For a Dubai family, Phuket’s incredible beaches and people made a pandemic visit worth all the effort.
By Claire White
As teachers living in Dubai, Phil and I get the bonus of long summers to travel. But since Covid-19 halted all international travel, we hadn’t returned to the United Kingdom in two years; we were understandably desperate to spend July and August reconnecting with friends and family back in Wales. Disappointingly, with the U.A.E. firmly remaining on the U.K.’s “red list,” our prospects for getting home were basically nil.
So the Phuket Sandbox initiative, which allowed us to travel, arose at the perfect time. If we couldn’t get back to the U.K., then what better place to go than Thailand?!
We had traveled to Thailand numerous times—the most recent being in January 2020 (just before Covid destroyed travel!)—so we were excited to return to one of our favorite countries. The anxiety of last-minute paperwork and the idea of numerous, expensive PCR tests, plus a Covid outbreak in school, just before we traveled meant we very nearly canceled on more than one occasion. Thankfully, we overcame these hurdles, and on July 9 we boarded our flight. We were finally on our way to one of our most memorable family travel trips ever.
We had visited Phuket island on a few occasions and, in our minds, it was a resort island with Patong as the party central place to be (pre-kids!). We had also spent a week in Surin, in the north of the island in 2016 when my brother got married, and we felt we had seen nearly everything it had to offer. When we arrived this time, we thought we were going to have a slow month on the beach, eating Thai food in the rain—how wrong we were!
We found that Phuket has so much more to offer, which we were able to take full advantage of with the lower visitor numbers due to the pandemic. It is a lush, green island, which was a refreshing contrast to the desert of Dubai. A visit to the Big Buddha, Karon Viewpoint, and Three Monkeys restaurant took us through jungle terrain and was such a welcome change for us.
The Old Town is beautiful and, with no crowds, we were able to really explore the streets and shops, and try out many local cafes. The weather was amazing. (We had always thought Thailand was off limits in summer due to rain, so we nearly packed our raincoats and umbrellas!) We experienced beautiful blue skies and hot weather nearly every day, with only a few rainy days; the only downside was the rough seas on the day we traveled by catamaran. We felt so lucky to enjoy deserted, stunning beaches—our favorites being Nai Harn, Bang Tao, and Patong—which felt like the way nature intended them: private, quiet, and unspoiled.
We had to take three Covid tests during the first 12 days of the Sandbox program, which wasn’t pleasant—even Dylan, our 7-year-old, had to endure them—but of course, it was worth it to be in Thailand. It seems the Thai people have been trained to tickle your brain when doing a PCR test, but thankfully the three-test system is now suspended for visitors. Only one brain tickle on arrival now!
The Good Stuff
Old Town road Wander around the colorful Sino-Portugese buildings in Phuket’s Old Town, admire the local street art, spend your baht in boutiques, and stop for local coffee or food in the many cafes. For delicious local food—like stepping back into a Thai grandma’s house—try the Michelin-listed Tu Kab Khao restaurant. Stay at the Westin Siray Bay, a green, cliffside escape just 10 minutes from Phuket Old Town.
Down Rawai way If you’ve got the baht, stay at the Vijit, a tranquil, luxurious beach resort in Rawai. The pool area looks like a postcard and the individual, private villas make for a perfect family holiday—no close neighbors to be disturbed by the kids! While in Rawai, make sure to visit one of the two Rawai Seafood Markets for dinner—choose your catch from the fishermen and get it cooked in the restaurant opposite. Visit Promthep Cape for sunset and Nai Harn beach for a day in paradise.
Go big Big Buddha is one of the main tourist pulls in Phuket, but during Covid times, it was quiet and free of crowds. Keep an eye out for the monkeys living below, and don’t forget to get a blessing from a monk while you’re in the area.
Drive time Drive through the mountainside near Big Buddha with a guide. We went with Paradise ATV who took us to spot Big Buddha in the distance. They also have ziplining through the jungle, which we didn’t do this time but is on our agenda for next!
Ride like the wind Elis (age 5) and I did a 15-minute parasailing trip over Patong Beach, which was simply breath-taking; we luckily chose an evening with one of the most spectacular sunsets of our stay. There are a variety of people on the beach selling parasailing experiences, so choose wisely!
Here fishy-fishy We booked a trip via Phuket Travel Shop to sail to Coral Island, just a catamaran daytrip from Chalong Pier, with snorkelling around the island of Ko He as a highlight. We also got to spend time on the stunning beach, one of the most beautiful of our trip.
A spa and a kids’ club? Sign me up! The Angsana Laguna resort has it all: a beautiful beach, numerous pools, huge family rooms, fantastic restaurants, a lagoon for water sports, a spa with the best massages, and a brilliant kids’ club—perfect for entertaining the tykes whilst you get pampered! The area surrounding the resort is also very family friendly and features a selection of great restaurants. Bang Tao beach is amazing, particularly at sunset, and has lots of little bar huts for having a beer or cocktail.
Come over to my pad Ma Doo Bua, which translates to “to see lotus,” is a café situated on a lily pond covered in huge Victoria amazonica lily pads. There is a long-tail boat and some buildings to give the impression of a local Thai village, and every seat in the café overlooks the lily pond. During our Covid trip it was deserted, which meant we got to experience the true tranquility and peacefulness of the area. The café itself offers great local food and delicious coffee in a variety of flavors.
Good to Know
Check Covid restrictions According to CNN Travel, “on February 1, 2022, Thailand restarted its Test & Go program, allowing vaccinated international travelers from all countries to enter without lengthy quarantine restrictions … Those wanting to enter now face several additional requirements, including proof of prepayment for two separate nights of accommodation at government-approved hotels on Day 1 and Day 5. (Previously, a pre-booked hotel was only needed for the first day.) … they must stay within the room as they await the results of their mandatory RT-PCR tests. Travelers who have not been fully vaccinated are required to quarantine in an approved hotel for 10 days.”
Get up-to-date information from Thailand’s tourism authority.
When to travel November to April usually has the best weather conditions with sunny, dry days and calm seas. We travelled in July, which falls under “monsoon season.” [Yikes!] Although we had a few days where it rained continuously, out of the five weeks we were there, the majority of days were dry and sunny, and it was rarely too hot. We would definitely try Thailand again during the summer months.
Getting around Car rental is very cheap and easy here. Unfortunately, we forgot to bring our drivers’ licenses, so we couldn’t rent a car, but we spoke to other travellers who had found the island and roads easy to navigate. We used taxis on the longer journeys between hotels and hired a driver for the day on a few occasions, which was great as they have local knowledge. We also used tuk-tuks for shorter journeys and made sure we got numbers wherever we went—most drivers are on WhatsApp, which makes contacting them again to organize a ride easy.
Claire White – February 2022
Traveler, teacher and mum of two based in Dubai, Claire shares her family’s adventures online at TheWanderingWhites.com.
Teacher, mum of two, and avid traveller based in Dubai, Claire shares her family’s adventures at The Wandering Whites.
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