Wondering what to do in Phuket, Thailand? Here are some highlights from our family vacation in 2018. It was an amazing week of chilling on the beach, chartering a boat to visit secluded beaches around Koh Phi Phi, swimming with Charlie, visiting an elephant sanctuary, checking out temples and soaking up sunsets.
Flight & Arrival in Thailand
We had an early morning departure from Siem Reap & a direct flight to Phuket which meant we would arrive before noon and have the chance to meet up with Sam’s sister and her family. Even though it was an early departure, Sam couldn’t pass up the Siem Reap airport Dairy Queen’s Durian Blizzard whereas I was 1) surprised that DQ had made it to Cambodia and 2) that he could eat Durian + Ice Cream so early in the morning. It was an uneventful and short flight and we landed in Phuket around 10 AM. After clearing immigration & customs we were off to meet a driver sent from the hotel and were at the hotel before noon.
One of my favorite aspects of the J.W. Marriott Phuket is their lovely welcome. Cold, tropical juices are offered upon check-in as well as cool towels, a nice treat for visitors who are coming from either regional or long-haul flights. Within minutes of our arrival we met up with Sam’s sister Elizabeth & her family who had flow in from the US to spend a week with us in Thailand. Since we had 5 adults and 1 toddler, we opted for a 2-bedroom, 2 bathroom family villa that had a fold-out sofa in the living room, a full kitchen, washer/dryer and a fantastic veranda for morning coffee or evening cocktails. It made for the perfect family get-away with enough space for all. We especially loved the welcome towel art in the form of an elephant matching that of the wall.
Swimming & Sunsets at the JW. Marriott
After getting settled in and a nap for Charlie in we hit the beach for a sunset walk. This was our second visit to this property but we were able to do so much more this time around. The J.W. Marriott has a great mix of pools – a huge kid-pool “complex”, a relaxed family-friendly pool (which also hosted the weekly water aerobics class), and an adult-only pool. The pools are key because the water on this side of the island isn’t as calm as elsewhere or in the Gulf. We primarily stuck to to the main pool it was close to our villa, had a swim-up bar, a beautiful ocean view and lots of shady spots to lounge. We enjoyed a quiet, relaxed routine with lots of pool time and ended each day with a family walk or cocktail hour to watch the beautiful sunsets.
Island Get-away to Koh Phi Phi
Without knowing it, some of our Shanghai-based friends had booked their Golden Week holiday at the exact same resort and once we figured the serendipitous consequence we figured out that we had enough people to charter a private boat for day trip to Koh Phi Phi. Since we were looking to actually leave the resort this year, this was a perfect way to see another part of the islands and not have to be on anyone’s schedule except for our own. We were picked up at hotel and drove about 20 minutes to a marina. We then boarded the boat and drove for about 40 minutes to reach the other island; we stopped multiple times to snorkel and it was so amazing to see the aquamarine waters and tropical fish. It was also wonderful that we had a 7 adults to 3 kid ratio which meant that everyone could take turns snorkeling and the parents all got a little bit of help!! After a lunch buffet and a few other stops it was time to make our way back. It was a long, full day and Charlie seemed to really enjoy it! It was really the highlight of our trip.
We did plan one family activity that I’m not sure I’d recommend – after seeing elephants in Cambodia giving rides to tourists, it further reinforced our desire to be responsible tourists…- but tourists who still wanted to see elephants. So I did a tiny bit ( though not enough) of research and found an elephant sanctuary that sounded really good; & while I do not doubt that they do good (& much better than many others) work and provide a better home for elephants, it still felt more like the elephants were part of a routine vs a full sanctuary. I understand the economics of it and the opportunity that it presents. The elephants are definitely not circus-like, tourist-toting animals but we left feeling like they were still on a routine for tourists vs truly just being in a sanctuary. I should have done a better research job to ensure that our dollars/baht were being used as responsibly as possible. A good lesson and will work to keep it in mind for future travel.
Bats & The Big Buddha
In a family vacation, we believe that everyone should be able to do something that they really want to do – so when the idea of seeing huge bats depart at Sunset at The Big Buddha was proposed, we decided to support it and enjoy the adventure. The destination hadn’t even crossed our radar and once we figured out details we hired a driver for the afternoon/evening and set off toward our destination known as “The Big Buddha” which was about an hour away.
Admittedly I am not a huge bat fan even though I am originally from Austin – a city also know for its bats – and I’ve never seen those famous bats fly away at sunset in Texas… We made a few stops along the way for some really beautiful temples and the sky was just a gorgeous blue but the sun was still super strong. Our driver kept mentioning that we may/may not be able to get to the Big Buddah if it rained and after a drive up a VERY STEEP and curvy hill we understood why – I would not have wanted that experience in anything other than good weather. Luckily, we made it to the top with plenty of time to explore the area before sunset. However, I missed the bats as Charlie was hungry and ready for a rest in the car. I hear that they were huge, it was a cool experience and that the view was great. We loved seeing different temples and were impressed by the size of the Buddha; and without the unique bat suggestion we never would have seen them!
Making Mango Sticky Rice
Thai food is one of our favorite cuisines and Thai mangoes are hard to beat; one of our favorite indulgent desserts is mango sticky rice. So when we saw it on the hotel activity schedule, we jumped at the chance to break up our day for a mini cooking lesson. In the open air “kitchen” a group of 6 of us made coconut milk from scratch, learned exactly how much sugar and coconut fat goes into the rice and finally found out what those crunchy things on top are! It was a fun suggestion from Sam’s aunt and truly delicious! We made so much that we were able to take some of it back to our villa to enjoy the next day as well.
Family Vacations are Fun
Living in Asia means that we don’t always see our family as often as we would like and when we pitched the idea last Christmas we were really thankful that family was excited to join us on our Golden week adventure. Asian resorts are full of multi-generational family travelers so we fit right in and since we had previously stayed at the resort we knew it would meet everyone’s needs. Between coffee on the veranda, sunsets, and family dinners the time together flew by way too quickly but we made memories that will last forever. Check out our video below to see more of the highlights from our Thai experience!