With so many things to see and do to appeal to people of all ages, Thailand is an ideal destination for a family holiday. Journalist Lee Hayhurst has enjoyed a number of family holidays in Thailand and in this article, Lee and his children share their experiences and advice from their most recent visit.
As a journalist working in the travel industry, I’m lucky enough to see a lot of places on overseas work trips, but it’s rare that you get to see much of any destination. Since joining Travel Weekly 14 years ago I have now visited Thailand on family holidays on three occasions and the country is one of our favourite places to visit. We holidayed in Ko Samui when my daughter was still a toddler and my oldest son was just three months. And we returned in 2013 for a belated honeymoon (kids came first before marriage) a year after our wedding when we split our time between Krabi and Phuket. By this time my sister had moved to Bangkok for work and so we had a family connection and a base to stay in the capital. So, this year we decided to take advantage of my sister’s presence in Bangkok to visit Thailand again, but this time to see some of the lesser visited towns and destinations.
Over three weeks our itinerary took us by train from Bangkok to Chumphon, on the Gulf of Thailand coast, and then out by fast catamaran to the beautiful island of Ko Tao. After that it was back to the mainland by ferry to visit Khanom, then on to the Khao Sok National Park and the amazing Elephant Hills eco-camp, and back to Bangkok via Ranong. There was plenty of travelling by minibus, train, ferry and plane, but having both backpacked in our younger years we are used to that, and the kids don’t seem to mind it. When we travelled my daughter, Millie, was 14, and my two sons, Seth and Zac, were 12 and 11 respectively. Below are a few tips and thoughts they had about the places we visited.
Millie: In the evenings we walked down a brightly lit street where aromas from the night market wafted towards us. We ate here each night, sat at little plastic tables eating pad Thai. It was one of my favourite places to eat on the whole trip.
Seth: I liked being close to the locals and staying in a hotel (the Loft Mania Boutique Hotel) not far from the middle of town.
Zac: We hired a car for a day to explore the local area and I loved the beach at Thung Wua Laen. I found some great shells and lots of crabs.
Millie: We took a taxi from our hotel to Sairee Beach for an evening where we watched the sun set over the sea then strolled along the narrow pedestrianised street just behind the beach. It was lit up with fairy lights and looked so pretty. We stopped at a beachside bar for a drink and only then realised it was full moon, so we stayed and watched a fire-juggling display performed by some crazy local Thais. It made me want to come back one day as a backpacker.
Seth: We stayed at the Haad Tien Beach Resort which was really nice because it was located right next to the soft, sandy beach and our room was amazing. And it has its own special check-in office at the ferry terminal so you can avoid the queues.
Zac: The snorkelling trip was my favourite part of our entire trip because there were thousands of colourful fish swimming around us and I love marine wildlife.
Millie: We took a long-tail boat to tiny Monk Island and waded on to shore. We climbed to the top of the island to show our respects to one of Thailand’s greatest monks and were shown how to show respect and say a prayer – most importantly, no pointing your feet towards the shrine.
Seth: Wow, we saw the famous pink dolphins, and they really were proper pink!
Zac: We stayed at the Aava Resort and Spa and I loved having a pool just outside our bedroom and an almost deserted eight kilometre beach just in front of our hotel.
Khao Sok National Park (Elephant Hills)
Millie: Although it’s called Elephant Hills you do so much more than see elephants like kayaking and swimming in the massive Cheow Larn manmade lake, climbing up a waterfall while trekking in the jungle and experiencing the local markets.
Seth: It was very well organised so you can live right next to the jungle and listen to the noisy wildlife while falling asleep in your tent.
Zac: It was a great experience and I loved washing, feeding and stroking the elephants.
Millie: This was my favourite place to stay because we had the place all to ourselves, which meant we could splash around in the pool as much as we wanted to. Our bedroom was huge and the views from our windows over Myanmar were stunning, especially as the sun set.
Seth: I liked being near the locals in Ranong because the Thais always make us feel very welcome.
Zac: The people running the Blue Sky Resort where we stayed were super friendly and nice to us and we had a friendly leopard gecko living right outside our bedroom.
Millie’s World: From Millie’s blog about our visit to Elephant Hills
We are now camping in the jungle! This afternoon we took a truck to an elephant sanctuary for retired logging elephants. As soon as we drove in we could see elephants right in front of us. Some were big, some were small, but all were majestic. The oldest is 76 and the youngest a teenager.
After taking loads of pictures we went to a shelter to feed the elephants. We used a huuuge knife to cut up pineapple, pumpkin, corn, sugar beet and also made a diet supplement for the elephants to eat. Once all cut up, we fed the elephants; their trunks were rough and they wrapped them around your hand. It was soooooo cool. We had so much fun! Next, we washed the elephants with hoses and used part of a coconut to scrub them. Their skin is 1cm thick so it didn’t hurt them. Zac managed to get me and Seth more wet than the elephant! We all had so much fun and really wished we could have had longer with these gentle giants!
Having visited a country on many occasions it’s easy to think you’ve seen all there is to see, but it’s when you get off the beaten track that you realise there’s always more to discover.
When we arrived at my sister’s at the beginning of the trip we were happy to find she had a copy of the Lonely Planet for Thailand because we thought we might need a guide book given we were visiting places we didn’t know. However, when we looked up the relevant pages there was so little information on places like Chumphon and Khanom that we just took pictures of the relevant pages and left the book behind. The impression the Lonely Planet gave was that there wasn’t really much to see in these places and that travellers would simply use them as transit towns, but nothing could be further from the truth.
There were small, local tourist attractions that may not have been set up with international visitors in mind but were clearly popular among Thai domestic tourists and gave us more of an authentic and genuine experience of real Thailand. The pink dolphins trip in Khanom is surely an experience that anywhere else would be world famous but the entire region is so under-developed as a tourist destination and yet it is just a short sea crossing from the hugely popular Ko Samui.
The visit to Monk Island, commemorating the life of Luang Pu Thuat was also fascinating, an education and saw us join local tourists in paying our respects to the legendary Buddhist guru. Likewise, at Sairee Beach near Chumphon there’s a shrine to another national hero, Admiral Prince Abhakara Kiartivongse, considered the father of the Thai navy, which locals visit to honour and ask for help in curing any ills.
Even taking the train from Bangkok was an experience in living like a Thai. We had second class reclining seats. Okay, so it wasn’t quite up to European standards, but we were served food (not the tastiest, but something to keep us going) like you used to get on short-haul flights.
Our trip went to prove there’s always a lot more to a country like Thailand than you expect, even if you think you know the place well, and you don’t have to stray too far off the beaten track to find it.
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