To be honest, Phuket was never on our radar as a family destination. But then my sister moved there for work, so we decided to go and visit her. And it was a fairly big decision for us, as we had never left Australia with the boys before - the thought of being stuck in a plane for longer than 2 hours with my kids had never appealed when they were tiny tots. So we bit the bullet, and booked our flights and accommodation, and off we flew to Phuket (via a 1 night stopover in Singapore).
How do you get there...
It's mainly the budget airlines that fly from Singapore into Phuket. And indeed if you want to fly directly from Sydney to Phuket you have to do so with Jetstar (and they don't fly every day). The flight is under 2 hours from Singapore so definitely doable with young kids, however it is 9 + hours direct from Sydney. We chose to go with Jetstar Asia from Singapore, as we received Qantas frequent flyer points doing so, and also their flight times suited us the best.
Our flight going over was excellent. The plane left exactly on time and we even arrived into Phuket early! As we were travelling with kids we were allowed to board the plane first, which is a big bonus when dealing with a horde of people who have no idea how to queue. We had booked one of Jetstar's "bundles" which included 20kgs of luggage, a meal and seat selection.
The adults meals were fine for airline food (they had an obvious Asian influence). The kids pack was excellent! They received a snack box which contained a Milo milk, muesli bar and 2 treats (all nut free) which was perfect for our mid afternoon flight. They also received an activity bag, which had a game of tic tac toe on the outside and then inside was a pencil, socks, sleep mask, blow up pillow, socks, post card and toothbrush with toothpaste. Just to let you know, there isn't any inflight entertainment on these short haul flights.
Phuket has recently opened a new International Terminal and our transition through customs and immigration was seamless - which is a big bonus when travelling with kids. When you walk out into arrivals you are immediately outdoors. So the heat and humidity whacks you straight away. There are drivers everywhere holding up signs for the various resorts on the island, ready to whisk you away to your island paradise. If you want to catch a taxi you have to book and pay for it at one of the taxi stands - there's a bit of competition happening between the various companies for your business, so be prepared for that.
Our return flight experience to Singapore wasn't so good. The new terminal seemed to be having a few teething issues with departures, and there are 3 security checks (including a full bag search) that you have to go through, which created huge queues the day we left. We had to catch a bus to our plane which the boys loved (us not so much). The plane was late taking off, and seemed to be older and smaller than the one we had going over - basically there was absolutely no leg room and when your pesky fellow travellers recline their chair, the flight becomes unenjoyable. These are all totally first world problems I know, but alas they can leave you with a negative vibe after experiencing such an enjoyable holiday.
Where to stay...
There are literally hundreds of glorious resorts all over Phuket. Some are cheap and others are super expensive. Our advice is to visit in low season because you can snap up some bargains, like we did! The September school holidays coincides with low season in Phuket, which is perfect for Aussie travellers. The low season means it rains quite a bit. But during our stay the longest it rained for was a couple of hours, which is the time you make the most of your beautiful room or kids club!
JW Marriott Phuket Resort & Spa - Mai Khao, Talang
This resort is located just north of Phuket airport. We spent 3 nights here when we first arrived (the rest of the time we stayed with my sister). Our twin room with day beds over looking the lush gardens (2 x queen beds) was about $AUD200/night including full buffet breakfast - this is 50% off the normal rate. The resort is picture perfect with pools (1 of which is adults only), a swim up bar, a spa to make you all beautiful and relaxed, water sports, yoga, 6 different restaurants, several bars, kids club and kids activities. And it is also right on Mai Khao Beach.
When we first arrived our family was welcomed with a traditional Thai drink, and as we are members of the Mariott Rewards progam (free to join) - the boys also received a welcome gift. Being a member also entitled us to free Wifi for our stay, which is a huge bonus for a blogger! When we walked into our room there was welcome tray of decadent Thai desserts waiting for us as well. The boys were also given a departure gift - the Thai people know how to spoil their guests, that's for sure.
The buffet breakfast was delicious with special treats coming out on a Sunday morning. We ate our way through most of the restaurants during our stay, eating traditional Thai food, Italian and Japanese as well as some Western fare. All the restaurants welcomed kidlets, but not all had kids menus. However it was easy enough to find food choices that our lads would eat. We spent most of time by the pool as we were only there for a few days, however if you are staying longer the front desk will organise tours for you down into the touristy areas of Phuket.
What to do....
Most tourists visit Phuket for its beautiful beaches. And yes they are stunning. Water sports are huge and you can hire all sorts of equipment to have fun with on the ocean. Most beaches also have massage huts on them where you can score a super cheap massage.
The only problem with visiting in September is that it's jelly fish season and also sea lice can be an issue. We aren't sure if our little dudes were eaten by sea lice, or if they were suffering from prickly heat, but they came out in hundreds of little bites after sitting in the ocean for a short time. So we always cooled off in the pool and just had long beach walks to enjoy the beautiful views.
Phuket TrickEye Museum
This was our favourite "touristy" thing we did in Phuket. Located in Phuket Town you can spend ages in here taking the most awesome photos ever! The Trick Eye Museum is full of amazing 3D paintings that you can basically step into, and it looks like you are part of the picture! There are signs around the museum showing you how to take the best shot. When you arrive you have to take your shoes off, then you pay your entrance fee. Try to avoid the chaps who want to take a photo of you, as you enter the museum, as they are just trying to flog you a dodgy family portrait. The museum is fully airconditioned so it's a great place to cool down in after a morning of exploring outdoors.
Ghostinium - Central Festival Shopping Centre
We stumbled into this gem by mistake. It's located across the road from one of Phuket's best shopping centres - Central Festival. To be honest it does look a wee bit dodgy from the outside, but be brave and go in, as you will wander through different types of rooms which almost resemble movie sets. Each room has a different theme and is full of aniamtronics and other weird and wonderful make believe creatures. There are dinosaurs, crocodiles, spiders and a huge gorilla. It takes about 30 minutes to wander through and a note of warning it may scare little ones.
Upside Down House (Baan Teelanka)
This is hidden on the busy Bypass Road (one of Phuket's main roads). Basically everything in the house is stuck on the roof and you contort your body into different poses to make the photo look as though you are upside down. So it's great for the fun social media photo. Our boys weren't tall enough for most of the shots, so if you have really small kids think twice before parting with your cash for the entrance fee.
The Upside Down House is open, and as such it doesn't have air conditioning. There are two levels and the house is up quite high. So if you suffer from bad vertigo (like I do) this ain't the place for you - it was a waste of money for me to go into it, as I only lasted 2 minutes before I ran for the ground floor having a mild panic attack.
There's also an outdoor garden maze and a escape room on site. We bought the ticket which covered entrance to the house and maze - the thought of being locked in an unairconditioned room with my 3 boys trying to work out clues of how to get out, made my stomach turn. The maze is fun and they provide you with cute little umbrellas in case the heavens open up.
Visit Big Buddha - Karon
The main religion of Thailand is Buddhism, and you will see beautiful little shrines everywhere you walk in Phuket. And keeping an eye on all of Phuket is the Big Buddha. He sits beautifully atop the Nakkerd Hills in Karon. He is 45m high and 25 m wide and is made from concrete adorned with marble and jade.
The drive up to the Big Buddha is quite scenic, and there are loads of bends. If you like the idea of feeding/riding elephants, there are also places to do this on the way up the hill. Once on top, the 360 degree views are breathtaking. Females must be modestly dressed to visit, so make sure you take a sarong with you to wrap around your legs/shoulders (ie. you can't wear shorts and a singlet). You can also hire a sarong there to wrap around yourself. The hordes of tourists with selfie sticks are a bit of a nightmare here, but try to rise above that as Buddha is just beautiful. It's a place of respect, just like visiting a church so, perhaps make your little ones mindful of that. There are of course loads of things to spend your money on here, including tokens to hang around the bottom of Buddha where you can write prayers, wishes etc that you may have. You can even receive a blessing from a monk if you so wish (for a donation of course).
Where to eat...
You would need to be in Thailand for a year or more to visit the plethora of eateries available. So I'm just going to tell you about the places we visited - most of which are in the Bang Tao Beach area. We ate at rustic restaurants and also at the most gorgeous place that I have ever been too! And yes we did fill our bellies with the best Thai food we have ever had in our lives. The boys did struggle with a lot of the local dishes, but satay sticks and rice were always a favourite, and most places do a Western type of meal anyway. Also quite a few Thai dishes are garnished with intricately cut vegetables such as carrots, so the boys just munched away on those and some rice.
Pooh & Friends - Bang Tao Beach
This is a little restaurant in the back streets of Bang Tao beach, which just happened to be around the corner from where we were staying. They serve up cheap and delicious Thai food as well as European meals. Their service is so very welcoming and they have the cutest little grandson who is learning to speak English. The restaurant is rustic by Sydney standards - but golly gosh the food was good. Everything tasted so authentic and they turn down the heat for us Westerners, so that we don't burn our tongues too much! They are open for dinner every day.
Andaman Seaside - Bang Tao Beach
We ate at this place a few times. Once again it is quite rustic, but it is smack bang on the beach and there is also a pool in the adjoining resort which they let the boys swim in. The boys were in heaven as they ran between the beach and pool the whole time - grabbing a bite to eat now and then. This meant that Mr Munch and I were also in heaven, and we enjoyed a couple of long lunches which is almost unheard of when you are parents.
We chose finger food most of the time which we washed down with ice cold beers - and yes they do put ice in their beers over there to keep them cool, which may freak Aussie beer snobs out a bit! Grilled prawns, satay sticks, pot stickers and Thai spring rolls were our favourites and they even cooked some chicken nuggets for the boys. And at the end of each meal we always received a big plate of fresh fruit - bliss! They are open for lunch and dinner every day.
Bliss Beach Club - Bang Tao Beach
A favourite with tourists (especially in happy hour), this Beach Club is literally on the beach and they also have a pool. So the kids are sorted whilst their parents imbibe a few too many holiday cocktails! The food was pretty good - we just went with share plates, and they have a decent kids menu which is a bonus for those of you with fussy eaters. Just be wary of the hawkers along the beach who try to sell you and your kids every thing from sarongs to laser lights - do not buy from them! As soon as you give one of them some money, the rest will swarm around you looking for another sale which ends up ruining your night.
Bennys American Bar & Grill - Bang Tao Beach
We had a great meal here with friends. The garden like setting for the restaurant means that the seating is outside and thankfully the night we dined it wasn't too hot. The service was brilliant and they made special kids meals for the boys including ice cream. The place was packed with well heeled locals and tourists, and there was almost a party atmosphere in the air. They are only open for dinner (or drinks), so make sure you drop by if you are staying in the area.
Bocconcino - Cherng Talay
We had breakfast here a couple of times, purely because they serve Illy coffee and we are caffeine addicts. It's an Italian style of restaurant/cafe that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. They bake all of their own bread and pastries (our boys became addicted to their bomboloni donuts) and they have a wood fired pizza oven. Their breakfasts are ok, on the smaller side and reasonbly priced. Service was always agreeable and they never seemed to be busy which was a bonus.
You will find a few of these places located around Phuket and they are a Western style wine bar/cafe. You can have everything from a full American breakfast, to a pizza, to a yummy cheese plate. They are a good choice when you crave air conditioning and Western food.
Iniala Bakery - Boat Avenue
A little slice of Paris in Phuket is how I would describe this cute little bakery. Their pastries are fab and their coffee is pretty good too! You can pick up fresh baguettes and other gourmet food products and their tarts look amazing. They have a small eating area and they are open from 7am every day - perfect timing for those of you with early risers - just jump in a cab to get there. They have restaurant and wine bar opening up next door, later this year which I'm sure wil be fantastic. The Boat Avenue area in which Iniala is located is a bit posh - loads of lovely frock shops and a excellent Villa Market supermarket (where the expats shop).
Cafe Waya - Boat Avenue
This is the place to go if you want a decent Western breakfast. They serve up everthing from bacon and eggs, to french toast and fresh fruit. The coffee is good and service is very friendly (although a bit slow) - you'll also find the place packed with expats.
The Bua - Kamala Beach
This upmarket Thai restaurant served the best Thai food we had on our trip. When we arrived we had the whole place to ourselves and the gorgeous owner looked after us like royalty. We ate everything from curries to freshly caught Andaman Sea shrimp with tamarind sauce, to Chicken and Pomelo Salad. As much as I love our Thai restaurants back home in Sydney, I have never tasted flavours like this before. And our meal was washed down with Thai Mojitos - it's made with coriander instead of mint and boy is it good.
Palm Seaside - Bang Tao Beach
This place! It was the piece de resistance of our trip. It was sublime. I'm not exaggerating. You must go there if you get the chance - and yes you can take the kidlets! I can't believe that it took me until I was in by 40s to eat at somewhere so divine, and my kids ate there when they were 6 & 8! Firstly its location right on the beach is perfect to see a magical Phuket sunset. Secondly the sunken dining booths along the serenity pool are the best way to experience the restaurant - you must book one of these. Thirdly the food is some of the best I've eaten in my travels across the world. And lastly the service - it was faultless!
There isn't a dedicated kids menu but we found a few items suitable for the unadulterated tastebuds of the boys - like a gourmet beef burger for example. And there was delicious coconut gelato for dessert which comes in a fresh coconut. There were a few other little diners in the restaurant too, so don't be concerned about taking your kidlets along. They will probably end up grooving away Ibiza style to the tunes that the spunky Eurpoean DJ is pumping out.
Palm Seaside is definitely not a cheap restaurant, it's a once in a life time kind of experience. They are open for lunch and dinner, and if you smile at them sweetly (and leave a good tip), they might even drive you back to your accommodation.
How to get around...
Tuk Tuks - all kidlets will want to ride on one of these, especially if you get a Spideman Disco tuk tuk like we did. Tuk tuks are great for short distances - make sure you negotiate a price befoer you get in!
Taxis - we found them to be quite inexpensive and once again, make sure you confirm the price before you hop in. More often than not they are happy to wait at your destination until you are finished to bring you home again. I'm not sure if it was luck or not, but we always had a big clean 4wd as our taxi, and the drivers were excellent.
Hire car - these are reasonably priced in comparison to Australia. Phuket traffic is quite manic, you have to do loads of freaky U turns with dozens of other cars to get where you are going, and most of the local roads are badly maintained, so save yourself the stress and get a taxi.
Local bus - we never used these (I'm sorry but my backpacker days are long gone). They resemble a truck more than a bus, they are dirt cheap and all of them have natural air conditioning.
Walk - I was so proud of the boys (and myself) for how much we walked, considering the heat. You always find little hidden gems when you get out and walk and that's what travelling is all about - so invest in some good walking sandals before you go.
Other travel tips for Phuket...
AS PER USUAL WE PAID FOR THIS TRIP OURSELVES - AND ARE HAPPILY BROKE AS A RESULT!