3 Generations Exploring Thailand
Travelling with a two-year-old to Thailand has its challenges, but provides a bonding experience for three generations,
writes Julie Miller.
“Elephants... where?” my two-year-old granddaughter quizzes,
peering out the taxi window at the grey skyline of Bangkok. It's a fair question –
we’d promised her sightings of her favourite animal in Thailand – but so far there’s
little evidence of trees, let alone the gentle giant of the jungle. Three days later,
however, Ellie’s wish is granted, chortling with delight as an inquisitive trunk
reaches for a banana. She is finally meeting her animal namesake at Elephant Hills, a
safari camp in Khao Sok National Park, two hours north of Phuket in
Keeping a watchful eye on our little wildlife warrior is my daughter Jo and myself
(JuJu): three generations of animal-lovers, hoping for a relaxing holiday in the
tropics, a jungle adventure followed by some downtime on the coast at Khao Lak.
However, relaxation and toddlers are rarely mentioned in the same breath
the outset the enormity of travelling with a rambunctious two-year-old becomes obvious.
A long flight, change in sleep patterns, food issues and safety concerns
such as lack
of seatbelts all come into play, and at times, make us question the sanity of our
decision to forgo standard family resorts for something a little more ambitious.
Then there are those elephants - gentle, wise and undeniably enormous - with the
potential to squash a teeny-tiny human like an ant. Although the elephants are behind
a fenced platform and under the control of their mahouts, we have one protective hand
on Ellie constantly, with warnings of "stand back" and "be gentle!" as she pats their
rough skin and darts around collecting bananas to place in their probing appendages.
Elephant Hills provides sanctuary
for 12 elephants, retirees from arduous logging and
trekking industries who now live a cruelty-free life in a gorgeous riverside camp.
There is no riding here; instead, tourists interact with the elephants by washing and
feeding them, a respectful, educational and thoroughly enjoyable experience for all.
With several of the standard inclusions unsuitable for small children in Elephant
Hills’ three-day/two-night Jungle Safari, such as canoeing and jungle trekking, we
instead spend that allocated time relaxing at camp, swimming in the scenic pool or
chilling in a hammock outside our safari-style tent.
We also join a full-day excursion to Elephant Hills’ second base located on Cheow
Larn Lake in the heart of the national park, though this too proves challenging but
The journey to this eco-friendly floating tented camp involves a lengthy bus
ride followed by a longtail boat trip across the emerald waters of the reservoir, past
soaring limestone cliffs swathed in thick, pristine jungle.
It’s simply stunning, and
Ellie handles the trip admirably, despite being swallowed by her oversized lifejacket
(the smallest available would comfortably fit a four-year-old). Unfortunately, all
she wants to do when we arrive at camp is run along the wharf feeding the fish.
Over-stimulated and in need of a nap, she objects to being strapped in her pram,
and refuses to sleep; so rather than fight it, Jo and I take turns keeping an eye on
her, taking sneaky dips in the sublime water during breaks.
For families with older children, this Rainforest Camp would be heaven; but for us,
terra firma is less stressful. So after a second round of elephant feeding the
following day, we wave goodbye to our pachyderm friends and head for the coast,
craving a couple of days on the beach at Khao Lak.
Our destination is the Pullman Khao
Lak Katiliya Resort and Spa, located on a divine stretch of white-sand beach about
15 minutes north of Khao Lak. Formerly Le Meridien, it was recently taken over by
Accor, which also acquired the neighbouring villa complex to create a mega-resort
offering both villa- and hotel-style accommodation.
Within earshot of the nearby lapping waves, we are staying in one of the original
oceanfront pool villas. This is luxury as it should be: stylish yet understated, with
a massive indoor/outdoor bathroom, plenty of space for Ellie to run around and a
tempting king-sized bed. And just outside is a glistening lap-pool, flanked by day
beds and massage cabana… sheer bliss.
Despite concerns about Ellie’s safety near the
unfenced pool, we actually find it easy to supervise her in the confined space, and
spend many hours paddling in complete privacy.
But Ellie’s favourite thing about the beach? Crabs.
Squealing with delight, she chases
the darting crustaceans maniacally, endless fun in a sandy paradise. For her, the
holiday really is about all creatures great and small!