6 Things to know before traveling to Bangkok with your family
With a population of over 8.5 million people - that’s more than triple that of Chicago - Bangkok is the fast-beating heart of Thailand; what it’s not is the soul of the country. Along with the Grand Palace and the Reclining Buddha, Bangkok has all the mess of a mega metropolis: overcrowding, sky-high prices, poverty, and pollution. For families who are more interested in bedtime stories than pulsating nightlife, two nights in Bangkok is plenty. But go with your eyes open, and you’ll be more likely to enjoy what you see.
1/Skip high-priced hotels
Choosing a home base in Bangkok can be a bit daunting, and you may be tempted to go with a familiar chain. Instead head to Lamphu Tree House. This family-friendly boutique hotel is well-located near Khao San Road, Wat Pho, and the Grand Palace without being in the middle of hordes of backpackers. I'd recommend the superior room with a divan (small sofa) for a family. (You can add an extra roll-away bed, as well.) It's a nice corner room with two walls of windows and a wrap-around deck. The hotel has a complimentary breakfast buffet with a wide array of hot and cold choices. My boys especially enjoyed afternoon dips in the pool. While it's quite small, it provides some relief from the Bangkok heat. Rates for superior room with divan run about $70/night.
KidTripster Tip: Check your bill carefully. We were not charged the discounted rate, agreed to via email. After a lengthly conversation with the reception clerk, it was corrected. And yes, if you’re booking far in advance, ask for an “early bird” discount.
2/Bargain for nearly everything
With the exception of food in restaurants, I’ve found that you can bargain for hotel rooms, spa services, entertainment, clothing, and souvenirs in Bangkok. The same is true for those fish pedicures on Khao San Road that you’ve been wanting to try! Whatever price you’re quoted, offer half and then let the bargaining begin. At first, it’s fun. But after awhile, it’s exhausting. You’re always left wondering if you got a good deal.
3/Be skeptical of people's motives
I hate to approach travel in this way, but there are enough scams in Bangkok to warrant the warning. Here’s a popular one: if you find yourself walking to the Grand Palace, you may be stopped a few blocks away and offered directions from a “helpful” man. He’ll mention that the Grand Palace and Wat Pho aren’t open to foreign tourists until 1 p.m. (or some other time).
KidTripster Tip: Go armed with knowledge. Check hours and rates of attractions online before you leave your hotel.
Since you now have a few hours to kill, he’ll suggest visiting some of the other wats (means “temple” in Thai) and Buddhas in the area, plus a Thai silk and gem showroom. He’ll say that admission is free today, and that the tuk-tuk ride will only be 20 Baht (less than a $1), because it’s subsidized by the government to encourage tourism. If you bite, you’ll spend the next three hours visiting wats of little interest. The Thai silk showroom will end up being a custom clothing store where you’ll be pressured to buy. The real scam is that the tuk-tuk drivers get gas vouchers from the businesses that you visit. The scam is so prevalent, that the government has posted a sign with a warning outside the Grand Palace. The problem is that most tourists don’t see that sign until after they’ve been approached.
4/Skip overpriced Muay Thai bouts
Muay Thai is the most popular sport in Thailand, and you may be tempted to take in the national pastime with some locals. Don’t. Ignore advice in ill-informed travel books; the bouts are “lame” to use my son’s words. They seemed like they were arranged more for tourists than the Thai fans. And foreigners aren’t allowed to buy the cheap tickets. They’re required to buy ringside. It’s a total racket.
5/Travel like locals
There are a number of sightseeing boat cruises down the Chao Phraya River offered to tourists. Unless your kids have an intense interest in Thai history, skip them. Instead hop on the Express Boat River Taxis used by the locals for less than a dollar/person.
KidTripster Tip: All of the top five-star hotels along the riverside have free shuttle services that ferry guests to and from their hotels and Sathorn Central Pier, where you can connect to the BTS Skytrain at Saphan Taksin. However, even if you’re not staying at one of these hotels, the shuttle service is still free.
KidTripster Tip: Watch out for scammers posing as long tail boat drivers and offering discounted half-day tours. Board one of their long boats, and you may find yourself on an abbreviated trip, where you’re held ransom until you pay the inflated fee to get back on dry land. It happens.
6/Avoid Chatuchak Weekend Market
Frankly, the Chatuchak Weekend Market, the largest market is Asia, is severely overrated. To get to the market from the tourist area of Khao San Road involves one or two long and very crowded train rides. To be honest, it's not worth it: lots of clothing, no real handicrafts, too many people, too many stalls, nothing really of note. The best part is the coconut ice cream with sweet corn which you can get elsewhere.
Editor Shellie Bailey-Shah travels the world with her husband and two sons. She says one place worth visiting in Bangkok is the Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho. At 150-feet in length, it’s enormous. Take special note of the mother-of-pearl inlays on the soles of the feet.