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How to plan the perfect Thai holiday

You asked - and we have the answers! From the best spas and beaches, to idyllic family escapes or adventure trips, Thailand expert James Bell from the luxury Turquoise Holidays has the lowdown on how to go east in style

I’d like to take my children for a holiday to Thailand and want a mix of beach relaxation and something a bit more adventurous (but safe!) away from the tourist trail. What would you suggest as the best family hotels and locations?

Thailand is a fantastic destination for families as there is so much choice when it comes to hotels and there are loads of fun activities to create memorable experiences whether you’re an adult, teen or young kid.

One of my favourite combinations is our Jungle Beach itinerary, which can be tailored with different beach locations and hotels depending on the age of the kids and time of the year. This itinerary combines two different beach resorts in Phuket and Krabi with a couple of nights adventure in Khao Sok National Park at Elephant Hills (below), a glamping resort with activities including kayaking, elephant encounters and jungle treks to name a few – and all very ethical of course.

The beachfront hotels we’ve chosen for this package suit both young children and teens with a huge swimming pool, and access to kids activities, for all ages. They’re well away from the mainstream parts of the islands, but we can of course select resorts that are even more remote if you prefer. If travelling in our summer we can easily combine Elephant Hills with Koh Samui and Koh Phangan, which enjoy better weather at that time of the year.

I have a special birthday early next year and would like to book a three or four week island hopping trip to Thailand, where we stay in really nice hotels but the cost doesn’t break the bank! I’d also like a package if possible that includes flights and transfers. Any ideas?

Thailand has so many islands to choose from – the Andaman coast includes Phuket, Khao Lak, Krabi, Koh Lanta and some of the smaller islands in and around Phang Nga Bay (above) – you can easily combine a stay in a few of these regions and there’s a wide range of wonderful accommodation to suit all budgets. This coast is at its weather best in our winter, between October and April, or if you head out there in our summer, between March and September then the islands in the Gulf of Thailand are better – Koh Samui, Koh Phangan and even Koh Tao are linked by ferries and many of the resorts have their own private speedboats to link them together. Check out this fantastic holiday combining Bangkok with Koh Samui and Koh Phangan to whet your appetite.

Where are the best areas to scuba dive and what paperwork/ qualifications do you need? Is it possible to do it as a family? (my kids are 11 and 14)

Koh Lanta is a beautifully natural national park, an island just south of Krabi covered by pristine jungle and surrounded by unspoilt beaches. One family friendly resort that springs to mind is Pimalai Resort and Spa. They have a dive centre offering PADI courses for beginners including children (10 and up, or they offer youth courses for under 10s), or experienced divers (with their PADI certificate). The islands south of Koh Lanta offer some of the best diving in South-East Asia. Diving is best between October and May. They visit Koh Haa, a dive spot which includes The Lagoon, The Cathedral and The Chimney. There are also underwater pinnacles, drop-offs, walls, boulders and other inter-connected chambers to swim through and explore. They also offer trips out to Phi Phi National Park.

Our family consists of a teen and a much younger child, where would you suggest that caters for both, that also allows us as parents a bit of us-time?

One of our favourite resorts is Anantara Mai Khao, located in the quieter northern part of Phuket, with beautiful pool villas that can accommodate four in one villa. They have a wonderful spa, large pool and kids’ club for both little ones and teens. Its sister hotel Anantara Layan has also just completed a full renovation of its kids’ facilities with a supervised games room, along with climbing wall and skate park. 

There are plenty of other resorts we’d recommend – our team members have personally visited all the resorts and can talk through the options. 

I want to take my family to an elephant sanctuary but have read mixed reviews about how ethical some of them are. Can you recommend a better one with other things to do in that area?

There are many elephant camps in Thailand, most of which offer a sanctuary for mistreated elephants, offering them a safe environment to live the rest of their lives in peace. Visits from tourists are limited in numbers and the entry fees help to fund their activities. Unfortunately, there are a few that are not quite as ethical. At Turquoise we work with a ground supplier who regularly visits all the camps and only works with those that pass high standards of care. We’d recommend Phuket and Koh Samui Elephant Sanctuary and also Elephant Hills, which offers overnight packages that can easily be woven into a tailor-made holiday to Thailand. 

If you’re heading north, Anantara Golden Triangle have their own ethical elephant camp, offering intimate encounters from feeding and walking with these giants to even a sleep-out in a domed jungle bubble! Alternatively, base yourself in Chiang Mai and head into the jungle on a day encounter at one of the camps. 

If you were to pick 5 things you should definitely do in Thailand what would they be?   

  • Visit Khao Sok National Park and stay in the floating lake camp – the scenery is spectacular and is a world away from the busier areas of Thailand. You’re surrounded by nature – anyone who doesn’t visit here is missing out on one of our absolute favourite places. 
  • A street food tour in Bangkok followed by a cooking class – Thai food is top of our list for deliciousness and what better way to experience it than tasting the authentic flavours in Bangkok’s Chinatown. Our guides will ensure you try the best dishes on offer.
  • Visit an elephant sanctuary in northern Thailand. Not only is the surrounding scenery beautiful but this is a wonderful opportunity to get up close and personal with these magnificent animals. You can wash and bathe them, feed them and walk through the jungle alongside them. 
  • Tuk tuk around Bangkok during Songkran, the water festival (usually mid-April). My family and I had so much fun dodging the water pistols and whizzing around, visiting bustling markets and taking in the sights and smells of the city.
  • Stay in a beachfront hotel in Krabi or Koh Yao Noi, where the views of the limestone karsts of Phang Nga Bay are breath-taking. 

If travelling between regions, what’s the best forms of transport and how to book?

It all depends on where you are going to and from. If combining Bangkok with the north and then down to an island, then you’d need connecting domestic flights. However, between islands you can often take a ferry or private speedboats. On a Turquoise Holiday we would coordinate this for you.

My wife and I are looking at going on a special holiday to celebrate her big birthday next year and Thailand is on our shortlist – where would you suggest us going?

So much to suggest here but a great option would be to stay in a remote lodge in the north with magnificent views of the jungle with intimate elephant encounters. Stay on the river in Bangkok and watch the bustling life pass you by as you relax by your own private pool. Choose a beach retreat on one of Thailand’s remote islands to finish off your trip in style. Here’s my suggestion for a perfect once-in-a-lifetime trip though of course it can be made bespoke to you if I know your particular interests and budget.

Do you need any vaccine/medicine for travel into the jungle areas e.g. yellow fever/malaria?

At present there are no essential vaccines, but we do advise checking with your doctor as this can change at any time. They may recommend Malaria for some of the deeper off-grid jungle locations.

We like going to adult only hotels/resorts and cruises, and possibly island hopping. We like our food and drink and are not so much into visiting museums etc. We’re thinking 10 – 14 nights with 5 star business class return flights for as reasonable as possible.

Depending on which time of the year you want to travel we can suggest combining the buzzy island of Koh Samui, (although of course staying on one of the quieter beaches) with Koh Phangan. Nearby Anthong Marine Park is  perfect for a private day cruise amongst the stunning scenery, topped off with a private picnic on a remote beach. On Samui we’d suggest Six Senses Samui for delicious food, combined with Anantara Rasananda, on Koh Phangan which sits on one of the best beaches in Thailand. Have a look at this itinerary for an idea of how this would work. Depending on what time of the year you could also consider The Sarojin, which has a focus on food and drink and is adult only.

Are there any areas of Thailand in your opinion that are really overrated, or travellers should avoid?

Things may have changed since the pandemic as many of the islands have had a chance to rehabilitate but we do try and recommend our guests to avoid the mainstream boat tours around Phang Nga Bay and Koh Phi Phi as the islands can become crowded. We work with local operators who will take you to some of the lesser-known islands to avoid the crowds.

If you’re staying on one of the smaller islands in the region you can head into the bay early in the morning, enjoy a sunrise breakfast and have left before the day trippers arrive. Many of the islands have busier areas, but we handpick resorts that are tucked away on the quieter beaches, a world away from the buzzy bars and clubs. Of course, you can still access these if you want to, with a short taxi ride, depending on where you are staying. 

Where would you suggest I go for a girl’s spa and pamper break – nothing too pure, I like a cocktail! Think a bit of luxury, good massage, and activities on offer, but relaxing and rejuvenating too.

You could choose anywhere in Thailand and guarantee that there will be an amazing spa on offer. We work with many gorgeous hotels that have spas attached with anything from full wellness packages to simple spa treatments. One that springs to mind is Six Senses Yao Noi (above), a stunning retreat with gorgeous views of Phang Nga Bay – one of the best spots I’ve enjoyed a cocktail or two after a busy day exploring Phang Nga Bay by boat, followed by a relaxing hot stone massage – highly recommended! Or if you’re travelling in our summer then Koh Samui or Koh Phangan would be a better option weather-wise – Anantara Rasananda is on one of Thailand’s best beaches, and has a spa built into the jungle with yoga on the cliffside overlooking the cove below.  

I’m always put off Thailand by thinking the summer hols isn’t the right time to go to – too hot/ muggy/ busy/ not great for kids. Can you advise?

Thailand is a year-round destination with the west coast (Phuket and Krabi) being at its weather-best between October and April, or the Gulf of Thailand (Koh Samui and Koh Phangan) being best from March through to September. I’d avoid Chinese New Year (usually the last week in January) and any of the school holidays when most resorts tend to be busier. A great time is late April or early May, when the weather is lovely and the nightly rates slightly more affordable.

Are there any areas in Thailand that you would still consider hidden gems?

You can usually find a quiet beach around the corner from any busy area of Thailand. For example, Phuket does have some busy beaches (perfect for those seeking fun and nightlife) but there are also national parks and remote unspoilt beaches in the northern parts of the island. Our specialists can point you in the right direction. However, we do recommend visiting the lesser-known islands such as Koh Lanta, Koh Racha, Koh Yao Noi and Koh Phangan for a real taste of authentic Thailand and a chance to relax on an unspoilt quiet beach. 

To celebrate the reopening of Thailand for tourists, Turquoise is giving 50 Muddy readers copies of the children’s book ‘The Pocket Elephant’ by Abi Ephinstone, ideal for 4-9 year olds eager to let their imaginations roam in Thailand. Email hello@muddystilettos.co.uk for your chance to win a free copy.

Turquoise Holidays; Tel: 01494 678 400.

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