It was a dream start to a long-planned holiday. Our THAI flight landed in tropical Phuket early and, with indecent haste, we were lazing by the pool at the JW Marriott Phuket Resort and Spa.
My husband and I were ensconced in deckchairs buried in our books, while Josh (11) and Alex (7), explored every inch of the 109 m swimming pool, complete with fountains and a small water slide. Celebratory cocktails came and went, we had our first massage by the beach for the princely sum of around $12 for an hour, and ate delicious Thai fare by the pool while the kids discovered the fun to be had in the Little Turtles’ kids’ club.
Like I said … a dream start to a holiday. Then we had a little hiccup around 6pm when Alex cut his head open in a freak accident. There was lots of blood, lots of tears and the very efficient hotel nurse advised us that we needed to take him to hospital for stitches. A staff member took us to Phuket’s Bangkok International Hospital where the medical team whizzed him straight through, looked at the damage, stitched him up, cleaned him up and gave me some antibiotics and painkillers for him in no time flat. The hospital and staff were amazing: no queues, no fuss and the whole place was spotless and new. The only bad news was that Alex couldn’t swim for seven days. Just great. How do you keep a seven-year-old who swims like a fish out of the water on holiday?
We compromised. The hotel pool had a few water toys floating about including an inflatable ring, so we plonked Alex in it and that was his home for the next week. Holiday disaster averted. Photos not to be shown to friends.
After a few days getting to know the deckchairs a bit better, and daily massages, we did drag ourselves out of the hotel, embarking on a speed boat tour with Andaman Leisure Phuket out to Koh Phi Phi. The English-speaking guide took us first to Phi Phi Ley, little brother to Phi Phi Don, which is where the resorts and bungalows are located.
Phi Phi Ley is uninhabited and unbelievably beautiful. We swam at the exquisite Maya Beach – made famous in the Leonardo Di Caprio movie 'The Beach' a few years ago. It is a small bay ringed by steep limestone cliffs and the overall picture – white sand, turquoise water and soaring cliffs – is incredible.
Next stop was Samah Bay, a small, narrow bay perfect for snorkelling. The guide threw bread in the water and, in seconds, the water was a heaving, hectic splash of colour as hundreds of surgeon and parrotfish fought for morsels. They even ate out of our hands, an experience that had the boys shrieking with delight.
The third stop was Pileh Bay, another achingly beautiful spot that we didn’t want to leave. Another Phuket experience we didn’t want to miss was elephant trekking, so one afternoon we headed off with Siam Safari to its base in the foothills. After a brief stop at the young elephant-training centre, where the boys loved being kissed by two elephants, it was all aboard, two at a time, onto our jumbo transports.
The mahouts, or elephant handlers, perched between the ears of their steeds and used their knees to steer around the jungle track. It is quite therapeutic with the huge elephants lumbering quietly around the trail, stopping to snack on the odd branch or three on the way.
As Phuket is best known for its beaches, we set off for a look around, hiring a car and driver from the hotel. It works out at around $20 an hour, so is well worth it if you don’t want to drive yourself and get lost. We stopped and swam at Surin Beach, Kamala Beach and Patong Beach, which is the biggest tourist drawcard on the island. The water is warm and the waves are perfect for body surfing. Patong is a long beach with an endless stream of deckchairs lining the sand.
We paid the required 100 baht (about $3) per deckchair, and before we were even settled, were besieged by people selling their wares.
Everything from shirts to shorts, wallets to luggage, frozen fruit to hot chicken curry and people collecting for charity. It’s quite handy really – you can shop for everything you want without getting up!
On the other side of the beachfront, the real shopping action awaits and I spent a very happy half hour buying cheap clothes bearing well-known labels for the kids, a few DVDs (OK, more than a few!), some sunglasses and sarongs. Josh loved bartering for his souvenirs – wooden elephants, bracelets for his friends and a Buddha.
There were so many other things we wanted to do, such as the highly recommended Fantasea show, the tour up to Phang-Nga Bay where the James Bond film The Man with the Golden Gun was filmed, and a sea kayak trip with John Gray’s Sea Canoes, but we just didn’t get around to it.
Oh well, there’s always next time!