Rather than heading back to Blighty for Christmas, we decided to make the most of the beautiful weather in South East Asia and head to Thailand for 3 weeks. We were definitely a bit apprehensive about the amount of time we were spending away with Penny as this would be the longest we had travelled with her. However, we justified it by telling ourselves that the first week would be with Mike’s parents in a safe Airbnb and then it would just be 2 weeks of travel! We decided to pick Phuket for our first stop simply because it was easy. It has an international airport there, some nice beaches, it’s simple to get around, there are western shops, restaurants and other such amenities so that if Mike’s parents were feeling a bit uncomfortable, we would be able to find something to hopefully sort it out! We chose southern Phuket, in Rawai and close to Nai Harn beach. Our Airbnb was beautiful and perfect for us all. It had 3 large bedrooms, a salt-water pool and a great lounge area. Unfortunately the surrounding area wasn’t particularly great, but we used the app Grab to get taxis really easily that took us around the island for not too much money.
Whilst in Rawai, we visited the Chillwa market, which opens at 5pm but doesn’t really get going until 6pm. That was a great place to hang out, have some delicious food and shop for touristy tat. We each gave each other a budget of the equivalent of GBP 5 to get each other a stocking filler present, which resulted in a lot of hippy Thai elephant print trousers and reindeer headbands. We visited Karon Beach and Kata beach, which were nice but very busy and we much preferred Nai Harn beach, which was quieter and had more trees for shade. Mike and I rented a bike one of the days and drove to Patong to check it out and were pretty pleased we hadn’t chosen to stay there- it was crazy busy!
We chose to go on a private day tour with EasyDay Thailand tours: https://www.easydayphuket.com/phuket-tours/phang-nga-bay-tours/private-phang-nga-bay-tour/ and visited Phang Nga islands, specifically the James Bond island. Because we were so far south on Phuket, it was a long old drive to the boat pick up- about 2 hours, but it was a nice and comfy van, and we then transferred to a traditional long tail boat that took us around the islands. We first went to the James Bond island and luckily seemed to arrive before all the crowds rocked up. For some reason, I had in my head that it was much larger than it was- it’s really quite small! However the area was absolutely beautiful and the views were spectacular. Our next stop was a sea gypsy village, Koh Panyee, that had definitely been altered over the years to suit the flocking day-trippers. We walked past endless markets selling the standard Chang beer vests, shells and corals galore, and thai trousers. We finished the islands with a nice lunch that was far too much food for the 5 of us, but delicious and devoured after the morning. We drove for about 30 minutes before arriving at Wat Sawan Kuha, temples that were full of monkeys. There were many vendours selling bananas to feed the monkeys but we were strictly advised not to. The temples were magnificant and in these great caves that we were able to wander around. We headed home about 3pm very sleepy after a wonderful day out. Because we weren’t quite sure what to bring for Penny transport, we brought both the carrier and the Yoyo buggy as we knew that we could just leave it in the car. However, we stupidly didn’t bring either on the boat with us and getting around on the James Bond island would definitely have been easier with a carrier as there were a few steps and tricky areas that Penny had to be carried for. Again, the Sea Gypsy village was too far for her to walk through so she was carried then also. At the temples, we put her in the carrier and this was perfect. In hindsight, we should have brought just the carrier and definitely taken it on to the boat with us. We very much enjoyed the private tour as it meant that we had the sole attention of our guide, who was wonderful with Penny, and we could spend as long as we wished in places. We didn’t feel stressed if Penny was napping or crying.
Mike’s Mum visited an elephant sanctuary whilst we were in Phuket. There are many to choose from, some definitely more ethical than others. She visited the Phuket Elephant Sanctuary: https://www.phuketelephantsanctuary.org/en/ , which doesn’t offer riding or bathing. Many of the elephant sanctuaries now do not offer riding, but some still offer bathing. This particular one focuses on walking with the elephants and watching them from afar. My MIL told us how she learnt about the elephants lives before they came to the sanctuary, which usually involved some show or performance, or hard labour. She said you could see visible marks of mal-treatment on their bodies and it was lovely to see them being cared for and living out the rest of their lives in the safety of the sanctuary without having to worry about lots of people wanting to wash them or ride them. Mike and I ran a school trip a few years ago to Sri Lanka and worked at an elephant sanctuary and they also tried to make it as ethical as possible with no riding and information given to the visitors about the elephants to raise awareness.
After a week in Phuket, we had to say our sad goodbyes to Granny and Granddad, as they flew home for Christmas Day back in the UK. We also moved on to Krabi. Whilst you can get a boat over to Krabi from Phuket, we decided to get a van as, price-wise, there wasn’t much in it, and again, it meant that Penny could nap better and we wouldn’t have to worry about transferring our load of luggage on to various boats and taxis, etc. After a 3 hour trip, we arrived at Noporatthara boat port and were greeted by staff who worked at the Centara Grand at Ao Nang, where we were heading to. We were taken on a shuttle boat over to the hotel and we treated to wonderful views of the hotel, tucked away on a secluded beach with great cliffs towering over the hotel grounds. We spent Christmas Day here and enjoyed ourselves for a few days playing on the beach. Unfortunately, Penny got sick and for Christmas Eve, she spent at least 5 and half hours sleeping with a nasty cough and a bit of a fever. There was a doctor onsite, and she confirmed it wasn’t anything to worry about and advised to rest, so the day for us was basically spent on the terrace reading whilst she slept!
The hotel itself was very pleasant. However, we did have a couple of issues that the kind of wished we had known before. Firstly, it advertises itself as a very family-friendly hotel, and there are definitely elements of this; there is an excellent kids club there and playroom, the staff are super friendly and great with children. The main pool is very child friendly and rooms are spacious and not too many objects in there for little hands to grab. However, there are SO many steps. There were three flights of steps to our room that was on the ground floor! There were no slopes for buggies or wheelchairs either, so this was definitely a bit tricky to contend with. The other thing that bothered us was that dinner in the restaurants didn’t start until 6:30pm, which, for us, was a bit of a pain. We couldn’t really enjoy a relaxing meal together because Penny is an absolute sucker for routine and come 7pm, it’s a difficult time for us as it’s dead on bedtime. We prefer places that are open all day or at least open at 6pm so we don’t have to shovel food at lightening speed, or swear under our breath if the service is slightly slower than we would normally like!
Koh Yao Noi
This was absolutely our highlight of our trip. We couldn’t believe our luck when we came across this gem of an island. We got a speed boat easily from Krabi that took 20 minutes. Koh Yao Noi is 90% Muslim and therefore seems to have escaped the debauchery and tourist hording that can plague the backstreets of Patong. It is peaceful; there a completely isolated beaches (yes, in Thailand!), lots of things to do that include boat trips, snorkelling, hiking, cycling, or getting scooters with side-cars! You can still find occasional beach bars and we stayed in a basic hut that was directly opposite the beach that also had a lovely, friendly restaurant that had great food; perfect for a sun-downer and some BBQ-ed fish. We met so many families with young children here, all enjoying a similar laid-back vibe. We hired a motorbike and side-car for a couple of days and had so much fun exploring the small island and beaches. We already have decided this is our island of choice to return to. I wouldn’t, however, recommend our accommodation. I found it quite difficult to find places to stay online (maybe I didn’t have a focus on it, though), but when we arrived we saw so many other fantastic places to stay. We would really love to return to Sabai Corner Bungalows http://www.sabaicornerbungalows.com/rooms.htm, which had 12 cute wooden huts or varying sizes and a great restaurant. It was directly on the beach and we had a delicious lunch there one day, promising ourselves we would return.
After 4 blissful days in Koh Yao Noi, we returned to Phuket’s buzz for New Year’s Eve, this time, though, staying at a boutique Design Hotel close to the airport. We didn’t do much with our time here, it was more about enjoying the fantastic hotel and everything it offered, which was a lot. The Slate, https://www.theslatephuket.com/, combined elegance and privacy with a kiddy wonderland. It was perfect for both couples and families alike. Penny had a wonderful time in the family/toddler pool or at the public beach that was directly opposite the hotel in the morning, and after her lunch nap, she would spend a few hours with the babysitters at the kids club doing all sorts of activities whilst we headed to the adults pool to sunbathe. As well as the eye for detail, the staff made it for us here. Everyone we came across was so friendly and welcoming, engrossed in entertaining Penny at every minute. The hotel is enormous and there’s so much do just here on the grounds. On New Year’s Eve, they held a big gala for guests that included a buffet dinner, drinks and a party. However, Mike and I didn’t really want to pay the money to attend (it was pretty expensive), so we headed out to the public beach and watched the sun go down whilst enjoying pad thai noodles and a beer. Penny also got to play in the sand with her toys so it was a win-win all around.
This was definitely a trip that I would recommend. We have visited Thailand many times before and so weren’t worried about getting around or having access to western facilities. It was for these reasons we didn’t pack any nappies and just got them out here. We found the brand MamyPoko to be fine and easy to find. We ordered food to arrive at our Airbnb form Tesco or popped to Makro when we had the scooter. Food can be really cheap when you eat out in Thailand, and we often had the most delicious noodles, rice or curry dishes from street-side cafes and paid very little. We didn’t really have to think about this, but we try and be sure to eat at places that are serving food to locals, especially if they have children with them. This way we are a little more relaxed about food poisoning or dodgy stomachs. I’m pretty sure everywhere we went with Penny though, this was the case.