stay in Thailand

If you’re seeking a little luxury in Thailand, my choice would be Maenam Beach on the north of Koh Samui. Of particular note is the five-star Belmond Napasai. Individual stilted villas dot the hillside with uninterrupted views over the ocean.

Room options include garden villas, ocean pool residences that feature their own pool and kitchenette area, and four-bedroom villas, all of which are great options depending on your budget.

Eating out with your family in Thailand

Most hotels provide a range of international meal options alongside their classic Thai dishes, and restaurant staff will always ask how spicy you’d like your food. You can request no spice at all, if you wish.

Best time to visit Thailand with your family

Although the busiest (and driest) season runs from November to March, Thailand is suitable most of the year thanks to its microclimates.

The east coast is drier over the summer months of July and August, and, even though there may be rain in other areas at this time of year, it tends to be heavy downpours that are easily avoided and so should not preclude travel.

Read our full guide about the best time to visit Thailand.

Getting around Thailand with your family

If you have young children, you’ll likely find it easier to take domestic flights between cities, such as Bangkok to Chiang Mai and Bangkok to Phuket. For shorter distances, I can arrange a private driver for you.

There are also local commuter trains you can take across the country, which are better suited to more intrepid families or those with older teenagers.

In larger cities and beach destinations, tuk-tuks can be an exhilarating way to zip from one place to the next, allowing you to take in the sights as you go. You could also take a songthaew (a converted pick-up truck with a roof) if you need a little extra space, though these are typically used as shared taxis or buses.

Read more family trip ideas to Thailand

Start thinking about your experience. These itineraries are simply suggestions for how you could enjoy some of the same experiences as our specialists. They're just for inspiration, because your trip will be created around your particular tastes.

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