Southeast Asia With Kids – Where To Go

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Southeast Asia is an incredible destination for kids and families. I’ve been all over the region and have a good feel for the places to go and the over-rated destinations to avoid. There’s lots to see so let’s take a look at some of my favorites.

One Essential Tip

I could give lots of tips for traveling to Southeast Asia with kids but I’m going to mention just 1 here because I think it could make a huge difference in planning your trip.

Try to arrive and depart from different cities. Of course, this advice doesn’t apply if you’re doing a short one-week vacation, but if you’re there for a longer stretch of time it’s close to essential.

Southeast Asia lends itself to this open-jaw method of traveling. The typical must-see cities, attractions, and resort islands stretch along single routes of roads and rail. The most visited places – from Bali to Singapore up to Bangkok and over to Vietnam and onto Hong Kong – form a sort of crescent shaped route for travelers.

Where To Go in Southeast Asia – The Highlights

Ubud, Bali

Rice paddies in Ubud, Bali

Bali is great for families. And to be honest the kids would probably enjoy one of the beaches (Jimbaran, Sanur, Lovina) more than Ubud. But if travel involved compromise and if there’s one cultural destination in Southeast Asia that works really well with children then it’s Ubud.

Most of the Balinese shows (dancing, singing, theatre) are bright, loud, energetic – and outdoors – making them perfect for children. The climate is cooler than the rest of Bali and the high number of expats ensures there is lots of good food – and great bakeries – that kids will enjoy. Most mid-range and luxury hotels have a swimming pool and a range of walks and hikes – from easy to more challenging – weave in and out of the local rice paddies.

Further Reading:

Singapore

Ferris wheel in Singapore

Singapore is loaded with fun activities for families. It’s easy to get around, has colorful neighborhoods, and a mind-boggling array of food, shopping, and entertainment options.

Kids will be most interested in the Night Safari, Sentosa Island, and the Science Centre but you could spend a week here and not be bored.

Further Reading:

Penang, Malaysia

Temple in Penang, Malaysia

Somewhat like Singapore but smaller and friendlier, with a more Old Asia feel. This is a place you could easily spend several weeks or a month relax – settling in and getting to the know the local people, customs, and slow pace of life.

Food is important in Penang so this is a place to explore different cuisines with a open-minded and fun curiosity.

Further Reading:

Railay, Thailand

Beach and limestone cliffs in Krabi, Thailand

This is my favorite beach in Southeast Asia and it’s a perfect destination for kids. (Actually, there are 2 beaches here – both are fantastic and very kid-friendly.) Railay is only accessible by boat from Krabi or Ao Nang which ads some drama and sense of adventure to your arrival. (Luggage often has to be carried overhead as you hop from the boat into the shallow waters of the beach.)

There are no cars within the town and it’s crisscrossed not by roads but sandy paths leading from one beach to another. Kids love it here.

Further Reading:

Koh Pha Ngan, Thailand

Mother and child on a beach in Thailand

The perfect Thai island that offers a bit of everything at a slower pace than nearby Koh Samui. Haad Rin is party central – renown for Southeast Asia’s biggest Full Moon Party – but get away from there and things change dramatically.

The nicest beaches can be found along the north coast of the island. It requires a bit of trek by car or pick up truck to get there but if you’re looking for what Thailand was like 20 years ago this is as close as you can get.

Further Reading:

Chiang Mai, Thailand

Temple near Chiang Mai

This Bangkok meets mountain village. Chiang Mai is a hip urban destination – with many expats wandering the streets – but with great outdoor excursions just a short drive away. Do a collection of day trips or take a longer tour through one of the many trek operators found here.

Riding an elephant is usually at the top of most kids to-do list (it was for mine) and that’s easily accomplished in the Chiang Mai region. The overnight train ride from Bangkok is another sure bet to be popular with the whole family.

Further Reading:

Bangkok, Thailand

Selling fruit at floating market in Bangkok

Southeast Asia’s most exciting and dynamic city. From fantastic street food to gritty canal trips, from stunning palaces to the ultra modern sky train, Bangkok flat out wowes you.

You could spend a week here doing fun family-friendly attractions and day trips so don’t dismiss the nation’s capital as just another dirty busy transit hub.

Further Reading:

The Mekong Delta, Vietnam

Floating market in Mekong Delta, Vietnam

A great region for getting off the beaten track, traveling like the locals do, and seeing true Vietnamese life. You can criss-cross the delta by bus, boat, or even bike (it’s so flat that this is a popular destination for touring on 2 wheels).

The stunningly beautiful Phu Quoc islands rests just off the Mekong’s west side and makes a great detour for some family beach time.

Further Reading:

Hanoi, Vietnam

Street market in Old Town of Hanoi

The tangle of lanes and narrow streets that makes up Hanoi’s old quarter is the stuff of asian legend and will likely make for a day of adventurous exploration for older children. A (very popular) water puppet show, kid friendly parks, exotic markets, numerous ice cream shops, and a waterslide park that looks out over rice paddies are some of the many highlights.

The overnight train ride to Hoi An or a night or two touring Halong Bay by boat are enticing sidetrips from the city.

Further Reading:

Hong Kong, China

Ferry in Hong Kong that is popular for tourists

Not truly in SE Asia but on it’s a popular stop and gateway city for people heading farther south so I’ve included it here. The city has an amazing array of attractions that are kid-friendly, uniquely Asian, and easy to get from the city center.

Further Reading:

Further reading on planning a trip to SE Asia:

Travel with Kids in San Francisco.

Looking for Hotels?


A guide to the best family hotels

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35 Comments

  1. Wow, what a great compilation of resources. We don’t have kids but it’s still useful for us too. Thanks for including our Hong Kong guide.

  2. Hi David: Thanks so much for including a link to my article on cruising down the Mekong River. Very much appreciated. I notice you didn’t include Laos specifically in the list. If you ever get a chance to go, grab it. Laos is fabulous.

  3. I have been to Hong Kong a couple times. My friends there took me out to quite a few places. One of them is Ocean Park: a fun place for family where you can see panda. It is so convenient to travel around Asia. Thanks for the guide.

  4. Hiya, Thanks for including the link to our Hong Kong to Hanoi post – grateful for that! :-)

    Also, would def second Barbara r.e. Laos – a fantastic place and really child-friendly, esp the 4000 islands region – Dhon Kon was like never never land – so many cute kids, you’d have thought they were running the island!

  5. Hello, I am very interested in “A Month in Vietnam with Kids – likes, dislikes, and how much we spent” but blogspot is blocked in China and I can’t access it from here. Is there any other way I could get that report?

    • Hi Jose. I just emailed you a text version of the article – it’s a good one. Good luck.

      • Thanks David for including a link to our blog! Highly recommend India too!!

  6. If you had to choose between Bali and Thailand which would you go for? Thx.

    • Hi Harpo. If you’re looking for beaches, great food, or a very active vacation (i.e. kayaking, rock climbing, trekking) then Thailand. Bali – for me – is more a place to chill out and spend an extended period of time. Biking is also great in Bali. Lots of culture, performances, painting, and a strong expat scene. Not that Thailand doesn’t have those things but they seem a bit more dispersed there. Mind you, I’m comparing an island with a country. I hope that helps.

  7. Great selection of destinations in SE Asia. I’ve visited all of the places you selected and I feel they’re perfect places not only for families but for anybody thinking of touring the region.

  8. Hello
    Love your site. We are planing to travel to Sth East Asia for approx 4 – 5 weeks. Travelling from NZ we will land in Singapore as i think this would likey the cheapest option . We would like to cover Phuket/Koh Samui Chaing Mai. Vietnam. Do you have any ideas on what the best direction would be to travel in would be. We will have 19 month, 4 year old and 7 year old. We are very flexible. But would like a iterinary that would be easy travelling for our kids. We are thinking that a week in each spot? Just hoping for reccomendations and flights we should look at taking between cities etc Also if you have any better ideas for travelling around this part of the world ie: places we should go i would welcome anything. Many Thanks Kym

    • Hi Kym. Sounds like a fun trip. I would think about flying directly from Singapore to either Phuket or Samui and then skipping the other one. You’ve got a lot planned for 4 or 5 weeks and Phuket and Samui have many similarities – just do one. You’ll probably end of flying out of Bangkok to Vietnam so if you could get to Chiang Mai directly from Samui or Phuket that would be a good use of time too. The kids will love the overnight train from Chiang Mai to Bangkok so I recommend that on the way back to Bangkok. The highlights of Vietnam are Hanoi, Halong Bay, China Beach, Hoi An, and the Mekong Delta – but you’ll be pushed for time so I’d recommend Hanoi with a side trip to either Halong Bay or Hoi An. Good luck.

    • Hi Kym (and David!)
      We too are from NZ and planning a family trip for 6-8 weeks during the middle of this year. We need to cover Vietnam, Bangkok, KL and Bali. I would love to hear more about what your itinerary involves as our wee ones will be 4 years old and 22 months. (no 7 year old as well for us!!)
      I have to travel to vietnam for business as we are having apparel made for my boutique, so need to try to head there first.
      David, would you recommend Bali as the final destination – for the chill out factor? and Can you recommend any kid friendly places to go/stay in Bangkok as I have never been there and it is a tad intimidating what I read (as I try to imagine my cherubs with me!)
      Thanks so much for your time
      Jess

      • Hi Jess. I love the Amari Watergate. Beautiful pool, very good restaurants, and close to a lot of fun stuff – so you don’t waste your time in a taxi getting across the city.

        Bali is a great final destination. You’re right, very chill out, relax. It will seem a world away from Bangkok and Vietnam.

        Good luck.

  9. Hi there,

    You have linked back to my article about the monkey forest in Ubud (thanks!) but please note. You wrote monkey forest ROAD, but there’s a big difference between the monkey forest and the monkey forest road. The former is a beautiful forest filled with monkeys, the latter is a street filled with shops selling junk to tourists!

    Denise

    • Fixed. Thanks Denise for catching that. We loved the monkey forest but could do without Monkey Forest Road. Cheers.

  10. Hi David,

    Thanks for the write up, very useful!

    We are a family from London currently six months into a year-long global adventure (www.facebook.com/ouryearaway). We’re in New Zealand at the moment and after our next stop (Australia) plan to travel to SE Asia for around 2.5 months. We leave Cairns for Singapore at the end of February and Hong Kong for London in early June but apart from that haven’t decided where to go.

    Staying in Thailand for a while is an obvious choice but my wife and I have travelled the country before (and loved it) so we think Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam etc may be worth looking at. One fly in the ointment is my wife’s pre-existing heart condition: she has SVT which is basically an electrical malfunction of the heart where it beats 2-3 time faster than it should. If she get’s an episode she may need to get treatment at a medical centre so we can’t stay in remote places, as least for too long.

    A friend has suggested going further north and spending time in South Korea, Japan and China but we’re not sure about this – SE Asia is our first choice.

    Where do you think we should go?

    Thanks,

    Danny

    • Hi Danny. With 2.5 months I’d start in Singapore and work my way up through Malaysia and Thailand, then through Cambodia and/or Laos to Saigon, and then move north through Vietnam to Hanoi. But more than anything stay flexible and don’t commit to anything that will constrain you if you want to change your plans. I hope that helps. Have fun.

  11. Hi David,

    Thanks for all the fantastic information on your site.

    We are planing a family holiday in Railay, Krabi in Jan/Feb 2013. At that time we will have a 2 1/2 year old and a 6 month old.
    I was wondering if you can offer any suggestions for good quality mid range family accommodation in the area?

    Many thanks,

    Marisa

  12. Wonderful round-up! I’ll be heading through several of these places with my niece soon! Thanks for the mention as well :)

  13. I am thrilled to have stumbled upon this information – and happy to see you are a fellow Seattlite :) An avid traveller myself I have yet to bring along my daughter, who is now 5. I am anxious to get her traveling and hope she catches the “bug” as I did at a young age. However, I have to say am I bit wary when I read warnings and advisories against travel in certain areas. If I was traveling without my young one I would pay less heed to these warnings, but planning this vacation has been difficult. At first we were considering Bali, but everything I was reading said there was unrest, terrorist attacks etc. We then considered India, but I am reading the same thing. It is so frustrating because I never had this nervous mentality about travel before – much less ever paid attention to these warnings. Is there any advice you can give? Also, have you been to India with your little ones? And did it feel generally safe? Thanks so much for all this information – I’ll definitely been visiting this site often! Cheers

    • Hi Kimberly. I consider Bali to be very safe. There hasn’t been a terrorist attack since 2005 (though there were recent arrests relating to a planned event). And if there ever was another attack you could profoundly lower your risks by avoiding popular tourist restaurants, shopping malls, and attractions. In any case, your biggest risks when traveling in a foreign country will almost always be driving and traffic accidents. So if you’re worrying about terrorist attacks (about which you have no control) then you’re worrying about the wrong thing. I have been to India 3 times but not with the kids. It would be a much more challenging destination with kids (or without kids) than Bali. Bali is a piece of cake and a great introduction to family travel. India would be wonderful but it’s taxing even for single backpackers so not sure if it would be the best first step for a kid trip. Not to discourage you, but just know what you’re getting into.

    • Kimberly
      we recently spent 1 month in Bali and 3 months in South India with our 2 kids, then aged 3.5yrs and 5yrs. As David said, the threat of terrorism can exist almost anywhere these days and as its out of your control, why worry about it (or else, don’t leave home, but then again it can also happen at ‘home’ too). Also as he said, traffic accidents are probably your most likely cause of strife, and again, that risk is high at ‘home’ too.

      avoiding overly touristy areas, particularly if it is aimed at foreign tourists, is also possible, or at least being aware of your surroundings while visiting them.

      but overall, we absolutely did not have any problems with security in either of those countries. India in particular was much more fun with lots of activities on offer for families particularly with young children such as terrific zoos and amusement parks, all for so cheap! the middle class is a large market in india now, so lots on offer for them. but of course, that’s the thing about india too–the large contrast between the have’s and the have-nots. our kids went well there, but you do need to be mindful of the heat and the food, both which can be too hot at times, but you can work around it with a little bit of effort (eg air conditioned rooms, and eating egg omelettes with rice!). While we enjoyed Bali, there really isn’t a lot of activities for families with young kids (we found 1 park the entire 4 weeks we were there), except for playing on the beach.

      have a peek at our blog for a feel of what it was like for us to be in india and bali (and SEA for that matter), backpacking on a budget, with 2 kids in tow. and feel free to email me directly if you have anything else more specific you’re wondering about.

      http://with2kidsintow.blogspot.com.au/2011/10/thats-wrap-india.html

      http://with2kidsintow.blogspot.com.au/2011/02/bali-good-bad-so-so.html

      good luck.

      • oh, and i’d also throw Vietnam into the mix as a great destination in SEA to visit with kids. There’s a terrific variety of activities for the whole family, and in particular for kids from 2+ upwards. Big country though, so allow lots of time in order to see it all properly!

  14. Thanks for including my link on what I ate in SE Asia! Great food in that part of the world. I’ve heard of people being concerned about their kids not being able to eat the spicy food in SE Asia, but there is plenty of great stuff to eat that isn’t spicy. And the people are so friendly, definitely someplace good for families with kids, not just the backpackers.

  15. Wow! I am so happy to have found your website. It has been so informative and helpful. Like all the others, I would love some recommendations on our trip. My husband, 15 year old daughter, 13 year old son and I will be traveling in Thailand and Singapore from July 23 – Aug. 14. I think I am now somewhat prepared for the fact that we may have rain for most of the time – but it was the only time we could go. We start in Bangkok for 3 days, fly to Chiang Rai for 3 days, go on an overnight trek then stay in Chiang Mai for 3 days. We then want to see the southern part of Thailand – Phuket, Krabi, Ko Lanta? My husband wants to “wing it” (no reservations any where) and I’d like to have somewhat of a plan. Would you please suggest a 6 – 7 day itinerary for this area, including the best way to get around? We will fly down from Chiang Mai and at the end of this week fly to Singapore for 4 – 5 days there. I have loved all your recommendations and input. I look forward to hearing from you and you have revived my travel bug! Many thanks. Betsy.

    • Hi Betsy. I would make my decisions based on what flights are available. It is, of course, easier and quicker to fly directly from Chiang Mai to either Krabi or Phuket. So check what’s available with those flights (and your onwards journey) and, perhaps, let that dictate where you go. Winging it at this time of year is fine. As I often suggest, booking the first night after your arrival in a new town is a good compromise, so at least you know you have something for the first night. Then search for another hotel after you arrive. Also consider that getting back and forth from Koh Lanta can be tricky at this time of year due to decreased boat schedules and canceled routes (due to bad weather). The most natural route is to fly to Phuket, spend a few nights there, then boat to Ko Phi Phi (2 or 3 boats a day do this route) and from there to to Ao Nang (1 or 2 boats a day). Railay has a fantastic beach and is only 15 or 20 minutes from Ao Nang.

      Good luck.

      • Thank you for the reply. It really helps to hear from someone who’s “been there, done that.” I didn’t realize schedules would be reduced due to the weather at that time of year. Really appreciate the input!
        Betsy

  16. Hi David, Great site – it’s full of useful tips and inspiration. We are planning a 3 week trip to Thailand in March/April with our two boys of 7 and 4. Our basic plan was Bangkok, Chiang Mai and probably Krabi, but maybe Ko Pha Ngan…not sure in which order, though we will be starting and finishing in BK due to flights in and out. If you had three weeks, would you stick just to Thailand…I have started thinking it would be lovely to see Hanoi too, would this just be too much in your view? Maybe that’s for another trip..!

    • It’s easy to get distracted isn’t it? I’d stick with Thailand as even with 3 weeks you’ll be pressed to narrow down your choices. I’d try to find a direct flight from Chiang Mai to somewhere south – and let the flight schedule dictate where you’ll go next. So whether it be Krabi or Samui/KPN go there first then hop over to the other coast and take the train or a flight up to BKK – or just stay on one coast and cut some travel time off your itinerary. (There are flights between Samui and Krabi too. Taking the bus and ferry will take up a full day so good to fly if you can find a cheap flight.) Good luck.

      • Thanks! I think you are right and that we’ll spend our three weeks in Thailand. Plently of choice there anyway. The flights are booked now, so it’s happening!

  17. I want to say thank you because of your blog we decided to go to Vietnam, Malasya, Singapore and Qatar with our one year old son and we had an amazing experience. Thanks to your advice with we have an unique experience, so thank you and thank you. You don´t imagine how much you had helped us !!!

  18. Hi, we are New zealanders considering a trip to southeast asia in June/July for about a month. We see from your site that it is possibly not the best time to go to the likes of Vietnam, Laos etc due to weather so we were more looking towards going from Chiang Mai down to Bangkok, then to Penang then Singapore. Possibly with an additional week of R&r at the end in Bali as it looks like Phuket etc might not be great due to weather.
    We have a 4 1/2 year old and a nearly 7 year old, both girls. we havent yet travelled anywhere challenging with the girls and the younger one is not hugely keen to walk for long distances so we need to keep that in mind, but we are keen to do something beyond the beachy type holiday. Is there a particular route that you would recommend (we would like to do the overnight train between Bangkok and chiang Mai but otherwise have no particular preferences) or places you recommend we spend time at around these areas that would work given the time of year?
    Thanks for your time and for providing such an informative site, it makes thinking about doing a trip like this much easier!

    • Koh Samui has good weather that time of year (though can still get several consecutive days that are overcast). Bali has some of the most consistent weather in SE Asia. It’s always enjoyable and central Bali is very good if you want to escape the heat. That said, I wouldn’t overthink the weather. Go to the places you’re most interested in – it always seems to work out. Kids love those huge downpours!

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