The Travelers: Americans Terry and Amy Lee, and their girls Hannah (7) and Lydia (5).
Destination: Bangkok and Hua Hin, Thailand
The Plan: Amy had to be in Bangkok for a conference, so the rest of the family took advantage of a week-long stay in Bangkok, with a two-night side trip to Hua Hin for some R&R at the beach.
The Preparation: The family booked their tickets with Thai Airlines and the hotel was already organized through Amy’s work. The family received advice from a colleague living in Bangkok on where to go and what to see outside the city – either Changmai and mountains in the north or beaches in the south. Beaches were a strong drawcard for the girls, so the family chose Hua Hin, a small resort town about two-and-half hours’ drive south of Bangkok.
The Sights: On their first day, Terry organized a four-hour tour to the magnificent gold-dipped Grand Palace through their concierge at the Hotel Natural Ville. The tour cost around USD 48, which included an English-speaking guide and private driver. The Grand Palace is a mural of jeweled stones and mirrors. The bell-shaped stupa, Phra Si Ratana Chedi, is said to contain a piece of the Buddha’s breastbone. The Lee family sadly missed the famed Emerald Buddha (carved from green jasper, and Thailand’s most significant religious icon), as this section of the Palace was closed when they visited.
Seeing Snakes: The Snake Farm at the Queen Saovabha Memorial Institute (run by the Thai Red Cross Society) opened in 1923 as a facility for the manufacture of antidotes to snake venom. During the farm’s snake show, the family was awe-struck by a 20-foot king cobra. Terry got the chills when the interpreter told everyone to remain completely still. (USD 2/per person, open 8.30am-4.30pm weekdays, 8.30am-noon weekends and holidays, 1871 Rama IV Street, Lumpini sub-district, Bangkok, +66 2 252 0161-4)
Counting Crocodiles: There are more than 60,000 fresh and saltwater crocodiles at Samut Prakan Crocodile Farm and Zoo, south of Bangkok, said to house the world’s largest crocodile (over 18 feet). In search of it, the Lees trekked over countless crocodile pits (via raised walkways), agog at the heavily-packed nests of crocodiles below, some as long as 15 feet and as fat as a bus. You can watch feeding time (a tasty menu of fish heads served with a shovel), or go “croc fishing” with chickens on a fishing line. The center also raises tigers, elephants, snakes and chimpanzees, and the girls loved their short elephant ride. (USD 10/USD 6 for kids; see Crocodile Farm on Virtual Tour of a Thai City for more info).
Thailand in an Afternoon: Billed as the world’s largest outdoor museum, Ancient City (about 45 minutes from Bangkok) is a historical theme park featuring 109 to-scale replicas of Thailand’s most important sites and monuments. Take a bicycle around this 320-acre park or use the mini-rail service. Due to its more remote location, it’s best to organize a round-trip tour, and be sure to leave by 3pm to avoid peak hour. (USD 1.60/person including bicycles and rail rides
River Tour: Don’t miss an exciting long-tail boat tour on the Chao Phraya River. These skinny boats have canopies and cut a fine parry through the busy river. You can also navigate the waterways (klongs) behind the main drag. Ramshackle houses squat on the river’s edge, alongside temples and well-kept wharves of mansions from a lost era. The Lees spent around three hours in a long-tail boat and even went through a canal lock. The entire tour was organized through a small tour company right on the river and cost around USD 25 for use of the boat.
What to Eat: The family enjoyed Bangkok nightlife at the Suan Lum Night Bazaar. It’s clean, very cheap, has plenty of tables and a aisles of tempting stalls. The girls recommend the pad thai. The Lees also recommend the hawker stalls on Khao San Road – a vibrant street, bustling with restaurants, shops and guesthouses.
Getting Around: Avoid taking tuk-tuks, as they’re notorious for scamming you for every baht. Instead, opt to sit back in the air-conditioned comfort of a taxi, and insist on using the meter. The skytrain and river taxis are also great options to get around the city. Check out Bangkok Skytrain and Hotel Thailand for information.
Fun in Hua Hin: The Lees organized a car to Hua Hin through their Bangkok concierge – whose brother just happened to run a car service from Bangkok – for only USD 63 (one-way). Most hotels can offer similar transfers; otherwise, book online with a travel agent like Global Easy Tour or Mercury International Travel. Buses and trains also go to Hua Hin – so the choice depends on your comfort zone.
Sweet Dreams: The family stayed at the Leng Hotel in Hua Hin, a three-star hotel 100 meters from white sands and whopping waves. Terry recommends staying at the southern part of the beach, where the stretch of sand is a little wider and sandcastle-building material is more abundant. In the evening, the local night market offers great food.
Magical Moments: Exposing the girls to a different culture, one that is so different from Beijing, and showing the girls a real life Kingdom with a real life King! King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the world’s longest-reigning monarch, had recently celebrated his 80th birthday, so Bangkok was in a particularly festive mood. The Lees also loved the way the Thai people greeted them with their hands to their chests. Yin dee – welcome!