How to do Thailand with small children
Can you travel half way across the world with a three year old and a five year old for a holiday of a lifetime and actually relax? Yes, you can! We just did that and it was flipping AWESOME!
Prior to this we’d been as far as the Lake District and camping in France with them, so we had some trepidation about flying long haul with two young kids! My husband’s brother and his family moved to Sydney three years ago and we wanted to spend some quality time with them, we just didn’t fancy the full 24 hour flight so decided to meet half-way (ish!)
We looked at various places, and originally planned to travel at Christmas – but the cost put us off! £24k for a two week holiday in Mauritius? I think not! Hubby and I honeymooned in Thailand in 2012 and knew we’d like to go back one day. We loved the food, the beaches and the culture...and as a photographer, I knew I’d love all the photographic opportunities. Plus...we’d seen a few other people with kids there last time, so it couldn’t be that bad.....could it?
We booked via Travelbag and chose a hotel in Kata, Phuket – Hotel Katathani based on its facilities, wanting to ensure the kids would be happy on site, in case they were suffering with jetlag. With seven pools, a kids splash park, a beach and a kids club, there was plenty to keep them occupied. All that was left was to seek permission from school to take our son out for four days, since we booked for the October half term and the week after. A risky decision weather-wise at the end of the monsoon season, but the Christmas prices were simply out of the question.
The flights We flew on Etihad airlines out of Manchester, with a stopover in Abu Dhabi. So seven hours and then a further six. I’d asked the Seatkickers community for tips and as a result, packed plenty of snacks! All in all, we really needn’t have worried so much – the kids were fine! We made a big deal about going on an aeroplane - which was super exciting for them - although they assumed they were in the sky as soon as we got on the thing! They loved having their own TV screens and watched Toy Story 4 before settling down to sleep. Admittedly, it wasn’t the most comfortable I’ve ever been in my life as I ended up with a three year old on top of me for most of it....but the main thing was – the kids were ok!
I suspect a lot of it has to do with the time of the flights, but as ours were overnight, they slept without much argument. We only had one little grumble from our eldest who asked why planes were slower than buses “because it’s taking so long to get there.” I explained that you couldn’t travel this far by bus and promised it would be worth it when we got there. We arrived in the evening and the kids went straight to bed for a solid 12 hours, and boom we were on Thailand time with no jetlag! Yes! (I mean, we were a little tired the first few days but nothing major!)
The kids club The heat hit us as soon as we left our rooms. It wasn’t overly hot – about 30 degrees - but it’s just such a different climate there; so humid. Sheer excitement for the kids as they reacquainted themselves with their long lost cousin (4) and met their new baby cousin (11 months!) The three older ones spent hours in the pool, and then we tried out the onsite kids club for an hour. The beauty of it was that you didn’t have to book, and you could drop in and out for as long as you liked. I never thought I’d be 'that Mum' who shoved their kids in the kids club....but they needed a break from the sun and they loved being independent and playing with new toys of course. There were lots of crafts and lovely staff on hand. Most days the older three would ask to go to kids club for an hour or two – and who were we to deny them?
Food This was my next biggest concern after the flights. Neither kid likes “spiky food”, or spicy if you prefer....and my youngest is a fussy eater at the best of times. We LOVE Thai food though, the hotter the better, Thai-Thai spicy for us all the way, so we definitely didn’t fancy eating in pizza restaurants all week. As the hotel was on a b&b basis we’d all have a good breakfast and then - along with everyone else in the hotel - would make up some sandwiches for the kids’ lunches. We’d then get a tuktuk, or “party taxi” as the kids named it, out to a local restaurant in the evening. Fortunately all the restaurants we visited offered either pasta, pizza, chicken nuggets or fish and chips for the kids. Not the most varied diet they’ve ever had, but they were happy, and they were eating, and for us that was the main thing!
Day trips We didn’t do loads of travelling around because the kids were content in the pool and at the hotel beach, they loved getting their rubber rings on and riding the waves (with close parental supervision - obviously!) They learned to swim without armbands during the two weeks of splashing about, but we did take them on trips to the Phuket Elephant Sanctuary, the waterpark and on a half day speedboat trip to the Kai Islands. Hubby had two days scuba diving, and I took myself off on a day trip to the James Bond Island because I had an urge to see the impressive scenery and take lots of photos!
The Elephant Sanctuary We wanted to take the kids to see some elephants...but we DIDN’T want to take them to one of the tourist traps where the elephants were potentially mistreated. It’s the only ethical elephant sanctuary on Phuket Island – home to nine female elephants who had been rescued from the tourist industry and were now able to roam freely in the grounds of the sanctuary. We arrived and watched a short video about what those poor Elephants ensure in order to ‘have their spirits broken’ enough to be able to be ridden / sat on / perform for their human audience. I won’t go into detail, but it made me cry and I will never ever visit one of those places again. (We did, in 2012 – I didn’t know then what I know now!)
We were then able to feed a bucket full of fruit to some of the elephants – they were behind a fence but not shackled, and my son’s favourite picture is of him placing a banana on the elephant's trunk.
Next stop was the hydrotherapy pool, where two of the more injured elephants were splashing around. The kids were able to spray them with water, but that’s as close as we got – and it was enough. We went for a jungle walk (wellies were provided) and saw a few of the old girls pottering about. The kids were driven around in a golf buggy, and there were so many photo opportunities for me. Each elephant has its own Mahout – a man responsible for their welfare. These Mahouts would follow the elephants all day, and walk them up to the feeding stations - with no shackling or cattle prodding.
We finished with a lovely buffet lunch and the kids went to play in the playroom. They loved this trip and I know it’s created some lasting memories for them.
This was a great day out for our five year old and four year old niece....but our thrill- seeking three year old wasn’t allowed on any of the bigger slides, even the ones where you go down with them.
There was plenty for her to do though and she didn’t seem too frustrated – it just meant we had to
take it turns on the big slides with the big kids. (There were two that were too big even for him, but I had a sneaky ride on, big kid that I am!)
We were unsure if the kids would last the distance of a full day trip so we opted for this half-day
snorkelling tour. White sandy beaches, tiny uninhabited islands and short bursts of speedboat. The
kids loved it, even though they were snorkelling in waist-high water with not much to see, they loved the adventure and being able to tell everyone they had snorkelled. It just so happened that this day was the hottest of the holiday, so we were quite grateful it was only a half day as it was difficult to stop the burn against those bright white sands!
In hindsight, I’d have taken the five year old on the full day boat trip I did – he’d have loved kayaking through the caves, seeing bats in the caves and monkeys on the rocks. And we stopped at a floating village where you could observe the local kids in their school. He’d have loved that. BUT.....I really enjoyed my day without any distractions!
Again, we flew via Abu Dhabi so it was six hours and then seven.....and because we had night flights, it felt like the longest night ever for me, but the kids slept really well. I think I’d take slightly less hand luggage next time because I had to carry a sleeping three year old onto the 2nd
flight, and that almost did my back in. I think I’d also take an eye mask and ear plugs next time, because I’m a light sleeper at the best of times! All in all though, much better than we could have hoped for...which leads me on to....
The next trip!
Perhaps we’ve got overconfident after one long haul trip, but we think we’re going to go to the
whole hog and visit the family in Australia in 2021. Now we have done one trip, it’s certainly made us realise that a) the world is there to be seen and b) kids aren’t a barrier to us doing that. They can come along for the ride too, what an adventure they’re going to have!
Written by Hannah Brooke
Hannah is a family and wedding photographer, based in Wetherby, West Yorkshire. She has 2 children, a boy and a girl age 5 and 3, and loves being outdoors walking her dog, in the countryside or by the sea. (Her website is www.hannahbrookephotography.co.uk in case you wanted to chek out her work!)