Bangkok is a great base for exploring Southeast Asia, with so many diverse destinations within a few hours by air. Below are 7 family-friendly options worth adding to your list when you’re planning your next regional vacation.
Luang Prabang (flight duration from Bangkok: 2 hours)
This sleepy little town (and UNESCO world heritage site) brims with culture, tradition and charm – and it’s great for families. Spend a day touring famed landmarks, such as Wat Xieng Thong, the Royal Palace Museum and Phu Si (the latter features great sunset and city views, as well as a gilded stupa; however, it involves ascending 300+ steps and may not be ideal for those with young children). Then spend the rest of the time exploring the old city, visiting open air markets and engaging in activities such as textile and bamboo weaving classes at OckPopTok; watching Laotian youth learn traditional instruments and dance at the Children’s Cultural Centre; and learning more about Laos’ ethnic groups at the Traditional Arts and Ethnology Center, where kids are given scavenger hunt handouts.
Hanoi (flight duration from Bangkok: 2 hours)
Hanoi’s frenetic streets (and unwavering din of motorbike horns) may initially put you off, but you’ll soon find that the Vietnamese capital offers many activities for families and children. First, explore the old quarter – go for a cyclo ride; check out the different streets, each with their own traditional guild; and look for street vendors who hand carve wooden stamps (order ones with your kids’ names on them!). Let off some steam around Hoan Kiem Lake, which is also great for people watching, as well as at Cong Vien Nghia Do Park, with a lake, walking trails and awesome kids’ play area. Finally, if the family isn’t tuckered out, watch a water puppet show in the evening – children and adults alike with enjoy this unique folk art. For those with more time, consider spending a couple of nights on a barge in the mystical Halong Bay, over 3 hours from Hanoi by road.
Siem Reap (flight duration from Bangkok: 1 hour)
Despite its chequered past, Cambodia is safe to visit and very child-friendly. In particular, Siem Reap has a lot to offer for families. If everyone’s willing and able to make an early start of things, watching the sunrise over Angkor Wat is a genuinely magical experience. The temple grounds are pretty huge but you can certainly choose how much of it you want to cover. Other impressive ruins (without the need to climb steep stairs) include The Bayon, with massive stone faces; Thommanon and Chau Say Tevoda, small temples with well-preserved carvings; and Ta Prohm, the jungle-covered temple where Tomb Raider was filmed. Other great family attractions include a visit to the Banteay Srey Butterfly Centre and horseback riding through the Cambodian countryside.
Singapore (flight duration from Bangkok: 2.5 hours)
Ultra-modern and a breeze to navigate, Singapore is a top destination for families looking for a fun-packed, stress-free trip. Efficient transport and pushchair-friendly pavements make getting between sights a cinch. As for attractions worth considering? There’s tons of them. Highlights include the Singapore Zoo, Night Safari, Jurong Bird Park and Adventure Cove. The latter is a huge aquatic adventure park complete with waterslides, snorkelling and Southeast Asia’s first hydro-magnetic coaster. The enormous Sentosa Island also offers a complete day, thanks to nature walks, artificial beaches, an adventure park, a 4-D Adventure land and its own Madame Tussauds. Moreover, Singapore is just an hour’s drive from Legoland Malaysia and Hello Kitty Town – both located in Johor Bahru.
Penang (flight duration from Bangkok: 2 hours)
The Malaysian state of Penang offers the comforts of modern Asia with plenty of old-world charm. Not only is it easy for families to explore, but there’s a wealth of attractions to keep you here for an entire holiday. Enjoy a stay at one of the numerous beachside resorts, head out on a nature trail in the stunning surroundings of Penang National Park or grab the free shuttle bus in Penang that stops at no less than 19 tourist sites, including sites in bustling Georgetown. For a great way to escape the heat you could always head to an indoor play centre like Adventure Zone at Golden Sands Resort, which features drop slides, play equipment and a separate area for toddlers.
Kuching (flight duration from Bangkok via Kuala Lumpur: 5 hours)
A bit harder to reach as there are no direct flights from Bangkok, Kuching, located in Sarawak (Malaysian Borneo), is well worth the effort. The tranquil city is a mix of old and new, with historic buildings, wide sidewalks and a lovely riverfront boardwalk. Kids will enjoy seeing the quirky Kuching Cat Museum (“Kuching” means “cat”), as well as spotting various cat sculptures around town. The Sarawak Museum may also be of interest to families.
Hand down, the best part about Kuching is its proximity to the rainforest. The Semenggoh Nature Reserve houses a family of wild orangutans that can be viewed in a clearing accessible via an easy walking trail. Bako National Park features lots of indigenous flora and fauna, including long-tailed macaques, mouse deer, proboscis monkeys and more. With a different feel, Kubah National Park offers lush vegetation and clear waterfalls and streams (some of which have bathing areas). Both parks provide a number of trails that range in difficulty.
Bali (flight duration from Bangkok to Denpasar: 4.5 hours)
Bali is an island with a distinctly mellow vibe and an appealing destination for anyone with children. The attractive seas and beaches are a huge draw; forgo the crowds on Kuta and head to Sanur, which is the island’s most child-friendly beach, with calm waters and gently sloping shores. Jimbaran is ideal those who just want to laze around as the kids play on the beach (and it has amazing seafood!).
For some culture, check out one of many Hindu temples; Uluwatu has a great cliff-hanging temple that is home to hundreds of monkeys. Also, Ubud is blessed with gorgeous natural scenery – an invitation to head out on a number of outdoor adventures, from cycling and rafting trips to rice paddy walking trails. Ubud is also the artistic hub of Bali, with many different venues showcasing colourful Balinese songs, dances and traditional performances.