4/12/2013

Bangkok with Kids


     Bangkok is the epitome of Southeast Asian capital cities. The streets are filled with vendors selling widgets, fruits, and snacks, diesel fumes from the congested traffic permeating the air, skyscrapers hovering the skyline, and people squeezing their way from one place to another on uneven concrete. Bangkok is an energizer bunny. At any hour of the day, there are always vendors selling food on the streets or always some market activities going on. Clubs, sky bars, shopping, river front dinning, cultural shows, river cruises, floating markets... the list of things to do is endless. A trip to Bangkok with kids however, was very difficult to plan. With all these options, I almost didn't want to take the time out to do kids stuff. Who would want to visit an aquarium when you can shop in one of the biggest markets in the world? Who would want to eat at a tourist restaurant when you can snack your way through the numerous street vendors selling boat noodles, fruits, kebabs, or sticky rice at 1/4 of the price of tourist restaurants? Putting a rein on all these temptations in exchange for toddler friendly activities was hard!

     One question I got over and over from fellow moms is: Is Bangkok a kid friendly city? I can't answer with a straight Yes or No. While there were plenty of entertainment and dinning options for kids, I still have some mixed feelings. Below are experiences we had in Bangkok and you can judge for yourself how kid friendly Bangkok is. 

Hotel
Bangkok has a wide range of accommodations. Accommodations range from hole in the wall guest houses to luxury brand hotels to short term apartments. The abundant selection will leave your head spinning. We stayed at two hotels in Bangkok. The easier on the wallet Pullman Kingpower Hotel and the luxurious colonial style The Peninsula.

Pullman Kingpower Hotel Bangkok: This hotel is a five star hotel that is part of the Accor Hotel chain. This is perhaps the best value for the money hotel I've ever stayed in. At less than USD 100 a night we enjoyed all the amenities a five star hotel should have. The location is close to the Victory Monument skytrain station, where there are plenty of street food to try. It's only 3 stops by skytrain to reach the Siam shopping area and the Siam Ocean World, 4 stops to reach Chatuchak weekend market. One amenity that stood out above the rest for the kids is the kiddy pool. The kids LOVED the swimming pool. A floating device can also be borrowed for not so strong swimmers. Dinning at one of the hotel restaurants or ordering room service is not nearly as expensive as other five star hotels of the same quality. Having affordable room service food is tremendously helpful the first few days when the kids are still tired from traveling or not yet used to the spiciness of Thai food. The hotel also offers free tuk tuk shuttle to the Victory Monument BTS Station.
Swimming pool at The Pullman Kingpower Hotel
Free Shuttle from Hotel to Victory Monument BTS Station

The Peninsula Bangkok: My husband and I booked this iconic luxury hotel more for us than for the kids. This was more of a R&R trip rather than a sightseeing trip so we knew we would be spending a lot of time relaxing in the hotel. Situated on the Chao Phraya River, The Peninsula has its own shuttle boat that takes its residents across the river to the BTS station or Mandarin Oriental. As the shuttle boat is free, we took the kids for a boat ride every evening just for kicks. The staff on board were more than happy to indulge the kids. They even took us on a little tour up river. As for us adults, while the kids were preoccupied by the boat staff, we just sat back and enjoyed the beautiful sunset and the cool evening breeze. Our package included a breakfast buffet at the Riverside Terrace. Outdoor sitting by the river was available and the kids enjoyed their breakfast while watching the busy activities on the river; which means my husband and I got to enjoy our breakfast at peace. A children's toiletry kit was delivered to our room after check which included: diapers, baby powder, soap, shampoo and towel. The Peninsula has a 6 meter long swimming pool, but no kiddy pool. There were no lifesavers available for younger kids either. Only a boogie board was available. But my young kids didn't know how to use it. Prior to us going to Chinatown to pick up lifesavers, the kids clung to us for dear life every time we were in the water.There were tons of programs for kids at the hotel but at extravagant prices. We didn't sign up for any kids activities at the hotel. We mostly entertained them with activities available throughout the city or at the pool.
Pool area at The Peninsula
Riding The Peninsula's free shuttle boats

Activities
We did not venture far from the city center for any day trips as we were only there for 5 days. We wanted to keep our itinerary easy and flexible since we were tugging along two young kids.

Siam Ocean World
The Siam Ocean World is an aquarium located in the basement of the Siam Paragon. We purchased discounted tickets online that included a 5D movie and the glass bottom boat ride with the aquarium admission. My 23 month old daughter enjoyed the aquarium a lot more than my 4 year old. The glass bottom boat ride was very short and uneventful. Not worth the price if purchased separately. My husband really enjoyed the 5D movie but the movements and effects can be a little scary for younger kids. There is a small playground inside the aquarium that is a great place for the kids to expend some energy. After our visit to the aquarium, we went upstairs to the Siam Paragon food court and the dinning choices were endless. Even though there were plenty of non Thai options, my husband and I really wanted the kids to try Thai food at least once. So my husband made a deal with the kids that if they try Thai food, they can get Krispy Creme donuts for dessert. I guess that worked out well. The kids ended up really liking the satay pork. It also marked the end of their aversion to Thai food.
Siam Ocean World
Ready for glass bottom boat ride
5D movie

Siam Niramit
Siam Niramit is a cultural show that tells the history of how different kingdoms and tribes come together in Thailand. The show features over 150 performers, 500 costumes and world's most advanced technology to create state of the art special effects. Yes, sounds interesting for adults but can children sit through an 80 minute show with no intermission? I'm not sure how other children coped but my kids loved it! They sat through 80 minutes of the show without a single complaint. Even my 23 month old watched in awe from the beginning 'til the end. During the show I saw the kids clap and laugh without ever taking their eyes off of the show. The show was spectacular! My husband and I have seen our share of cultural shows in Asia, North America and Europe but this one just can't be beat. On the premises of the theater is a replica of a Thai rural village. The kids had a lot of fun exploring the village, watching demonstrations, sampling traditional food, riding elephants, and dancing with the performers before the show.
Thai rural village in Siam Niramit
Boat ride in Thai Rural Village
Making rice crackers
Palm leaves weaving
Siam Niramit exterior
Siam Niramit performers

Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew
I know I said this was a R&R trip but the traveler in me just couldn't leave Bangkok without paying a visit to at least one cultural site. This is a place known to cause complete melt downs for toddlers as well as adults. Walking through the crowded palace grounds with minimal shade from the sun on a 37 degrees Celcius day can be hard even for an enthusiastic adult. I have been advised against taking the kids here. But as the saying goes.."Curiosity kills the cat"...  So on the last day, I dragged the whole family out to the Grand Palace. The Palace complex is enormous. Upon entering the palace grounds, the kids wanted to run free. Each wanted to go off and do some exploring on their own. The bright, golden Temple of the Emerald Buddha had the kids mistaken it for a Treasure Island. The interior and exterior of the temple paved with gold and jewels are especially enticing to my little girl. I had to stop her several times from trying to scrape the jewels off of the walls. When the heat was too much to take and the kids are on the brink of a major melt down, we took them into the Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles. We adults really enjoyed learning about the making of traditional Thai clothing and the display of couture gowns worn by Queen Sirikit over the years on diplomatic visits. The kids on the other hand really enjoyed the air con. A win-win situation.  
Wat Phra Kaew
Walking towards Wat Phra Kaew
Allie at the Grand Palace
The little one was knocked out before the boat even arrived
Shopping
Bangkok is the shopping mecca of Asia. I used to think Hong Kong was a shopping paradise but now that I've been to Bangkok, this city definitely takes first place for the best shopping in Asia. I am never one to shop when I travel. But one cannot come to Bangkok and not shop! It just would not do this city justice. Shoppers can shop indoor or outdoor. There are markets for everything and anything one can imagine. For shopping in comfort, there are 4 huge malls connected to Siam BTS station. But it's not like there isn't a shopping mall near every metro or BTS station in Bangkok. Because there is! Anything you want or are looking for, you will find it here. Malls range from selling cheap teenage fashion to international luxury brands.   

Chatuchak Weekend Market: I can't go to Bangkok and not go to the world's largest weekend market. But it is not the most kid friendly place in the world. The market is partly covered and partly out in the open. The covered part of the market is stuffy. The part out in the open exposes shoppers to the blazing sun. Hoards of shoppers squeezing into tiny little alleys, constantly bumping into one another makes pushing a stroller impossible. kids would not last 10 minutes in such conditions. Luckily, my dear husband offered to nap and swim with the kids so I can go shop. I am eternally grateful to him for allowing me this opportunity. I had 15,000 stalls to get through in 5 hours, not the high temperature nor the crowds can stop me. I didn't spend a lot of time bargaining because the goodies weren't expensive to begin with and I wanted to save more time for shopping. I bought most of my stuff at 30% off. 
Chatuchak Market food court

Siam Center: More and more Thai fashion designers has made appearances in Fashion shows around the world. But instead of paying for top dollars at the runways of Milan or Paris, you can take a peak at Thai designer fashion at the Siam Center. This mall displays local designer fashion at its best. The bright, colorful, avant-garde pieces make great souvenirs to bring home. It is also great place to spend an hour or two shopping while the kids nap.
Siam Center

Central World: A mid range shopping mall with international brands like Zara, French Connection, Gap, Mango, Bershka, Forever 21, Etc...For those of us living in cities that do not have these brands available would greatly appreciate a visit to this mall. It is also worth mentioning that the Forever 21 at Central World is as big as a department store. 

Chinatown and Little india
Since we are already living in Taiwan, Chinatown is of little interest to us. But we did pass through it to get to Little India. Why did I go to Little India? Because I'm obsessed with Indian shoes and sandals, that's why! The little alleys in Chinatown are crowded. Most of them selling toys, t-shirts and various widgets. Half way through we decided it was not worth the one kilometer walk lugging 2 kids in the extreme heat. So, we took a tuk tuk to Little India for 50 baht. The Indian Emporium is an indoor shopping mall with air conditioning. But the textile market is located outside in small, crowded, stuffy alleys where most strollers would have a problem fitting through. So again, my husband took the kids back to the hotel for a nap while I continue shopping. As I love buying ethnic clothing for the kids, I spent an afternoon to shop until I drop.   
Alleys of Chinatown
Tuk Tuk from Chinatown

Textile market in Little India
Food court in Little India
Food
Food in the southern part of Thailand is aromatic, sweet, sour and often spicy. Introducing such exciting mix of flavors to our kids' palates was tricky at first. I think most moms would agree that toddlers have peculiar tastes. Introducing new foods can be frustrating. But as the saying goes..."when in Rome, do as the Romans do". Well, when in Thailand, we must at least attempt to eat what the Thais eat. We started the kids off with mild flavored dishes like fried rice and chicken boat noodles, then ventured into Satay meats. By the end of the trip they were eating all kinds of Thai Curry; spicy or not. Mission accomplished!

Tongue Thai: This is a rather touristy restaurant located in an alley behind the Mandarin Oriental, but it is the perfect place for kids to have their first experience with Thai food. Because most dishes on the menu cater especially to tourists, the flavor and spiciness has been toned down.
Tongue Thai Restaurant

Thiptara: This is a Thai restaurant located inside The Peninsula. The setting will have you transported back to the historical kingdom of Ayutthaya. It is magical sipping a cocktail while watching the sun slowly disappear across the river. Dinning in a Thai village like setting by the Chao Praya River as the natural light dims to a purplish glaze and the first stars began to burst out in the sky is a luxury I would gladly pay for with or without kids. Dining al fresco is especially enjoyable not only because of the nice view but it can dim the noises the kids make. But the food was so good that they actually sat still throughout dinner!
Thiptara at The Peninsula
Table full of delicious eats

Street food: The street food in Bangkok is one of the highlights of the city. It cheap, it's tasty, it's fun!  We have been warned of the possible tummy aches that can result from the street food but we just couldn't resist. The rule is to pick stalls with lots of locals. Even our kids had street food by the third day in Bangkok. We were all fine. No stomach issues. Well...no stomach issues from the food, at least.
Food stalls near Victory Monument
Boat Noodles near Victory Monument
Thai Sweets near Chinatown
Pad Thai from a food stall in Chatuchak
Just couldn't get enough of boat noodles. Even brought some back to The Peninsula

Conclusion
During our stay in Bangkok, the kids seemed happy and easy going. We didn't experience any melt downs or tantrums. I must say that I didn't spend as much time with the kids on this trip compared to other trips we've been on in the past. The reason: too many temptations. There are just so many interesting things to do and see without kids. Each shopping venue would be a good enough excuse to ditch the kids for a few hours. When we came home, I asked Tato (4 years old) what he liked the most about Bangkok, he replied, "the swimming pool and the boats." I think this speaks volumes for what kids would enjoy in Bangkok. Find a hotel with a kick ass swimming pool, and ride the Chao Phraya River Express up and down the river. When I asked my son what he would like to do the next time we go to Bangkok, he replied "I would like to stay for a year or two." Hm...That doesn't sound so bad.  
The End





          
      

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