Every year or so we try to make time (and save money!) for one trip other than weekend getaways. This year, I wanted to choose something far enough that we could take advantage of Pickles *flying for free, go somewhere warm, cheap and easy with the baby.
I went to Thailand for my quinceañera and didn’t soon forget those fond memories. As soon as we heard our friend’s were moving from Brooklyn to Bangkok we were certain Thailand would be our next destination.
Like every decision made as a parent, we had several friends and relatives think it was a poor idea to go so far with a 1 ½ year old. Oh well!
In my research I felt like there was a bit of a gap in the information online concerning traveling Thailand with a toddler. Much of the articles I found were great and super helpful to an extent. But much of the blogs didn’t cover our tiny budget and trekking North. Much of the information I kept finding referenced resorts in the Southern tip of Thailand and places with Kids Clubs. I’m sure it’s great and fun but just isn’t our speed. We planned to take one backpack, stay at hostels and travel by bus & train.
This post will cover our stops up through Chiang Mai, the following post touching on Bangkok and tips.
*Cici's ticket ended up being about $200 usd. I had called the airline to confirm any fees and if it would be better to pay upfront or at the airport. When I brought her to Mexico at 4 months there was no fee.
So here is our take on traveling with a toddler in Thailand. Needless to say, I’m no expert but hope this helps and encourages others!
The part of our trip that stood out the most was how wonderful and welcoming Thai are with children. In the US I’ve definitely gotten looks when we’re out and about. Cici comes with me everywhere and even if she’s behaving perfectly well- some people just don’t like seeing kids.
This was never the response in Thailand. Foreign kids get a celebrity-like greeting. Countless number of people asked to take Cici's photo, hand her whatever food they were selling and fawn over the baby.
In NY, I'd be hesitant to take candy from strangers but in Thailand it never felt weird or creepy. There's just a genuine love and admiration for children.
The Flight: The hours were daunting when prepping for the long flight but in reality we all slept a lot and it passed fast enough. I bought these headphones for both of us. They made our heads a little sweaty but did the trick and are pretty compact.
Cici was still on the boob for the flight which helped a lot during take off and landing as well as putting her to sleep effortlessly. When she wasn’t nursing- stickers, a drawing pad, a plethora of snacks and as much as I hate to admit it movies took up the rest of the time.
Our first stop: We flew into Bangkok for the first two nights and stayed at Shanti Lodge. This is the same place I had stayed years ago and it did not disappoint. Shanti Lodge is hostel prices (rooms are basic and you’ll have gecko roommates), with a great restaurant and hang out area on the ground floor that is covered in greenery and super kid friendly- Without being too kid friendly. One end of the block houses a temple and food market while the other end is off a main street. It's nice and quiet while conveniently located.
The airport changed a bit since my last visit. Getting a taxi is now super efficient. You follow the signs to where there are little kiosks outside. Press a few buttons to request the size car you need and go find the car number that corresponds with the ticket number.
Mind you, we were on our way to finding these kiosks when I asked how much a taxi was at one of the info desks inside of the airport. They quoted us 2500 Baht. The taxi we took ended up being 300 baht. So don’t grab the first cab you see!
Our driver got a bit lost but one thing that was detrimental to us getting around was google maps. We didn’t have data in Thailand but whenever there was wifi, I looked up where we were and some places we were planning to go later on that day. Google maps saves a bit of your search history for offline use so you see where you are enough to reorient you if lost.
Our next stop was Saiyok which is Northwest of Bangkok. We primarily came here because it’s a nice train ride on our way up North and it’s home to an elephant sanctuary. We stayed at a riverside Airbnb that overlooked Kwhae Noi River.
Our host was lovely, it was a short walk from town and a few minutes from elephants. The town doesn’t have much- it’s a couple restaurants and a convenient store along the train tracks but it’s a good place to rest if you plan to visit the Death Railway, Hellfire Pass Memorial, or Erawan National Park.
Bringing Cici to the elephants was the thing memories are made of and highly recommended. We did a full day which is one the pricier side of things in relation to the rest of Thailand but absolutely worth it. Elephant Haven claims to be an elephant sanctuary which for the most part they are- you can see the animals are well treated, there’s no riding and no hooks used. However they’re still on somewhat of a schedule as opposed to elephants that solely roam free in a field all day.
Our day consisted of prepping food for the elephants, feeding them, taking a walk through the jungle, a delicious vegan meal, giving them a mud bath, and our favorite was swimming in the river with them.
They’re such gentle creatures and to be able to show Cici an elephant literally cuddling next to us underwater instead of behind a fence at a zoo was something I think we’ll both hold dear.
Continuing North, we made a one night stop at this monkey riddled town because how could we not. We stayed at a guest house that had simple rooms, delicious food and it was a few minutes walking to the areas that were really macaque heavy.
This stop exceeded our expectations as we were purely monkey focused. I wouldn’t spend more than a few nights here but everywhere you turn there were ancient ruins which were pretty amazing.
The monkeys… I did a lot of reading on this to decide if it would be okay to bring a toddler to a town where there are aggressive monkeys running wild. Essentially we went with the idea that if it was too stressful we’d just hull up where we were staying as it broke up the drive to our next stop.
The macaques more or less stick to a few of the bigger temples in the center of the town as that’s where they are fed everyday. Phra Prang Sam Yot is the main attraction, as we approached the temple a caretaker told us to take off our glasses and handed us sticks in case a monkey got too fresh.
As we rounded the corner, there was a sea of monkeys. I kept Cici strapped to my back so she wouldn't try to run after anything. If you can get past the rows and rows of macaques blocking the entrance, the temple openings are sealed so no monkeys can get in.
It’s kind of wonderful because you don’t have to worry about the cute little beasts but you can get up close with them (think zoo but you’re the one in the cage). We stayed for ages as Cici played with the little baby monkeys that would reach their hands in to touch us.
This was definitely a major highlight as Pickles still randomly talks about the baby monkey fingers.
There are some night markets on the weekend, the everyday market on the main strip is mostly food and meat heavy.
This city is best known for the amazing 13th century palaces that you can bicycle around. It feels a little sleepier than Bangkok- it’s pretty easy to navigate as there is one main road. I wasn’t sure how bicycling around ancient ruins would fair with the baby but like the rest of Thailand- everyone is super welcoming and accommodating of children.
We stayed at Lotus Village, a beautiful private street that houses hand built teak guest rooms amongst lush greenery. It boasts the smallest carbon footprint in Sukhothai and I had remembered it fondly from my past visit.
To visit the historic city we walked to a point at the edge of the modern city and caught a ride in a songthaew (pick-up truck converted to bus). For 20 baht ($0.60!) they drop you to the park entrance where you can rent bicycles for the day. They had bikes for kids, adult bikes with seats and even super cute helmets.
It’s best to go in the morning before it gets too hot out. Everything was super family friendly as there are clean bathrooms on site and a lot of the vendors had their children with them so Cici was eager to take a break from the bike. We also had some deliciously fresh food from an unassuming pop up restaurant.
We biked around, ate and climbed the ancient ruins. An all around fun day, easy with kids and not to be missed if you're in the area or have any affinity for historic sightseeing.
Our last stop before heading back to Bangkok was Chiang Mai. I had really fond memories of running around the old city but it was definitely not as I remembered. Much of the areas felt way seedier than all the streets we wandered in Bangkok (well all but one creepy street) and super super touristy.
There are beautiful temples scattered around the old city along with amazing and often crumbling architecture. However those same areas are dotted with hole in the wall travel agencies boasting exotic animal hunting and elephant rides.
It felt catered to a certain tourist and we just weren't digging it. With that said- we did come across a few super cool places.
We hopped on a songthaew to Wat Umong, a tunnel temple founded in the 13th century. It's a quick drive from the city center and is a unique temple to check out. It's quite a bit different than the other temples we saw as much of it is in a series of tunnels with ancient wall paintings and little shrines tucked into the cave.
A short walk from the tunnel temple is a little island where you can feed the birds and fish. This description does not quite encompass the literal shit show that it was.
We bought a bag of dog food from a little stand, proceeded across a small bridge and were surrounded by aggressive, no-nonsense pigeons. As soon as you sprinkle food into the water, tons and tons of little mouths begin to surface. The water around the island is heavy with fish of all sorts, giant catfish, snapping turtles and softshell turtles.
This was endlessly entertaining to Cici and us but could use without all the pigeons. We each kept a stick in hand to keep them at bay. I've seriously never seen anything like it.
On our walk from the temple to our next stop, Baan Kang Wat, we stumbled on a cool little resting spot. It felt like a bit of a mirage after walking in the hot sun. But there was a little vintage store and cafe perched over a pond.
The small artist village, Baan Kang Wat was our favorite spot in Chiang Mai. It's a beautifully curated compound with a few places to eat and a coffee shop where each drink is carefully crafted. There's an area with books and a few shops that sell handmade ceramics, jewelry, clothing and little knick knacks. The shops are all in tiny houses with some of them doubling as their workshop.
When we were there a watercolor class was in session. On Sunday mornings there's a little pop up market.
Directly across the street from Baan Kang Wat, we ate lunch at a Thai roadside restaurant. It was the BEST. In Thailand we ate all kinds of street food, at a few fancy places and much in between. This lady's khao soi (a must try dish that's influenced by Burmese cooking and found in Northern Thailand) was out of this world. When trying to find the name all I could find in English were map coordinates. So here you go! 18°46'34.0"N 98°56'56.2"E
One last word on Chiang Mai would be the markets. I distinctly remembered them being amazing and they unfortunately did not live up to their reputation. The Chiang Mai Niight Bazaar was like a cross between Times Square & St. Marks Place, i.e. a lot of the same elephant pants and tchachkes.