Always wanted a family adventure in Thailand? The Land of Smiles is also a land of adventures, with islands, mountains, national parks, hill tribes and urban jungles ripe every type of exploration. If you’re interested in going on a Thailand adventure holiday for your family, but you’re not sure where to start, read on for some off-the-beaten-path inspiration.
Despite being Thailand’s largest national park, Khao Sok National Park is not that famous when it comes to international travel. Its size and lowkey profile make it a great destination for intrepid family adventures in Thailand, offering a wide range of eco-experiences available within its spectacularly beautiful borders. Stay in a boutique bungalow on Cheow Lan Lake, a glittering emerald body of water framed by towering limestone mountains. Go hiking through the jungles with a guide and spot local wildlife, such as gibbons, flying foxes and hornbills. Meet elephants at a rescue. Explore caves, if you’re really adventurous. Swim, kayak and eat organically for an immersive natural experience in some of the world’s oldest dipterocarp forests.
It’s not hard to find a great island in Thailand, but if you’re more of an active family than a brood of beach bums, one island might not be enough. Luckily, Thailand makes it easy to jump from one paradise to the next. Families in search of a Thailand adventure holiday with a beachy focus can start at one of the larger islands, such as Samui or Phuket, where there are easily accessible international airports, and explore from there. Within the Gulf of Thailand, a family island-hopping trip could launch from glitzy Samui, then lead on to the jungles and waterfalls of Phangan, with diving around Sail Rock and day-trips to Ang Thong National Marine Park. Trips starting from Phuket can make the most of the vast adventures on offer on Thailand’s largest island before heading to a quiet spot in Phang Nga Bay. Koh Yao Noi is a stunning and serene island in the bay, utterly devoid of Phuket-style nightlife, where families can swim, snorkel, beachcomb and explore local villages by moped.
Up north, Thailand family adventures take you into lush mountainous terrain. An enchanting circuit loop through the sleepy towns of Chiang Rai, Pai and Mai Hong Song, you’ll be completely immersed in the charms of the Golden Triangle. An epic road trip perfect for intrepid family adventures in Thailand, the route offers up ancient wats, hill tribe villages, the Golden Triangle Museum and plenty of opportunities to head off on side-trips into nature. Put on your explorer’s cap and trek forest trails to immense limestone caves. Stop in a town influenced by Yunnan culture. Cruise in a longtail boat along the Pai River. In between stops, enjoy gorgeous scenery, feeling as if you have this part of the world all to yourselves. If your crew like to ride, consider making the most of temperate northern climes and do the loop by classic motorcycle.
What could be more immersive and adventurous than a Thai family homestay? Live like a local with an overnight stay at Baan Talay Nok. This community on the Andaman Sea not far from Phuket invites visitors to experience life in a traditional fishing village. Positioned on a 10-kilometer stretch of beach, Baan Talay Nok allows families to enjoy rustic reconnection to nature while gaining an understanding of ways of life quite different to their own. Learn skills such as fishing, cooking and hand-carving decorative soap. Enjoy a beach barbecue with delicious Southern Thai flavors. Share stories in the evening, getting to know your host family and their culture.
Another fun family experience in Thailand whisks you away to a teak forest north of Chiang Mai, where wooden cabins and cottages sit perched amid the trees. An exciting Thai Swiss-Family Robinson-style adventure, a stay here features nature walks to scenic waterfalls, authentic Thai meals and low-impact cycling trips to local villages. The cosy cabins here were designed by a retired architect and feature cute sleeping nooks for kids – and adults – that let you feel like a true pioneer. Enjoy green views, serene forest sounds, fresh mountain air and a relaxed pace of life far from the hustle of the city.
If you want an island stay somewhere more off the radar, Koh Jum in Phang Nga Bay has a Thailand family adventure for you. Still ‘undiscovered’ by mass tourism and largely undeveloped, this rubber-plantation-and-jungle-covered island offers quiet stretches of beach with calm shallows and protected bays, plus jungle patches where you’re free to follow your own paths of discovery. Macaques, giant hermit crabs, fish and lots of birdlife make for fun nature experiences for smaller kids while older ones can get more adventurous with snorkeling, kayaking, and longtail boat rides around the island and Phang Nga Bay. For a taste of local culture, visit some of the island’s villages for deliciously authentic mom-and-pop meals with a focus on local seafood.
Families who really want to explore off the beaten path, or who want to go beyond the beaches of the south and the mountains of the north should consider the region known as Isaan. Thailand’s northeastern corner, this part of the country borders Laos and bears similarities to its eastern southern neighbors. While the region is best known for its delicious cuisine – papaya som tum salad, sticky rice, spicy pork salad to name some dishes – it’s also home to some fascinating historic and archeological sites. In Korat, you’ll find ancient Angkor ruins to explore. In Pha Taem National Park you’ll see prehistoric cave paintings. In Ubon Ratchathani you’ll uncover the UNESCO-listed Ban Chiang Archeological Site, considered to be the most important prehistoric settlement in Southeast Asia. Enjoy a homestay to experience the warmth of local hospitality, meet elephants at Surin Elephant Sanctuary and visit handicraft villages in Surin for local silk and silverware.
For the really intrepid family holiday in Thailand, there’s no wilder time to visit the country than at Songkran, Thai New Year. Taking place from April 13-15, this kingdom-wide celebration features water fights that take over entire towns and cities. After the solemnities of Songkran have been dealt with – merit making and spending time with family – it’s time to party. Songkran in Chiang Mai is legendary, with revelry centered around the old moat. Expect lots of water-splashing, talc-smearing and loud music for the duration of the holiday.
It’s hard to resist elephants when you have the chance to be close to them. They’re so majestic and wise that it’s natural to want to have an elephant experience in Thailand. The issue with most elephant tours, especially rides and treks, is that the vast majority of operators don’t have the elephants’ best interests in mind, perpetuating a cycle of animal cruelty. Elephants might seem tame, but they are wild animals who should be free to roam in the wild as much as possible. There are a handful of ethical elephant sanctuaries in Thailand that allow you to meet and sometimes feed and bathe rescued and retired logging elephants – before visiting them, do plenty of research about how to find the most ethical elephant encounter.
Why limit your Thailand family adventure to one part of the country? If you’ve got time, explore from end to end. Start in the capital, Bangkok, and embark on a longtail boat tour down the city’s canals or ‘klongs’. See glittering temples and fuel your expeditions with delicious street food. Head to the old capital, Ayutthaya, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and see the remnants of this ancient fortress city. Explore pretty Chiang Mai, the ‘Northern Rose’, where family activities focus on nature and culture. Log some beach time in the islands, whether you’re going rustic on a remote isle or enjoying the vibrant delights of Phuket.