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Thailand Survival Guide for Families

Updated: Jun 23

Thailand is such a wonderful country to visit, satisfying all different kinds of travel styles and travellers' needs. A magical world of cultural wealth, lush tropical forests, rivers, crystal clear and shallow seas, mesmerising sunsets, mountains and treks, stunning train rides and rich history unfolded before the eyes of those who seek thrill and relaxation. Most importantly, a world-class culinary scene, featuring some of the world's renowned curries and noodles, fresh fruits and smoothies and street markets with all sorts of edibles for the curious foodie. For me, it is definitely in the top 5 culinary destinations in the world. Last but not least, with friendly, smiling, happy locals and baby-friendly accommodations and restaurants nearly everywhere, Thailand may as well be one of the most baby and kid-friendly countries in the world! Thailand has it all and is very affordable to travel, eat and stay!
Thailand travel guide for families

In this Thailand Survival Guide for Families, I am depositing my brain dump of details and tips we discovered during our travels to Thailand, hoping any reader of this post can find something useful on planning and surviving this trip with a young child.

Contents



Travelling with an Infant

Travelling with infants and toddlers is not the easiest thing in the world, but if you put it into perspective, I am sure is much easier than an impatient preschooler with a strong opinion, having to deal with absurd tantrums in the middle of your trip. Plus the rewards are such that definitely worth every penny. Toddlers are just some incredible little human beings and any age between 1 and 2 years old (before the terrible 2s kick in) is perfect for travelling as:

  • they are happy with basic things like food and simple toys (sometimes a dummy too :-))

  • they won't complain about your itinerary, they won't negotiate and they will go wherever you take them

  • they won't try to escape their highchair in a restaurant,

  • they won't throw a tantrum for that lollipop in the middle of anywhere,

  • they will fall asleep if they are tired and are still day-napping, which can buy you time to relax

  • they are not paying for air tickets (priceless!)

  • will sleep through the night properly (most likely) and

  • generally, at this age, it's easier for parents to control their impulses and distract them.



Why Thailand

Thailand is great for young families with toddlers and I believe all kids for the following reasons:

  • Love: Thai people love young kids, you'll be amazed at how much passion they will show for your offspring on every occasion. Trust me, there is no other country where infants and toddlers are adored like gods!

  • Food: I can write pages and pages for Thai food but I'll keep it short and straight: the food is simply delicious and of course -as expected- way better than the Thai food we eat in Western countries. A vast variety of fresh vegetables, fruits and affordable seafood, cooked with fragrant herbs blessed with flavour by the tropical sun, will totally explode your kid's senses. Keep reading below to see what kids will eat in Thailand.

  • Diversity: a great lesson for your kids to learn to live among other races and cultures and respect them as equals.

  • Activities: even if you are not fun of outdoor activities, the country is so well touristically organised with lots of wet parks and indoor air-conditioned amusement areas that you will never get bored.

  • Nature: Thick rain forests to trek, crystal clear, warm and shallow seas to swim, islands with soft, white sand, pristine tropical forests, national parks and animal sanctuaries, there's plenty of nature in this country.

  • Safety: Thailand is a very safe country, with a very low crime index (petty crimes mainly) and a good health system. There are scammers and pickpockets, as in every tourist corner of this world, but generally is considered one of the safest countries in the world for families.



Thai Itinerary Planning

Think about what kind of travel you want to do and what you want to see: relax in one place and get the most out of it? Lay by the beach, work your tan lines and wash the winter depression away? explore culture and nature? travel to foodie places and taste awesome food? that will also define the style of travel you'd most likely follow: slow, circular, star, relaxing at the beach, visiting monuments and museums, eating your way. That will help you book your flights and accommodation accordingly.

We like a little bit of everything, explore the country and its cultural sights, eat good regional food, learn to cook and rest by the beach. What I call 'circular model' works pretty well in most cases for our style of travel. In essence, circular is nothing but flying to the capital, settle, explore and gear up for a few days, then kicking off your adventure from there only to return back for some last-minute shopping and your flight back. We usually choose the capital as it holds the best connections (flights/trains) and you can get back easily any day, any time, by any means. For Thailand, the circular eating-our-way model worked pretty smoothly for the style of travelling we wanted to do with our child (slow travel with sailboats, trains and tasting good food all along) and for the size of the country. I have written it all in my 2-week Thailand Family Friendly itinerary post in case you want to take some ideas on how to travel, where to stay, and what to do and eat throughout the country.

Having said all that, circular models are not always easy carrying a young toddler and all his accessories around. But with a little research, we discovered a whole new world of lightweight, compact travel accessories to buy online (see my What to pack section below)!


One of the most important things to keep in mind is planning based on his/her basic needs and routine to keep them also happy. For instance, we found it really helpful to settle into one place for a few days before moving on and starting to plan our day-to-day plans based on his nap schedule. Also, very important: aim to book the same lodge for the start and the end of the trip. That means you can safely use their storage room to leave behind anything you don't need with you while circling around. Things like winter clothes from the place you came from, extra shoes, items you realised you do not really need, gifts etc can stay back in a big suitcase. They will be filled up with presents and souvenirs later on. That also means you are more flexible and lightweight roaming around the country and staying more to connect and enjoy every place at your own pace.

There's also another reason that I like circular: when you are back to your starting point, you get that feeling of returning back to a familiar place after a while, which eases your subsequent return back home a little bit. Might sound more like a placebo effect, but works great for our family!



Flight to Thailand

Booking the flights

Every travel to a remote destination starts and finishes with a flight. And you would have thought that flying 12 hours with a fussy toddler or sleepless baby would be a total disaster. But actually, with the right preparation (mental and physical) it’s not that bad. There’s no secret recipe here as every baby is different, but one thing that is wise and definitely works out wonders was to choose flights matching our baby's routine and go direct with no layovers to not disrupt it.

Admittedly, the cheapest flights almost always involve transiting between airports but this could be disastrous and upset them. It will most likely disturb his sleep pattern and pressurize his eardrums multiple times, which will inevitably bring fuss and meltdowns. As I said, the wise choice is to get the most convenient to match his sleep patterns although it won’t be the cheapest; but hey, in case you haven’t realised: kids come with a price ;-)


Kids Entertainment

Our outbound flight from London to Bangkok was evening, so he spent a good 6-7 hours sleeping and we landed at 9 am Thailand time, which was quite smooth to adapt as we spent a night on the plane. Our inbound back to London was a morning flight from Thailand so he snoozed for a couple of hours as he usually does during the day which also helped to adjust his body clock. The rest 8 to10 hours of the flight was usual daytime playtime, so we brought plenty of little toys, books and snacks and took turns to his entertainment so each one of us could have some moments of peace. We also tried to be creative with cups, plates and napkins from the meals served on board, which really worked great: new toys always draw a toddler’s attention.


Seat Reservation

For infants under 2 years of age, it is advisable to choose your seats way in advance so that not only do you make sure you are seated altogether but also check in early and reserve a seat for a baby bassinet (usually fixed to the aeroplane bulkhead wall). Once you reserved the seat, relax, the flight crew will supply you (free of charge) with a carrycot (basinet) for him to sleep. The carrycot seat positions are marked on the seat maps with a baby icon. But even if carrycot seats are not available, there are solutions for converting any economy aeroplane seat into a comfortable bed for kids to sleep like the Stokke bedbox (which can also be their carry-on luggage).



Thai Food for Kids

There's no straight answer to what kids (let alone infants) will eat in Thailand but generally speaking with such variety and abundance I wouldn't worry too much... there will always be something for them. Thai cuisine is defined by a combination of 4 elements: sweet (palm sugar), salty (fish sauce), spicy (red eye chillies) and sour (lime and tamarind) and every Thai dish incorporates at least two of these – sometimes all four- resulting in a unique explosion of flavours and sensory for young eaters. Everything is so fragrant, fruity and gooey that I am sure you will find things that even fussy eaters will appreciate.

Our 18-month-old really enjoyed anything not spicy like:

  • Fishcakes (very mildly spicy)

  • Sticky rice in all combinations (especially mango sticky rice pudding)

  • Chicken satay (sometimes omitting the peanut sauce dip being quite spicy for him)

  • Pineapple fried rice with prawns

  • Banana roti (a kind of crepe filled with mashed banana and egg - which is a delicious combination)

  • Coconut pancakes or Coconut custard-filled steamed buns sold in bakeries or street stalls (super yummy)

  • Pad Thai. Pasta is always a winner.

  • All sorts of tropical fruits: Banana, Mango, Watermelon, Lychee, Dragonfruit

That is a pretty wide variety of nutrition with protein, carbs and fruits on his daily menu. But most importantly, there are so many tasty fruits in the tropics so get him to explore tastes and textures with the fresh produce you can buy literally anywhere.


And just to be better safe than sorry, I would suggest that you stuff your shoes (there's always this unused space in your luggage) with some instant porridge pouches and get one of these Timmee Topee travel feeding bowls with you. Toddlers of a very young age can be unpredictable with food so you might find yourself giving them some comfort with a homemade banana porridge for the first day or two.



Travel First Aid kit for Kids and Adults

This is very important especially when travelling with a young kid in a remote country where English is not widely spoken. My suggestion is packing all items below, not just for kids but for the whole family, even if at the end they are not all entirely useful. Better be safe than sorry they say. Babycentre has a very comprehensive list of things for kids and below you will find Amazon affiliate links of products that I recommend (tested working and of good quality) for kids and adults.

First things first, get a standard first aid kit pack which usually contains the basics (wound dressings, plasters, burn gel, eye wash, bandage etc) like this or this for the whole family.

Then top it up with items from below list that may be missing:

  1. Precision tweezers to remove splinters and thorns

  2. Sterile gauze pads (see here how to use them)

  3. Wound cleansing wipes to clean the wound before applying a plaster (see here how to use them)

  4. Antihistamine cream for adults (and kids over 12) to help soothe insect bites and stings

  5. Mosquito protection patches and after bite roll on for babies.

  6. Baby/Children liquid ibuprofen and paracetamol sachets

  7. Immodium tablets for adults diarrhoea

  8. Rehydration powder sachets for kids diarrhoea/vomiting (as immodium is not recommended for kids under 12 years)

  9. A thermometer (or a Forehead Strip which is thin, light and doesn't break) will always be handy

  10. Download and install on your phone an official kids first aid advice app (try the British Red Cross for Android or iOS).




8+1 Useful Tips Before Take-off

Before departure, there is a series of things to prepare well in advance to avoid surprises on arrival. Give yourself a good time window and start preparations before the trip. We started ticking items off this handy travel checklist below almost 3 months before our travels:

  1. Buy a Thai SIM card (on arrival) or an eSIM deal (before your travels). Totally recommended for long-haul trips and stays to prevent hefty roaming charges. Call your local provider in advance and verify your mobile device is unlocked. If it's locked (which means you can't use a Thai SIM) you may then need to check the eSIM solution I describe a few sentences down or ask your provider to unlock it (with a small charge). Thai SIM cards can be bought upon arrival at Bangkok airport. Alternatively, if your phone supports eSIM why not try buying a data package before you arrive from pioneer providers like Airalo? 👈Click the link and search "Thailand" to find DTAC's eSIM package which is WOW, and is all you need for your stay in Thailand and will save you heaps from your roaming bill!

  2. Contact the hotels you are staying in Thailand. Get some info about the area and travel arrangements (some hotels offer airport transfers for free if you are lucky), and make sure there will be a cot set up on arrival (give them the exact date/time) so that the little one can get some rest straight away.

  3. Pre-book a taxi from the airport to your hotel. I found KLOOK platform offers very good and reliable services with competitive prices. With nearly no sleep on the flight and a fussy toddler, expect zero strength to haggle for a taxi under the steamy hot weather so pre-booking is the wisest thing you can do.

  4. Make some notes of emergency phones in Thailand, and addresses of hospitals around the area you will stay just in case you have an accident. We never experienced a serious accident or illness in our nearly 3 weeks in Thailand and the food is quite safe to eat if you follow some ground rules, but better be safe than sorry.

  5. Double-check your health insurance validity and what it covers abroad.

  6. Check that your passport and credit cards won't expire when you'll be at your destination.

  7. Clean up your SD cards for your camera or buy some cloud space to upload your photos and videos from your phone. If you are not an Amazon Prime member, click here to register and get 5GB of free cloud storage on Amazon Cloud.

  8. Download offline Google maps, because you never know what will happen with your internet connection there.

  9. Last but not least, do some more reading on my Thailand Travel and Food Guide and the 2-week Family Friendly Itinerary to get some ideas about where to go and what to do.



What and How to Pack for Thailand

Packing can be a struggle, especially when travelling to unchartered territories with hot weather. Add the kid into the equation and you end up struggling to predict what will be needed or not. Here are some handy packing tips with things that are super small, lightweight and solve nearly every issue you are going to face in Thailand and that we tested and found generally useful during our travels in warm destinations:

Thailand Packing List for Kids

Thailand Packing List for Parents

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