Arriving into Bangkok is a bit overwhelming, as the city seems to have no end. The many high rises that line the banks of Choa Phra River give way to small shops, restaurants and street vendors within the narrow streets of the city. There is plenty to explore, eat, and buy in Bangkok with the kids in tow.
Be prepared for the heat and humidity, so take note and dress for the weather. If you only have two days in Bangkok, there is a lot in a short time in this large metropolitan city. Don’t let the hustle and bustle of the city get you overwhelmed; people are friendly and willing to help you get where you need to go. There is never a shortage of taxis and a high speed metro system is easily navigated (and air conditioned).
We arrived late at night after traveling almost 24 hours fromthe Mid-Atlantic United States. Kids were tired, but still well behaved. After leaving the airport, we immediately pilled into a taxi and got our first glimpse of this massive city. Although dark, we were still able to make out the scale of the city.
We arrived at The Shangri-La Bangkok, a luxurious hotel overlooking the river with wonderful restaurants serving extensive buffet breakfasts and a pool shaded by palm trees right on the bank of the Chao Phraya River. We checked in and got upgraded to a deluxe river view room on a high floor. The staff was attentive and helped with any questions we had about the city or transportation.
After a much needed and good night’s sleep, our morning was greeted with a breakfast buffet at the hotel. It is impressive (and expensive, but worth it). The spread includes Thai breakfast food like Joke (a rice porridge), kanomkrok (a sweet, hot, coconut pancake), grilled meats, soups, and rice. American standards such as pancakes, waffles, eggs, oatmeal and yogurt were also served, along with Indian food, curries and nans, and a full Chinese breakfast with dim sum and soups. The offerings were extensive and we never ran out of new items to try. The restaurant overlooked the massive Chao Phraya River and we marveled at the busy cargo boats and long-tail boats running up and down the river as we ate.
The Grand Palace
On our first of two days, we left immediately after breakfast by taxi for The Grand Palace. Located right in the heart of Bangkok, the Grand Palace will draw you and your kids in with its bright colors, elaborately decorated walls, wats, courtyards, pavilions and Buddhas. Once home to kings, the Grand Palace is now used for many state and official functions as well as a museum. We allowed the kids to run around and discover the ornate building as we taught them a bit about Buddha and the Buddhist religion. They were fascinated by the sheer size and the amount of different Buddha statues within the Palace walls.
After exploring the compound for a while, the heat and humidity caught up with us and we decided to take a rest with a cold drink. Food and water is not sold inside the palace, therefore we had to leave to find a vendor. We sat with a cold drink, resting and took the time to explain to our kids that boys and girls alike, need to cover their shoulders and knees as a form of respect at Wats (the Thai word for temple). No open toed shoes and flip flops are a no-no. We explained that the temples we would be visiting would have the same rules and we must respect their customs, regardless of the heat. The Thais are a deeply religious people; although they try to be tolerant of the hordes of immodestly dressed tourists, this is deeply hurtful and disrespectful to them. If you don’t want long pants or skirts, bring wraps to put on as you walk in.
After our water break, we continued on to Wat Pho, a large Buddhist Temple complex located south of the Grand Palace. It is within walking distance and easy to find from the Grand Palace. Wat Pho is best known for the Reclining Buddha, but the size and scale left our kids stunned with gaping mouths. While we were visiting, workers were working on the feet. The feet alone are more than nine feet high and 16 feet long. They are decorated in great detail with auspicious characteristics of Buddha. Our kids thought it would be a small figure lying down, but were blown away by the grand stature of the Buddha. It left an impression.
Massage School at Wat Pho
Prior to leaving our home in the United States, we booked massages for all of us at the Thai Massage School. The Thai Massage School is the birthplace of Thai massage therapy. I highly recommend making a reservation in advance, as it fills up. It was our first introduction to Thai massage and although you are in a room filled with others also getting massages, it was exactly what we needed after a long travel day the prior day. We explained to our kids that they would have strangers rubbing their legs, arms and back and it is okay as it is professional and a way to relax. Thirty minutes later, we were relaxed and ready to make our way to the Chinese market for some lunch and exploration.
We hopped in a taxi to the open market in Chinatown. Typically we enjoy a walk, but our kids were tired and hungry and taxis are easy to come by in Bangkok. Although tempting to take a tuk tuk in Bangkok, I wouldn’t recommend it, as they are known to take you to places where they may be working with store owners to drive traffic and therefore make a commission. Our kids wanted the thrill of the tuk tuk ride, no seatbelts, no doors, all around lack of safety, so we promised them tuk tuks in Chiang Mai.
We arrived to Itsaraphap Lane, in Chinatown, Bangkok and proceeded to explore its many stalls filled with goods, produce and meats. The smells were intense and the crowds thick. Many of the stalls were displaying the potent smelling, much talked about Durian fruit. This was a great opportunity to have our first (and most likely our last) try of this infamous, foul smelling Thai fruit. One kid likened it to rotten onions, the others just made faces and spit it out. I now understand why so many hotels have banned this fruit. It is indeed quite pungent and foul smelling. However, we did try it. After a good lunch we could see the kids were a bit tired so we went back to the hotel for a rest and a swim.
Bangrak Bazaar Night Market
Bangrak Bazaar night market is located around the corner from the Shangri-La hotel, where we were staying, so it was a no-brainer to head there for a light dinner. Although one of the smaller night markets, it was still a bit large to us. Our kids were still tired from traveling the day before and we wanted something simple. However, simple was not the best way to describe the market. It was large. There was a plethora of food stalls to chose from which made the decision of what and where to eat that much harder. Which one would be the best, which would the kids like the best, which has the freshest ingredients, and so on. It was our first experience in a night market, so we were a bit overwhelmed, but eventually all settled down for a bite of satay, tom kha soup and a drink and headed back to the hotel.
The night markets, in general, can be a bit overwhelming. Some are extend for miles, like the Pratunam Market. The night markets are a great stop for street food and a glimpse into the culture of trade and barter in Thailand. Prices are inexpensive for clothing and there are a lot of stalls to wander in and out of during your time there. If you are looking for a night market that is a bit smaller, less overwhelming, the Bangrak Bazaar is perfect size especially with young children. They typically open around 6:00pm and close sometime around midnight.
Chao Phraya River Tour
We had our hotel arrange a tour of the river on a traditional long boat. The boat met us right at the dock of our hotel in the morning after breakfast on our second of two days, and sped off using what looked like a motor pulled off a truck to power it. The boat was wooden with wooden benches and decorated with bright flowers and flags. The driver didn’t speak English but did take us up and down some of the smaller canals to see traditional wood homes on stilts in the water. It was interesting to see people using the river water as a resource for washing clothes, bathing, cleaning dishes, basic uses that we at times take for granted with our modern appliances. Some were also out fishing in the canals of the river.
After touring some of the canals of the river, the driver took us to Wat Prayoon per our request. We struggled a bit to find it from where he dropped us off, but eventually did. One of the attractions among many, is the red iron fence made out of ancient swords and daggers. The fence once surrounded the Wat, but now leads from the main entrance to the Wat.
The main draw for any kid and especially ours at Wat Prayoon is the area called “Turtle Mountain”. It is a pagoda which enshrines spirit houses and is modeled after what looks like a mountain of dripping candle wax. In the temple, our children had the chance to talk to a monk. They were amazed to learn that someone who spends hours each day meditating also carries a cell phone.
The Wat is happy to sell you plenty of food for the kids to feed the turtles and the turtles are happy to keep eating. Kids (or adults) get to put the food on sticks and dangle it over the water waiting for the turtles to snatch it up. Be prepared to spend a good chunk of time and money at the “Turtle Mountain.” The pagoda is relaxing and a great place to unwind for a bit before hitting the road again. We found our way back to the longboat and finished up the tour.
Seeing that our long boat tour ended early, we decided to hit up the Siam Paragon mall. The Siam Paragon is one of the largest malls in Thailand, offering luxury shopping and two floors of restaurants and an aquarium on the entire bottom level. When we arrived, the kids were hungry, so we went to look for the best place to eat. Our decision was difficult with so many restaurants to chose from. If you plan to go there for lunch, make sure to go with an idea on where you want to eat and do not arrive hungry as all the restaurants look appealing and will make your decision hard.
After a good lunch, we did go to the Bangkok Sea life Ocean World Aquarium. It is recommended to go in the morning as it does fill up, but we only had to wait in line a short time. We bought a combo ticket which included full access to the aquarium as well as a visit on the glass bottom boat. The glass bottom boat takes visitors around the top of one of the larger aquariums. You can watch sharks, stingrays and other sea creatures swim right underneath you. Our kids loved having the sharks right at their feet. The entire ride takes only 15 minutes.
We journeyed a bit more through the mall, only to realize the kids were weary and it was time to head back to the hotel for a rest as we were leaving the next morning for Chiang Mai. It was a great way to wrap up two days in Bangkok. As we got back to the hotel it quickly occurred to us that no one was getting up again to go out for dinner. We settled on room service, which sometimes is okay. With young kids, you really can’t push them too much. Conversely, room service is relatively inexpensive, which is great when you have young kids that are too tired to head out for dinner. After some long days, the kids ate room service satay and pizza while sitting in the lush robes provided by the hotel.