We’re in a new year, having an admittedly mild winter in the UK but at this time of year so many of us start planning our summer family holidays. If you want sun, sea and adventure then Thailand is worth considering. In this review, travel writer Gretta Schifano from blog Mums Do Travel shares her experiences of navigating Thailand with teens.
As the boatman steers us slowly through the mangroves, I listen to the sounds of the rainforest over the low thrum of the motor. I’m in Khao Sok National Park in Southern Thailand with my husband and our son (15) and daughter (20), and we’re out looking for local wildlife. We’re staying at Elephant Hills tented jungle camp and today is Mangrove Exploration day. We’ve already spotted a bright green tree snake and a couple of motionless monitor lizards, but what we really want to see are monkeys. And then, suddenly, we spot some: a pair of pale brown long-tailed macaques. They follow along in the branches right above the boat, quietly watching us.
I’m thrilled to have seen these creatures in their natural habitat, and this is one of the many highlights of our two-week summer family trip to Thailand. It’s our first time in the country, and we’ve planned it carefully so that we can travel to different areas while also trying to avoid the rainy season.
View from Amari Watergate Bangkok Executive Lounge. Copyright Gretta Schifano
Our Thailand adventure begins in Bangkok, the capital. We fly there from London on an overnight British Airways flight. It’s a humid 30 degrees when we arrive in the city – apparently this is standard for Bangkok, all year round. We take a taxi from the airport to the luxurious Amari Watergate hotel, where we stay for two nights. Inside, the hotel is a cool and peaceful oasis (especially the very swish Executive Lounge on the 32nd floor), and it makes an excellent base for exploring the city. The hotel is in Bangkok’s central Pratunam shopping district, and we enjoy bargain-hunting at the nearby Platinum Mall, an enormous indoor wholesale garment market. We use the BTS Sky Train to visit some of the top sights in the Old City: highlights are the magnificent Grand Palace, once the Royal residence, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, and Wat Pho, the Temple of the Reclining Buddha. It’s all amazing and beautiful and I wish that we’d had more time to explore.
Khao Sok National Park
We fly from Bangkok to Surat Thani in Southern Thailand. The flight takes just one hour, and we’re picked up from the airport by a driver from Elephant Hills. Elephant Hills has two luxury tented camps in Khao Sok National Park’s ancient tropical rainforest: the Elephant Camp in the south of the park, where we stay, and the floating Rainforest Camp on Cheow Larn Lake, where we spend a day. There are gentle adventure activities planned for each day of your stay at Elephant Hills, such as canoeing, jungle trekking and, the main draw, an ethical elephant experience with the rescue animals who live in a protected area a short distance from the camp. Besides caring for these animals, Elephant Hills works to educate people about elephant welfare, and has won many awards for its work. When you book your stay at Elephant Hills, you need to think about which activities you’d like to do there, so that you choose the package which is right for you. We opted for a four-day Rainforest Nature Safari, which meant that we experienced all of the activities on offer.
Washing Tim the elephant, Elephant Hills, Thailand. Copyright Gretta Schifano
From Elephant Hills we travel east by car and ferry to the island of Koh Samui, in the Gulf of Thailand. Elephant Hills arranges onward transfers for guests. A driver meets us from the ferry and takes us to our next destination: The Tongsai Bay, a peaceful and understated luxury hotel in a private bay in the north-east of the island. This part of our trip was arranged by tour operator Kuoni, and our local Kuoni travel agent helped me a lot when I was planning the holiday. This support was a novelty for me, as we generally travel independently, but I actually really liked having someone knowledgable to ask for advice, especially as I’ve not been to Thailand before.
We stay at The Tongsai Bay for seven very relaxing nights. Our accommodation is fantastic: a gorgeous two-bedroom villa with a huge deck and a private pool, overlooking the bay. The villa has a bathtub on the deck, so you can have a bath under the stars, looking out to sea. The Tongsai Bay is the kind of place where you can truly relax by doing not much at all, but there are also plenty of things to do there if you want to. The four of us take part in an excellent Thai cooking class with one of the chefs, Joy, under whose guidance we create a five-course meal (both vegan and meat versions). I have a blissful facial at the hotel spa, as well as an invigorating traditional Thai massage on the beach one day. My husband and I learn a few words at the free Thai language class, and go sailing with one of the hotel instructors. In the evenings the four of us hang out at the beach bar for cocktails at sunset, and after dinner we usually head for the welcoming air-conditioned games room to play pool together. My daughter and I are delighted by the tasty and healthy vegan and vegetarian food on offer at the hotel.
View from villa pool, The Tongsai Bay. Copyright Sal Schifano
When we venture out to explore the island, we’re surprised by the hustle and bustle beyond the tranquility of The Tongsai Bay. The lively resort of Chaweng seems pretty hectic, and I wouldn’t choose to go back there. We enjoy a trip to the night market at Fisherman’s Village, and buy some gifts and souvenirs there.
Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport
We fly from Koh Samui to Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport, ready for our flight from there to London the following morning. We spend the night at the mightily convenient Novotel Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport, which is in the grounds of the airport, across the road from the terminal building. It’s an enormous hotel with a grand central lobby and restaurant area and very comfortable rooms. But it offers so much more than a standard airport hotel – it has a spa, a gym and, in an enclosed courtyard, a large outdoor pool and, in a further courtyard, a leafy garden. Despite the hotel being at the airport, I hear no aircraft noise and I sleep well here.
Novotel Bangkok Suvarnabhumi outdoor pool. Copyright Gretta Schifano
Next morning after an early breakfast we fly home to London. Thanks to meet & greet parking (the best kind of airport parking) our car is waiting for us at Heathrow and we’re driving home in no time.
I really enjoyed our trip to Thailand, and would recommend our itinerary and all of the places that we stayed at. If you’d like more details about where we stayed and what we saw and did in Thailand, do pop over to my blog Mums do travel to read my various posts about the trip, and please feel free to contact me if you have any questions.
Disclosure: We were hosted on a B&B basis at the Amari Watergate Hotel for two nights, The Tongsai Bay for five nights and the Novotel Bangkok Suvarnabhumi for one night. Our stay at The Tongsai Bay was arranged by Kuoni. We paid for our own flights, meals (apart from breakfast) and other expenses. All opinions, words and images are my own and are completely independent, as ever.