I’m frequently asked, ” What’s the best country you’ve ever visited?” and always fail to answer with just one country. Every country offers something different. We love to get off the beaten track and take our boys on true adventures, pushing the boundaries of family travel, yet we still love a good European camping holiday or city break. But our favourite travel memories as a family are always amongst epic landscapes or bustling Asian cities where we have stepped out of our comfort zone.
So I’ve decided to compile this list of our top 5 countries from our own experience. I’m sure this will change over time and I plan to update it if we ever visit a country that tops one of these. But hopefully this may provide you with some family adventure travel ideas for 2019.
If your crave epic lunar landscapes, affordable and rewarding safaris, and a true African adventure, Namibiagets our vote as one of the best places for intrepid family travel. Don’t do an organised tour. Hire a 4×4 with roof tents and go it alone! The quality of roads in generally very good and the campsites are seriously fantastic. Add to this a low malaria risk and an amazing climate, and it’s a definite winner in our books.
We fell head over heels in love with Sri Lanka. We visited whilst we were living in Bangalore and although there were many similarities with India, we found it to be cleaner and less chaotic. It’s a relatively small country so travelling between places is easy, yet it still offers enough activities, must-see sights, and fun to keep the whole tribe entertained. Indeed, for a country roughly the same size as Ireland, it manages to offer so much variety – both natural and cultural – that we’re sure you’ll fall in love with it too. Our favourite experiences in Sri Lanka were the incredible beaches and spotting wild elephants.
We had put off visiting Iceland for so long, as we thought it was too expensive. But we were tempted by cheap easyJet flights and photos of those dramatic landscapes. Admittedly the car hire and accommodation are going to be your biggest outgoings, but self-catering will keep costs down, and if you travel independently, exploring Iceland‘s natural wonders and hiking through it’s expansive landscape is totally FREE! Check out these other tips to save money on a family trip to Iceland.
On our 5 day Iceland itinerary we explored the classic Golden Circle, but also ventured off the beaten track and over to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. If you’re a family who love the great outdoors and wild landscapes, Iceland is a perfect destination for you; just ensure you pack layers as the weather is extremely interchangeable.
We love the energy, the ornate temples, the colourful markets, the polite people and the food… oh my THE FOOD! Oh, and of course the incredible beaches! Don’t rush straight to the islands though, enjoy your first few days in bustling Bangkok. It has to be our favourite city to explore with our boys (check out our Bangkok with kids itinerary).
Thailand is one of the most accessible countries we’ve visited with the boys. Many restaurants, even along the once backpacker enclave of Th Khao San, have highchairs, and we found that some beach restaurants in Ko Lanta have toys and kids’ play areas. Also, kid-friendly food is available everywhere; think sticky rice, banana pancakes, and tropical fruit aplenty. Throw in tuk-tuk rides, exploring mystical temples, and jumping in the waves crashing on to tropical islands, and you have the perfect mix for a fantastic family adventure holiday.
Now India isn’t everyone’s cup of chai. It’s loud, chaotic and confronting. But, it was our home for a year and it feels wrong not to include it. Admittedly, it’s not a place to visit with kids for a first visit to Asia. But if you are ready to take on the challenge, India will be one of you most memorable family adventures ever. The tourist dollar goes far here, so you can spend a little more on accommodation to create an oasis away from the chaos. Allow time to drink in the vibrancy and energy of this magical country, and once you’ve finished exploring the temples and spice markets, head for some downtime on the beaches of Goa.
And the runners up are…
It was honestly so tough narrowing it down to our top five countries, but Malawi, Nepal and Morocco are close behind…
Would love to hear what your favourite family adventure travel destination is! Let me know in the comments 🙂
Thailand is a fantastic destination for that first intrepid family holiday. Bangkok is often the main gateway for families travelling long-haul and after a couple of days exploring the bustling city, they head back to the airport for an internal flight to one of the islands for some beach time .
If you’re travelling with young kids, the thought of another airport and flight may be off–putting. You may also consider the overnight train South to Surat Thani and then catching connecting boat or bus to your chosen beach. But if this is your first intrepid trip as a young family, this may feel a bit much.
Our ten day Thailand itinerary with young kids involves no internal flights, no long, overnight trains AND you get to experience the best elements of the country; city (Bangkok), jungle (near Chanthaburi) and beach (Koh Chang).
Day 1 (Arrive in Bangkok)
From the airport, make sure you take a taxi from the official taxi stand to your hotel. Ensure the meter is used and if you’re heading to Th Khao San the fare should be around 400THB (including tolls).
We recommend you stay around the Banglamphu area (centred around the lively Th Khao San) for it’s central location, hippy markets and fun-time vibe. This area is a melting pot of travellers from around the world and it makes for some fascinating people watching. Plus, some of the restaurants here have high chairs! Step a few streets away from this traveller enclave and you will stumble upon the quintessential side of Bangkok of local stalls, shining temples and antique shophouses. Good family mid-range hotels areRatchadamnoen Residence and Rambuttri Village Plaza.
Day 2 (Bangkok)
Opulent temples and shrines, sensational street food and super-fun tuk-tuk rides around the bustling streets await. Head to Wat Arun, rather than the Grand Palace for a more intimate experience with your little ones and enjoy a boat ride along the Chao Phraya. Check out our post – A Day in Bangkok with young children – for more ideas.
Day 3 (Travel to Chanthaburi)
Chanthaburi is an old gem-trading town conveniently located on the way to Koh Chang. You can either take an aircon bus from Bangkok Ekkamai to Chanthaburi (there are three buses per day, taking 3.5 hours) or hire a private car which provides the convenience of door to door service between your hotels (3500THB). Your hotel in Bangkok will be able to book either option for you.
Once in Chanthaburi, we recommend staying in the old town to soak up all the history the sleepy town has to offer. We particularly enjoyed staying at Tamajun Hotel with their teak en-suite rooms and communal balcony overlooking the river. Perfect spot for a Chang Beer once the kids are asleep.
Spend your afternoon wandering around the narrow streets, gem markets (open weekends), the temples and cathedral (the biggest in South East Asia). Check out our post on Chanthaburi to find out more.
Day 4 (Namtok Phlio National Park day trip)
From your hotel, book a songthaew to take you to Namtok Phlio National Park for a jungle adventure! Ensure you are all lathered in mossie repellant and pack drinking water. It’s a 20 minute drive to the gates and then 1km loop walk around the river (the perfect distance for little legs!), visiting various pools full of large nibbling fish, fed by cascading waterfalls. If you’re brave enough, pop in for a dip with the locals! Back at the gate there are some make-shift restaurants selling local food for lunch. Check out our post on Chanthaburi to find out more.
Day 5 (Travel to Koh Chang)
Time for the beach! From Chanthaburi, there is one bus per day to Trat taking 50 minutes. From there you need to get a songthaew for the ferry terminal to Koh Chang. Alternatively, hire a private car to take you all the way to the ferry terminal. From there it’s a half hour crossing (ferries leave hourly). If you have taken the private car option, the car will go on the ferry and transfer you directly to your hotel on the island. We found it easier to book this through our hotel in Koh Chang and cost 2500THB (inc. ferry ticket).
Once on Koh Chang, we recommend staying on the quieter Eastern side of the island, with calmer waters and a more rugged charm. White Sand Beach on the West coast lends itself more to tattoo parlours, happy hour bars and a lively party scene (although we recommend popping over that way to stock up on milk and snacks from the supermarket).
Serenity Resort is a great choice for young families. We loved taking the free kayaks out on the sea each morning before breakfast and they also provide buckets and spades for playing on the beach. The water here is shallow and calm, perfect for little ones, although a little rocky in places. There is also a good-sized infinity swimming pool and the restaurant provides a fantastic range of Thai and Western dishes. The staff are super accommodating – Keith drove us over to White Sand Beach one morning to stock up on supplies from the supermarket. There’s also a cheap laundry service across the road (by this time your dirty undies are probably piling up!)
Day 6-8 (Koh Chang)
Spend your days exploring the thick jungle hinterland, visiting the fishing villages of the south, meeting elephants (we don’t agree with elephant riding – read Boys Eats World’s eye opening post on this). Or perhaps allow yourselves to just unwind and enjoy your family time splashing around in the sea or pool, making sandcastles and indulge in some lovely food and perhaps a cheeky cocktail or three for the parents.
Day 9 (Travel back to Bangkok)
Today will be your longest day of travel. Get to the ferry terminal in Koh Chang early, otherwise you may find yourselves queuing for the next available ferry and they only go every hour. Again, there are buses from Trat (on the mainland and you have to get from the ferry terminal to the bus station) or you could hire a private car transfer door-to-door, including the ferry. From the Koh Chang Ferry Terminal on the mainland, back to Bangkok, is a 4.5 hour drive.
Day 10 (Travel back home)
Depending on the departure of your flight, you may have time for some last minute souvenir shopping down Th Khao San, or a last pad thai or roasted cricket (they just taste like a Walkers crisp ;-)), before you jump in a taxi back to the airport.
Temples, churches, jungle, markets, street food, boat trips and beach fun. Now that was a good holiday in Thailand.
Looking to spend longer in Thailand and and experience more history and culture? Consider taking the train up to Chang Mai from Bangkok. Go Live Young have a great post on their adventures there.
Thailand is an incredible location for a family holiday, with the only problem being how to fit everything in. Most trips will include some time in Bangkok before heading south to the islands, so the next big decision is: how to get between the two, making sure that you are not only maximising your time but also minimising the hassle. We may have found the answer in a (relatively) little known gem, midway between Bangkok and Ko Chang – Chanthaburi with kids.
First of all, the location is perfect as a stop-off (about 3.5 hours south of Bangkok and 2.5 hours north of Ko Chang) but more importantly, it’s a fantastic place in its own right, offering plenty of activities and entertainment for a few nights.
Getting there from Bangkok
There are several options to get from Bangkok to Chanthaburi (including taking the comfortable air-con bus from Ekkamai bus station) but we decided to book a private minibus transfer. With our group dynamics (2x parents, 2x grand-parents, 2x under-threes) we decided that this was the best way to go. We ordered the service through our hotel (it might have been cheaper by trawling the travel agencies down Khao San Rd, but life is too short when you are travelling). The next morning, ten minutes early, a comfortable, modern, spacious (ten-seater), clean minibus appeared outside the hotel. Once the driver had helped us to load up the assorted backpacks, suitcases and trunki we were on our way.
We loved the flexibility and control it gave us over the other transport options: if we needed a toilet pit-stop, we could ask. If we wanted to stop and take pictures, it was no problem. About two hours into the trip we stopped for lunch at one of the ubiquitous service stations in Thailand, the ones where the driver is on a small commission if you decide to eat there (which we did and it was amazing and cheap and gave us all chance to stretch our legs). Once we were ready to leave it was simply a case of waving to the driver and getting back on-board – no mad dashes back onto a bus with the horn blasting for us 😉
On the whole, the boys coped well with the trip and we think a lot of that was down to the flexibility of the transport. We used the usual array of tricks and bribes to keep them happy but it helped a lot being able to decide when and where to stop and felt so much easier than taking the bus. Of course, we could have missed Chanthaburi completely and took the plane to Trat and then bus to Ko Chang which would’ve been quicker but you’re probably going to be slightly sick of aeroplanes after the long flight to Thailand so an airport is the last place you’ll want to see. Either way, it said a lot that that we almost didn’t want the journey to end but we pulled into Chanthaburi on time, about four hours after we left Bangkok.
There are two main accommodation districts in Chanthaburi; the newer part of town with the large, purpose built ‘international’ style hotels and then the more traditional types in the historic part of town. We chose the latter and were delighted with our choice, the Tamajun Hotel.
The hotel is split into two buildings, separated by a quiet road which meanders through the old town. The newer section houses the ‘Hip’ accommodation (their words) – more modern, funky designed rooms which are also slightly more expensive. We decided on the traditional rooms on the other side of the road, contained in the original building which sits on the banks of the river.
They don’t do family rooms here, just doubles. We went for three of them and had each of the boys in with one parent (the grandparents cleverly opted for their own room to ensure a full night’s sleep – remember them?). The rooms were decorated in traditional teak style with en-suite bathroom, air-con and a fridge. One quirk was they didn’t have windows which might sound a negative but we actually quite liked it; it helped keep the room cool and ensured they were pitch dark during afternoon naps. The hotel very kindly provided a water heater which meant we could prepare warm milk for the boys – a nice gesture which they weren’t obliged to offer – very much in keeping with the highlevel of service we experienced throughout our stay.
The highlight of the hotel though was the communal balcony which looked out over the river. This was an absolute godsend as it allowed the non-kids to sit in comfy chairs, have the occasional beer and watch the river drift by whilst the kids ran around and played. It was perfect.
We were quite lucky that there was no-one else staying at the hotel so we had sole use of the balcony – it might have been a bit different if other guests were trying to relax on the balcony as well. Another bonus was that the rooms opened out onto the balcony so we could sit out there during naptime, safe in the knowledge that we (via the monitors) could keep an eye on the boys, all within actual sight of the rooms.
Things to do in Chanthaburi
Our favourite activity was simply walking around the well-preserved historic part of the town and taking in the sights and atmosphere. The hotel is right in the middle of things and is the perfect base for exploring the narrow winding streets which run alongside the river. It’s here that you’ll find shops, gem markets, restaurants and temples to explore. It helps to get a map from the hotel but in truth it’s fairly difficult to get lost as you’ll always have the river to use as a reference point. We enjoyed looking around the peaceful Cathedral of Immaculate Conception (the largest in Thailand) on the opposite bank of the river, browsing the gem markets and soaking up the atmosphere of this quirky, authentic Thai town. The tiny shops, hidden temples, wooden houses and chance to observe the traditional way of life provided a constant source of interest and intrigue for the kids.
Elsewhere, the boys had a great time in Wat Bot Muang temple, which was a ten minute walk from the hotel. As with most things in Chanthaburi, it was very quiet with no other tourists around. The boys were able to sit and quietly observe the monks meditating and were even invited to sit next to them and receive a blessing.
The food at our hotel was delicious and fairly reasonably priced so we ate there on the first night but there was no shortage of restaurants hugging the riverbank, all serving tasty Thai food which we all enjoyed. No high-chairs here though and (not unreasonably) no-one spoke much English so the mealtimes were a bit more of a challenge than in Bangkok but we saw it as part of the adventure and, as always, via a mixture of hand gestures, smiles and guesswork we ended up with kind-of what we wanted. Plus, even the boys knew how to say Pad Thai by now.
Namtok Phlio National Park
As much as we were enjoying the town, we decided to head out for a day trip on our second day to Namtok Phlio National Park. For a reasonable price we arranged our own songthaew to take us and once again the boys absolutely loved being in the back and waving to the cars as we sped along. Lots of fun but another one where you needed to hold onto them tight!
The park itself was a real treat, despite the torrential downpour which greeted us upon arrival – but even this turned out to be a highlight as we, plus a hundred Thai tourists, huddled under a wooden roof and waited for the storm to pass. The boys became the centre of attention, becoming the subject of a thousand selfies and cuddles. Even the initially stern looking security guards were soon picking them up and taking photos – proof once again that travelling with children is the perfect ice-breaker.
Once the rain passed we walked down to the waterfall, took some photos and got a close-up view of the hundreds of fish which congregate in the shallows (although no-one in our group was brave enough to take a dip!)
Leaving and heading towards the islands
The three nights in Chanthaburi flew by and we were sad to be leaving but pleased that we had managed to break up the journey so successfully between the city and the beach. We had already booked our accommodation in Ko Chang and arranged a private transfer from Chanthaburi so it was really easy and stress-free again to be greeted at 9am by a driver, ready for our next leg.
There are plenty of options when it comes to heading south from Bangkok towards the islands. We chose Ko Chang partly because we thought it would suit the kids and partly because it was fairly close to Bangkok and meant we didn’t need to worry about another flight and check-in desks and airport security and etc, etc. The private transfer worked out really well for us and gave us some much needed flexibility, something we wouldn’t have got with any other form of transport.
What made it even better of course was Chanthaburi being amazing in its own right. We’re already missing being sat on the balcony, cold drink in hand, kids playing happily around us, with only the sound of the river and laughter filling the air.
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We stayed at the Tamajun Hotel in the heart of the old town. A double room here cost £32 and included a very tasty breakfast in the restaurant overlooking the river.
The private minibus transfer from Bangkok to Chanthaburi cost THB3800 which included all road tolls. When we left Chanthaburi to head to Ko Chang, we paid THB2800 for another private transfer and this included all road tolls and the ferry across to the island. As mentioned above, you may find cheaper prices by shopping around but we liked the ease of booking via the hotel. Both transfers literally took us from door to door.
Thinking about it now, sat in an office with the wind and rain outside, finding reasons to travel with young kids seems easier than it did when we landed at Heathrow after the 14-hour flight from Bangkok.
There are really amazing moments and some really difficult ones. Some incredibly exciting times and some slightly more mundane. But best of all are the memories we make together, things that in years to come we’ll be able to say, ‘Ah, do you remember when we…’.
Our lives before children revolved heavily around travel and we enjoyed 14 years of adventures together before little Arthur arrived in 2013. In fact, we found out Arthur was part of the team whilst on safari in Kruger National Park. We had an idea that life was about to change (and of course it has) but we didn’t see why travelling couldn’t still be a big part of our lives.
Fast-forward a few years (plus nine countries) and Arthur has just turned three and Ezra is 18 months, and as a family so far, our travel highlights include running around the medinas of Morocco, high-fiving monks in Thailand, feeding monkeys in ancient temples of India and camping in the south of France.
Feeding biscuits to monkeys in Hampi, India.
We have made family travel work for us and so here are our 10 reasons reasons to travel with young children:
1. A more open travel experience
Everyone’s guard comes down when they see you travelling with children and even the hardest of hagglers will be smiling at you.
2. Improves (non-verbal) communication skills
Whilst they do get to speak to lots of different people, often there is a language barrier in place so they learn the power of a smile, wave or high-five.
Meeting locals in Essaouira, Morocco
3. It’s a sensory playground
So many new smells, sounds and sights to explore. They soak it all up and then nap longer! Honest! Beer and book time for Mummy and Daddy, thank you.
4. Travel is the best education
They’re learning first-hand about the world we share; getting closer to nature, seeing things they will never see at home and experiencing the ways of other cultures.
5. Travel teaches them to be adaptable
Even the best laid plans go to pot when travelling and Peppa Pig isn’t always there to save the day!
6. It’s actually a lot easier than you think
In a lot of ways, the same survival techniques you employ at home will still work in another country, so it still helps to plan daily activities for the children. If the kids are happy, Mummy and Daddy are happy. But be realistic and flexible. Don’t push them too much and allow them the familiarity of routine and their favourite foods where possible. McDonalds is okay sometimes.
7. It helps them appreciate home
My boys are so happy when we’re travelling, but the excitement when they get home and see Nana, Grumps (no, that’s not a typo) and their plastic toys!
8. Cheaper flights and accommodation
Your kids aren’t yet in school, so if parents’ work allows, travel during school term! Plus, if your child is under 2, you don’t have to pay for their seat on the flight (you may form varying views on whether this is a good thing or not at various stages of the flight). Quick tip: try and get the bassinet seats (you don’t have to use the bassinet and the extra leg-room is super-handy).
9. Quality family time
Travel really brings us all together – we’ve achieved something amazing as a team.
10. Creating memories
The first years are such a sleep deprived blur as it is. Do something amazing that you will remember forever.
Travelling with young kids isn’t without its challenges and we’ve certainly had to change the way we travel. But we love it. Our travel experiences are all the more enriching with our boys. And even a 14 hour long haul flight trying to entertain climber-extroadinaire-Ezra (aged 18 months), who has a serious aversion to sitting still, doesn’t put us off; thankfully Paw Patrol on loop satisfies Arthur.
If you’re thinking about it. Do it. You won’t regret it.
I'm Jenny - a travel addicted mum to my two boys (aged 3 and 5). As a family we try to push the boundaries of family travel and dispel the myth that adventure needs to wait until the kids are older!
After a year living in India and 4 months traversing Africa in a Land Rover, we have recently moved to the Peak District in England and now plotting affordable adventures across Europe and around school terms.