Known for its powdery beaches, sparking sea and excellent food, Phuket has long seduced honeymooners, backpackers, supermodels and film studios. It is also an incredibly popular holiday destination for families, thanks to its predictable climate, safe waters and decent choice of child-friendly accommodation. True, the long-haul flight is, well, long, but if you are going for a couple of weeks the ‘Land of Smiles’ has a lot to offer both parents and children.
I visited Phuket with my family (husband & two children, aged 5 & 3 years at the time) in October 2012, at the tail end of the monsoon, which was a surprisingly good time to visit. We benefitted from low season rates, half-empty beaches and short, tropical downpours that sent our children wild with excitement. The rain dances around the pool were one of their holiday highlights.
For the first five days we joined friends at Sugar Marina Resort, a simple hotel near Kata Beach in the far south of the island and for the second half of our stay – and in sharp contrast to the Sugar Palm – we maxed out our credit card in the swanky, five-star JW Marriott Phuket in the north. Both options, I am happy to report, were fabulous.
While staying at Sugar Palm we spent our days ushering children back and forth between beach and pool and taking turns to get a massage. They almost became a daily indulgence. At £10 an hour, why not? One afternoon, as I emerged from the spa in a state of spaced-out nirvana, I spotted two familiar silhouettes astride a surfboard. Our Aussie friend and surfing champ Rich, had taught my children how to hop up onto a surf board. Amazing!
More often than not, we were still on the beach after the sun went down. One evening, we lit a couple of paper lanterns and the children made a wish as they floated up into the night sky. Happy memories!
After parting company with our friends, we drove an hour north to JW Marriott, stopping en route to visit the Big Buddha, a 40 metre tall statue perched on a hill top in the centre of the island, with impressive views overlooking Phuket’s east coast. Built out of white marble tiles, it is one of the island’s most revered landmarks. Tourists can contribute to its restoration by buying and signing a marble tile or writing a wish on it.
On the way down the hill, our animal-loving, fearless three year old stopped to feed this elephant a basket of bananas. His sister was terrified and refused to get out of the car.
Our stay at the JW Marriott could not have been more different to our stay in the south. Firstly, a confession. I have never been a fan of big resorts. I associate them with crowded pools, greasy buffets and evenings of cabaret acts and karaoke. Even the five-star ones I can find a little bland. But I was curious to visit Marriottland after hearing about the ‘amazing’ time friends of mine had had there.
Located on Mai Khao beach (a protected nature reserve) and spread over 27 acres, the resort felt remarkably empty, even at full capacity which it was during our visit. Thankfully my apprehensions of poolside claustrophobia quickly dissipated. The resort embodied everything that is serene and relaxing. Furthermore, it excelled in entertaining our children. When they weren’t making towel sculptures and beading each other’s hair in the kids club, they were having the time of their lives cascading down water slides and cuddling baby elephants. This freed up time for my husband and I to laze by the pool and catch up on five years of interrupted sleep.
Our only regret, like all holidays I suppose, was that we couldn’t have stayed just a little bit longer. I would have liked to gone scuba diving and taken a kayaking trip in and around some nearby caves. Next time!
The best part
Spending time with our friends. The food. The weather. The surfing. The elephants. The Big Buddha. The paper lanterns. The spa. The beach. The kid’s club. The sunsets. The mojitos!
Three things you should definitely do
1. Make a wish! Light a paper lantern and watch it float up into the night sky or visit the Big Buddha and write your wish on a marble tile.
2. Travel with friends who have children the same age as yours, or embrace the resort + kids’ club. You deserve a holiday too!
3. Have a spa-tastic time!