If you ever thought about taking your family to Thailand, allow Kelly Allen to show you how to do it in style. She and her brood (husband included) explored both the bustling metropolis that is Bangkok and the rural outskirts of Chiang Mai. This luxe Thailand family holiday was a must-do.
After landing at the airport you can either queue for a cab for the 35-minute ride to the Four Seasons Hotel Bangkok, or make things really easy for yourself and book the hotel’s fast track greet service. We were met at the gate and escorted through fast track customs, helped with our luggage and led to a waiting limousine. What a relief when you’ve stepped off the nine-hour flight from Sydney with little ones and you’re not familiar with the airport. We were headed to the Four Seasons, chosen for its central location in the Ratchaprasong shopping and entertainment district, less than a minute’s walk to the Ratchadamri sky train station. Our flight had arrived in the evening and we were exhausted but also excited to be in Thailand, and we were looking for an authentic Thai restaurant to begin our stay. We were grateful to find the hotel’s fabulous Spice Market restaurant.
Once in our rooms, the children were delighted to find an adorable soft toy elephant for each of them in a fabric bag with their names embroidered on the front – this was just the first of many personal touches throughout our stay. Our family group comprised two parents and four children so the hotel had arranged three deluxe rooms that connected to a shared lounge room, furnished with a desk, TV and seating area. We were on the executive club level and made use of the Executive Club’s beautiful living room with comfortable couches, books and magazines and were served cocktails and canapés there in the evenings. Being on the club floor also made it possible to have an early coffee in the morning across the hall while the kids were asleep, heading downstairs for a family breakfast a bit later. The breakfast was the full show; an extensive spread of hot and cold Asian and western dishes. We only had one day to spend in Bangkok and for that day the hotel’s concierge had arranged a private river cruise that included a stop at the Temple of Dawn, or Wat Arun Rajwararam as it is locally known, on the west bank of the famous Chao Phraya River that flows through Bangkok. The temple, one of Thailand’s most famous landmarks, is named after the Indian God of Dawn because the day’s first light reflects off its surface with a magical pearly iridescence.
The river cruise ended at The Grand Palace, a complex of buildings that has been the official residence of the Kings of Siam (and later Thailand) since 1782. The king, his court and his royal government were based on the grounds of the palace until 1925. The present monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX), currently lives at Chitralada Palace, but the Grand Palace is still used for official events. When the cruise ended we made our way back to the hotel and found interesting street markets along the way. Back at the sanctuary of the Four Seasons we submitted to a well-deserved massage at the hotel’s spa. After spending much of the day exploring the streets of Bangkok and absorbing the energy of such a colorful vibrant city there was nothing better than that relaxing Thai massage.
The next day we headed up to Thailand’s second largest city Chiang Mai, approximately 700 kilometres north of Bangkok, and a very different experience altogether. This beautiful city has a rich history and is known for its delicious northern Thai cuisine and friendly people. We stayed at the Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai in Mae Rim (about 30 minutes north of the city). The setting was rural and felt somehow more traditionally Thai. The resort is set on 32 acres and has 64 pavilions, 16 residences, 12 pool villas, and five residence villas. The two-bedroom residence our family stayed in was generous in size with a living room and dining room that separated the bedrooms. Our private housekeeper (or personal mae baan) stayed in a separate room.
With layered rice paddy fields and resident water buffalo, winding pathways and far off views of the mountains, arriving at the Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai felt like we were entering an old Thai village. Your first thought might be “do I really want to be 30 minutes outside of the city?” With five shuttle bus trips a day arranged by the hotel there were more than enough opportunities to shop, sightsee and check out the city and it was so nice to go back to the peaceful surroundings of the Four Seasons with its clean air and open spaces after a hot day spent in central Chiang Mai. The hotel’s spa was recently rated number four in all of Asia by Travel+Leisure magazine, and we enjoyed a traditional Thai massage with herbal compress, our daughters had their very first spa experience. They each had an Angel Massage, which is especially designed for kids, and may well have turned them into spa junkies forever.
One of the highlights of our visit to Thailand was the fantastic cooking school at the Four Seasons Mae Rim. At first I wasn’t sure if a 10 and 13 year old would be up for five hours of Thai cooking, but I was wrong. I paired up with one daughter and my husband with the other and we were shown how to make some amazing dishes before heading back to our open-air burners to replicate what we had just seen. We were proud of ourselves when we were done and were able to enjoy a delicious three-course meal that we had prepared ourselves. And on the subject of food, the restaurants at the hotel were all fantastic, and it’s especially famous for its poolside Sunday brunch. Another highlight of the holiday was the half-day private elephant camp called Elephant Life Experience. A 40-minute drive from the resort, the E.L.E. caters to private groups that want to learn more about these beautiful creatures. We met the elephants and their handlers (mahouts), learned basic commands, took a bareback ride and handed brushes to our elephants to help them paint a picture.
Depending on how high the river is guests may even get to give their elephants a bath. There were eight resident elephants when we visited and they all seemed happy and well cared for. At the end of our visit we were given a disc of photos of our experience and our paintings were rolled in a travel tube ready to take home – great souvenirs to pair with equally wonderful memories of a fantastic family holiday.
Where to Stay
Four Seasons Bangkok
Four Seasons Bangkok has 354 rooms, 35 suites and seven garden cabanas for guests to choose from. Rooms have views over tropical gardens, an outdoor pool, neighbouring residential streets or a golf course. Room rates start from THB8,350 (about A$257) per night. fourseasons.com/bangkok
Four Seasons Chiang Mai
Four Seasons Chiang Mai has 64 pavilion rooms with adjoining verandahs, 17 private residences in a Burmese temple architectural style and 12 pool villas that have views of the Suthep mountain range and tropical gardens. Room rates start from THB22,800 (about A$700) per night. fourseasons.com/chiangmai
When to go
Weather in different parts of Thailand varies greatly. The best time to visit Chiang Mai is between October and April outside of the rainy season. Bangkok has three main seasons (summer, rainy and winter) and is humid year round but the best time to visit is during winter (between November and March).
Thai Airways flies direct from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth to Bangkok. Return economy class fares start from A$977 from the eastern states and flight time is nine hours. Business class airfares start from A$3,685. From Perth, return, economy class flights start at A$859 and flight time is around seven hours. Business class airfares start from A$2,960. Thai Airways also flies to Chiang Mai via Bangkok. Return, economy class flights start from A$1,103 from the eastern states and from A$997 from Perth. Business class flights start from A$3,884 from the eastern states and A$3,177 from Perth.