Phuket family holiday treasures revealed
Written by Lana Willocks
Having explored the streets and shorelines of Phuket with her kids in tow, long-term resident Lana Willocks offers an insider’s look at the island’s top spots for travelling families.
With soft sandy beaches, clear seas, and a culture where children are greeted with warmth and affection, Phuket is a welcoming escape for families. The coastal, culinary, and historical delights of Thailand’s largest island beckon travellers of all ages.
Stretching from its peaceful northern end to the busy resort areas of the south, Phuket’s west coast is lined with a string of white-sand beaches ideal for water sports action or simply relaxing in the sea breezes. The 11km beach at Mai Khao is the island’s longest and most tranquil, partially protected in a marine national park. Just south of it is Nai Yang Beach, a favoured spot for picnicking families and windsurfers.
The central west-coast beaches of Bangtao and Surin are Phuket’s most lavish stretches of sand, where five-star resorts and some of the island’s most exclusive villas line the beachfront or sit hidden away in the lush surrounding hills. Some of the world’s top resorts, including Banyan Tree, The Surin, and Amanpuri, are among the hideaways in the area, the latter two with direct access to the secluded Pansea Beach.
Kamala Beach, with its shallow waters and laid-back pace, is perfect for some casual Thai seafood dining with dazzling sunset views or a body-board session, its headland also crowned with luxury villas and resorts. The hectic Patong Beach, just to the south, has a host of water sports including Hobie Cat sailing, windsurfing, and banana boats to enjoy along its three-kilometre stretch. Kata Beach boasts fine sands and clear waters, and during the months of May through October it’s the go-to beach for surfers.
It’s said that the ‘real’ Phuket is found inland, and those who venture off the beaches will find waterfalls, sleepy villages, and quiet country roads winding past plantations of rubber, cashews, coconut, and pineapple. Phuket even has its own pineapple variety, a sweet and juicy golden delight.
Much of Phuket’s virgin jungle was cleared away during its tin-mining days more than a century ago, but a sizeable area remains in the protected Khao Phra Thaeo National Park. Walk in the shade of towering bamboo along the jungle path to Bang Pae Waterfall or cool down with a refreshing dip in the stream. At the entrance to the park is the Gibbon Rehabilitation Project, a shelter for gibbons and slow lorises rescued from the tourist trade.
Phuket’s interior is also a scenic backdrop for many tropical adventures, including wakeboarding, ziplining in the jungle canopy at Flying Hanuman (flyinghanuman.com), ATV rides, and bicycle tours. Take a trip over the bridge to the peaceful Phang Nga province on the mainland for a white-water or bamboo rafting session, or visit the ancient rainforest and karst island-dotted lake of Khao Sok National Park. Enjoy a round of golf at one of several courses around the island, or try a fun mini-golf session at Dino Park, complete with realistic, life-size dinosaurs in a Jurassic jungle setting near Kata Beach. Phuket FantaSea (phuket-fantasea.com) in Kamala is a cultural theme park with a dazzling live theatre show for a family-friendly evening out.
Phuket island has long been known as a safe harbour for seafarers, with archaeological evidence of merchants from as far away as India, Arabia, and China reaching its sheltered shoreline hundreds of years ago. Today, Phuket’s turquoise seas are explored in a more leisurely fashion, with traditional long-tail boats, luxury yacht cruises, kayak paddle tours, and scuba-diving excursions providing endless ways to get out on the water.
Off Phuket’s east coast is the magnificent Phang Nga Bay with towering karst islands, hidden lagoons, and the floating village of Koh Panyee. The nearby Coral Island and the Racha Islands off Phuket’s south-eastern coast are ideal for discovering the Andaman’s rich sea life, with superb snorkelling sites and blinding white beaches to rest on. Families with a bit more time to spare could join a diving or snorkelling trip out to the Similan Islands, a pristine archipelago where whale shark and sea turtle sightings are not uncommon. Just a few minutes away by boat, Koh Maprao (Coconut Island) is a fine spot for a quick island hop, and be sure to visit the floating restaurants serving up Thai seafood along the way.
Luxury yacht charters offer the chance to explore the sea in style and serenity. Andaman Cruises (andaman-cruises.com) has a fleet of modern motor yachts to choose from, complete with VIP cabins and wide, sumptuous decks. For those who prefer a wind-powered sail adventure, several operators offer bareboat or crewed sailboat charters. Novice sailors can learn the ropes aboard dinghy yachts at the Phuket Yacht Club (phuketyachtclub.com), which hosts youth sailing lessons in the calm Chalong Bay.
Phuket’s history is best preserved in its Old Town, its streets lined with restored Sino-Portuguese shophouses in a rainbow of colours and some of the island’s most authentic and tasty places to eat. Phuket’s mix of Thai, Malay, Chinese, and other cultural influences happily coexist in the Old Town, where a Chinese herbal medicine shop is just a short stroll away from both Abdul’s roti shop and Dibuk Restaurant, a long-running French–Thai café.
A superb example of Phuket’s architectural heritage is the Blue Elephant restaurant and Thai cookery school, a photogenic gem set in a restored former governor’s mansion. Baan Chinpracha next door is one of the few mansions in Phuket open to the public. Fully restored, with old photographs lining the walls, it’s a great place for curious minds to learn more about the island’s past.
One of the joys of travelling in Phuket that families soon discover is that kids are given a warm welcome wherever they go. Younger children especially are greeted with a smile and a helping hand – it’s common to see parents enjoying a meal in peace while the restaurant staff go all out to entertain the little ones.
Phuket’s fun-loving, inviting culture together with its enchanting seas, fine sands, and tropical landscapes make it a memorable place for all ages to discover.
Beyond the beach
Phuket has a rich culture beyond its beaches, and local revitalisation efforts have brought the island’s historic heart back to life in recent years. Many distinctive centuries-old Sino-Portuguese shophouses and mansions, built when Phuket was a thriving tin-mining centre, have emerged from clever restorations into chic cafés and boutique guesthouses. These pastel-hued buildings now form a colourful backdrop to the Lard Yai street market. Held every Sunday from 4pm, this eco-friendly market brims with local food, crafts, and art along historic Thalang and Rommanee roads. Bargaining is welcome, but is best done with a smile and a light-hearted approach.
Anthem Wake Park
Wakeboarding is a refreshing and challenging water sport off the beach, and at Anthem Wake Park both experienced riders and novices are welcome to strap on a board and glide across the freshwater lake in Phuket’s interior. Ramps and sliders on the main cable line give skilled wakeboarders a chance to fly and flip their way around the circular course.
194/6 Moo 7, Srisoonthorn, +66 76 620 034
Private villas are becoming a favoured choice for travelling families seeking privacy and added comforts, and Phuket has an excellent range of holiday homes. Villa Amanzi is spectacular, with a cutting-edge modern design and gorgeous sea-view setting in a headland estate near Kamala Beach. Sweet touches of luxury here include six en-suite bedrooms, a 15m infinity pool, personal chef, and concierge service provided by the nearby Paresa resort.
28/12 Moo 6, Cape Amarin, Kamala, +66 76 302 000
Baan Rim Pa
Serving Royal Thai cuisine in an elegant solid-teak house overlooking the sea, Baan Rim Pa Patong has long been a celebrated sunset dining spot, with a second location now open in Kalim two kilometres up the road. Flavourful specialities by Executive Chef Praiwan Klongkleaw include Goong Sarong, prawn wrapped in crispy noodles, and Chormuang, crabmeat and chicken dumplings whose rich purple colouring comes from edible local flowers.
249/4 Prabaramee Road, Kalim, +66 76 618 076
Gibbon Rehabilitation Project
Furry and friendly looking, gibbons and slow lorises are delightful to see but sadly these primates are in danger of extinction due to poaching and loss of habitat across South East Asia. The GRP has rescued many from Thailand’s illegal photo-prop trade since 1992 and has successfully re-introduced some back into the wild. Watch the gibbons swing in their cages, and learn their stories as they await their chance for release into their jungle home.
Aleenta Children’s Club
Many Phuket resorts have a kids’ club, but few are as elaborate and enriching as the A. Explorers Club at Aleenta resort on Natai Beach, just over the bridge from Phuket on the mainland. Muay Thai, junior diving, sailing, and turtle-sanctuary visits are among the activities, and the children’s menu developed by the resort’s Ayurah Wellness Centre emphasises healthy – and delicious – food.
Phuket Trickeye Museum
Perfect for a rainy day or a break from the beach, budding photographers will love taking shots of the 3D scenes that will puzzle and impress their friends. Place yourself at the centre of the huge trompe l’oeil paintings and appear on camera to be in a live-action scene including a daring rope-ladder waterfall climb, an escape from the clutches of a T-Rex dinosaur, and a soaring paraglide flight over the sea.
Distance: 5,322 km
Flight Time: 10 hrs, 5 mins