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Deborah and her family enjoy Thailand’s highlights

Filed Under: Blog, Family Adventure, Thailand

Posted on 14th Nov 2016

Our Itinerary

Day 1
Bangkok – Arrival and VIP Meet & Greet
Day 2
Bangkok –  City tour
Day 3
Bangkok – Chiang Rai – Anantara Golden Triangle
Day 4
Chiang Rai, Anantara Activities
Day 5
Chiang Rai – Chiang Mai
Day 6
Chiang Mai, Flight of the Gibbon
Day 7
Chiang Mai, Chiang Dao Family Adventure
Day 8
Chiang Mai – Phuket – Elephant Hills
Day 9
Phuket- Elephant Hills activities
Day 10
Phuket, Krabi – Rayavadee
Day 11-12
Krabi – Free at leisure
Day 13
Krabi – Phuket
Day 14-16
Phuket, Free at leisure
Day 17
Phuket – Departure

Back in the BC years (Before Children), my Husband and I loved an active holiday, venturing regularly to far-flung places. The further away and more exotic the better.

Once our children came along all of that changed and we found ourselves conforming to the stereotype that people with young kids don’t fly long haul. So, a number of years followed where we holidayed at luxury hotels and resorts close to home with a crèche or kids club and spent our time lazing on the beach or by the pool.

But as all intrepid explorers know, the travelling bug never leaves you and this year we felt it was time to show our girls, now aged 10, 8 and 3, the big wide world beyond our London bubble, and something in total contrast to what they know. So we booked a couple of weeks in Thailand.

The British Airways flight from Heathrow is a night flight. We changed our watches to local time as soon as we got on the flight, stuck our 3-year-old in a pair of pyjamas and hoped for the best. Luckily she slept for 9 out of the 12 hours with the other two managing to get around 5 or 6 hours. The flight arrived into Bangkok at 9 AM local time and having booked the VIP meet and greet service we were whisked through immigration in a jiffy and were at our hotel being checked into our room by 10:30 AM. After a 2-hour power nap we were ready to start our adventure!

Bangkok

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First stop The Peninsular, Bangkok. I loved this hotel. The location is riverside and every room has a fabulous view of the river. The higher up the room the better the view. Our deluxe suite gave us oodles of space. Two big bedrooms, two large bathrooms, a lounge area and lots of dressing room space all behind one front door. There ‏is a stunning swimming pool also with a lovely river view and there is a buzzy and warm atmosphere throughout the hotel. It’s a good central location and easy to get about via the different modes of transport. Breakfast is incredible so make sure you get up early enough to make the most of it.

We spent two days in Bangkok and wanted a healthy mix of sightseeing and shopping. We had pre-booked all of our tours with English speaking guides. The rest of arrival day was spent with the kids being whisked off for pizza making and cookie baking by the incredible staff at the Peninsula, followed by a relaxing few hours cooling off in the pool. In the evening, we headed across the river by ferry to Asiatique, an area of restaurants and shops, for a bite to eat and a mooch. Then it was early to bed ready for our full day of sightseeing the following day.

We were collected from our hotel at 8:30 AM and started off with an early visit to the local flower market. This is a lovely place to visit; flowers are used as offerings to the temples, of which there are many so it’s a busy, lively and colourful place and should be seen. We then hopped onto a couple of Tuk Tuks for a ride around the city. It is incredibly hot in Bangkok in April so this was a great way to see the city without tiring little legs, mine included.

We decided in advance that we would keep temple visits short and limited in order to retain the childrens’ interest. We chose Wat Pho with its magnificent gold reclining Buddah – If you just visit one temple, this is the one to see – and Wat Arun. Being limited for time, we decided not to go into the Grand Palace and opted instead for a drive past in the Tuk Tuk. We then took a long tail boat ride along the river getting a glimpse into locals houses. This was my favourite part of our city tour as it allowed us to see a part of Bangkok life we would not have been able to see on foot or by road.

Chiang Rai

Our next stop was Chiang Rai in the far North where Thailand meets Myanmar and Laos. We stayed at the wonderful Anantara Golden Triangle Resort where as part of the all-inclusive package you get a complimentary activity for each day of your stay, with 3 to choose from. We spent 2 nights there and wanted to do the Elephant experience on the first day so we needed to get there nice and early, meaning a very early departure from Bangkok. The flight is just over an hour to Chiang Rai from Bangkok so we were all able to get a bit of shut-eye on budget Thai Smile Airline (like Easyjet but less scratch-cardy). Again, we were met at the airport on arrival and taken straight to the Anantara. With an efficient and seamless check-in, we were in our rooms by late morning, tucking into the personalised cookies awaiting us.

The Anantara overlooks the Mekong River and has the most incredible views. It has its own elephant sanctuary shared with the Four Seasons resort next door. The elephants graze on the land on the plains next to the river and you can see them from your balcony and hear them trumpeting at all times of the day. It has a safari-like feel. It’s not a large resort and has a boutique feel, with its traditional Thai décor, stunning infinity pool overlooking the river and impressive Spa.

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Once we were settled in, we headed to the pool for a swim, a spot of lunch and a doze in the shade of the generous parasols next to our comfy sun loungers. Refreshed and re-energised, we were ready for our “Mahout experience”. This involves being an elephant handler (Mahout) for the afternoon. You are taken to the area where the elephants live and given a little talk about them, their habitat, where they have come from and what the foundation does to help them. All of the elephants are rescue elephants, and have been saved from logging in the forests or working in a circus or street performing. The Mahouts still own the elephants and rent them to the foundation. This allows the Mahouts to maintain a business and earn a living but offers the elephants a kind and safe environment. The Mahouts’ families also live at the foundation and many of the wives make silk scarves using the silk from silk worms. They show you how they do this. We met some lovely Volunteers from the USA and Canada who had been working at the foundation for several months and they stayed with us to pass on their wonderful knowledge.

The rest of the afternoon is spent riding on the elephants and taking them on a long walk around the river learning the commands from the Mahouts.. There are no harnesses or seats, you sit on the elephant as their own Mahout would – straddling their neck. This does not hurt them and is the most comfortable place for them to carry weight. The trek lasts approximately one hour and then you get to take them into the river for a bath. It’s incredible to watch them rolling around in the river with glee revelling in the coolness of the water, ears flapping with happiness.

You do get dirty, and a bit muddy from the waist down from going into the water with the elephants, but the Anantara gives you cotton fisherman-style trousers to wear which also protect your legs from the prickles of the hair on the elephants.

The elephants at the Anantara are incredibly gentle and appear content around people including children making us feel quite safe. All of us rode on the elephants including our three-year-old who was taken on by one of the volunteers.

It was one of the most incredible experiences and one of my favourite memories from the whole trip.

After this we enjoyed some sundowners by the pool and then dinner in the main restaurant before turning in for an early night after an extremely long and exciting day.

Chiang Mai

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We were picked up bright and early by our guide for a three-hour drive in a comfortable air conditioned van. We stopped on the way at the white temple. This is the most magnificent temple, the most beautiful one we saw on the entire trip and an absolute must-see. You only need an hour or so at most.

We were booked into a deluxe villa at the Dhara Dhevi hotel for 3 nights. Formerly a Mandarin Oriental, this is a regal, sprawling resort over acres of land. Our villa was on 2 floors connected by an external staircase and came with a private plunge pool. It had lots of space although we all shared the large bedroom upstairs, as without an internal staircase, we couldn’t put the children downstairs in the living room.

We had a jam packed itinerary of activities in Chiang Mai and were therefore unable to make much use of the facilities in the hotel but there are a lot on offer including cycling around the beautiful grounds, a huge spa, 2 impressive swimming pools, numerous restaurants and a fabulous kids’ club including some resident ponies.

We did however manage to shoehorn in some rice planting out in the rice fields at the hotel and once again, I think this is a must-do activity. We all really enjoyed it, despite the heavens opening to lavish a torrent of tropical rain down on us. We learnt in detail about the whole process of rice production, upon which Thailand is so reliant. The hotel provides the whole outfit including long socks that you wear into the water as you plant the rice. At the end of the experience, they hose you down of the mud and collect the soiled clothes, leaving you as good as new.

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On our second day in Chiang Mai, we had booked a zip wire in the jungle. As our 3-year-old was too young to do this, we had booked her in with a babysitter, Li, for the day at the hotel. Li was very accommodating, coming especially to meet our daughter Daniella the night before so that she got to know her first. She did a sterling job keeping Daniella entertained all day, taking her to the kids’ club for a few hours, and taking her around the resort to meet all the staff who spoiled her with endless treats.

Zip wiring is not for the faint hearted, but it is unbelievable fun. I’d recommend taking a look at the various videos on YouTube before committing to this. We booked through Flight of the Gibbons which has won a whole host of awards including safest zip wire in Thailand. They recommend it for children aged over 5 but I think over 7s is more appropriate. This is a long course of various zip wires, the longest in the world at over 5km, is pretty high up over the 1500 year old jungle and takes approximately 2 hours to complete. They pick you up from your hotel and drive you up into the jungle, which takes approximately an hour or so if you’re staying in Chiang Mai.

For our last day in Chiang Mai we had organised for a guide to take us up into some tribal villages. I’d done a lot of research about this in advance. I was really keen to try a home-stay which means you stay overnight at the village. But I was put off by many reviews which said that they were gimmicky and not authentic. Instead I trusted our excellent agents in Thailand to arrange our day and left it to them to decide which villages we would visit. I’m glad I did. Our guide was an Elder, part of the tribal community and was extremely knowledgeable about absolutely everything. Throughout the day, he taught us so much about the different tribes in the region, their history and dialects, the plants in the region to name but a few. We spent a fascinating day with him, visiting 3 different villages. We stopped en route to buy lots of cookies for the children at the villages and were welcomed into their homes and their classrooms and we even learnt a few words.

One week gone, and it was time to head down south. We were off to the Elephant Hills Camp in the Khao Sok National park in Phuket for 2 nights of glamping!

Jungle

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Elephant Hills has 2 different camps within the park: the Elephant Camp where we stayed in the heart of the tropical forest and the second, the floating Rainforest Camp which is over the waters of the Cheow Larn lake. The tents are the same at both camps, namely a canvas structure with ensuite shower facilities, a proper double bed, electricity and fans (no air con). They are well sealed to keep out the bugs, provided you zip up each time you go in and out! And there’s bug spray in case you don’t. Whilst this is called “luxury camping”, it’s still camping so don’t be expecting a 5 star hotel. But this offers a wonderful programme of communal activities which are all family orientated for children over the age of 5. Having said that, they were very accommodating of our 3 year old who happily got stuck into everything and where she couldn’t keep up, we carried her in a little-life backpack.

Day 1, arrival day, kicked off with an elephant experience. This turned out to be very different from the one we did at the Anantara giving us a lovely contrast. They don’t support riding the elephants here and more distance is put between you and the elephants than it is at Anantara. Consequently, the elephants seemed less relaxed around people than the ones we met last time. You observe them taking a bath in the river whilst your guide gives a talk about them. You then prepare some food, chopping up various plants and vegetables and you get to feed it to them. Finally, you give them a shower with hoses which they adore. We were there at the hottest time, with temperatures reaching over 40 degrees so every drop of water was gratefully received by the elephants.

Day 2 is the only full day and takes you over to visit the Rainforest camp. The journey is around an hour and a half, broken up by a visit to the local market and a paddle down the river in a canoe. The camp is in the heart of the national park, accessible only by boat. The area is stunning and full of the sounds of nature. The tents are built over the river so the afternoon is spent enjoying a lazy lunch, swimming in the waters and taking out a kayak. Some guests stay on to spend a night in the Rainforest Camp (over 7s only for obvious reasons). I’d have loved to have done this but with our little nipper in tow, it wasn’t an option on this visit.

Our final morning was a trek through the forest with our guide, Bamboo. My Husband put Daniella into the backpack and carried her otherwise one of us would have had to miss out as its quite a challenging walk, but so worth it. This is all about observing the plant life and creatures of the forest and after working up a sweat, we were taken to a resting spot where a local Thai man was awaiting us to show us how to cook up a feast in the middle of the jungle. He began by showing us how to get the “meat” out of a coconut which he then put into a curry cooked on an open fire. Then he grilled some chicken and pork which we ate right up on the spot followed by some freshly brewed tea to wash it down, before heading back to camp for a final dip in the small pool and packing up and checking out.

Elephant Hills was a different and exciting experience bringing us close to nature within the beautiful jungle of Phuket and provided a fantastic contrast to hotel life. There is an African safari lodge feel to the place. All the guests we chatted to thoroughly enjoyed this place and I’d recommend it to anyone, with or without children.

Beach

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After 9 jam packed days of travelling and sightseeing, we wanted some time to relax on the beaches. Our last week was split between 3 nights in Krabi and 4 nights in Phuket.

Our home for 3 nights was the Rayavadee in Krabi accessible only by boat. I chose this resort because of its beaches and lively atmosphere. Whilst this is a high end resort, there are more luxurious properties on the island but I didn’t want anything too stuffy.

We stayed in a deluxe terrace room which has a master bedroom and bathroom upstairs and a living room with sofa bed and toilet downstairs. It seems that the Thais don’t really go in for toddler beds and recommend little ones share with the parents. This was fine for us as Daniella normally ends up in our bed anyway. Had we wanted another bed they would happily have arranged one for us but it would have been a bit of a squeeze either upstairs or down. But I loved this accommodation – it has a contemporary yet cozy feel and we were allocated one very close to the main pool and beach which couldn’t have been better positioned.

Had there been more time, I’d have organised some scuba diving over at Koh Pi Pi. Whilst it’s do-able from Krabi, it would have meant a whole day out so I’ve stuck this on the ever growing list of things to do next time. Instead, we arranged a morning’s boat excursion to the nearby Hong Islands.

There are lots of activities going on at the Rayavadee for parents and children alike. My older girls did 2 classes of Thai boxing and a yoga class. But mostly they just wanted to play in the pool and collect shells on the beach and nag us for one watermelon juice after another.

I was really sad not to have had more time at the Rayavadee and it’s somewhere I see myself returning to for a longer stay one day. But for this trip, it was time to move to our last stop, just an hour and a half’s drive away.

Anantara Mai Khao Phuket Villas is a little piece of heaven on the North coast of Phuket where we spent our last 4 nights. As we were led into our enormous 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom suite with large living area, fully equipped kitchen, washer and dryer and generously sized private pool, like my 3 year old I let out a squeal of excitement. This is a top end resort with exacting standards, impeccable service and generously sized accommodation to please even the fussiest of travellers. Each of the 91 villas has its own private pool, some with an outdoor bath nestled within the pool. The mature vegetation makes the resort very pretty: beautiful lush greenery, lily ponds, tropical flowers and trees, all lit by the amber glow of candle torches each evening. Whilst the resort is not enormous, there are buggies running constantly to take you wherever you want to go. The beach is a long stretch of white powdery sand, the enormous infinity pool is gorgeous and peppered with air beds, jacuzzis, a swim up bar and even sunbeds within the pool and there are lots of hammocks and beanbags available for maximum relaxation.

I enjoyed the food immensely at the Anantara, in particular the impressive choice at breakfast. My girls enjoyed feeding their leftovers each morning to the ducks in the pond by the restaurant. Much to my dismay, we barely saw our girls during the day. If they weren’t off at Thai boxing classes, the climbing wall or feeding the turtles (the Anantara supports the Marine Turtle Foundation), they were hanging out at the kid’s club with the amazing Gina who runs it. So my Husband and I, abandoned and all alone, could only fill the loneliness with endless massages by the pool, gentle swims (nothing too strenuous!) and a medicinal cocktail at the swim up bar whilst gazing at the perfect sunset.

If you want to be close to the markets and nightlife of Phuket, you may be disappointed staying here as its over an hour’s drive away from all of that. But its only about £20 in a taxi so we made the journey twice – first to the lively, if slightly tacky Pattaya and secondly to the weekend night market which was worth going to if only to see the incredible variety of food stations. Aside from these 2 shopping jaunts, we stayed within the sanctuary of the Anantara and savoured every moment of paradise – the perfect end to a perfect trip.

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