I am sure as you sat down to plan your next family vacation Bangkok was not the first destination that came to mind. When people think of Bangkok, many think of movies like The Hangover 3 or thanks to Murray Head your mind thinks of the red light districts and seedy bars around the city. While those places exist, you have to go looking for them to find them. The Big Mango is actually a great place to bring the family to take in historical sites, parks, attractions and great food. While I cannot possibly cover all the attractions, I will cover what I believe to be a few exciting places to see while you are in town.
Wat Phra Kaew/ Royal Palace
This is a must-see in Bangkok. Wat Phra Kaew is one of, if not the most important historical and religious sites in all of Thailand. Within its confines is the ancient Emerald Buddha. While you are not allowed to take pictures of the Emerald Buddha you are welcome to come inside and look at it. Be sure to follow the lead of the locals as there is a proper way to sit and be respectful. The only person allowed to touch the Buddha is the king. Also around the grounds are incredible artwork, murals and statues that cannot be missed. There is the temple, the "church", a re-creation of Angkor Wat in Cambodia as well as many ancient chedis, pagodas and other structures. It is located within the grounds of the Royal Palace where the king used to live. The architecture is unlike anything you have ever seen. Feel free to join a tour, walk with an audio tour and/or explore the area on your own.
A few things to note, there is a dress code. Women need to be in long skirts, pants or dresses to the ankles and men need to be in long pants as well. You must wear at least a short sleeve shirt to get in. No tank tops. They are a little more forgiving with children but be aware of the policy. And that would be true for any temple you enter. But if you forget, do not worry they will gladly rent you an outfit to wear during your tour of Wat Phra Kaew and the Royal Palace. The other thing to note is the cost. While you can roam the grounds of the Royal Palace for free the cost to Wat PhraKaew is currently 400 Baht ($12.50) per person.
PS - While in the area, make a day of it and walk to Wat Pho (the Reclining Buddha) and then cross the river to Wat Arun. I won't cover it all here but feel free to research those two temples on your own.
If you have young kids and want to have some fun outside head on over to the Dusit Zoo. The locals call it Khao Din. Although many tourists do not go here, those that do really enjoy themselves. For only 100 Baht ($3 USD) per adult and your children are only 50 Baht ($1.50 USD) each. It is a traditional zoo in many ways where you get to see many exotic animals. There are monkeys, bears, lions, panthers, tigers, sharks, snakes, alligators, hippos, zebras, giraffes just to name a few and you can even feed the fish in the lake that works its way through the park. There are small exhibits and shows that range from 10 Baht to 40 Baht depending on what you want to do. There is a short little dinosaur exhibit, shark tank, seal show, elephant show and you can even rent paddle boats to go out on the lake. They allow you "up close and personal" with some of the critters. You can hold an albino python, a sweet little bird or even get the chance to feed the elephants.
The zoo grounds are well maintained and shaded. The fauna, trees and flowers are treated with care and it seems the animals are as well. There is a food court there as well as fast food and 7-11. You won't break the bank here and the family will have a great day out.
Siam Ocean World
By this time you are tired and sweaty and could use a little air conditioning. Well there is a hidden gem in the downstairs of Siam Paragon (popular mall in Bangkok) that is fun for all ages. That is Siam Ocean World.
They have transformed the basement of a mall into an underwater wonderland. There are aquariums from the size of your hand to 2 stories tall filled with exotic fish and animals from all over the world. You walk through a rain forest and cave, past the waterfall to take in salt water and fresh water fish, penguins, sting rays, lizards, snakes and spiders. You will be amazed at the size of the aquarium tanks and how close you can get to so many sea creatures. They even have a touch and feel section where the little ones can pick up horseshoe crabs and starfish. Before you know it you turn the corner and you are underwater! Walking through a glass tunnel you are surrounded sea water fish and sharks!
There are extra features as well. You can paddle boat out over that same water to look down on the sharks or for the really adventurous you can suit up and go underwater scuba diving. It is a fun day, gets you out of the sun and it is just as good for momo and dad as it is for the kids.
Again this is a little pricey at 1700 Baht ($53 USD) for adults and 1300 Baht ($40) for kids. If you are a foreigner living in Bangkok it is more reasonable to buy a year pass (1500 Baht Adult, 1200 Baht Child) than a one day pass.
Lumpini is a 142 acre park that sits at Rama 4 Rd and Wireless Rd. Any taxi driver or person living in Bangkok can tell you how to get there. It is certainly the most famous park in the city if not the entire country. If you want to get away from the noise, Lumpini is an oasis amidst the chaos. It features a 2.5 kilometer path around the perimeter where you can jog or walk in the mornings and ride bike in the late morning and mid-day. There is water working its way through the entire park and it is not hard to find shade from the sun. The park includes 2 playgrounds and 3 fitness areas. The fitness areas are worth seeing as they use old equipment and tires as weights. Monitor lizards roam free in the park. You can find them lounging lake side or swimming in the water seeking out its next meal. Don't worry, it won't be you. The scatter when you get too close. But it is a great park to rent duck shaped paddle boats, have a picnic, ride bikes, go for a walk and some seasons in the year they have live music in the evenings. If you go early enough (before 8am) you can catch all sorts of exercise classes from aerobics at Gate 4 to Tai Chi and various other exercises including props with fans and swords. The park is free and a couple of concession stands inside as well. You can go by taxi or take the MRT to Silom or the BTS Skytrain to Sala Daeng.
Lastly, A Few Tips
Traveling with a family is a joy yet it comes with its own set of frustrations as well. Just for your peace of mind, know a few things.
Bangkok has some of the best health care facilities in all of Asia. There are international hospitals that are top-notch and the pharmacies are incredibly helpful in offering the medicine you need at reasonable prices. If you get a little travel bug go to a local pharmacy, describe your symptoms (most know enough English to understand) and they will help.
Also, Bangkok is a mix of ancient and modern. It has every convenience you could want. If your young ones won't eat the local foods there are plenty of restaurants, fast food, markets and grocery stores to supply you with what you need.
Unless you are a local, tuk-tuks are the most expensive way to get around town so unless you just want the experience of riding in one stick with the taxis. Taxis are required to use their meters. In tourist areas they may not and you can't talk them into it so be sure to negotiate a price before taking off. Also carry the hotel card with you to get help with the taxi and people at the front desk of your hotel can even help you with writing down your destination(s) in Thai for the taxi driver. Also be sure to use the Skytrain and MRT system as much as possible. Air conditioned, cheap and on time.
There is so much I didn't cover that I regret, but be sure to check out these places as well as other fun amusement parks, zoos, museums and restaurants in town and be sure to pick up a good travel guide. Have fun. Be safe. Explore the world.