Thailand has been working hard in recent years to shed its reputation as a backpacker party hub, and reinvent itself as a family-friendly travel destination.

You’re probably familiar with the country’s main tourism hotspots; Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and the more famous islands. But there’s much more to Thailand than makes it into the travel brochures, and venturing just a few steps off the well-trodden path can be hugely rewarding. What's more, Thailand is a wonderfully family-friendly place to visit, making escaping the crowds easy and fun – even with kids in tow.

But with beautiful beaches to buzzing cities; from wonderful nature reserves to culture and sport; from relaxing by a pool to experiencing a jungle adventure... just where do you start?

Here's our essential guide on visiting Thailand with kids.

Thailand_kidskayak

Sea kayaking in Thailand

Best family-friendly destinations in Thailand

Where to go in Thailand with kids

First tip: Be selective. Don’t try to squeeze the entire country into one trip; all the more so when visiting Thailand the family. For example, try a five-day jaunt to the mountains up north, followed by five days of beach time in the south and a few days exploring the capital, Bangkok. Or, if you’ve got the time, try an overland loop through several regions. Alternatively, relax on a single island – or an archipelago.

Well-known centres like Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Phuket are popular for good reasons, but don't overlook the many other possibilities. Here are family-friendly spots that deliver some of the best of Thailand.

Khao Lak Pangnga Thailand

Quiet beaches on Khao Lak

Khao Lak

Best for: family-friendly Thai beach life

On Thailand's southwest coast north of Phuket, Khao Lak has just the right balance of quietude and action for families. The area covers several miles-long expanses of soft sand rimmed by terrific family resorts and restaurants offering Western and Thai menus.

Nightlife is minimal, but a good night market and many boutiques keep the after-dark scene lively enough for most families. Unlike some of Thailand's busier beach towns, the mood is laid-back and its jungle-backed landscape is dotted with coconut farms.

Highlights

The most popular beach is Nang Thong, where an offshore light tower often features in sunset photos. Nearby beaches - Bang Niang, Pakarang, Maphrao, Pak Weep and Bang Sak - each have resorts of their own; the scene gets sleepier the further north you go up the coast.

Khao Lak's Thap Lamu Pier is the jumping off point for day trips to the Similans, a chain of nine protected islands with powdery white-sand beaches and some of the finest diving and snorkelling in Thailand. There’s no shortage of boat tours and diving excursions on offer.

Back on the mainland, kids enjoy swimming at the natural pool fed by Ton Pling Waterfall; stop at a butterfly and orchid farm on the way to see historic architecture and paddle through a mangrove forest known as Little Amazon in the nearby town of Takua Pa.

Need to know

The 2004 Asian tsunami hit Khao Lak hard and museums and memorials are dedicated to the roughly 3,000 people who died locally in the tragedy. Khao Lak now has several tsunami shelters and an early warning system in place.

Thailand Chiang Rai market

Chiang Mai's famous night markets

Chiang Mai

Best for: family-friendly temples, markets & elephants

Home to at least one million people, Thailand's second city straddles the Ping River valley in the scenic north of Thailand. The city is one of Thailand's most popular tourist destinations. There are hundreds of guesthouses, hotels, travel offices and eateries in a square-shaped historic district rimmed by some of the original city walls.

There's plenty for families to see and do in the city itself, and even more in the surrounding region. It's easy to get around, the food is varied and, outside of peak hot season (March to May), the weather is relatively mild.

Highlights

Chiang Mai is probably best known for its glistening 14th to 17th century Lanna-style temples. With their gilded surfaces, multi-tiered sloped roofs and lacquer doors, they are among the most graceful examples of Thailand's historic architecture.

The city is also famous for its night markets, including a nightly bazaar east of the old town and a Saturday and Sunday “walking street” that takes over an entire road west of Tha Pae Gate in the old town. The atmosphere is lively with street musicians, artists painting on-the-spot portraits, and a variety of street food.

Another highlight for visitors and older kids are the many Thai cookery classes in the city.

Outside of the city, Chiang Mai's biggest draw is the Elephant Nature Park, a world-renowned sanctuary that is leading the way in ethical elephant tourism. Visiting will be a trip-defining memory for the kids.

Need to know

March to May can be oppressively hot. This overlaps with "smoky season" between February and April, when farmers in the surrounding countryside burn their rice stubble causing some of the worst air pollution anywhere on earth. This can be a challenging time to visit, but especially with kids.

Thailand Kanchanaburi

Scenic views and fascinating history at Kanchanaburi

Kanchanaburi

Best for: kid-friendly history

This scenic and historic town on the River Kwai (pronounced kway), along with the province of the same name, offers families a chance to learn Second World War history between visits to some of Thailand's most impressive waterfalls.

Kanchanaburi is only 130km west of Bangkok, making it convenient for a short trip. But as the third largest province in the country, it's also worth considering for a longer adventure.

Highlights

A host of museums in the provincial capital cover the history of the Thai-Burma Railway and the roughly 100,000 Allied prisoners and forced labourers who died during its construction overseen by the Japanese Army in 1942-43. One highlight is the rail bridge that inspired the 1957 film, The Bridge on the River Kwai. Visitors can ride on part of the railway built atop trellises high above the river.

Kanchanaburi's most riveting Second World War site is Hellfire Pass, a memorial where you can hike a portion of a now-closed stretch of railway that was extremely gruelling for the malnourished workers to build. It’s just 80km north of the provincial capital and you can visit with a tour, or independently.

This sobering history is balanced by fabulous natural attractions, including the popular Erawan waterfall and the more remote Huai Mae Khamin waterfall. Bring swimsuits. If you have more time, consider venturing to the misty lakeside town of Sangkhlaburi or the border outpost of Pilok, both in the Tenassarim Mountains near Myanmar.

Need to know

Most of Kanchanaburi town is family friendly, but you may want to avoid accommodation in the nightlife area at the south end of Mae Nam Kwai Road. For a quieter setting, stay towards the north end of this road or on the west side of the river. The nearby countryside also has quality resorts set in quieter areas along the River Kwai.

Thailand Bangkok Wat Arun night view Temple

Thailand's capital city has plenty for kids and family travellers

Bangkok

Best for: Southeast Asia's most family-friendly city

Thailand's capital city; vast, bustling, traditional in places, sleekly modern in others, and fascinating for visitors of all ages.

Bangkok is surprisingly accessible for family travellers. Public transportation is excellent and easy to navigate, the food is varied and, despite its size, the city and its inhabitants are exceptionally welcoming to youngsters.

Highlights

A half day in the historic district is a must to take in key sites like Wat Pho's 46m-long gilded reclining Buddha, the lavish mix of 18th and 19th century architecture at the Grand Palace, and Phu Khao Thong, the Golden Mount affording views of the city set to chiming prayer bells. In between, thrill the kids with a ride in one of the city’s sputtering tuk tuks.

There’s mask painting, puppetry and evocative canal-side life at the Artist House of Khlong Bang Luang, one of several stops on Thonburi's famous khlong (canal) tours.

For an all-out kids’ day in Bangkok, try the Dream World amusement park and make education fun at the Children’s Discovery Museum. Throw in a river ferry ride on the Chao Phraya followed by dinner, and finish with a spin on the ferris wheel at Asiatique.

Need to know

Bangkok can feel cramped, choked with traffic and often extremely hot. Don’t squeeze too many activities into a day, and look for air-conditioned spots to cool down. Try to avoid using the metro and the roads during rush hours.

Thailand Ko Mak

Dazzling, family-friendly beaches on Ko Mak

Ko Mak and Ko Kood

Best for: Thai island holidays for families

With dazzling beaches, these two welcoming islands in the Ko Chang archipelago near Cambodia, are ideal for families.

Try a few days on each island if you have the time. Both offer great family accommodation, but Ko Mak has mostly small resorts while Ko Kood has better beaches and some luxury resorts.

Highlights

On star-shaped Ko Mak you can rent bicycles to explore the gently rolling terrain blanketed in pineapple and rubber farms, and Ko Rang, the prime snorkelling and diving destination in the archipelago, is easily reached.

There are islets accessible by kayak or private boat tour, the largest of which is Ko Kradat, where herds of deer roam freely. The white sand of Ko Kham is also a hit near Ao Suan Yai, one of Ko Mak's two main beaches.

Ko Kood is a larger island with more than a dozen beaches that are among the finest in Thailand. When not relaxing seaside you might kayak the mangrove-draped rivers, cool off at one of three waterfalls, and marvel at 500-year-old macca trees that tower amid the mountainous interior.

Need to know

Ko Mak is easy to get around, but some of Ko Kood's beaches are remote and traversing the island can be expensive. Sand flies become a problem on both islands at times, especially on Ko Mak. In the dry season, you could first head to the larger island of Ko Chang and then catch up with island-hopping ferries that stop at Ko Mak and Ko Kood, as well as the smaller island of Ko Wai.

Thailand Chiang Rai Wat Rong Khun White Temple

Chiang Rai's White Temple

Chiang Rai

Best for: accessible culture

Thailand's northernmost province is often overlooked by travellers assuming that Chiang Mai is the must-visit destination up north. Both are worth a visit, but Chiang Rai is hard to beat for vistas of layered mountains and one of Asia's grandest rivers, the Mekong. And there are several tour outfits offering jungle trekking to villages that are home to hill tribes, such as the Lahu.

Highlights

Start with three of Thailand's most imaginative structures: Wat Rong Khun (White Temple), Wat Rang Suea Ten (Blue Temple) and Baan Dum (Black House). Designed by two Thai artists, they feature creative interpretations of the country’s spiritual themes in art and architecture.

Then there are great options in the countryside. Soak up Mekong River views in relaxing Chiang Khong; observe 700-year-old ruins in Chiang Saen, an early capital of the Lanna kingdom that predates Chiang Mai; gaze at the Golden Triangle, where Thailand meets Laos and Myanmar in an area that was once notorious for drug smuggling.

When you're ready to hit the mountains, enjoy the temperate flower gardens and tea farms perched at 1,100 to 1,700 metres at Phu Chee Fah, Doi Tung, and Mae Salong. It gets chilly up there so pack semi-warm clothes.

Need to know

Destinations like the ones above can each be visited on an overnight basis or as day trips from the provincial capital. For an adventure, take a bus to Tha Ton in northern Chiang Mai province and then catch a longtail boat down the Kok River to Chiang Rai.

KHAO SOK National Park Suratthani Thailand

Floating bungalows in Khao Sok National Park

Khao Sok National Park

Best for: convenient wildlife escapes

This national park, covered by one of the oldest rainforests in Asia, is one of the natural jewels of southern Thailand. Conveniently, it lies along a well-used route between beach destinations like Phuket and Ko Samui.

Highlights

The park’s centrepiece is a reservoir, Ratchaphrapa or Chiew Lan, one of the most magnificent bodies of fresh water in Southeast Asia. The emerald water glistens between 1,000-metre high limestone mountains. You can take a boat tour lasting a few hours or a full day, or you can spend a night at one of 17 raft-house lodgings. They all come with kayaks.

West of the reservoir are caves and waterfalls, and a trail guide is required to access most of them. This area is also where you'll find the rafflesia kerrii, the fire-red, so-called dinosaur flower that smells rank and is one of the world's largest flowers when it blooms in the dry season. Though large mammals are rare, Khao Sok is full of birds and reptiles.

Need to know

Lodgings include a campground and bare-bones raft-house huts on Ratchaphrapa reservoir. But there are also privately run, and more comfortable, raft-houses. Most family travellers would probably visit as part of a pre-arranged tour.

Thailand Krabi Railey beach

Railey Beach, near Krabi

Krabi

Best for: family adventures by longtail boat

At the centre of the southwest coast on the Andaman Sea, Krabi is often cited as Thailand's most visually impressive province. Islands, mountains, waterfalls, limestone massifs and mangrove forests blend together in an area that, while popular, offers quieter alternatives to nearby Phuket.

Ao Nang is Krabi province's most touristy town on the mainland coast, with a large selection of comfortable resorts. A little further north, Noppharat Thara and Khlong Muang beaches are quieter and less nightlife-oriented. The provincial capital is also worth a visit for food and culture - and we haven’t mentioned the islands yet.

Highlights

Close to Krabi town, hop in a longtail boat and climb into the caves at Khao Kanab Nam before taking a spin around the pastoral island of Ko Klang with its mosques, water buffalo and batik workshops. Outside the town, the viewpoint at Wat Tham Suea (Tiger Cave Temple) is breathtaking, but try climbing the 1,237 steps only if the whole family is in good shape. Other options include hiking to the 11-tier Huai Toh waterfall, or along the scenic Dragon Spine ridge known as Khao Ngon Nak.

On the mainland, but only accessible by boat from the Ao Nang area, is Railay, a peninsula with top-notch beaches framed by vertical karst cliffs that are well known to rock climbers. While Railay has several resorts, many visitors drop by on a boat tour that also covers the islands of Ko Poda and Ko Gai - Chicken Island because of its hen-like shape. Further north, Ko Hong rewards day trippers with a viewpoint set near a jade-hued lagoon.

Need to know

Krabi province also includes the islands of Ko Phi Phi, Ko Jum and Ko Lanta, among others. Day trips are possible from Krabi town and Ao Nang, but most visitors treat these developed islands as separate destinations, opting to spend several nights on them.

Koh Kradan one of the Trang islands in the Andaman Sea Thailand

Glorious Koh Kradan, in Trang province

Trang

Best for: family-friendly island hopping

A step below Phuket and Krabi in terms of tourist numbers but with comparable natural beauty, Trang province's small and quiet islands are ideal for families keen to do some island-hopping.

The capital of Trang province, south of Krabi on the Andaman coast, is worth a night if you're a food lover. Rise early for dim sum, deep-fried tofu and steamed buns (sala bao) with locally-grown Robusta coffee, then sample the many curries and Trang's signature roast pork dish in the markets.

Highlights

Ko Mook is Trang province's most popular island, even if it's downright sleepy compared to Ko Phi Phi or Ko Lanta. Explore the fishing villages, hike to the viewpoint and take a longtail boat or kayaks to Tham Morakot. A dark 50-metre sea cave that might frighten little ones, ends at a white sand beach concealed by a vertical ring of limestone.

Easy to reach from Ko Mook by affordable private longtail boat, the smaller islands of Ko Kradan and Ko Ngai both have beaches that rank among the most stunning in the country. They also offer fine resorts, reefs for off-the-beach snorkelling, and forest trails ending at sparsely developed coves.

You could finish with Ko Libong, which draws fewer tourists but is home to quaint villages and one of the last herds of dugongs (similar to manatees) left in Thailand. From a boat tour or an observation tower you may spot some of these endangered creatures, sometimes known as sea cows, feeding in their protected waters.

Need to know

You can fly direct to Trang Airport (TST) from Bangkok, or take a train down the only offshoot of the Southern Line that accesses the Thai southwest.

Sukhothai Historical Park thailand

Loy Kratong Festival at Sukhothai Historical Park

Sukhothai and Kamphaeng Phet

Best for: exploring ruins by bike

Founded in the 12th century, Sukhothai (Dawning Lotus) was the first Thai kingdom to conquer most of the land within modern Thailand's borders. Guided by leaders like Ramkamhaeng, now a revered figure, this was the kingdom where the Thai script was created and where a distinctive Thai culture first emerged.

What remains of the original capital of Sukhothai, featuring some of the most impressive ruins in Thailand, can be appreciated at the UNESCO World Heritage park that bears its name. And 75km to the south, the related ruins at Kamphaeng Phet (Diamond City) take you off the tourist trail and into a languid Thai city spread out along the Ping River.

Highlights

Sukhothai Historical Park’s three zones can be explored in a day. One key site is the former royal temple Wat Mahathat, with its lotus-shaped chedi spires and exquisite carvings. Another is a seated 11-metre wide Buddha image at nearby Wat Si Chum which is hidden by a brick enclosure accessed via a narrow passageway, which makes for a dramatic approach.

A third is the meditation monastery at Wat Saphan Hin set on a wooded hill, to which King Ramkamhaeng once rode on a white elephant. The atmosphere is serene even today.

Kamphaeng Phet's ruins are less extensive than those of Sukhothai, but the reclining Buddha image at Wat Phra Kaeo and dozens of 14th century elephant statues at Wat Chang Rob are no less captivating. Away from the historical sites, Kamphaeng Phet's riverfront makes for a relaxing sunset stroll followed by a search for tasty Thai treats in the night market.

Need to know

Compact layouts and plentiful tree cover make the historical parks in Sukhothai and Kamphaeng Phet great for bicycles, which can be rented. If your family has a keen interest in history, consider another historical park, Si Satchanalai, set in a rural area 50km north of Sukhothai.

Thailand Ayutthaya Wat Chaiwatthanaram

Wat Chaiwatthanaram, at Ayutthaya

Ayutthaya and Lopburi

Best for: kid friendly trips from Bangkok

Founded in 1350 and destroyed by invading Burmese in 1767, the once-glorious city of Ayutthaya preceded Bangkok as the capital of Siam, as Thailand was known before 1939. Its ruins are extensive and easier to reach than those of Sukhothai.

Just 70km north of Bangkok, it’s perfect for a day trip or stays of a night or two. A further 60km up the Northern railway line is Lopburi, another historic centre.

Highlights

The UNESCO-listed historical park in Ayutthaya covers part of an island rimmed by a canal and three rivers. Here you'll find Wat Phra Sri Sanphet, the former royal temple with slender bell-shaped chedis and the remains of a once-ornate palace. Many of the ruins here dot the city to form a contrast between modern and ancient. There are many noteworthy historical sites on the outskirts of Ayutthaya, accessible by longtail boat or the area's signature frog-shaped tuk tuks.

The Million Toy Museum is a hit with kids, while adults appreciate the remains of settlements built by Portuguese, Dutch, Japanese and other foreign merchants who once prospered in the city. You can climb the towering chedi at Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon and imagine the approach of the Burmese invaders.

A highlight of Lopburi is Phra Phrang Sam Yod, featuring a trio of corncob spires built by Khmers in the 12th century and later embellished with Thai artistry. Another is Phra Narai Ratchaniwet, a 17th century palace that's now an excellent museum.

Need to know

The thousands of monkeys at Lopburi can be brazen, sneaking up to snatch food or even cameras and wallets before scampering away. Though mostly harmless, they do sometimes bite. Don't let kids pet them, and keep a tight grip on your valuables.

Wat Khao Takiap or Monkey Temple near the City of Hua Hin in Thailand

Wat Khao Takiap, or Monkey Temple, near Hua Hin

Prachuap Khiri Khan

Best for: lazy coastal road trips

This hourglass-shaped province, Prachuap for short, bridges the southern and central regions of Thailand. It has a coast studded with beaches, national parks, hilltop temples, golf courses and many other attractions.

The beach towns range from the heavily touristed to the downright sedate, and the lengthy coastline is perfect for a road trip alongside the sea.

Highlights

The most popular tourist destination is Hua Hin, a well developed city with plenty of family resorts overlooking miles of beaches. The centre is cramped and noisy, but the southern part of town is a relaxing base for attractions such as the Black Mountain Water Park and Wat Khao Takiab, the Chopsticks Hill Temple, where you can meet monkeys and enjoy the sea views. Hua Hin is also a golfing centre and tour companies offer club rental and transport to any one of 10 courses, some very scenic.

Further south, Pranburi is a more laid-back seaside city with a mangrove-forest walkway and some of the best wind and kite-surfing in Thailand. It's also close to Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park with quiet beaches, magnificent limestone caves and a wetland rich in birdlife.

Prachuap town is a terrific destination in its own right. It has a monkey-filled hilltop temple at Khao Chong Krachok, a family-oriented beach at Ao Manao, and a seafront walkway where fishers offload their catch. And within striking distance are the refreshing Huai Yang waterfall and the Kui Buri National Park, the best place in Thailand to spot elephants in the wild.

Need to know

To the south of the province are several beach towns - Bang Saphan Yai and Ban Krut, for example - which are small resorts with attractive beaches. If you don't need many attractions, they are ideal places to lie back and watch the little ones build sandcastles.

Phu Thok hill viewpoint the famous viewpoint of Chiang Khan city in Loei province Thailand

Views from Phu Thok, above Chiang Khan city

Chiang Khan & Loei

Best for: older kids & getting off the beaten path

Few foreign tourists visit Loei, a province in the Northeast known for Mekong River sunsets and lofty mountain views, but it’s popular with domestic holiday-makers.

The provincial capital is a fine town with some good markets, but it lacks attractions and has a rather weak selection of lodgings. Most tourists opt for one of the many guesthouses or small resorts in the town of Chiang Khan further north.

Highlights

Chiang Khan's historic temples, heritage houses, trendy cafes and Thai massage shops make it fun for a day of strolling or cycling. In the late afternoon enjoy the lengthy walkway along the Mekong and watch fishers casting out their nets before puttering home on longtail boats as the sun sinks behind the fluffy green hills. It is enchanting.

Near Chiang Khan is a mountain, Phu Tok, from which you have views of the Mekong - and there's no need to hike thanks to the songthaews that can truck you to the viewpoint. A glass-floor skywalk set over the confluence of the Mekong and Hueang rivers is a thrill.

Further west, Phu Ruea National Park has waterfalls accessible via a road that winds up to a 1,365-metre summit with tremendous views. In the south of the province, climb to the 1,316-metre plateau at Phu Kradueng if you’re fit enough. There’s a campground there where temperatures can drop close to freezing at night. Alternatively, head to Suan Pha Hin Ngam for a tractor ride between vertical karst cliffs.

Need to know

Buses access some parts of Loei province, but renting a car in one of the larger provinces nearby, such as Khon Kaen or Udon Thani, would make it easier to explore the countryside. Loei also fits nicely into a wider tour of the Northeast that might include Nong Khai, Bueng Kan, Nakhon Phanom and other provinces along the Mekong.

In this guide:

Thailand With Kids

David Luekens

Based in Thailand since 2011, David first waded into Southeast Asia in the early 2000s via friendships forged in the Thai, Vietnamese and Karen communities of Vermont, almost Canada, USA. He is a bona fide nerd in maps, islands and travel planning with a research background in Buddhism and the environmental, political and human rights issues of Southeast Asia. Bylines include CNN Travel, Conde Nast Traveller China and more than 100 Travelfish guides.

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