Exploring Thailand was a terrific experience for us as a family. First, we explored the waterways and diverse restaurants of Bangkok. Taking a boat cruise around the city showed us the life the locals lead just in the shadows of the city skyscrapers. Staying at Banyan Tree gave us another perspective of Bangkok city life, and showed us the best Thailand hospitality has to offer, with a great rooftop bar and restaurant with amazing views of the city. We found even the high end five star hotels were reasonably priced, as Thailand is a relatively inexpensive destination. In Bangkok, the temples and markets provide a great way to spend a day roaming, and in the evening there is a great diversity of restaurants to choose from. There is a wonderful vibe to the city and lots of chic restaurants and bars to choose from. We really enjoyed taking the water taxi at night, and made our way around the city with relative ease.
Some seasoned travellers told us to skip Bangkok, but I think it’s worth a day or two of exploration. Our next stop was Phuket. Now there are direct flights from Dubai to Phuket, and if just kicking back at the beach and snorkeling and exploring the islands is all you have in mind, then do go direct. Flying through Bangkok, it’s just a one hour flight.
We chose to stay at the JW Marriott on the upper end of Phuket. This is a fabulous, sprawling resort, with a luxurious pool and secluded beach. I understand that lower Phuket can get quite congested and “touristy”, but this hotel had none of that. There was a lot to do, with cooking classes, fitness center, and a baby elephant visiting twice a day. There are several nice restaurant selections, although the restaurants were a bit pricey. There is an adjacent, walking distance, shopping center that has a few other less expensive restaurant options as well. But, the on property restaurants did give us a couple wonderful meals. The open air restaurants’ ambience and excellent cuisine provided some very nice evenings out. We left the kids with pizza from the bistro and an in-room movie, and headed out to a few fine dining evenings. The perfect evening out! For excursions, Phuket has it all.
There are many diving and snorkeling excursions, although we learned that diving is best done from the boat cruises or island trips to the south, on or around Phi Phi Island. On the northern side, we were close to Phang Nga “James Bond” Island. This excursion, well is a must see. Yes, it is commercialized and yes, it is crowded, but I didn’t feel it detracted from the natural beauty of the setting. Some excursions offer small kayak trips through the mangroves, which I highly recommend. Others also stop at a village built on stilts; which had a great little market, with authentic and inexpensive gifts and souvenirs, and supported a very friendly indigenous population. I would recommend this as well. And, don’t miss an elephant ride. Although some tour operators do not take good care of their elephants, there are reputable ones out there. Most of the hotels have good tours, and if you stay at a hotel like the JW, they can take care of all the tours for you…but do book ahead of your arrival, to be sure you get all you want to do.
There are are many options when booking excursions; kayaking, snorkeling, jungle tours, elephant rides, boat cruises, diving, and so on. So my advice is to plan well in advance. There are eco tourism operators, like John Gray’s Sea Kayaking, that are smaller, more intimate, and environmentally sensitive operations. I would recommend doing a bit of trip advisor research on these, as there are dozens of very commercialized operators, but these more intimate smaller ones will give you a better experience.
Overall, you will find that the Thai people are some of the friendliest and most accommodating. They are always willing to help, and go out of their way to please. It is also ascetically a beautiful country, lush and green and tropical, and the décor in the hotels and restaurants is extraordinary. And last, but certainly not least, the food is exquisite. Don’t pass the opportunity when living here to travel to Thailand. We are already planning our next adventure there.