Southeast Asia has plenty of kid-friendly destinations, with loads of pretty but safe beaches, fun and unusual activities and lovely natural attractions. We've selected a few of our favourites below, but plenty more are around! Almost anywhere you head in the region will be adaptable for kids, particularly if they're slightly older, and you'll find people, from your guesthouse or hotel staff to locals on the street, highly obliging when it comes to helping out with children.
1) Located off Thailand's west coast in the gorgeous Andaman sea, Ko Lanta's chief attraction for kids is its safe swimming. The beaches are postcard-perfect so Mum and Dad will be happy sipping their cocktails on their deckchairs, keeping an eye on the kids splashing in the shallow turquoise waters. The island has become quite upmarket so you'll find very comfortable resorts, and a Muslim-majority population lives here so you won't find the raucous and sometimes seedy nightlife that blight some of Thailand's other beach resort islands. Go on a diving or snorkelling trip, take a kayak excursion to the lesser explored west coast, or hire a bicycle and have a wander through the traditional villages on the east coast.
2) The Thai town of Kanchanaburi is an easy bus or train ride from Bangkok and is a great side trip if you need to kill a few days in the capital. Stay at a raft house for the novelty factor (though be warned the "disco ducks" might mean you'll need ear plugs to get a sound sleep) and enjoy a boat ride along the pretty River Kwai, and a trip to the Erawan waterfall, one of Thailand's most popular local tourist spots. The kids will be amused by the floating nun and older kids will appreciate the sombre but very well done Hell Fire Pass Museum. A cooking class at Apple's might also go down well.
3) Thailand's capital of Bangkok might seem a little overwhelming at first, but it harbours plenty of things for kids to do. Hire a boat and tour out-of-the-way khlongs for a glimpse of yesteryear, tour Siam Ocean World for a peek at a tropical underworld or head out to Dusit Zoo for land animals galore. Visit a vast, air-conditioned mall -- some have mini-playgrounds and their food courts are a great place for cheap meal. The Children's Discovery Museum gets rave reviews and you might want to follow the cerebral assault by getting physical by going ice skating. Let your kids practise their manners by taking them to a fancy high tea at a five-star hotel for a treat, or at the other extreme wander through a wet market for a peek at exotic fruits, vegetables and squirmy things.
4) The northern Thai capital of Chiang Mai offers cooler temperatures and a vast array of attractions. Doi Suthep is a standard stop, with the Huay Kaew stream heading down from it not a bad place for kids to have a splash. Chiang Mai Night Safari is well done and the night bazaar is great for some bargaining. The Elephant Conservation Centre is a way out of town but one of the better elephant camps in the region, while Taweechol Park on the road to Doi Saket gets good reports as a relaxing day out for the family -- you can feed animals at the petting zoo, rent bikes, and take a ride on paddle boats. For something different, head to the "Flight of the Gibbon", an adventure through the treetops on skybridges and zip lines. Something more sedate? Try Queen Sirikit Botanic Gardens at Mae Rim. Lastly, don't forget the Sunday Walking Market.
5) Cambodia's Ko Tonsay (Rabbit Island), located just off Kep in Cambodia's south, is perfect for an absolutely low-key couple of days for your family to reconnect. Brand this to your kids as an old-style adventure: The accommodation is very rustic, the beach empty and safe, the seafood perfect (your kids will be able to wade out to choose their crabs). You'll be completely offline as power only comes on at night, letting you all pay attention to each other for a few days. Take plenty of sunscreen and games.
6) Come for the dolphins, stay for the beauty. Cambodia's Kratie is where to base your family for a visit to see the critically endangered Mekong Irrawaddy Dolphins – only a few score are left in the world, and one of their remaining habitats is at Kampi, about 20 km away. Dolphins aside, head to Ko Treung across the river from Kratie and hire some bicycles for a lovely unspoilt Cambodian rural experience. Your kids may be amazed to see how entire villages live without the Internet.
7) Vietnam's World Heritage-listed Hoi An is a stunning historical port town with plenty to do. Take an eco-tour to visit Cham Island, check out Tra Que veggie farm to prove to your kids that veggies don't come wrapped in plastic and hire some bikes and head out to the nearby beaches. Budding chefs can take a cooking class -- our favourites are Cafe 96 and Hai Scout Cafe. Kids growing out of their clothes too quickly? This is the spot to get tailor-made clothes for a song, as well as shoes. Fashion-conscious teenagers will go wild.
8) Nestled in the mountains of north Vietnam, the former French retreat of Sapa is a colourful hideaway to take your kids. Enjoy the cooler temperatures (take winter clothes during, well, winter), browse the markets and observe the different ethnic minorities at work, go walking through amazing rice terraces and sign up for a cooking class. If you're in the region over the weekend, the Bac Ha Sunday Market should also be on your list.
9) Malaysia's Perhentian Islands, off the northeastern mainland coast, are a great location for kids to learn how to snorkel or dive, and an excellent destination for going swimming with massive sea turtles. The nightlife on these conservative Muslim islands is also low-key, making this an ideal family destination. Aside from swimming and eating, there's little to do, so take along some board games and take it easy.
10) The fabled town of Luang Prabang in Laos will appeal to the whole family. Mum and Dad can relax in one of the many gorgeous cafes sipping Lao lattes while the kids take a cooking class, and everyone can pile into a boat to chug up the Mekong to the Pak Ou caves, home to a gazillion little Buddha images. Hire cycles for a family trip out to the pretty Kwang Si falls.
11) Vang Vieng might have a reputation as a backpacker haven, but it's also not a bad little spot for a family to spend a very active few days. Go inner-tubing down the river flanked by fabulous limestone karsts, go caving, and try an adventure on an array of equipment taking advantage of the river: flying foxes, swinging cables ... you name it, Vang Vieng probably has it.
12) What doesn't Singapore have for families? It's not cheap, but the city state has an amazing array of activities. If you've been hanging out in Southeast Asia for a while, just pushing a pram along a footpath – that's right, they've got them! – will be a novelty. More seriously, museums abound for some educational adventures, animal lovers can head to the Night Safari, Jurong Bird Park or Crocodilarium, and plenty of parks and gardens will beckon for kids to have a good old-fashioned run around. Sentosa Island alone offers loads to do, while a spin on the tallest ferris wheel in the world, the Singapore Flyer, is something a bit different.
By Stuart McDonald
Last updated on 7th September, 2009.
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