When I told Tigermom that le hubby has been posted to Bangkok for a week, she went all loco. “What?! And you’re not tagging along?! To some foreign land willed with exotic women who can’t wait to get their grubby hands on any man with some dollars on him?! DO YOU WANT YOUR CHILDREN TO GO FATHERLESS?!”
And so that is the #truestory of how I ended, rather reluctantly, in this megalopolis with two young children. I cannot risk provoking the ire of my mother, who is OBVIOUSLY an infinite source of wisdom.
But I should’ve known better. Her unsolicited advice — which is consistently served with a side of melodrama and ranges from which subject to take in college (law, but of course) to which hairstyle would look good on a 9-year-old (bowl cut) — hasn’t always bode well for me.
It’s only when you’re knee-deep in the experience — like a 3-hour monster crawl on Bangkok’s motorway en route to some kiddy playground with two hungry children who’ve not eaten because the ride was supposed to take only 15 bloody minutes — that you realize that your life is fucked because you listened to your mother.
But I digress.
After weeks of scouring the web for family-friendly hotels in Bangkok (and there aren’t many), I decided on Chatrium Riverside Hotel because it has a playground and was perfectly situated by the Chao Phraya, at least according to Booking.com.
We arrived to find that the playground in question — and the MAIN reason why I booked this hotel — didn’t exist. The only space for the kids to let off steam was the little garden by the river. One can only pray they don’t fall in like a sack o’ taters.
Apart from this little niggle, our suite was perfect.
It had a huge balcony offering sweeping views of this chaotic city and it’s sacred yet profane river. The kids spent many hours there, transfixed by the boats and barges that floated serenely by.
The best thing about staying by the river, however, was that we got to hop on one of the private boats which departs regularly from the hotel pier.
That’s how we went to Asiatique, a sterile (but very family-friendly) version of a night market, with its prime waterfront location and upmarket restaurants aka tourist traps. We had the worst meal in Bangkok — and probably MY LIFE — there. It was so bad even Bear Grylls would be horrified.
On the flipside, shopping is good, albeit slightly more expensive than in a regular night market. But I’ll take that any day over having to jostle with hundreds of pizza-faced teenagers, all clambering for a deal like starved puppies as they rain sweat on our stroller (more on that later).
There are also several ticketed productions and funfair rides on site. The Joe Louis Puppet Theatre is a actually a restaurant featuring traditional puppet shows every night, and a great alternative for families who aren’t interested in watching the parade of ladyboys in Calypso Cabaret or bloodied fighters at Muay Thai Live. But we didn’t go because le hubby couldn’t make it back in time after work.
We managed to get on the Bangkok Eye, only to discover that the views from our hotel room was better.
The next few days were spent doing kid-friendly activities because, well…if the kids are happy, then life sucks a little less. My previous visits to Bangkok sans children has always been for unsavory reasons — mindless spending sprees, late night food binges, and most regrettable of all, illegal Ping-pong shows — so I had to Google to see what I could do with children that didn’t involve dumbing them down in a mall.
That’s how we ended up in the Children’s Discovery Museum in Chatuchak.
I like how children are encouraged to play here, but not all the exhibits are working and some are also off limits to kids below 6. There’s also a huge outdoor playground and water play area as well as a sand area, where they could pretend to be archeologists digging for dino fossils.
I am not a fan of indoor playgrounds (because, like, what’s wrong with a good ol’ park?), but we ended up in Funarium for the lack of better choices.
Entrance is expensive, but Funarium has it all: two sets of play areas for big and little kids, sand pit, wading pool, a rather miserable looking arts-and-crafts centre, trampolines, a sports court, and even bicycles and scooters for your little ones to zip around. Because who would want to bike in a airy, green park when they can go around in circles in an air-conditioned room like a lost hamster?
But adults can also rejoice: there’s the massive, unpatronized cafe in which you can get fast food at inflated prices, or indulge in a foot massage as screaming kids provide the background soundtrack to help you relax. Why let them have all the fun?
You can’t visit Bangkok without visiting a temple to repent for the many sins that you’ve accumulated during your time there, but since I’ve done most of ‘em as well as the Grand Palace in the past, I decided to pick the most kid-friendly one, Wat Saket, or Temple of The Golden Mount. We arrived confronted by a towering golden-domed building glimmering in the sun.
At first it seemed like a huge mistake.
But the climb was easy, and there are many bells to ring on the way up — a great ploy to motivate lazy toddlers like mine. And whaddaya know, there’s ice cream for sale when you get to the top! Mika was sold.
On our last day, we went to the Sathorn Thaksin pier to take a Long-tail boat tour around Bangkok’s many canals, much to the delight of the kids.
Houses, temples, shops whizzed by as the boat raced through these quaint thoroughfares, sending spritz of toxic sludge into my eyes.
I was pretty sure I would go blind — I saw a man peeing into the river just a few seconds ago — but then realized that, hey, there are plenty of birds and monitor lizards hangin’ around so the water isn’t as poisonous as one might think it is.
There are even massive groups of catfishes lurking on the side, and it was customary to feed them stale bread, so we did that, feeling quite guilty because if the pollution doesn’t kill ’em, all the junk food will.
Two hours went by in a flash, and after this little boat ride, we walked five minutes to Bangrak, the site of Bangrak Bazaar and supposedly one of the most historic districts in Bangkok.
The streets were jammed with streets vendors, vehicles and tourists all elbowing for space. But there are quiet little nooks for peace and contemplation if you don’t mind getting lost and inhaling black diesel fumes on your way there.
As evening fell, we paid a visit to Siam Niramit, a full-blown cultural extravaganza that included an ostentatious show, a miniature Thai village, a restaurant, a mama and baby jumbo and ladyboys (but of course).
As much as I hated to admit it, I actually enjoyed this Disney-fied version of Thailand.
We had a fab time exploring the faux village, trying out some traditional snacks and peering into different traditional homes along the way…
The performance was also surprisingly entertaining and didn’t require a high IQ level to enjoy, with hundred-odd actors flitting about on the high-tech stage and beautifully curated sets that took my breath away.
The only downside? Dinner provided in the communist-style cafeteria was just plain gross. So do yourself a favor and skip that, unless you have children like us and convenience matter more than yucky food.
After the show, a free shuttle dropped us off at the Thailand Cultural Centre MRT. It was a short walk from there to the Ratchada Night Market, a sprawling night bazaar that’s gotten many good reviews since it started. It isn’t the ideal place to visit with children: the music is way too loud, the atmosphere too frenetic, and the crowds outta control.
The kids were bored until we stumbled upon a snack vendor and her trays brimming with all kinds of creepy crawlies. We got some worms and crickets and the lady heated these up and doused it with liberal amounts of salt and chili flakes before handing it to us.
Our three-year-old happily gobbled these up like they were fries. And then I realized, this kid is taking it all in his stride. He’s a pro, this mini-sized citizen of the world.
And I’ve never felt so proud in my life.
Chatrium Riverside Hotel, Bangkok Not to be mistaken for its sister hotel Chatrium Residence, which has a kid’s club and playground, this riverside hotel nevertheless makes up for it with spacious apartments overlooking the Chao Phraya. Location is strategically located 10 minutes away from both Asiatique and historic Bangrak district. Free boat shuttles depart regularly from the hotel pier. $$$
- While it’s impossible to avoid Bangkok’s infamous traffic, staying at a riverside hotel can minimize time spent on the road. These hotels offer free boat shuttles to the Sathorn Pier, where one can easily catch a skytrain or a khlong tour.
- Skytrains are not stroller friendly. A baby carrier is recommended.
- Night markets are a good way to experience the local life, but the crowds and heat can be stressful for young children. Asiatique offers the most family-friendly experience, but at a slightly higher price.