Thailand: Land of Smiles for our WHOLE Group!
So we have always been big fans of Thailand; a statement which raises eyebrows in some circles with hushed talk of the shady side of tourism there. But, if you are not looking for activities offered by that side of the industry, you won’t find them. What you will find is colorful temples filled with Buddhist monks, lush jungles dotted by elephants, white sand beaches lapped by turquoise waters and smile after smile from the friendly locals (it’s called the Land of Smiles for a reason!). So, for this trip, we decided to share the Thailand we know and love with other families and it was their smiles that stayed with us this year. We were joined by seven families on our Travel With Kids Adventure Tour to Thailand with kids ranging in age from 5 – 17 years old for a Thailand family vacation they will not soon forget!
Want to join us on a Travel With Kids Family Adventure trip? Check out what family trips we have on offer for 2017!
We met our group in Bangkok where we arranged a special blessing ceremony at a local Buddhist temple to welcome the families to Thailand and wish them safe journey. The temple was one visited by local Thai people in the neighborhood near our hotel looking out onto the Chao Phraya River. The monks explained the ceremony and then began chanting and sprinkling holy water. They then gave each guest a holy thread to protect them in their travels.
It was a really moving experience for all. After thanking the monks, the kids headed to the deck over the river where they could feed giant fish and buy snails, crabs, eels, fish, turtles and more to release. The Buddhists believe this brings good merit to you…and with the concept of re-birth, who knows one of the animals could by your great, great aunt! We spent the afternoon at our poolside hotel where the 5 year-old Brody let the rest of the kids know whose boss. One of the nice things about traveling with a group of kids is that the kids entertain each other and look out for one another. They played in the pool all afternoon while the adults lounged…not a bad way to get over jet lag!
We also visited the Grand Palace and Wat Pho in Bangkok. The kids were amazed by the shimmering gold and jewels everywhere at the Grand Palace! And, at Wat Pho, one of the world’s largest reclining Buddhas…measuring about 150-feet…had them all gasping! A longtail boat ride through the klongs, or canals, gave us a better idea of real life in Thailand with wooden houses, schools and little shops lining the “streets”.
One evening we headed to Khao San Road, the backpackers street which grew up in the 1970s to accommodate the new budget world travelers and was made famous by the movie The Beach. The kids loved the chaos of it…all the neon, vendors selling everything from wooden frog instruments to knock-off purses and watches to t-shirts and bracelets (some with some no so appropriate sayings on them…yikes!) One of the favorite carts was the bug cart, which sold fried grubs, grasshoppers, etc. The kids decided to share a scorpion…double yikes! If fried bugs aren’t your thing, there’s also carts selling pad thai and other noodle and rice dishes and the streets is lined by outdoor cafes.
Before dinner, the kids (and a few of the adults) decided they needed a good foot cleaning, so they tried the fish spa. You stick your feet in the tank and fish eat the dead skin from them. Let’s just say it’s tickly…and it had the whole group smiling from ear to ear!
After Bangkok, we headed into the jungles of Kanchanaburi visiting the Bridge Over River Kwai and stopping to hike to a waterfall along the way! We got a group full of smiles again when the families saw where we were staying…bamboo rafts that float on the river in the middle of the jungle! And even more smiles the next morning when they were greeted by some area residents who come down to the river to bathe and snack.
And speaking of elephants, we spent one day at Elephant’s World, an elephant sanctuary that rescues injured and elderly elephants. It’s a great way to get up close and personal with these gentle giants while at the same time honoring and respecting their place in nature and learning about ways to protect them in the wild.
The kids loved meeting their elephants, helping plant and harvest food for them, feeding them, making rice balls with vitamins for the older elephants (who had lost their teeth), but the highlight of the day was going into the river with the elephants to bathe them. After scrubbing them down, they splashed water over their back to rinse them off…everyone laughed when the baby elephants splashed back by spraying them with their trunks! Giant smiles all around…even from the elephants it seemed!
The next day, we visited a local school to distribute school supplies we collected as part of our Re-Pack Project – a project Seamus and Nathan came up with a few years ago. At the end of the school year, they – and many other friends and volunteers – collect unwanted school supplies as kids clean out their desks and lockers. They clean, sort and pack these supplies into backpacks to deliver to children in need around the world. This is their third year running the project, and this year they collected about 15,000 items!
Delivering the supplies to kids in need is always one of the most moving days on our trip! It gives the kids a chance to see how kids in the developing world live (and go to school) and helps them feel empowered to help make change in the world around them. (We also deliver some supplies to homeless shelters in our hometowns, which is equally moving!) After the school visit, some people peeled off to tackle a ropes course, while the rest of us lounged at the hotel and jumped in the river – the fast moving current made for a fun day of running up the hotel dock to the top jumping in and floating by to the end on the downstream side.
After Kachanaburi, we hopped a flight north to Chiang Mai where we visited Doi Suthep temple after giving alms to the monks…quite an experience meeting young monks dedicating their life to prayer and meditation, offering them breakfast and then heading through the fog to the temple at the top of the hill. But the highlight of Chiang Mai were the markets and the cooking class. We learned to prepare Thai spring rolls, Tom Yum soup and Pad Thai. The kids loved picking out their ingredients, mixing it all together and frying it up!
On another day, we headed out to a Karen village where we met refugees from small villages in Burma and then we hiked to a waterfall…or partway to a waterfall…we got headed off by torrential rains that formed rivers that blocked our path. But the guides had another plan, if we can’t hike, we can ride (that’s the mai pen rai – no problem – attitude of Thailand at its best) So, we went “brown water rafting” instead.
After Chiang Mai, we hopped another flight to Ko Samui, an island on Thailand’s southeast coast. Though it was rainy season when we were there, we still got some sunny days where the turquoise waters were vibrant!
One day, we took a boat out to Ang Thong Marine Park where we kayaked and snorkeled explored caves and hung out on deserted beaches. The kids (and a few brave parents…we couldn’t let them show us up, now could we?) loved jumping off the boat…a real adrenaline rush at about 20-feet above the ocean’s surface!
What a way to end our family trip to Thailand!
We took a train to Thailand from Cambodia…there are lots of overland train and bus routes connecting Southeast Asia. There are flights into Bangkok from all over the world. Most of the U.S. flights connect through a major Asian city like Seoul (Asiana), Hong Kong, Taipei and more. For this trip, we were traveling to multiple destinations, so we booked our air travel through AirTreks, which pieces multiple one-way air tickets together at awesome prices! This is a great way to go for multiple stops in Asia or around the world fares!
Thailand has a well-established travel service network making getting around easy. There are buses, mini-buses, trains and planes connecting all the major, and minor, tourist areas.
On this trip we worried a bit about little tummies as the plan was to eat on street stalls and in some remote areas. So, we brought Travelan with us. Travelan is a preventative for traveler’s digestive issues. Those who wanted to took a Travelan pill before each meal, which seemed to help avoid stomach upset.
Want to join us on a Travel With Kids Family Adventure trip? Check out what family trips we have on offer for 2017! The list includes: