Catching up with family is a good excuse for a holiday – especially if your relatives live in Bangkok. Alice Veysey took her family on a journey of discovery.
There’s something quite transformative about seeing the world through your children’s eyes. Everyday activities quickly become adventures, and a new shared experience becomes unforgettable. When my sister accepted a two-year work contract in Bangkok and moved her family of four to Thailand last year, we vowed to visit. We booked our tickets well in advance to ensure it would actually happen. Our children, Finn and Tilly, then counted down for months until the trip finally eventuated this year.
After our 20-hour journey from Tauranga to my sister’s home in central Bangkok, we spent a day acclimatising before embarking on another near full-day of travel (seven hours via van, car ferry, van) to the island of Koh Chang in the Gulf of Thailand. We left Bangkok at 5am to beat the traffic and things were going well until the shuttle’s air con broke down. Four hours into the drive and wedged in the sweltering people-mover, I remember thinking “This had better be worth it!”, but soon after we arrived at our destination of Kaibae, Koh Chang, I had forgotten the pain of the drive and was marvelling at the tropical paradise we found ourselves in.
Koh Chang is the third largest island in Thailand, after Phuket and Koh Sumui. It’s not a party zone like some other Thai beach spots, rather a slow-paced holiday destination, perfect for family escapes. Kaibae is on the eastern side of the island and is known for its idyllic white sand and coral beach. There are a few resorts dotted along the bay and a small stretch of shops on the main road. We stayed at the KB Resort, in a family villa, which consisted of an open-plan hut with two kingsize beds and an ensuite. The essential component of air conditioning made for a comfortable stay for our family of four.
Part of the joy of visiting Thailand is that you can experience local restaurant fare packed with flavour at incredibly low prices. A Thai dinner main from the resort restaurant would typically cost between 150-200baht, or NZ$6-$8, and the famed dessert mango sticky rice was just 60baht, around NZ$2.50.
Life’s a beach
A morning wander along the beach was in order every day, before the sun got too fierce. Swimming and snorkelling off the beach was another daily activity. The kids were well entertained by the small colourful and patterned fish they spotted in the easily accessed warm waters of our resident beach. One day we hired double kayaks and paddled around the bay with the kids - 100bt, or NZ$4, well spent.
A daily delight, especially for Tilly, was seeing baby elephants (from a nearby training camp) walking the beach in front of us. After doing some research into the elephants’ wellbeing and ‘training’, we decided not to partake in the touristy elephant ride on offer. However, the elephant’s mahout (handler) did oblige Tilly’s offering of bananas and a pat for the curious little giant as it meandered along the beachfront. This certainly became
a highlight for our four-year-old.
Water fights and foot massages
Our visit to Koh Chang coincided with the Thai new year festival, Songkran. This famous public holiday celebrates the end of the dry season, in the hottest month of April. It basically entails a three-day water fight. Everyone is fair game, locals and tourists alike. Six-year-old Finn was right into the idea of a continuous water fight, so we braved the gauntlet of the small township to buy him a water gun. The shop owner happily filled Finn’s water gun whilst simultaneously shooting at him as I attempted to pay. We were then both drenched by the locals, all sporting hoses or scooping water from troughs. A procession of colourfully decorated utes packed with passengers continually performed drive-by water shootings for the duration of the festival. Needless to say, any attempt to stock up on supplies from the shops for a few days was futile unless we decided to join in on the watery fun. My sister informed me that the celebrations for Songkran were toned down this year due to Thailand being in an official year of mourning, following the King’s death a few months ago. I can only imagine the full extent of the festival in other years.
Back in the safety of the resort, the large swimming pool area was a welcome haven and proved a great opportunity for the kids to improve their swimming skills during our stay. Tilly and I, along with my sister and niece, also treated ourselves to a Thai foot massage - a quintessential activity for any visit to Thailand.
We had plenty of down time during our week in Koh Chang and were thankful to have packed paper, pens and a few activity books for the kids so they could escape the heat for some quiet play.
A to B in Bangkok
Back in Bangkok we were ready to spend the second week of our holiday on some city adventures. Getting around town is all part of the experience. Temperatures were in the high 30s, so even a gentle stroll could render you exhausted. We ventured around Bangkok on various modes of transport, all of which had their joys and perils. We were staying near the Khlong canal, which meant a short walk to catch a water taxi. Khlong water looks and smells like concentrated grey water and we’d been warned of the hazards. Boats would momentarily stop at each jetty where we would pretty much throw ourselves (and children) aboard before they sped off again, spraying Khlong water on all who braved the journey. The Khlong criss-crosses through the heart of the city, giving an eye-opening view of different neighbourhoods. Apartments and hotels juxtapose ramshackle huts and makeshift shelters under bridges.
One day we took a Khlong boat to the end of the line in the heart of the ancient city. We then hired a tuktuk driver to take us to a few temples. The tuktuk journey provided great novelty value, if not much else. Our driver sped along the busy streets, weaving in and out of traffic like a rally driver, the experience resembling an adventure park ride to our kids. Don’t be fooled though, the three-wheeled travel option isn’t a time saver. The drivers are likely to take you on multiple detours to visit suit makers who’ve agreed to give ‘petrol vouchers’ to the drivers for bringing tourists to them. We just treated it like part of the attractions for the day.
The subway and skytrain both operate with large-city efficiency and were good options for timely travel. Everything was new and exciting for our small-town kids and using an array of transport systems added to their growing tally of new experiences. Each day we would head out in the morning for a mini adventure and return to our accommodation by mid afternoon to relax by the pool with a cheeky G&T (coconut water for the kids).
Cooking with Poo
One of the most rewarding things we did as a family in Bangkok was attend a one-day cooking school in the Khlong Toei slum. Khlong Toei, one of Thailand’s most densely populated slums, covers an area of around 1.5 kms and is home to over 100,000 people. An enterprising resident, affectionately known as Poo, has broken out of the poverty cycle and started a small cooking school with aid from the missionary organisation Urban Neighbours of Hope. ‘Cooking with Poo’, which has been running for a few years now, has become very successful, attracting many visitors and collaborations with international chefs, including Jamie Oliver. Poo is an inspiration, leading many toward social and ethical empowerment. She employs local residents and also gifts a portion of her profits towards other start-up ventures in her neighbourhood.
The cooking experience started with a visit to the market for supplies. The Khlong Toei wet market is Bangkok’s largest supplier of fresh food and bustles with activity from 2am to 6pm every day. Shopping was an assault on the senses. Catfish and eels slithered around in watery trays, occasionally jumping free and landing on our feet as we walked by. Bags of live frogs jumped around on a counter while others were dissected next to them. We were continually jostled along the narrow walkways as deliveries were made by cart and motorbike to the stalls around us. I found myself feeling a bit challenged by the visceral nature of the experience. To my surprise, however, the kids coped remarkably well. I watched Finn and Tilly calmly take it all in with wide-eyed awe.
The cooking class itself enabled us to learn some culinary secrets from gorgeous Thai dishes, including tom kha gai, pomelo salad, and mango sticky rice. We also sampled a myriad of tropical fruit including snake fruit, longan, dragon fruit, rose apple and langsat. Durian is the one piece of produce you should be wary of. The large spiky fruit is banned from public transport due to its pungent odour. While many locals love durian, I don’t regret declining a taste.
Over all, our Thai holiday far exceeded our expectations. We were stoked at how well our kids adjusted to the long transit days, the heat, and the weird and wonderful smells, tastes and sights. We saw plenty of families travelling with babies too, so Thailand is definitely a doable destination for all ages.
✔️ Support local and ethically made goods and services.
✔️ Make sure your accommodation has air con.
✔️ Bring sunscreen, hand sanitizer and insect repellent.
✔️ Carry your own water and snacks.
✔️ Bring some paper and pen activities for the kids.
✔️ Explore some of Bangkok’s ancient sites and temples.
✔️ Have an adventurous attitude.
❌ Don’t be afraid to tip drivers and serving staff. (The Thai minimum wage is very low).
❌ Don’t drink tap water.
❌ Don’t use a tuktuk if you’re in a hurry.
❌ Don’t swim in the Khlong river.
❌ Don’t get caught without your own supply of toilet paper.
Alice Veysey wishes to thank to the Lambert family for the wonderful hospitality during their stay. See more of Alice’s photography work at paperandpearl.co.nz.