Thailand marked the arrival of my parents to join us for a month of travels. In her late 70s my mother surprised me by agreeing to island hop around the Andaman sea. I should have known better though- the draw of the Grandchildren has always been strong, I just didn't realise how strong.
We had 10 days in Phuket to cram in all the beach action and delicious food we could manage. We hired a car and drove about, met up with my Uncle who lives in Rawai and I introduced the parents to Thai food- which we all love and my favourite thing; coconut shakes.
Fruit shakes in Thailand are just fruit blended up with ice- refreshing, healthy and delicious- coconut is my favourite. If I had to live on one thing for the rest off my life it would probably be this and I could finally show my parents how amazing they are after all these years of going on about them!
We visited Nai Harn and Yanui beach a lot as they were a few minutes away- and had beautiful turquoise water and soft sand. We spent our time floating about and catching up in the beautiful warm water; hampered only by the youngest child complaining about being sandy (which we ignored) and the occasional 'stinger' (or sea lice) in the water. They are either jellyfish larvae or bits of decomposing jellyfish- we can't decide, but their presence depends on the tide and season. They hampered our enjoyment a little bit but the 'zing' didn't last too long. Then we went to Karon beach where they were very intense- so as lovely as it was, we didn't return there.
One night, Mum and Dad said they were happy to watch the children whilst Mike and I went out for a drink. There was one bar nearby, which we walked to and when i asked for a drink apparently they didn't have one. Weird, I thought? A language barrier perhaps? So I persisted and soon enough a drink arrived. I remember thinking it was weird that there were so many waiting staff who were really dressed up and no one in the only bar around... They seemed very friendly though, which was probably because the bar was so empty..?
A western man arrived on a moped, but wasn't keen on making conversation and when I went to the toilet I noticed the corridor was made of curtains to make up little cubicles... When I got back to the table our silent friend had disappeared and the penny dropped. We were having drinks in a brothel and everyone who passes thinks that Mike and I are post-coital! we had another drink, obviously and laughed at the lengths we will go to for a child-free drink.
I was surprised my parents were up for the island hoping bit, but the traffic jams of Phuket were getting boring. It wasn't real island life as far as we were concerned, even though the beaches were pretty. Koh Lanta was a welcome change.
The budget ferry was not direct, and as we encountered the boat change at Koh Phi Phi, I realised why I had reservations about my parents doing this journey. In the searing heat, hoards of tourists scuffled to grab their bags and get over the narrow gang plank and off the ferry. It was intense and chaotic, but my parents didn't seem to mind. Then I realised in panic that the next boat had no Air Con! No toilet! I took on role of mother hen and ran to 7/11 to get drinks and snacks for the journey.
On the way to the shop, I looked up at the limestone outcrops and recognised it completely from the last time I was there twenty years ago. The sea was the same intense turquoise blue and the limestone rocks were just as imposing as when I was last there. It was busier now of course, but the same place.
I was nineteen and had worked for months to save up enough money to travel Thailand and Laos with my best friends. At the harbour of Ko Phi Phi we waved a tearful goodbye to friends who were going different ways. It all seemed so intense and important, as friendships are when you're nineteen.
We had next to no money for our travels, but were resourceful and full of energy. Eating boiled rice and even having to beg to raise the money for the toll bridge at Vientiane. Oh the irony, white Western girls asking for money to get home. We did it though, with dignity or no, we did it. Our friendships and experiences were so pure and for a moment I was right there again.
Then a child asked me if he could have a wee, and I was back in reality.
We made it back to the boat in time and I dished out the drinks (don't dehydrate! Sunscreen!) and set off for Koh Lanta. My parents hadn't even noticed they were low on water, they were enjoying the journey so much- which made me realise it was more for my benefit than theirs. Despite momentarily missing the friendships of youth, this trip felt satisfying in its cyclical nature: parents, husband and children with me doing this journey; could I ever have imagined twenty years ago that this would be my life now? probably not, no. I'm not a sentimental person, but I felt very lucky in a profound, spine-tingling way. Then I remembered that to come here I had to sell everything I owned and leave my community behind me. It dawned on me that this trip was not without its sacrifices, but still definitely worth it.
Ko Lanta was a breath of fresh air after Phuket! Tuk tuks buzzing around and no traffic jams! We checked Mum and Dad into their resort and we went out scouting for a new house. We decided to wing it again to get a good deal- Booking.com said that everything was booked up but we didn't believe that- and we were right.
We found a palm rush beach hut that faced the sea and had a restaurant with the tastiest food around, booked for cheaper than online- win! We hired mopeds from them and explored a lot, went on snorkelling trip (see film below) and some days just hung out playing cards, relishing the beauty of the place.
We had a few debates around home schooling whilst we were here- but another post on this too, soon. It's not been all plain sailing in the Wheeler household, let's say.
One night, one glorious night, the boys stayed overnight at the Grandparents and Mike and I went out for an adventure (there will another blog post about this shortly). We had a blast, needless to say.
After a lovely two weeks in Koh Lanta, we were back on Phuket but this time we splashed out for a resort- in walking distance to Naiyang beach which was just fifteen minutes from the airport. The resort isn't usually our cup of tea, but perfect for all three generations to spend their last few days together.
We ate on the beach, watching the sunset and went night swimming with the children. It was the perfect, magical way to end our time together and I wouldn't have changed it one bit.
Where we stayed:
Villa in Nai Harn, Phuket 76 GBP per night (split between 2 so we paid 38 GBP)
Marina Resort, Long Beach, Koh Lanta 23 GBP per night for sea front bungalow. Great food, lots of families and had the best food on the beach- but without the price tag.
Gold Diggers resort, Nai Yang, Phuket. 58 GBP per night. Pool, walking distance to the beach and suited both Grandparents and children; a treat for the last few days of their holiday.
What we did:
Big Buddha, Phuket- Free.
James Bond Island boat trip- 25 GBP each including lunch, drinks and kayaking.
Nai Harn Beach- clear water, soft sand but quite busy.
Ya Nui Beach- Small, clear water and some fish to watch if you bring your snorkel gear.
Laem Prom Thep viewpoint- pretty walk and view point.
Karon Beach- pretty but with 'stingers' in the sea so couldn't swim for long.
Karon Temple and market- pretty and small.
Old Town- a market on Sunday morning with lots of handicrafts shops and cafes with seating over the sea. Lovely laid back way to spend a morning soaking up the atmosphere.
Koh Lanta Animal Welfare; hang out here, cuddle some puppies and learn about their sterilisation project.
Mu Ko National Park, lighthouse and nature trail through the jungle. 9 GBP per adult 4.50 per child.
4 island Snorkelling trip by Longtail boat. Arranged through a local tour operator. 11.50 GBP per adult, 7 GBP for kids. DO NOT RECOMMEND as crossing open seas in a Longtail boat is very dangerous. The sea was rough, the kids were terrified. There was not much snorkelling time as it took so long to get to the islands. I however, loved the swimming into the emerald cave (see video below) We met lovely people but it felt a bit unsafe especially as the guides didn't seem to mind if they left people behind.
Nikitas in Phuket. Expensive but with waterfront setting.
Kook Restaurant, Rawai. Cheap and friendly and just around the corner! We ate here the most.
Marina Resort (see above)
How we got around:
Grab (like Uber) operates in Phuket. Cheap and efficient if you have a smart phone.
Car hire: 23 GBP per day for a people carrier for all 6 of us.
Ferry from Phuket to Koh Lanta (changing at Koh Phi Phi) 18.60 GBP each, each way.
Tuk Tuk- we paid 1 GBP for a 10 minute journey and was lots of fun!
Moped hire- 4 GBP per moped per 24 hours from Marina resort.
Dangers & annoyances?
Homeaway.com was a website we had not used before, but the rental of the villa did not include electricity. It added up as the property was so big! Also, on checking out, a Rep turned up to inspect the property and tried to charge us for a broken water glass. She also inspected the bed linen(!?!) and found some hair dye on the pillows from Mum's hair. I was outraged that she tried to charge us for the cost of the pillowcase even though the dye would come out in the wash- eventually she retracted her demand for the money.
'Stingers' in the sea were intermittent and depends on tide and season.
Marina Resort is next door to Korner Bar which had a party on Saturday nights. It was loud but not too loud to sleep (with ear plugs!)