Nailing down where to go in Southeast Asia is always extremely difficult. When we moved to Japan one place that people always raved about was Thailand. There are so many ways to experience the country and there’s never really enough time to do #allthethings, amiright? The more you read the more you realize that there are so many facets to explore – city/nature/beach. The opportunities for an adventurous traveler are endless. Honestly, 9 days wasn’t enough. Thailand, we will be back to experience more of you. Thank you for welcoming us with so much hospitality and sharing your beauty with us.
[ D A Y • 1 ] Tokyo → Shanghai → Bangkok
And here we go again! We trained it for the first time to the airport with the kids (the past couple times we have driven and parked due to flight arrival/departure times as the trains do not run all night) and honestly it was much MUCH easier than I had anticipated. Early morning for all, but hands down this was the best international travel day we have experienced so far. The kids were on point on our China Eastern Airline flights (even during our 6hr lay over in the Shanghai Lounge where they had to be on their best behavior!). We arrived in Bangkok a little before 0100, took a cab to Hotel Airy ($27 USD/night…what?!) and promptly crashed for the night errrr…morning. Tired for sure, but so excited to be in Thailand (a country that has been long on our bucket list)!
Airport Taxi Tips:
- When catching a taxi at the airport, there is an automatic 50 Baht surcharge added to your fare which although won’t break the bank you can easily get around it by going up a level and catching a taxi from departures. Depending on where you’re headed the fare will vary, however it’s usually ~200 – 300 Baht or so from the airport into the city.
- Download the app “Grab” before taking off on your Thai adventure (it’s SE Asia’s version of Uber, but less expensive in most cases). If you can’t get a Grab car to pick you up mapping out the route first in the app is advantageous anyway as it will give you an estimate on how much you’re looking at paying for said cab.
- Only get in MARKED taxis. If the driver says “the meter is broken” find a different cab (it’s a scam).
[ D A Y • 2 ] Bangkok: Taling Chan Floating Market, Grand Palace, Wat Pho → Surat Thani
We checked out of Hotel Airy early and cabbed it to the train station to store our luggage (total = 200 bhat for 2 suitcases + 1 backpack) before walking across the street to pick up our train tickets for our late-afternoon adventure. Honestly, I didn’t really want to go to Bangkok initially, but the way our travel planning unfolded it seemed like the best jumping off point to start our Thai adventures (and cheaper than flying into Chiang Mai at the time of booking). After a full day of exploring, I changed my tune though and frankly I’m really happy we didn’t skip this city. We spent the VERY hot (mid-90s in December!) day zooming around on tuk tuks, visiting Taling Chan Floating Market (touristy, but oh so fun!), eating some of the best food I have ever had in my entire life (unbelievably delicious and ~$3usd for our entire family), sweating our way through the grounds of the Grand Palace, drinking coconut water & indulging in coconut ice cream, getting the most amazing ~$8usd Thai Massage @Wat Pho Massage School (think the “Harvard of Massage Schools” and you’re there), and visiting the famous reclining Buddha (15 meters tall, 46 meters long).
We returned to Bangkok Hua Lamphong Train Station later that afternoon to hop on-board the overnight train bound for Surat Thani (I do strongly suggest grabbing some food from one of the many vendors inside the train station before boarding as there isn’t much available on board the train).
Miles quickly claimed the top bunk and Penny settled into her portable Pack ‘n Play (← best purchase ever… purchase it Here) and slept the whole night in it! Tight quarters, but we actually slept pretty well, and it was a great way to head South! Next stop, Khao Sok National Park!
- Hours: Saturday and Sunday 0800 – 1700
- Admission: Free
- Hours: Daily, 0830 – 1530
- Admission: 500 baht/Adult, Free/Children
- Hours: 0800 – 1200
- Admission: 100 baht/Adult, Free/Children
Wat Pho Massage School Tip: There is usually a bit of a wait, so when you enter the grounds of Wat Pho swing by and put your name on the list. Then take the wait time to visit the reclining Buddha (15 metres tall, & 46 metres long!) in the interim. Swing back by a bit later and grab that 30min Thai Massage for 260 Bhat (~$8usd). You won’t regret it!
Tuk-tuk Tip: Tuk-tuk rides are 100% negotiable so bargain! Many times the drivers will quote you a much higher price than you should pay. Before you look for a tuk tuk pull up “Grab” on your phone and figure out how much the ride from point A to point B would cost using a Grab car. Then approach the tuk tuk driver and ask how much a ride with him or her would cost. When they quote you something ridiculous tell them “No thanks, I will just hire a Grab car for —- (insert cost of Grab car here)” and walk away. In our experience the driver 99% of the time will agree to the price you have mentioned. This will cut down on the time you waste waiting for a Grab car (tuk tuks are everywhere!), gives you a really good idea of how hard to bargain, and heck, riding in a tuk tuk is more fun anyway!
[ D A Y • 3 ] Surat Thani → Khao Sok National Park/Cheow Lan Lake
We’re here! We’re here! When researching this part of the trip I had read that it was not uncommon for trains to be 1-2hours late (definitely not in Japan anymore), so when we arrived @Surat Thani @0450 (only 20min behind schedule) I was ecstatic!
Our driver was there to greet us and helped us load up for the journey to Khao Sok (~2hours). We grabbed breakfast at a convenience store along the way (just let your driver know you want to stop and they are usually more than happy to). Checked into our jungle treehouse at Our Jungle House (I have always dreamed of staying someplace like this, so it was a must!) before 0800 and enjoyed a cup of coffee before heading out to Cheow Lan Lake for the day. I feel like I say this almost every new place we go, and I mean it when I do, but this seriously was the most beautiful place I have ever visited. So much natural untouched beauty!
We spent the day riding a long boat, marveling at the limestone cliffs jutting out like spires from the clear blue waters, hiking to a cave (Miles did the whole hike by himself!), and swimming in this magical place . The highlight, however, was when Miles decided he wanted to jump from the ~15ft diving platform all by himself…everyone there was impressed that he went for it, and I was such a proud momma that he was confident enough to (literally) take the leap! Thailand, you are absolutely stunning and at day 3 you have already captured our hearts.
[ D A Y • 4 ] Khao Sok National Park → Old Town Phuket
Woke up to our wild little man hanging out on the balcony just taking in the jungle views…in his undies. Tarzan immediately came to mind. Once he saw us peering out at him the moment was lost and it didn’t take much to convince him to swap the undies for swim trunks and take a dip in the river outside our treehouse. After swimming and building dams, we walked into the nearby village for some more bug spray (which was a bit harder to track down than anticipated, so make sure to stock up before visiting), said our goodbyes to the staff, and headed to Old Town Phuket to spend the evening (~2.5hour drive with Penny losing it for about 50% of it…Oh the joys of parenthood.).
Once we finally arrived, we checked into Tee Pak Dee Resident Hotel (super clean, spacious, well appointed and ~$30usd/night! Have I mentioned how affordable this trip has been?) and went exploring. Old Town Phuket reminds me a lot of a mix between New Orleans, Louisiana and Old San Juan Puerto Rico – colorful + quirky. Although the prices were generally higher in this area, we did find a place that sold sweet-corn popsicles (who would have thought they would be so delish?). We head out in the morning via ferry to the islands!!
[ D A Y • 5 ] Phuket → Koh Mook
Somehow this trip we are maximizing all forms of transport (plane, tuk tuk, train, car, bus…and now ferry!). I’m loving it. I’m amazed at how much the kids are willing to put up with as we bounce around the country. Maybe they’re just becoming well-seasoned travelers? Or maybe they have just decided they don’t really get a choice, so might as well sit back and enjoy the ride? Either way the more we move around, the more we see, the more we do, the more I realize what I once thought was “insane” is becoming our new “normal.”
We started the day with a coffee stop @Tom Toms and then took a tuk tuk to Rassada Pier. The 3hour ferry/speed boat ride to the beautiful Island, Koh Mook honestly was a bit of a pain. Koh Mook is certainly not the easiest of the Trang Islands to get to and in fact it’s one of the last stops making for a looong time on the boat (especially with littles). But the lack of tourists, the peace + quiet, the family friendly vibe, and the accommodations made it worth the extra effort.
So would we go back? 100% yes. We settled into our beachfront bungalow at Koh Mook Sivalai Resort and had toes in the sand by early afternoon. Took a stroll through the village in the evening and ordered room service for dinner (the kids were wiped!). Thankful to have a few days to take it easy, but it’s going to be hard to leave this white sandy beach, limestone cliffs and palms behind in a couple days when we head north.
[ D A Y • 6 ] Koh Mook
Woke up to the sounds of Dom & Miles outside scheming how to get a coconut from the palm tree in front of our bungalow (which was highly entertaining to watch), and swimming + sunshine took the rest of the day. As a family we tend to go, go, go (!!), so this leg of our trip was a bit atypical, but a nice change of pace. I have to remind myself that sometimes it’s okay to just sit and be. I mean, seriously, look at this place?!
[ D A Y • 7 ] Koh Mook → Phuket → Chiang Mai
The ferry was late, so all day we were crunched for time making everything slightly less relaxing than our previous days in Koh Mook, but by some miracle we made it to the airport (with a few minutes to spare) to fly north with Air Asia to Chiang Mai (our tickets for this were less than $25usd/each – steal!). We landed in Chiang Mai, checked into our Airbnb, headed out to a couple night markets to grab some street eats and then promptly crashed for the night. The beds in SE Asia seem to be much firmer than what we are used to in the U.S., but between the long day of travel & the kids; I slept like a rock.
[ D A Y • 8 ] Chiang Mai: Elephant Nature Park, Anusarn Market, Chiang Mai Night Bazar, Ploen Ruedee Night Market
Chiang Mai – the largest city in northern Thailand, and a sharp contrast to Bangkok in its laid back nature and cooler temperatures. Our first order of business was to hang with some awesome elephants (I did a good bit of research to find an ethical sanctuary, as sadly many of the centers here do not treat these animals with the respect they deserve). We went with Elephant Nature Park and honestly they offer a a bajillion tours to choose from and all of them seem pretty similar.
I don’t think you can go wrong with this company. Whatever you choose will be awesome and life changing. The specific elephants that we got to hang with all afternoon were rescued from the illegal logging industry). Such an amazing experience getting to walk alongside, feed and bathe these gentle giants. It’s hard for me to comprehend how any person could mistreat these beautiful creatures (see our post on “Responsible Tourism“).
After the conclusion of the tour we took a tuk tuk to Anusarn Market and then walked to Chiang Mai Night Bazaar. We finished the evening off at Ploen Ruedee Night Market where we grabbed some delicious eats and even tried some bugs!
- Hours: Multiple options at multiple prices – check out their website for more info.
- Admission: Most tours start at about 0730
- Hours: Everyday 1130 – 2400
- Admission: Free
- Hours: Everyday, 1800 – 2230
- Admission: Free
- Hours: Monday – Saturday, 1730 – 0000
- Admission: Free
[ D A Y • 9 ] Chiang Mai: Wat Chiang Man, Wat Phra Singh, Wat Chedi Luang, Doi Suthep, Sunday Night Market
Visited three breathtaking temples (Wat Chiang Man, Wat Phra Singh, Wat Chedi Luang), took in the views of the city from Doi Suthep Temple, ate + shopped our way through the massive Sunday Night Walking Market (the largest night market we have visited in SE Asia …over a kilometer long!).
Even after spending some time in Tokyo, I am pretty sure I didn’t know the true meaning of the word, “crowded” until we came here. In order to keep track of the kids, I wore Penny (Our Tula carrier has seen a good bit of mileage in the U.S., Japan & now all over SE Asia. Everyone has their preferences when it comes to child carriers as every person is built a little different, but this works great for our family! If your curious, you can check it out here.) and Miles sat on Dom’s shoulders to see all the action from the best seat in the house. Great experience and incredibly touristy, but a good reminder that even touristy spots can be fun as heck! An evening filled with dancing, bug eating, and bargaining (we bought our first piece of artwork at this market! See below.)
Wat Chiang Man: Bhang Mai’s oldest temple, established around 1296.
- Hours: Everyday, 0800 – 1700
- Admission: Free
- Hours: Everyday 0600 – 1700
- Admission: Free
- Hours: Everyday, 0600 – 1700
- Admission: Free
- Hours: Everyday, 0600 – 1800
- Admission: 30 Baht
- Hours: Sunday, 1600 – 2400
- Admission: Free
[ D A Y • 10 ] Chiang Mai: Doi Inthanon → Bangkok → Shanghai → Tokyo
Locked the door of our Airbnb, dropped our bags off at the airport and then enjoyed a day trip to Doi Inthanon National Park to check out highest mountain in Thailand at 2,565m aka “The roof of Thailand.” As we wound up the mountain the cloud cover waned and when we first arrived you could barely see a thing. Thailand smiled on us though ~20min after arriving and we got to enjoy some blue skies.
We drove back to the airport and began our epic travel day with the kids back home. Three flights and 24hours later we landed in Tokyo! When we arranged this day of our trip I thought there was a solid chance we would all want to tear our hair out by the end of it, but the kids surprised us and everything went really well!! We “camped” in the Bangkok Lounge (portable pack ‘n play again for the win! If you haven’t snagged it yet – get it! Seriously, life. changing.), Penny slept on me in Shanghai and both kids were wide-eyed and bushy tailed from Shanghai to Tokyo. On the train ride home both kids crashed hard and we ended up carrying them on the 7minute walk home from the station.
Trip Verdict: Thailand is awesome! Simply awesome (+ our favorite International trip so far). If it’s not on your bucket list (and you enjoy traveling); it should be, so add it!! We will be back to this magical country for more one of these days and I can’t wait!
- Hours: Everyday, 0600 – 1800
- Admission: 300baht/Adult