Lee Hayhurst discovers that Thailand still delights with three kids in tow
Visiting Thailand as a backpacker, I set out armed with little more than a pair of flip-flops, a fistful of baht and a Lonely Planet guidebook.
Planning a return visit with three kids in tow, I suspected that excess baggage might be only the start of our worries. My concerns were needless. Not only was it possible to pack enough for five people and remain within the 20kg per adult low-cost carrier limit, we found Thailand a destination that is hugely welcoming to children.
Long flights with children can seem daunting, but Thai Airways’ on-board entertainment meant the 11 hours passed relatively quickly.
Krabi: Finding Nemo
Just a two-hour flight from Bangkok, Krabi’s limestone islands jutting dramatically from the sea have made it Thailand’s most iconic landscape.
As the setting for seminal backpacker movie The Beach starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Phi Phi Leh is particularly famous.
The film depicts an unspoilt island paradise, but the reality is that today Phi Phi Leh is a busy hotspot with hundreds of day-trippers from the mainland.
To escape the tourist hustle and bustle, we chose to stay at Amari Vogue, which sits on the mainland on Tub Kaek Beach, 18 miles north of Krabi town.
Seven swimming pools terrace down to the beach, flanked by the hotel’s accommodation, two restaurants and spa. It’s unmistakably Thai, with gabled roofs, ornate carving and decorative elephants spouting water into the main pool.
However, the star feature is the view, over the bluest of blue seas to a collection of limestone islands – natural, serene, jaw-droppingly beautiful – and unmistakably Krabi. The shallow, golden beach is quiet, giving guests a taste of what it felt like for those pre-mass market backpackers, but with the distinct advantage of five-star luxury.
Amari Vogue isn’t necessarily your obvious choice for a family holiday – you’re likely to be outnumbered by couples and there aren’t the kids’ facilities you find at some family resorts – but for kids who are never happier than living in their swimming gear, it’s the perfect haven.
For our children, the undoubted highlight was a trip to the islands just off the coast in Phang Nga Bay. Booked on the spot with the local boatmen who wait in the shade of a coconut tree in their traditional longtail boats, our trip, for a group of nine, cost £73.
After sailing into a hidden lagoon through a tiny gap in the sheer cliff we stopped for a short paddle in the clear green water, before heading to a pristine beach for a spot of snorkelling.
This is a great spot to encounter marine wildlife, including a family of clown fish in their anemone home. We did, indeed, find Nemo!
A downside to the isolation is the £18 taxi ride to the nearest big town – Ao Nang is 10 miles away. There is a complimentary shuttle bus, but this gets booked out well in advance so advise clients to reserve their spots early.
Phuket: Water babies
Soon it was time to leave laid-back Krabi for Phuket, making the two-and-a-half hour journey to Naiyang Beach by road in a hire car.
This was booked through the Amari Vogue concierge, was more convenient than taking a bus and, at £50 for the day, very cost effective. Although slightly nervous about driving on Thai roads, I found it very easy, and a good way to see some more of the countryside.
At Dewa, a contemporary hotel built with families in mind, we stayed in a larger unit in the multi-storey Residences complex, with two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen and large dining and lounge area.
This was ideal for a family group because it meant we could self-cater when the mood took us, although in Thailand you’re never far away from a good quality and fantastic value restaurant.
The Dewa has its own restaurant next to the second pool and bar that overlook the beach road. This area is separated from the Residences by a series of individual villa units marketed to couples. There’s also a kids’ club and play area, and a games room with table tennis, pool, and air hockey.
Although nothing like as isolated as Tub Kaek in Krabi, Naiyang has managed to retain an authentic Thai feel and has not been overdeveloped like some Phuket resorts, partly because it is located just outside the Sirinat National Park.
Again, the pools and the beach were the main attractions for the kids, and our week in Naiyang began with a warm if somewhat soggy welcome when we found ourselves in the middle of the Thai new year or Songkran celebrations – the world’s biggest annual water fight!
Having children has changed the way we holiday, but our trip to Thailand proved we don’t have to lower our horizons. Maybe parents who have lost their nerve when it comes to more exotic destinations just need the advice of a good travel agent to rekindle their spirit of adventure.
Experience it yourself
Amari offers exclusive travel industry rates through its ‘Bonanza’ offer, giving agents a 50% discount on the best available rates, valid for stays until December 20. Use promo code BONANZA268.
Three of the best Thai family hotels
Angsana Laguna Phuket
Travel 2’s Oscar Lopera says: “Two floors of kids’ clubs makes this perhaps one of the most comprehensive in southeast Asia. The complex offers plenty for everyone to enjoy such as the Quest Fun Zone and the hotel’s own karaoke room. The fantastic swimming pool includes a toddlers’ tub section, artificial beach, lazy river, jet pools and an activity area.”
Book it: Travel 2 offers eight nights with breakfast for a family of four from £2,756, including flights.
Virgin Holiday’s Caron Streeter says: “This luxury five-star resort is a great option for families who don’t want to take the children on an internal flight after their international flight as it is just a two-hour car transfer from Bangkok. It offers an extensive kids’ club with a dedicated pool and meal plans are available just for the kids.”
Book it: Virgin Holidays offers seven nights with breakfast for a family of four from £2,995 including flights and transfers.
Premier Holidays Debbie Goffin says: “The slides in the water park will keep children entertained for hours, and the hotel also offers a children’s club and a great spa for mums to relax in while the kids play. All rooms, suites and villas face the bay, and family rooms are available.”
Book it: Premier Holidays offers eights nights with breakfast for a family of four from £3,955 including flights and transfers.
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