Have you ever dreamt of riding elephants? How about floating in a canoe in crystal blue water through limestone caves, filled with peaceful bats hanging upside down? Ok, maybe you’ve never dreamt of the 2nd point, but certainly the first! You can make these dreams come true with a Thailand family trip!
In 2011, my family traveled for 14 days through Thailand. I remember it like it was yesterday. It was a vacation full of good food, culture, lush landscapes, beautiful scenery, bright blue oceans, kind people and of course, exotic animals.
Thailand Family Trip – Trip Planning
Initially, we planned to go through a travel company to book our Thailand family trip. Our neighbors booked this way for their Thailand vacation and found it very efficient. While I loved the proposed itinerary the companies gave us, I wondered why the price tag was so high. But the itineraries had detailed hotels and tours for each location as well as inter-location transportation which seemed like a difficult thing to do on our own.
I planned to book through the travel company my neighbor used, but when I asked fundamental questions like, “How is your pricing computed?” the companies were unresponsive. I was ok paying a service charge for the work in planning our logistics, but I wanted to know what kind of markup they were putting on the products. I expected them to answer something like – “cost plus 25%.” But since they were unwilling to disclose this information, I became skeptical about their markup and decided to plan our trip on my own.
I took the proposed itinerary and did research on Trip Advisor to find the best-rated tour companies at each location and booked directly online. I booked their recommended hotels through American Express Travel and Expedia. The inter-city air and car travel turned out to be straightforward as well. In many instances, the hotels were able to provide transportation with an additional fee. There were only a couple of domestic airlines to book, and their prices were comparable. The planning took about 10 hours (2 for each location and 2 for transportation).
In the end, we spent about 65% of what we would have paid with a travel company. I was happy I invested the time!
Regarding our itinerary, if I could do it over again, I would have scheduled Bangkok for the end of our trip instead of the beginning so I could have taken advantage of the shopping! For example, they had the most beautiful carved wood art, and I still regret not buying a piece for our home. But it was the beginning of our Thailand family trip, and we figured we would have other shopping opportunities. We ended up missing out on some great finds.
Let me take you through our trip. The places we visited in Thailand were:
- Chiang Mai
- Don Phi Phi island
Bangkok: 3 nights
The flight time from Los Angeles to Bangkok was about 14 hours; the time change was 14 hours ahead of California. We arrived early in the morning on a weekday. Due to our delirium from lack of sleep, our arrival was a blur.
But I do remember the dichotomy of the outer city compared to Bangkok. We saw dilapidated roads and highways filled with run-down cars and motorcyclists without helmets which transitioned into the modern skyline of tall buildings and pristine temples as we entered Bangkok.
Hotel: The Shangri La
We loved this hotel. It was in the mid-price range of the options available, but it felt 5 stars to us! We paid about $400/night for an executive river view suite (Thailand does not allow more than 3 to a room, so suites or two separate rooms were our only options.)
This hotel was ideally located at the center of the city close to most of the city’s highlights. We loved the afternoon tea on one of the highest floors of the hotel, overlooking the city. The buffet breakfast had so many choices; my kids talked about it for years after our trip.
We hired an English speaking personal tour guide and driver to show us around Thailand for two days in Bangkok. It cost about $700 total, including entry tickets to the museums and animal parks.
The guides picked us up at our hotel each morning and dropped us off. It was well worth the cost. Each time we came back into the van after a site, the driver would have ice cold towels, water, and snacks waiting for us. He was always right at the exit points of our sites, so there was never any long walks or waits.
We toured several temples, and the highlights were the Royal Grand Palace and Temple of Dawn. The Grand Palace was a 61-acre complex. The kids were bored after one temple, but the architecture and detail were something to admire.
Vegetable and Flower Market
This market was full of such beautiful sights! The vibrant colors, flower art, fragrances, exotic fruit and the tuk-tuks (little motorcycle cabs)!
Elephant and Crocodile Show
I didn’t realize until seeing the show how inhumane this was toward the animals. Watching the show made me so sad. Imagining how much beating must have occurred to train them to perform such ridiculous tricks made me feel sick.
In part II of my Thailand post where we visit Chiang Mai, I will talk about our magical experience with two elephants we “adopted” for a day at an elephant sanctuary which was much different from this show.
Tour of traditional Thai house, woodcarving art museum, and papermaking
Despite being a tourist trap detour by our guides, we enjoyed visiting these places.
Bangkok Maeklong Railway Market
The Maeklong Railway Market is a famous tourist destination just outside of Bangkok. The railway is only 3 feet wide, but it has 5-10 feet of clearance on both sides, giving merchants a tight but workable space to set up their displays. Market stalls line a 300-meter stretch of railroad.
Six times a day, however, the train passes through the market. A warning bell lets buyers and sellers know that its time to clear the tracks for an approaching train. Awnings are folded up, and goods displayed are either rolled back on wheeled tables or arranged low enough so that the train can pass right over them.
After it passes, the whole scene immediately unfurls again, carrying on as if nothing had happened.
We were fascinated to watch this market in action!
Damnoen Saduak Floating Market
This market was a great way to see the old way of life for the Thai people. The boats were filled with fresh produce and trinkets. There were even “boat noodles” where women served up noodle soup in beef broth from their boats. This was a very touristy area, but still well worth the visit.
Longtail boat ride along Chao Phraya River and Klongs (canals)
This river flows through the city of Bangkok. During the rainy season, flooding sends debris, silt, and sand down the river giving it a brownish-greenish color. We were intrigued by the juxtaposition of the shacks along the river and workers selling cheap items from their wooden boats among the soaring hotels, condos, and temples just yards away.
We enjoyed all the culture Bangkok had to offer. On to Chiang Mai and our animal adventures for the next part of our Thailand family trip!