Little did we know when we embarked on our first family vacation with Charlie to Phuket, Thailand that it would be one of the best and worst weeks imaginable. We had a wonderful time at a phenomenal family friendly resort but also had our first massive parenting fail. I’m still not comfortable sharing such a screw up but I wish I’d known then what I know now and want help other new parents avoid our mistake.
Shanghai to Phuket, Thailand via Hong Kong
For my mom’s visit to Shanghai, we planned it around the Golden Week holiday so that we could enjoy more time together and she could join us on our Phuket get-away. While our preference is for direct flights, the direct Shanghai to Phuket flight times really did not work for our family (infant + Grandma) as they were all very late departures, so we opted to fly Cathay Pacific with a relaxing layover in Hong Kong. We are slowly learning all of the tricks of traveling with an infant and the layover in HK allowed Lauren to get a full pumping session completed in the Cathay lounge. Charlie was super relaxed on the flights and that helped as each leg included a trip out to the tarmac. Since we were a stroller + wheelchair combo that did make travel a little harder when you get taxied from the plane in a very bumpy transport van.
JW Marriott Phuket, Thailand
When researching locations in Phuket, Thailand our priority was accessibility for both the baby stroller and my mom. All the reviews shared that the hotel was very accessible and when I emailed the hotel to confirm, I received a really fast and nice affirmative response – lots of ramps and elevators – and so the decision to stay at the JW Marriott Phuket was an easy one. From the cold drink upon check-in to all the family-friendly events and amenities, it was a really great choice for a family vacation. However, the hotel was full of multi-generational families on vacation – which was great to us, but may not be for everyone. The resort had lots of beautiful green spaces, lots of pools and even had a dedicated “Adult-Only” pool which was a nice escape for us as my mom offered to watch Charlie during his naptime so we could enjoy some parent R&R.
Beach & Pool Relaxation
On our first full day in Phuket, Thailand we took it easy and enjoyed a long breakfast and then a walk along the beach for some pictures. After our beach excursion we headed up to a large pool area and parked ourselves under some very large umbrellas to enjoy the view. My mom hungout in her wheelchair reading a book on her iPad while Lauren and I took turns swimming in the pool and holding Charlie while he slept. It was a beautiful landscape and was such a relief to finally have a chance to relax after the hectic past few months. This was going to be our final opportunity to spend extended time together as a family before Lauren headed back to work. We had been looking forward to this trip to Phuket, Thailand for quite some time and were finally able to close our eyes, exhale and listen to the sound of the waves.
As Charlie was less than 6 months old we had opted to not put sunscreen on him and instead planned to do as we had in Beijing where we stayed in the shade when possible, avoided the mid-day sun and used umbrellas. He started to look a little pink and at first we thought it was heat-related and put a small, cool, wet towel on his head when that didn’t work, we headed back to our room to – as we thought- cool down in the air conditioning.
Realization and Worry
As the afternoon wore on, we realized that it was not heat but that our perfect 3.5 month old son had gotten his face sunburned from indirect sun – despite our best intentions and being under an umbrella. We went through all the emotions – shock that it had happened, fear for Charlie’s health, guilt on our parenting fail as it really felt like we had let Charlie down and shame that our desire for a beach get-away and had hurt him and left us wondering why we took our infant son to Thailand. We decided to spend the remainder of the day in our room and assess the situation hour-by-hour. After lots of terrifying googling, it seemed like a wait & see approach was best to determine if he needed medical care.
Now there are a lot of sleepless nights in the first few months of parenting and most of them blur together, but this was a night that Lauren and I will never forget. In our room there were two rattan loungers and our plan was to have Charlie sleep on that surface covered with a soft blanket as it was the safest option (with all of the families, the hotel had run out of cribs) After nursing, Charlie finally got to sleep but soon woke up and throughout the night we heard cries from our son that we had never heard before & it hit us, his different cry was because he was in pain. It was absolutely gut-wrenching, Lauren stayed by his side all night long and we took turns googling information and making our game-plan for the next day.
Thankfully, Charlie had gotten at least a little bit of sleep during the night, but upon the morning light it was clear that he had developed blisters from his sun burn and some were beginning to weep. Our first plan was to have the on-staff nurse visit us in our room for the initial (non-Google assessment). She arrived quickly, and said that at this point the best course of action was to keep the wounds clean and moisturized and while she said that a trip to the hospital was not mandatory, it would help us get all the medication he might need. We decided that we would go to the hospital immediately and have a pediatrician give us his/her assessment of the situation. Now, one of the best thing about Thai kindness is how much they love kids and babies, but now Lauren & I were hiding our poor baby’s face under a light swaddle as we didn’t want anyone to see (& judge) us as we couldn’t feel any worse than we did. We quickly asked the concierge to arrange a car for the day and we took off.
Phuket, Thailand Hospital
After informing my mom of our gameplay, we departed for the hospital which was about 45 minutes away from the resort. It took a lot of effort to keep Charlie happy as his car seat is already not his favorite place. Upon arrival we headed straight to the main desk to “check in” – the staff all spoke English and once understood our needs, immediately walked us over to the Pediatric section of the hospital. At the pediatric section, we met with a nurse who looked at Charlie’s face and asked us some general health questions; we then waited for the doctor. After about 20 minutes we were ushered in to see the pediatrician and one of his first questions was “Is it a full-body burn?” which shocked both of us and we said “No just his face” – then Charlie started crying and then Lauren started crying as well. He looked at the sunburn and said that it mostly appeared to be a first degree burn but some area of his cheek may be 2nd degree since it was blistering. He prescribed us a topical antibiotic and gave us instructions on care for the next few days and assured us that he would be OK. We had also texted images of Charlie’s face to his Shanghai pediatrician and she confirmed the Thai doctor’s plan.
Return and Remorse
We returned to our hotel in the early afternoon an did our best to keep Charlie comfortable. We were still feeling awful about our massive parenting fail, but felt like we got him the best possible care. Our goal for the next few days was to follow the treatment plan and make Charlie as comfortable as possible. Thankfully Grandma was happy to help keep him entertained.
Recovery and Resupply
Over the next few days, our vacation was focused on measuring Charlie’s improvement and alternating trips to the local market for more diapers and other needs. His face responded well to the ointment and the skin was beginning to heal. We focused on enjoying the sunsets from our room and time together as a family.
Pool & Beach Shifts
After a few days, Charlies was doing much better and my mom encouraged us to take a few breaks and enjoy the resort while she watched Charlie in our room. We alternated taking care of him with each of us getting to enjoy some pool time. Finally we were able to take him outside and he enjoyed a little ocean breeze underneath a canopy of trees.
On our last full day of our vacation, we felt that Charlie had healed enough that we could all go explore some of the non-beach aspects of Phuket. We hired a car for the day with a super friendly driver and headed out to visit a few sites. Since it was my mom’s first time in Phuket, Thailand we also wanted to ensure that she saw some of the religious and cultural aspects of the country as well. We visited Wat Putta Mongkon, Kao Rang Temple, Wat Phra Nang Sang and Phuket Big Buddha. The weather was beautiful and we had a really nice time exploring at our own pace. We also had a parenting “first” when we changed Charlie’s diaper in the trunk of the car we hired for the day. Our driver was also a parent and helped us get Charlie all sorted out.
Sunsets in Phuket, Thailand
Thankfully we made it back to the resort in time for a beautiful sunset and while it wasn’t the vacation we intended we were also thankful that our son was going to be OK, and that we also learned some important lessons too.
Sun Safety & Takeaways
With this hard-learned lesson, we’ve become better about our sun safety practices and added some new ones as well with the goal to really strive to make it a daily habit and be more mindful of any future beach vacations.
- Hats – We are religious about always having a hat with us & also ensure that our strollers cover. We are also doing better at modeling this behavior to Charlie and I just purchased a large wide-brimmed hat for myself so he will grow up seeing us wear hats too. Lauren loves hats, so it’s an easy habit to adopt.
- Sunglasses: Not just super cute but also good to protect the eyes from sun. We are now on our 2nd pair of these
- UV-Protection Swimwear. Unless we are swimming indoors (without natural light) we keep him in long sleeves & longer shorts that are meant to protect from the sun. I am also planning to purchase a long-sleeve swim shirt for myself as well.
- Sunscreen: We use it often; and also model this behavior to him as well. Neutrogena and Babyganics are our brands of choice.
- Avoid the Mid-Day Sun: With a baby we wake up early so now if we hit the beach or pool we hit it up early to avoid the harshest rays and then enjoy night-time or swims too (no sunscreen needed fo those!)
- Shade: From daily walks to playing parks we try to keep him mostly in the shade, it’s not perfect but it’s easy to at least try.
Sharing this was a hard decision for us because we both still feel so guilty that we didn’t do our best for our son, but we think it’s an important message to share that indirect sun or a glare can be very harmful. We won’t stop traveling or going to the beach/pool but it is a lesson we learned the hard way and one that we felt was important to share so that hopefully our mistake can help another family avoid one. So when visiting (or living in) warm and tropical climates, sun safety needs to be brought up a notch.
So while our Phuket, Thailand JW Marriott experience wasn’t the one we hoped for, we still loved being in Thailand so much that we’ve already booked ourselves for next year’s Golden Week so it will be a sun-safety redemption trip!
Also Lauren wanted me to include a link to a favorite blog of hers, Mel’s Kitchen Cafe where she shares her skin cancer story and the new & improved sun safety habits she has adopted.