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For truly unforgettable family holidays manageable for all, Thailand is a great choice: the spectacular beach resorts in the south offer unadulterated luxury, or you can opt for a thrilling adventure in the north of the country, with elephant encounters and beautiful caves to explore. Or both – cheap domestic flights make it easy to combine the jungles of the north with the beautiful southern beaches.
However, do take into account jet-lag, the need for several jabs, and the basic conditions during adventure trips (especially if you opt to spend a night in a tribal village).
Visit Bangkok, on your way to northern or southern Thailand with older kids (with younger kids, for whom the bustle of the capital’s streets can be overwhelming, it may be better to head straight to the beaches). Be sure to visit Bangkok's spectacular Wat Phra Kaew (temple of the Emerald Buddha), Grand Palace, and temple of Wat Pho with its massive reclining Buddha. Stopping at one of the temples along the river to feed one of the vast number of huge fish is also great fun for kids.
Head north to Chiang Mai for a glimpse of the jungles of Thailand at their best. Often reached on adventure trips by overnight sleeper train, Chiang Mai is easily accessible with younger children via domestic flights taking around 1hr from Bangkok. Sample the food at Chiang Mai’s famous night market and marvel at more fantastic temples before heading into the jungle to try your hand at bamboo-rafting or going on an elephant safari. Don’t miss a day-trip from Chiang Mai to the Elephant Nature Park, a unique conservation project and rescue centre where kids can spend the day learning about, feeding and bathing the elephants in the river. For more animal action, take a taxi to Chiang Mai Zoo.
If you’re taking part in an adventure trip (see Trips tab), Chiang Mai is your likely departure point for your stay with a local hill tribe village. Spending a night in a local village provides a unique glimpse into another way of life, but very basic accommodation makes this an option better suited to those travelling with older kids.
Get some R&R on the islands and white-sand beaches of southern Thailand. The resorts of the northern Andaman coast offer some of the best options for those travelling with children. Phuket, the largest and perhaps best-known of Thailand’s islands, caters for all tastes and budgets – avoid the seedy nightlife of Patong and head for the resorts of Karon and Kata, or if your budget allows, Surin and Ao Bang Thao. The developed nature of Phuket means children are well catered for, with kayaking, rafting and snorkelling all readily available. Boat trips to the surrounding islands offer a great chance to experience the Andamans' fantastic marine life.
If you’re travelling with older children and teens, the Similan and Surin Islands north of Phuket offer some of the world’s best scuba-diving, and the opportunity to spot the elusive whale shark. Day-trips are available from Phuket but live-aboard cruises make the best of the islands (age suitability varies by trip).
For an ‘authentic’ island experience, head east of Phuket to the island of Ko Phi-Phi, but avoid Phi-Phi town itself in favour of one of the more secluded resorts, which has access to fantastic kayaking and snorkelling.
Railay Beach is another great option for family holidays, with spectacular scenery and luxurious hotels making it self-contained.
On the southeastern gulf coast, the islands of Ko Pha-Ngan and Ko Samui are some of Thailand’s most popular destinations. Both have hotels well-equipped for children and plenty of family-friendly activities, including boat trips, trekking and scuba diving for different ages. (But do avoid Ko Pha-Ngan during the monthly full moon parties, when 10,000 to 30,000 backpackers descend on Haad Rin.)
Thai cuisine consists mainly of fresh and fragrant curries – red, green and Massaman are all delicious with meat, seafood or vegetables. Fish is also a reliable child-friendly option at Thailand's beach resorts, and Western favourites – a handy fallback on family holidays – are readily available except in the middle of the jungle.
Thailand is good for family holidays at any time of year, but the timing of the dry season makes the country the perfect destination for a tropical Christmas break.
Conditions vary depending on what part of Thailand you visit. As a guide, Chiang Mai in the north is hot between March and May, with temperatures averaging 34–36°C. This is followed by a rainy season from June to Oct and a cooler period between Nov and Feb. During these months, the temperature averages 29°C but this can fall considerably at night.
Winter is the best time to hit the beaches of the south, with the northern Andaman coast experiencing a dry season Nov–April and a wet season from May to Oct. On the southwestern gulf coast, the dry season is between Dec and Apr, the wet season May–Nov.
See the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (fco.gov.uk) advice on travel to Thailand for the latest on any internal political unrest and terrorist threats.
The flying time to Thailand from the UK is about 11hrs direct, and Bangkok is 6hrs ahead of GMT, meaning you need to factor in jet-lag and make sure the duration of your holiday warrants the tiredness and disruption to your kids’ routines.
Airlines serving Thailand with non-stop flights from the UK include British Airways, Thai Air and Quantas. If you're happy to stop enroute, there are numerous cheaper options.
Both Thai Air and Air Asia operate daily flights between Chiang Mai and Bangkok and onto Phuket, Krabbi and Koh Samui.
Thailand is a surprisingly reasonable option for family holidays. Flights start at less than £500, though you'll pay more during school holidays, and while accommodation costs vary tremendously, a large luxury village with staff can be a steal when shared between 2 or more families. In terms of eating out, a decent evening meal costs just £5–10.By Zannah Ingraham
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