Initially, I had planned on treating my husband to seven days in Phuket as a birthday gift. As the time for our trip drew near, we both grew anxious by the idea of leaving the kids at home for a week and admittedly a little guilty. When I asked around about how child-friendly a trip to Thailand would be, the results were not all positive.
Most of our friends agreed with my thinking that Thailand was only good for partying, whoring and long days on the beach, but we booked the extra two plane tickets, changed our hotel to a ‘family friendly’ one and hoped for the best.
We were recommended to stay on the ‘quiet side’ of Phuket, Karon Beach.
This area, while bustling with tourist activity, seemed to attract more families and old people, rather than the party seeking 20 somethings that flock to Patong. Karon Beach has a lovely white sandy beach with crystal blue water and a few water sports activities available from the beach. Across the beach, you will find dozens of restaurants and cafes offering a variety of Thai, seafood and Western foods.
A little further up from Karon Beach is Kata Beach, a slightly busier beach with more water sports activities available, as well as a number of street food style cafes available right on the beach. We loved Kata beach because the water was very shallow and allowed for longer and more relaxed play for the kids. We also loved the beach eateries. We found Kata Beach better priced for food and better tasting.
Another must do when in Phuket is the full day island hopping. We chartered a medium-sized boat for 8000 BAHT (R4000) for the four of us. This included transfers, refreshments, and lunch and we were limited to a party of about 25 people on the boat apposed to the usual 50-70 people you see on the bigger boats that island hop.
We started with Maya Beach, which the one that got famous with the movie, The Beach. It was incredibly beautiful, but crowded AF!
Our next stop was Bamboo Island, very well known for its amazing snorkeling. This was probably the highlight of our trip, as we were all given life jackets and told to jump in the sea to view the marine life. It was surreal to be surrounded by so many fish up close and personal and calm, warm water!
We were taken to a private island for a group lunch, which was a welcome escape from the crowds. I wish I knew the name of this beach, but it seemed like many of the tour groups stopped there, but at different times in order to allow for a little calmness amongst the tourist crazy.
It was a busy and tiring day, but I highly recommend this boat trip for the kids.
The biggest negative element was our own lack of planning for this trip. Ask anyone about the cheapest travel destination is for South Africans and they will say Thailand… this was not the case. From food to activities to transport, everything was severely overpriced.
Expect to pay between 700 BAHT to 1000 BAHT for a meal for two adults and two kids (without alcohol) Western food is a lot more pricey than Thai food and so fussy kids will push your bill up a lot if they stick to only eating burgers and pizzas instead of noodles and rice. Soda’s, chips and chocolates are also overpriced.
One of the big budget savers in Thailand is hiring a scooter, which can cost as little as 500 BAHT for the day and gives you complete freedom of movement. When you have kids, however, this is not an option and your transport costs go up in a big way. A small tuk-tuk trip to a nearby beach or town won’t cost less than 200 BAHT with round trips to tourist attractions like Big Buddha or Patong costing around 1000 BAHT. My recommendation would be to find a taxi (cab) driver you connect with, take his card and barter a good day rate to see multiple spots, rather than hiring a new driver for each individual trip.
When researching things to do with kids in Phuket, we were bombarded with animal encounters online. From the Zoo to Tiger Kingdom, elephant trekking and the aquarium- online all of it sounds amazing.. Iknew from my last trip, that elephant trekking was out due to how sad the elephants were treated, but I somehow assumed this treatment was not the same for all other animal encounters.
The biggest shock for me, was the price of things in Phuket. Thailand has always been marketed as a cheap destination for us Saffas, but the tourist activities were insanely pricey.
Most entries to things like the Tiger Kingdom and Zoo started at 1000 BAHT per person (R500 per person) whichif these activities resulted in an out of this world experience, perhaps would have been worth the trip, unfortunately, all animal encounters failed to impress and left us questioning the way Thai’s treat animals as a whole.
From the monkeys to the crocodiles to the lizards and snakes and tigers, all animals were poorly kept and looked after and we left feeling like we had somehow contributed to keeping these sad places open. We managed to have a cuddle with a baby monkey (featured above) which cheered the kids up a little from the dismal state of the zoo, but as a whole it was an experience we wish we avoided as a whole.
In summary, Phuket is a great trip for kids who enjoy water activities and lounging on the beach and are open to trying new foods. We loved the friendly nature of Thai people and truly found them to love kids in general. The hotel staff and tour operators really made an effort to ensure the kids are happy at all times. At one stage over dinner at the hotel, the kids were even invited to sing and play guitar with the live band to keep them entertained. We stayed at Horizon hotel Karon Beach because it was marketed as a family resort with a kids club. We found the kids activities as a whole lacking, but lapped up the various pools and lush lawns as a family each day.
*Mike and I have decided to go back to Phuket on our own at some time in 2018