In this edition of our Explorer’s Journal, SA Expeditions’ COO Riva Bacquet gives us a taste of a family adventure in Thailand. From the dazzling and historic cities of Bangkok and Ayutthaya, to the tropical gems of Erawan National Park and Phuket, join her as she guides you through her exciting expedition.
Hello from Bangkok! As they say in Thai, “Sawatdee kha from Bangkok!” (Or, “Sawatdee khrap” if you're male.)
Join me as I embark on my first family trip to Thailand! I’m Riva, Director at SA Expeditions, heading out to explore Southeast Asia with my family in tow as we gear up to launch new destinations in the region, bringing SA-style travel to new parts of the globe.
While I feared a 23-hour journey would be torture at best (going from Los Angeles to Bangkok with my husband, my 4-year-old, my brother, and his family), I was pleasantly surprised to find Singapore Airlines both affordable and extremely comfortable. Economy seats were larger than average, reclined further than average, and the meals were first-class quality. Before we knew it, we were getting settled in Ariyasom Villa, our 4-star boutique hotel.
Bangkok renewed my passion for cities. With the expertise of our private guide, we explored the city far and wide on our own two feet, taking advantage of a variety of public transport including boats, trains, and tuk tuks. We were mesmerized by golden buddhas peeking out above the city’s rooftops, ancient Thai temples, and little neighborhoods along the riverbanks beneath towering skyrises.
We got to see Wat Pho, home to more than one thousand Buddha images, as well as one of the largest single Buddha statues: the Reclining Buddha. We took a boat tour on the khlongs (Thai canals) in Thonburi, revealing a more traditional side of Bangkok with old wooden townhouses, improbable floating kitchens, and little lizards! Our last tour was through the Grand Palace, home of the Kings of Siam of the Chakri Dynasty, and my family and I were absolutely dazzled.
We closed the night out in style at the Skybar at Le Bua Hotel, best known for its cameo in the Hangover II movie. The sunset views of the skyline below were out of this world, and of course we had to create the famous scene from the film.
From Northwest Bangkok to Kanchanaburi province, we were transferred to a little pier in Sai Yok National Park to board a long-tail boat to our unique floating accommodations set right in the jungle. We took off to Erawan National Park, famous for its emerald-green dense jungles and thundering waterfalls, and hiked about 2.5 miles up a well-marked path and wooden stairs. After two hours and my four-year-old daughter leading the way, our entire family made it to the top. We rewarded our efforts with a dip in the cool crystal-clear water, splashing and playing as little fish nibbled at our ankles.
Thai cuisine is one of my all-time favorites, but I was not expecting the spice level; their level 1 would be a level 6 in Southern California, so much so that we found ourselves ordering extra simple foods so we could catch a break from our eyes watering. I’m not complaining though, as the food was phenomenal! After lunch, we boarded our kayaks for a lazy float down the Kwai River, taking in the sunshine as our little one took rein of the oars.
Ayutthaya is Thailand’s most alluring ancient city. This ancient capital of Siam has been engraved into history and is still shrouded in mystery, with striking religious imagery, crumbling ancient temples, and a turbulent past. Starkly different when compared to the Disney-like colorful beauty of Bangkok’s Grand Palace, the Ayutthaya ruins transport you back in time. Walking amidst the UNESCO World Heritage Site, one can easily imagine the early splendor of the city before it was destroyed by the Burmese army in 1767. The most notable were Wat Phra Si Sanphet, a royal temple during Ayutthaya's glory days, and Wat Mahathat, where the head of Buddha hides embedded in the roots of a tree.
After a quick 1.5-hour flight, we landed in Phuket, known worldwide for its exquisite white sandy beaches, clear emerald sea, its nature, and animated nightlife. We were wholeheartedly welcomed by sparkeling sunshine, warm clear waters, and more delicious food including fried rice, pad Thai, coconut shrimp, Thai spicy soup, and even some French oysters – an unexpected but delightful treat. We also tasted all the local beers like responsible travelers including Singha, Chang, and Leo, as well as others imported from Japan.
The next day, we headed to the Elephant Sanctuary to observe these gentle giants as the rain came and went through the tropical air. As the island's first real ethical elephant sanctuary, the sanctuary offers absolutely no elephant riding or shows. Instead, we learned about the santuary‘s mission and marveled at its inhabitants from a safe distance as they roamed around accompanied by their caretakers. During their feeding time, we had the exciting opportunity to see our new elephant friends up close as we fed them a basket of various fruits.
On the last day of our Thai adventure, my family and I embarked by boat on a spectacular group tour exploring sea caves and hidden lagoons in the Andaman Sea. Each of us had our own guides that paddled our three-person canoes into tiny sea caves. Since the cave ceiling was extremely low, we laid all the way back until we reached the other end, where we found ourselves in hidden lagoons - only accessible through these small sea caves.
The open sea felt like bath water - we could've swam in it all day! Not to mention, my four-year-old was over the moon. The waves of rain came and went, and the water was warmer than the air. After dark, we floated our own self-made flower Krathong – a spiritual Thai tradition – in gratitude for our transformative family vacation.
Thinking about your next family vacation? This Thailand Jungle Family Adventure makes for an unforgettable trips for travelers of all ages. Spice up your trip with Thailand’s idyllic beaches or even add Cambodia to your itinerary. Contact us and we’ll take the work off your hands to create a perfect family vacation.
About the author: Originally from California, Riva Bacquet serves as COO of SA Expeditions from her home in Lima, Peru, where she’s a nationalized citizen. Riva has been with SA for over a decade, playing critical roles from our very first Destination Expert to now a managing partner. With her unique touch of grace and experience, she has helped build a company that is more flexible, capable, and compassionate that would have otherwise been unimaginable without her.