Stretching from the glistening high rises of the Persian Gulf, to the barren landscapes of Siberia, the pristine beaches of the Philippines, to the foreboding peaks of the Himalaya, Asia has it all. It’s our planet’s most culturally and topographically diverse continent. Couple this diversity with lots of good transport connections and some relatively cheap travel, it’s no wonder that many families look to Asia for an adventure. But where are the best holiday destinations in Asia for family travel?
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As a family we spent a year living in India, have trekked Nepal’s Himalayas, and backpacked around Sri Lanka and Thailand. We’ve also explored Doha and Abu Dhabi on stopovers back to the UK. Pre-kids, hubby and I travelled Russia, Mongolia, China and much of South East-Asia. But there is no way we can do it all. Although we’ll give it a good try!
So back in 2017, I started a monthly interview series – THE ASIA INTERVIEWS – where I chat to fellow family travel bloggers about their favourite holiday destination in Asia for family travel. From that easy first holiday to Bali to temple hopping in Chang Mai to exploring the delicious food of Seoul, parents have shared their advice of where to go, what to do, where to stay, and more. I love the personal tips and advice that is offered through these interviews and there have been some interesting insights into the best family holiday destinations in Asia.
From these interviews and in no particular order, I’ve compiled this list to provide you with the best destinations in Asia for family travel. I hope you find some inspiration here, and do check the Foreign Travel Office for up-to-date travel advice before travelling to any Asian destination.
Luang Prabang is a smaller city than many other popular cities in Asia, and has a small-town vibe to it. The main tourist area is full of beautiful colonial buildings with tree-lined boulevards and wide sidewalks, making it easier to keep the little-ones safe. A lot of the main sites are easily walkable, and when the kids get tired there are rickshaws available on most corners. That, and it’s full of great food, culture, nature and lots to do.
Must dos for families include a visit to the Buffalo Diary and trying some buffalo ice cream, learning about the process of dying fabric at the Ock Pop Tok Dying class, and running around the free gardens of the Royal Palace Museum.
For the Wheeler Family, Sapa felt like an undiscovered treasure. They were hosted by Ethos- Spirit of the Community who are a community enterprise offering tours around the villages of the nomadic Hill tribes of north west Vietnam. All guides have access to educational programmes and funds raised goes towards tackling human trafficking around the Chinese border.
Spend your days trekking between hillside villages, and checking out the textiles from the hill tribes. There is also the Sapa Culture Museum where you can learn about the history of the hill tribes that settled there and watch locals crafting.
Sit on the veranda of your beach front bungalow sipping a beer, as the kids play in the sand or the calm, shallow sea. The beautiful beaches of Phu Quoc are on the tourist radar but have managed to steer clear of over-development thus far.
Phu Quoc is a firm family favourite destination to kick back and lose track of the days. If you need a change of view, head for a wander around a nearby village or take a boat trip to one of the nearby islands for some snorkelling.
Although Vietnam is a hot destination for family travel at the moment, you don’t hear of many venturing to the dusty town of Ninh Binh. In fact on first impressions, the town really isn’t much. But what made Rosalind and family’s visit to Ninh Binh so special was their stay at Ninh Binh Panorama Homestay.
Spend your days cycling around and taking in daily life in the countryside, climb to the pagoda at the top of Mua caves, or perhaps take a boat trip to to Tam Coc, Trang An, or Van Long.
We are huge fans of Sri Lanka. It’s one of our favourite destinations we’ve travelled with the boys and such an accessible destination for intrepid families. However, our Sri Lanka itinerary focused on the South and East (including Colombo, Udawalawe National Park and Arugam Bay) and we didn’t make it further north than the central highlands. But for Kaylie from Hapiness Travels here, one of their favourite holiday destinations in Asia for family travel is Dambulla, which sits within Sri Lanka’s ‘cultural triangle’.
The top three things to do in Dambulla with kids are a jeep safari in Minneriya or Kaudulla National Park, hiking Sigiriya Rock, and marvelling the cave paintings of Dambulla Caves.
Thailand is one of our favourite destinations for family travel, and no trip to Thailand is complete without visiting it’s beaches. Melissa from Thrifty Family Travels loves Koh Lipe for it’s calm, crystal clear water, cheap massages on the beaches and great places to eat. There’s also some great snorkelling and kayaking around the island.
As the island is so tiny, it’s easy to walk around, although motorbike taxis are available. And all you really need to take is swimmers and a sarong. This is easy, laid-back island life.
Temples are found on seemingly every corner in Chang Mai, and although it’s firmly on the tourist map, it doesn’t yet feel too ‘touristy’.
Spend your days exploring the temples, browsing the handicrafts in local shops, and eating the incredible food. For the ultimate thrill, kids will love zooming around the streets of Chang Mai in a tuk-tuk.
Often considered a honeymoon destination, the sandy shores of Koh Samui also offer some of the best beaches in Thailand for families. Silver Beach is a must for little ones as there are no waves and the water is shallow all the way out.
But one of the big recommends from Nichola (Milana’s Travels) is the cooking class with Ying at Ying’s Thai Cooking Class. “Ying is so amazing and taught us so much about Thai cooking and our daughter loved being able to help cook.”
Tokyo is an amazingly family friendly place to go. There are many gardens and shrines which are great places for children to explore, and the Wandermust Family especially enjoyed Hamarikyu Gardens and exploring the grounds of the Imperial Palace. But perhaps the most family friendly, or at least child favourite place, is likely to be Disney or Disney Sea.
Food is often a concern for families travelling to Japan, but Wandermust Family found that the toddler LOVED Japanese food, especially tonkatsu and rice! Although there are plenty of Western choices, including Italian food, on restaurant menus.
Beautiful Kyoto used to be the capital of Japan and so it’s got a huge amount of history. Some of its streets haven’t changed in hundreds of years. If you want to see real geisha, then Kyoto is one of the few places that they still work in. There are also lots of lovely calm temple gardens and shrines to explore so you can feel like you’re out in the countryside even though you’re in the middle of the city.
Kids will love running through the tunnels made by the red tori gates of Fushimi Inari Shrine, and exploring the magical bamboo grove at Arashiyama.
Travel around the city is generally by bus, but as these get very crowded, getting around can be slow. A top tip is to stay as close to Kyoto station as you can.
Tokyo and Kyoto often steal the limelight for Japan’s top family travel destinations. But have you ever heard of Shikoku, a rural farming and fishing town popular with surfers?
This area runs at a totally different pace to the cities of Japan and can be quite a mission to get to. But if you love water activities and to get off the beaten track, this is the place for you. Try your hand at SUP (stand up paddleboarding), trek ancient pilgrimage trails, and making traditional tie dye.
Being one of the main airport hubs of South East Asia, thriving Kuala Lumpur is a popular Asian holiday destination for family travel. Plus it’s so easy and affordable for a capital city. Throw in a fascinating cultural mix, some of the best food on the planet, some great hotels and a great mix of things to do with kids, and it’s a winner.
Families should base themselves near to KLCC (Kuala Lumpur City Centre). This is the centre of KL at the base of the landmark, Petronas Twin Towers. There is a big park area here with huge playground, as well as a splash park, and around this park, there is also a fun science museum, Petrosains Discovery Centre, and an aquarium.
This tropical beach paradise backed by jungle-clad mountains has seen somewhat of a rise in tourism development, but still retains its laid back charm. There is an abundance of family friendly activities on the island including Langkawi Sky Cab and Sky Bridge where a gondola soars you up a mountain for incredible views, the 3D Art studio where you immerse yourself in wacky art for some hilarious snaps, and then there’s the aqua park, watersports and zip line at Paradise Island 101.
Make sure you also allow time to take a boat tour around the limestone karsts of Kilim Karst Geoforest National Park, or even kayak around the geoforest to find your own beach paradise.
Melaka’s Portuguese, Dutch and British colonial heritages, mixed with the modern day Malay, Chinese (Perankan) and Indian cultures make for a unique and vibrant city, which is of course reflected in it’s food.
The main sights are dotted along a meandering river with restaurants, bars and historic buildings everywhere. Families will enjoy meandering along the paved riverside walkways to spot monitor lizards, clambering over narrow bridges, and finding colourful murals, in between stopping for ice-creams and smoothies when little legs get tired. The Maritime Museum and Stadthuys, the Dutch colonial town, is also worth a visit if visiting Melaka with kids.
Borneo is one of those destinations which sounds very off the beaten track, but is actually very accessible. And for those who make the journey, the number one bucket list item is see a wild orangutan. The experience is awe-inspiring for those of any age, and the stories you will hear about mass deforestation of the orangutan’s home, devastating.
In addition to spotting orangutans, take a boat tour along the Kitanabang River and stay overnight in the depths of the jungle. Another must do is to see the turtles in Turtle Island Park.
Kuching is the capital of Sarawak in Malaysia, and is a great base for exploring the coastal and rainforest regions. And did you know that ‘kuching’ means ‘cat’ in Malay? Which probably explains all the cat statues around the city. But a must do is to venture out of the city to Semenggoh Wildlife Centre to see the orangutans.
Kuching is actually a small city in comparison to Kuala Lumpur, and it’s recommended to hire a car to get around.
There are so many things to do in Penang with kids, including the Butterfly Farm, Penang Spice Garden, and taking the funicular up Penang Hill (beware of the cheeky monkeys!) But one of the most popular activities is to stroll around the old town and have fun the street art that have brought this area to life.
Due to the fusion of so many cultures, the array of cuisine on offer in Penang is incredible, and there are also a handful of food tours that cater to young families.
Dubai really packs a lot into one city with so many influences from the different cultures that make up the city of Dubai. While yes, it can be glamorous, it’s also entertaining for families and full of surprises. The tourism authorities are realising there is as much interest in the country’s past, heritage and traditions as there is in the shiny skyscrapers and theme parks.
But if there’s one thing Dubai is not short on, it’s kid-friendly activities! It really depends on the age of your kids, but popular activities always include visiting the tallest building in the world (Burj Khalifa), one of the massive Dubai Parks & Resorts, or taking a desert safari.
With it’s desert landscapes, World Heritage Sites, and ancient hospitality, Jordan is a fascinating place for the adventurous family to explore. Keri from Our Globetrotters suggest hiring a car to get around. And you’ll be pleased to know that children under 12 are free to all major attractions!
Release your inner “Lawrence of Arabia” and head to the vast open desert-scape of Wadi Rum. Kids will love climbing and sliding down the sand dunes, as well as riding a camel. Then instead of visiting the main historic site of Petra, which may be rather daunting for young kids, head to Little Petra which is equally as impressive, but with far less tourists. And a final must to is smothering yourselves in mud at the Dead Sea.
Tel Aviv is an amazing place for families to visit for so many reasons – kids are welcome absolutely everywhere, there are amazing beaches, and the city is very easy to get around – you can walk, bike, take buses or even hop in an Uber if you need to. Plus, there is a fantastic range of food on offer at all price points.
Many would-be travellers to Israel get hung up on geopolitics, but there’s so much more to the country than that. Tel Aviv is a safe place to visit as long as you follow common-sense travel safety advice.
A place where there are no roads and numerous modes of transport are required to get there. A place barely touched by tourism and where the WiFi is patchy. A place that’s said to be like Thailand’s beaches 30 years ago. Sounds perfect to me!
Spend your days playing on the sand, swimming in the turqoise waters, or spotting monkeys and birds in the jungle. Kids will love fresh fruit and pancakes in the beach front restaurants. Although there are only a couple of small food stores on the island with limited stock, so bring lots of snacks with you from the mainland.
History clings to this technologically innovative metropolis, with manicured gardens, green spaces, and cycle routes providing breathing space to this 24 hour city. And the public transport is excellent, meaning that getting around with kids is very easy.
The Watertree Family’s visit to Seoul was made all the more special by staying in a traditional hanok. Their top three recommendations for things to do in Seoul with kids are LotteWorld (an amusement park and perfect for a rainy day), The Hidden Garden, and watching the Changing of the Guard at Gyeongbokgung Palace.
Jeju is a great place to travel as a family. They call it the Hawaii of South Korea because it has beautiful unspoilt beaches and a volcanic landscape. There is so much to do on the island that it is impossible for the kids to get bored! People generally speak English and the food is yummy, which always goes down well with kids!
Hayley from Lifeasabutterfly loved “visiting the island’s many waterfalls, my daughter enjoyed feeding the fish and looking for spiders on the walk to the water and the baby loved all of the different sights and sounds. The landscape on Jeju Island is incredible and we really enjoyed spending time by the coast. Even when it was raining my toddler still had a brilliant time looking for crabs! The Manjanggul Lava Tubes were also really cool. This huge cave complex, created by volcanic lava, was very interesting. Isla enjoyed playing with her shadow and jumping in the puddles. This was also the first time I had ever needed to use an umbrella indoors!”
Bali is a VERY popular choice for family travel, some may argue too popular. But the rural town of Lovina takes you away from the tourist crowds and a simpler vibe. Although you will still be able to find restaurants serving Western dishes.
Kids will love playing on the black sand beach, or a horse and cart ride around Singaraja. Although ensure you make time for a wander around the rice paddies in nearby Munduk and Jatilweh.
Seminyak is where Emma from Wanderlust and Wetqipes found her zen and balance with family travel. She makes Seminyak sound like a fantastic introduction for young families looking for adventure travel in Asia.
They loved visiting the waterpark Waterbom, and the trampoline park Bounce. Even though Seminyak can seem a bit of a tourist trap, Emma felt that it ticked boxes for both parents and her kids.
Ubud is certainly not an off the beaten path destination anymore, but still feels authentic and culturally rich. According to Dawn from 5 Lost Together, the natural beauty of the area combined with the rich culture and gentle nature of the people create a place, impossible not to like.
One of the top things to do with kids in Ubud is to visit the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary where you will see lots and lots of monkeys in a lush ravine. Kids will also love watching a traditional Balinese dance performance with the elaborate costumes, different musical instruments and the difference dances. And if you want to get out and explore the surrounding countryside, hiring a bike is the best way go.
Just a one hour ferry ride from cosmopolitan Singapore is the tropical island of Bintan, Indonesia; the perfect destination for lazy pool days and a fascinating contrast to city life. You will need your passport if coming by ferry, but you’re unlikely to need a visa as 169 nationalities are provided with a free 30 day visa.
As this is a place to just relax, Emma from Wanderlust and Wetwipes recommends staying at The Residence, Bintan. “It is a truly beautiful hotel and has some wonderful rates to take advantage of”. She also recommends hiring some kayaks, and plan for lots of pool time!
If you’ve heard of Chengdu in China, the native panda may come to mind. Indeed a visit to Chengdu isn’t complete without a visit to the Giant Panda Breeding Center. But this is also the place to try out the amazing local cuisine on a street food and market tour.
The top tip here for from the Smiths Family is to head to a local playground/park to balance out visits to temples and cultural sights when visiting Chengdu. It’s a great way for kids to meet local kids and see the locals do Tai Chi.
The Swenson Family love the mixture of Western influence and Eastern culture in Xi’an. And whilst Xi’an is known for The Terracotta Warriors, there are also a few other activities that you can do when visiting the city including visiting the city walls and Big Goose Pagoda.
Armed with a translation app, they found Xi’an easy to navigate on public transport and enjoyed their stay at Xiangzimen International Youth Hostel, a fantastic option for budget-minded travelling families.
Evie from Mumpack Travel absolutely loves China for family travel. It always surprises her with its beauty and she finds the people so friendly. Her daughter, Emmie, also loves the food especially pork buns, xialongbao, and shallot cake.
Their top three things to do in Yangshou with kids are bamboo rafting down the Yulong River, bike riding along pathways through green fields, and visiting The Gold Water Cave. Evie recommends staying at least five days in Yangshou with kids.
Few families have ventured to the tiny Himalayan, land-locked country, of Bhutan. But for Nicky from Go Live Young, it ended up being their favourite destination on their family gap year.
Bhutan offers beautiful mountain scenery, traditional dzongs and monasteries dotted around the country, and a very different and interesting culture. Outdoor families will enjoy the hikes on offer, including the hike to the iconic Tiger’s Nest Monastery. Another must do is white water rafting along the Mother River (Mo Chhu) in the Punakha Valley, which is a relatively calm stretch of water with smaller rapids, suitable for children.
Before reading Katja’s interview, I had no idea that you could take young kids hiking in the Himalayas! If you stay below an altitude of 3000 metres to reduce the risk of altitude sickness and hire porters to carry your kids in dokos (like a basket), it is indeed very doable!
We were so inspired by this interview, that we decided to go trekking in Nepal ourselves with our boys, who were 2 and 4 at the time and take on the 5 day trek to Poon Hill. We also spent a fantastic 16 days exploring the country and you can read about our Nepal with kids itinerary here.
Myanmar has changed rapidly since opening its doors to tourism in 2012, and travellers are flocking to the country to experience the temples, and learn about the fascinating culture. But it was the glistening Inle Lake that Cathy Winston enjoyed most with her three year old child.
Soak in the views and watch the local fisherman at work from your own boat, before venturing to the ancient ruins of In Dein. Or stop at a lakeside village to meet the Padaung women – better known as the long-necked women. For something a bit different, visit the Burmese cat breeding program at Inthar Heritage house – prized by kings, there were almost none of the cats left in the country by the early 20th century, so these pampered pusses are part of a programme to return them to Burma.
Myanmar’s capital, Yangon, is rapidly becoming Southeast Asia’s next boomtown, but the strong ties to it’s history and tradition remain apparent on every corner. Since opening its doors to tourism in 2013, more and more accommodations and local tour agencies have sprung up, particularly in Yangon, a city which bookends all travel in Myanmar as the land borders are still closed and air travel is the only way of entering the country.
Sally from Our3kidsvstheworld top three things to do in Yangon with kids are visit Shwedagon Pagoda, ride the Yangon Circle Line Train, and go shopping at Bogyoke Aung San Market.
El Nido boasts some incredible landscapes; from the jungle and caves of the mainland to the stunning lagoons and islands of Marine National Parks. A visit to El Nido National Marine Park is an absolute must. This collection of islands, lagoons, bays, and reefs could be explored for weeks, and there is no better place in the Philippines to discover a private island paradise. There is something truly magical about swimming through narrow holes in a cliff to find undiscovered beaches on the other side.
The best way to get around in El Nido is by tuk tuk. The roads are narrow and there is loads of traffic, both pedestrian, and vehicle. Nimble tuk tuks can get around the crowds. Plus, they’re inexpensive and fun to ride in.
Pamukkale is an amazing natural phenomena that features limestone terraces and natural spring water full of minerals. It looks like a ski hill positioned in the middle of a mountain, with the limestone forming over thousands of years thanks to the hot springs in the area. Kids will spend hours wading and playing barefoot in its waters.
Other sites nearby include the ancient Roman theatre at Hieropolis, and swimming amongst the ancient columns of the Ancient Pool. Many travellers only stop here for a couple of hours, but stay a couple of days to get in early before the crowds and take your time.
This sprawling industrial capital of Mongolia, where gers sit next to glistening skyscrapers, and nomads from the countryside rub shoulders with Armani-suited businessmen, was a pleasant surprise for Map Made Memories on their family gap year travels.
Kids will be fascinated by the giant 26.5 metre high standing Buddha at the Gandantegchinlen Monastery in the city centre and be mesmerised by the throat singing and music at the Tumen Ekh Ensemble. The Puzzle Museum is also a must to for families.
Were you an intrepid backpacker in your previous life? Exploring distant and exotic lands on a budget, getting off the beaten track and feeling like you were doing something different? Now that young kids are in the picture, travel priorities may have changed. But you don’t have to get sucked into the package holiday bubble. Adventure travel with young kids is possible! Jenny x