I have been known to pull out a world map, close my eyes, point and then take off into the unknown. Three years ago the birth of my first child slightly changed the way my husband and I choose our travel destinations, but refuse to give up completely. Sure I sacrificed certain flying luxuries to travel with child, like watching in-flight movies, and I learned to wear my daggiest threads and expect numerous instances of food being spilled all over bubs and I. But I kept on travelling.
Two years later, my travel-junkie identity was challenged again with the birth of our second son, and, to my horror, travel as I knew it was instantly crucified. Introduce Baby Hunter, AKA “Mr. Routine”, the perfect “at home” baby.
But still I refused to give in and began overloading my senses with reviews of family friendly hotels, delving into images of 5-star resorts boasting hundreds of rooms, sparkling pools, rainbow-colored kids clubs and expensive in-resort dining. As I popped my scratched and scathed rucksack at the back of the cupboard and purchased a hardy “family-sized” suitcase online, I took a swig of Chardonnay (from the bottle…at 11am) and faced my fate: The end of the world had come.
When the opportunity to visit Phuket as a family arose, I couldn’t refuse. Brushing aside nightmares of juggling strollers, baby carriers, toys, nappies, bottles, the kids and my husband’s photographic equipment,I was elated to be jet-setting once more (but concerned that with two kids in tow I’d have no time to enjoy the free bubbles on board!).
Time to take on Thailand - with toddlers.
We are flying with Thai Airways and the check-in queue is intense. The kids are restless but we manage to slip into the business-class lane and skip the snaking crowds. On board I discover the bassinet we booked is too small for my bubba, on Thai Airways babes over six months old are deemed too big. We are now being asked to sit down ahead of our nine-hour flight, in seats with armrests that don’t rise and no bassinet.
Tip: Ask the airline if you can speed-up the check-in process when travelling with young kids. Most airlines will also allow you to keep using your stroller and back-pack to the gate – be sure to ask.
Tip: Check the airline’s policy on bassinets, and choose your seating accordingly. If your kids are too big for a bed, kindly inquire about flight capacity at check-in, and if the plane isn’t full request the airlines to block the seat next to you. The front rows behind the galleys are where you will be placed if you use a bassinet, and they also give you the most legroom but you will not be able to move the armrests. I prefer to be a row back, with moveable armrests so the kids can lie flat with their heads on our laps.
To break up the connecting flights to Phuket, we’ve elected an overnight stop at Banyan Tree Bangkok. We touch-down in the big city at 8pm and transfer to the luxurious Banyan Tree Bangkok hotel in a private air-conditioned mini-van, complete with fitted child seats, chilled bottled water and lavender-infused cold face towels. Our room is lush with the best bathroom I've ever experienced...we bathe the night away and I get thinking, Thailand with toddlers? Psst, what a breeze!
After a champagne buffet breakfast at Banyan Tree (could it get even better? Yes! There’s an ice-cream buffet next to the freshly flipped pancakes tray – toddler utopia!) we are whisked back to the airport and shoot off to Phuket.
Angsana Laguna Phuket
In under an hour from touchdown, we are again whisked away in comfort to our new destination at the stylish Angsana Laguna Phuket resort, in Bang Tao Bay.
Our Laguna Premier King Room is set up with a cot for Hunter at the foot of our King bed, and behind a lattice partition Ryder’s makeshift lounge-bed is the neatest it will look for the remainder of our trip.
Purple and white hues set a relaxing tone, with furnishings kept simple to my delight – no need to rush around hiding expensive trinkets from curious toddler fingers. The quaint balcony is child-safe and has a stretching view of the pool, lagoon and I can even catch a glimpse of small, bumpy waves hitting the shore.
Within minutes, Ryder has the flat-screen TV into gear, my husband has cracked open the mini-bar and is setting up wifi on his laptop atop the small writing desk, baby Hunter is rolling around on the purple lounge-room rug, and I’m inspecting the neat bathroom: complimentary bottled water, large vanity, signature Angsana eco-friendly hair and skincare products – all get my seal of approval except the oddly designed sunken bath/shower..where is the door to inhibit my just-walking bubs from falling head-first down the tiled steps?
Tip: Keep the bathroom door shut at all times if you have a wandering baby, and for a little extra space and privacy from your kids) inquire about a connecting room when you book.
Around the ResortPoolside
Our trip is met with threatening weather - overcast clouds are paired with strengthening winds and high seas - so we head off to the resort’s incredible pool area for our first luxurious adventure with one goal in mind: get wet before it rains. The afternoon is spent splashing about the 323 metre free-form pool, floating our way around the resort that resembles neat American suburbia, and it’s huge.
To my delight there is a swim-up bar serving all the old-favorites. I ask the bar-tender what the signature cocktail is but tune out after he mentions it’s alcohol-free and opt for a hearty Mai Tai instead.
Whilst my adventurous soul is desperate to run for the local market and eat “real” food off the street, the kids are starting to whine for lunch and the pool-adjacent casual dining hub is all to convenient. Chicken satays, French fries and a hamburger later (are we still in Thailand?!) the skies close over and our afternoon is tainted with forceful winds and unrelenting rain. It’s time for the Tree House Kids Club.Kids Club
Modern and packed with fun for all ages, the kids club becomes slightly limited when heavy weather sets in with the major playground and jungle-gym features located uncovered, outdoors. Inside, the main playroom offers a small-scale slide and colored ball-pit, attracting instant attention from our kids, but as they are under 4 yrs old we are required to supervise them in the club at all times (carers for all-ages please!).
Ryder’s short attention span has us experiencing all three undercover rooms of the club (main room, library and small arts & craft room) in under an hour before we’re met with the first of many trip tantrums. Frustrated and unable to work the Wii remote controls (he's simply too young), and with the pool, beach, kayaks and outdoor jungle gym all off-limits due to the hideous rain – Ryder succumbs to screaming…The result is an afternoon of iPad movies in the room for the kids, and mini-bar Singha beers for us. Life could be worse...
Tip: The brand new kids club offers great outdoor play areas, and an amazing schedule of daily activities (mostly free) geared at 4 to 12-year-olds. There's potential for the club to be better for under-4s, and bring some toys for under-1s who are too young to enjoy the arts & crafts and other indoor activities (especially when it rains).
Angsana Laguna Phuket essentially has six in-resort dining options so we are spoilt for choice. The weather has really restricted any outdoor excursions, even to the nearby village (it’s monster monsoonal!) so I book a staff baby-sitter (cheap, but essentially one of the housekeepers…) for a few hours and hubby and I dress-up for Baan Talay – Laguna’s signature Thai seafood restaurant perched between the lagoon and oceanfront.
We toast to being “kid free!” clinking our glasses– a watermelon daiquiri and Hennessey VSOP on the rocks – before being sidetracked to the fresh seafood on display. I pluck out a chubby lobster and instruct the chef to serve her steamed and dressed with a chill lime dressing from the cooking method selections off the menu.
We team this with a platter of appetizers: shrimp cake, chicken satay, veggie spring rolls and fish cakes presented with a trio of dipping sauces, and share a bowl of Tom Yam Goong (spicy Thai soup with seafood). By the time our Sakoo desert arrives, I’m ready to burst but find a “second stomach” and empty the bowl of Saco tapioca rout in coconut syrup and soybean paste, then finally succumb to the aftermath of Thai culinary heaven.Angsana Spa
By day three, we’ve accepted the rain may never end (the beach has been literally closed) and ditch plans to join a Laguna Tours trip out to the Phi Phi Islands. Resort staff inform me that even a cultural tour with the kids would be a stress in this weather, so again I dial housekeeping, book the babysitter, and lock hubby and myself in for a 2-hour Angsana spa treatment.
The spa is tropical-themed contemporary, and in seconds we are drifting away in the couple’s room, dreaming of blue skies and turquoise waters as our therapists carry out rejuvenating massage treatments. Our session finishes with a refreshing herbal drink and “calm time”, and this whole resort-stay thing is catching on.
A mother could get used to this…
Tip: The couple’s room is heavenly, try the “DUET” package for him and her featuring a 150-minute treatment each and 30-minute refreshments, bath and relaxation.
Around Phuket with tiny totsPatong Bay
By 1pm on the last afternoon, the rains ease and although the wind prevails, we are able to step out of the resort compound and hire a rental car. We drive down the coast to Patong Bay, and join backpackers in the thick wandering around the streets, poking our noses into dingy bars, clubs and cheap souvenir shops.
The local fare is “Thai hot” and rich in fragrant spices: we devour all the celebs like Tom Yum Kung, Green Curry, Pad Thai, spicy basil & pork fried rice and icy cold Singha beers, whilst the kids throw down heart-shaped rice bowls with cut cucumber and then dive into complimentary ice-cream courtesy of the wide-grinned owner. All of this for under $25!Phuket Night Market
No trip is complete for me without indulging the senses at a local bazaar. It’s Sunday and the Phuket Weekend Market is in full swing by 5pm, and we spend a good few hours meandering the fascinating jumble of second hand goods, pirated DVDs, faux Chanel handbags and Ray Ban sunnies, but the real fun to be had is culinary-themed.
The markets are home to a fabulous array of food-stalls and associated exotic smells and we skip from one to the other sampling everything we can. The kids dig into fresh fruit and are boggled-eyed as we walk among the colorful stalls and passers-by.
Tip: Laguna Tours offer a plethora of family-friendly excursions and activities including snorkeling trips out to the Phi Phi Islands, and cultural trips on land, and can be booked through the reception at Angsana Laguna Phuket Resort. If you prefer to explore at your own pace, rent a car. Make sure you have an International Drivers License and your passport details, and for about $30 you can get a shwanky sedan and full insurance. If you plan to rent a car, it would be worth taking your own child seats, and most airlines will allow child seats as check-in luggage free of charge (but best to check when you book).Final Tip
Traveling with kids can be your worst nightmare, but where you go and the attitude you take can make all the difference. Plan ahead but not down to the finest details – kids are unpredictable (as is the weather!) and sometimes you just need to throw your hands up and go with the flow. Phuket is easy to drive around and I certainly recommend renting a car to get around when you’re ready to get out of the resort.
If you go:
Stay: Angsana Laguna Phuket is part of Laguna Phuket, Asia’s first integrated resort, built upon 600 acres of parkland, three kilometers of pristine beach, and boasting a plethora of family-friendly recreational activities, tours and dining options.
For families with older kids, opt for the Angsana Two-Bedroom Loft with ground floor living areas, a King Bedroom on the mezzanine floor and a twin-bedded second bedroom on the first floor. The resort offers a nightly turndown service, so best to flick the “Do Not Disturb” card around after your youngens drift off to avoid unnecessary disruptions.
The buffet breakfast is a must, and includes a visit from one of Laguna's resident baby elephants whom the resort has helped to save.
Fly: Thai Airways flies to Phuket out of Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and Brisbane, via Bangkok. The staff are very catering to guests flying with young kids, just be sure to inquire about the bassinet policy when you book. Child meals also need to be ordered in advance.
Stopover: Break up the flights with a stopover in Bangkok. Banyan Tree Bangkok hotel was very accommodating to our young family, and the luxurious Asian-themed room and oversized bath came as a giant relief after the long flight. Utilize the airport transfers, and don’t miss out on the epic buffet breakfast.
If you can stretch out your stay, DO visit Vertigo and Moon Bar on the rooftop (59th floor!) for divine al fresco dining atop the city, and spoil yourself (again) with a treatment at the Spa – it is the city’s finest.