One of the great things about living and working in Asia is how easy it is to travel. When I first moved to China in 2004, travel was almost a weekend requirement. Every chance we got, my collogues and I would go out hiking in Southern Guizhou, or up to Sichuan for some spicy food and cultural events. Later, I got married and the tradition continued, only now my travel partner was my wife and are destinations where a little different. We traveled around SW China while we lived there, took a cruise down the Yangzi River, and flew down to Thailand for a bit of island hopping.
Now we have a child and while we still love to travel, it has once again metamorphosed into something a bit different. We recently went back to Thailand, this time as a whole family and not just a married couple. We also traveled with another family for part of the trip, which brought on a whole new dynamic. It was a wonderful trip but very different from anything I have really experienced before. When I first came to China (12 years ago) I would have considered myself a backpacker. I stayed in cheap youth hostels, carried as little as possible, washed clothes in the sink and documented my travels in a sketchbook. Now, years later, some things have changed and some surprisingly have not.
I still rather carry a rucksack than roll luggage around. With a small child it’s nice to have two hands free and most rucksacks have loads of easy to open pockets for all those things your kids must have (water bottle, favorite toy, stuffed animal, random rock they found on their travels). Let’s face it; a big black suitcase is only convenient from the luggage pick up to the car. If you are going to be moving around on your travels… a rucksack is the way to go.
Now I still love a good youth hotel. That ambiance of freedom is particularly alluring. However, I have also come to appreciate the glory that is a “5 star super suite” (two bedrooms with private bathrooms, a kitchen, living room and sitting area). Let’s face when have to make a choice between lounging around in the aforementioned or sharing a bunk-bed in a dorm with 5 strangers, the private apartment take the cake… it also gives the kids a bit more room to play. Thailand is a special kind of place though. You can find lots of low cost hotels that have the same ambience as youth hostel yet a bit more privacy.
On our last trip to Thailand we spent a great deal of our time on the island of Phuket. While on the northern side of the island, we staid at the Marriott Vacation Club at Mai Khao Beach and I was simply astounded. It was far beyond what I was expecting and a suburb place to stay when you have kids. We were there for Halloween and there were family activities and a costume party and everything. Their facilities include a great playroom for kids with several video game consoles but also a nice library and some great toys. They also have a great mini waterpark for the kids along with the full size pool.
If you are on Phuket I would highly suggest a few different outings. Firstly, it’s an island so go check out a few of the beaches. Most of them are very different depending on where they are and who spends time there. Many of the northern beaches are private and belong to the resorts in the area (the Marriot’s was pristine) but on the south side of the island the beaches are all open to the public. Depending on the time of year and which beach you are visiting it could be crowded so do a bit of research before you head out.
Take a few day trips to other islands: There area loads of smaller islands in the area and usually you can get a speed boat out to visit them pretty easily. Some are known for snorkeling or scuba diving, others for private restaurants, sea kayaking destinations and some as family hot spots. We did a day trip that stopped off at three smaller islands and also let us do some snorkeling. On the islands my son was able to feed fish in the shallows and play in the sand while my wife and I relaxed a bit.
No matter what you end up doing remember to have some seafood. Most of the street venders that come out at night will over charge you but you can still barging your way down. Regardless, Thailand is far cheaper than you would expect… so even when they over charge, it’s a pretty good deal.
After a few weeks on Phuket we headed up to Chiang Mai and we changed our travel atmosphere a bit by staying at a true blue youth hostel. The Jungala House is what you picture when you think Thai youth hostel, inexpensive, sparse private rooms, great atmosphere, private garden restaurant, and close walking distance to a lot of great sites.
We actually rented a motorbike for a day (which I highly recommend) and drove around Chiang Mai checking out some of the gorgeous old wooden temples and the city wall. There are tons of temples, many of which aren’t in the guide books, so it’s nice to be able to just drive around and stop in at places that catch your interest.
There are also a few great markets in Chiang Mai (day and night markets), so if you end up in the area make sure to find out which days of the week they are open and where they are in town, most of the locals will know and so will hotel or hostel staff. Just be prepared for crowds and keep your wallet somewhere safe. We were there at the very beginning of the tourist season and it was already starting to get crowded.
As always, checkout the guidebooks but remember, they are called “guide” books…. You still have to go out on your own adventures! Be safe, have fun and enjoy your travels in Thailand.