Alex Key, and his wife Jacqueline Renee Cohen, their son Nathaniel (4) and daughter Saskia (3).
The Cohens flew to Bangkok from Beijing via Hong Kong and then flew Bangkok Air to Koh Samui. Bangkok Air tickets are easy to book online, although they are expensive. When the kids are older, the family hopes to return, but travel by train or boat instead.
There are many family resorts and private villas on Koh Samui and Phuket, and a large enough variety of accommodation and transportation options to suit every budget.
Although the family had initially not planned on visiting Koh Samui, their last-minute booking of hotels worked to their advantage. While browsing Samuivillasandhomes.com, they saw a late cancellation on a private villa and were able to book it for ten days at a 20 percent discount! The villa had a pool and private beach, six bedrooms, a private chef, three maids and a gardener. The chef, who spoke some Mandarin, was an amazing cook who catered to dietary needs including allergies. It was the best Thai food they had ever had. The villa cost USD 500 per night and food costs added up to about USD 30 a day – which included crab and other delicacies. For a future trip, to keep costs low, the family hopes to book the same villa again during low season and share accommodation with friends.
In Bangkok, they found the new Chatrium Suites (www.chatrium.com) on the river to be perfect for families, with its two-bedroom suites, river views and a nice buffet breakfast. The pool is okay, but the main attraction is its riverside location as well as the free hotel shuttle boat (or public river boats) to the train station, from where visitors can access all the sights of Bangkok. With advice from Trip Advisor.com, the family knocked 20 percent off the list rate by calling the hotel directly. Though not a unique hotel, Chatrium Suites can’t be beat for the price, the clean and spacious rooms, the great service and great location.
The Best Part
The private villa in Koh Samui was one of the best parts of the vacation. While they received good value for their money, the best part was seeing the kids run free, swimming, playing and saying "Coconut, please!" to the staff. Their swimming skills improved; Saskia (3) was able to swim the short length of the pool. It was the most relaxing holiday the family has ever had.
Every kid wants to see elephants, and Thailand is a great place for that. Instead of seeing a "show," the family visited an elephant sanctuary (www.elephantsworld.org). What they found exceeded their imagination. This new sanctuary was set up by a regional veterinarian. It currently has six elephants, all with wonderful stories and personalities. They get bathed two times a day in the river, and guests who bring their bathing suits, can go in the water with them. The kids had a great time feeding bananas to the elephants. Since this place is off the tourist radar, visitors should call first to make an appointment. Only two hours from Bangkok, the sanctuary is worth a day trip. There is no official entry fee, but donations are appreciated. There are also volunteers who help with everything, including planting and harvesting food for the elephants. It will be on the family’s Bangkok itinerary for years to come.
The Worst Part
While the family stayed in Bangkok for four days, three would have been enough, considering the age of their children.
The weekend market in Bangkok was a highlight for Jacqueline. She picked up new glasseware for the house, as well as gifts of essential oils, soap dispensers and more. There is also a great selection of art, clothing and shoes.
While in Bangkok, the kids loved taking the public ferry. It is very inexpensive, costing only THB 13.
The new aquarium in Bangkok was great, but only caught the kid’s attention for about two hours at most.
Thailand has lots of charming kids’ books about life as a local. One of the popular series available is The Little Blue Tuk-Tuk – it made the kids’ Tuk-Tuk rides just that little bit more special. Bangkok also has world-class medical care – so it’s not crazy to squeeze in an appointment to a pediatric dentist or seek other quick procedures at affordable rates.
The food, although it can be spicy, is perfect for kids. Selections include rice with curry sauce, fish cakes, spring rolls, noodles, and an unlimited selection of fresh fruits and coconuts.
While at Koh Samui, the family attended a green smoothie class, taught by Jennifer Thompson (www.healthybliss.net). The whole family loved this educational class, and the smoothies were delicious. Upon returning to Beijing, the family continues to make and enjoy green smoothies.
Renting a private villa during the low season is worth the price. It’s especially good value if you share your accommodation with another family. While planning is worthwhile, sometimes last-minute hotel deals are the best.
Families with slightly older kids should consider train trips and ferry rides rather than flights, and enjoy travel as part of the adventure. Also, don’t neglect northern Thailand. Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai are great bases for visiting hill tribes and taking a boat to the Burmese border.
Due to recent events, families should check with their government travel advisory service before planning a trip to Thailand.