Thailand is known for its beautiful stretches of sand; after all, this is the place where Leonardo DiCaprio filmed The Beach. With stunning coastal scenery, world-class customer service and a wide range of luxury hotels, Thailand is a favorite among world travelers looking to take in some vitamin D. The Thai are known for their hospitality and kid-friendly nature, which makes for a welcoming family vacation spot. A fantastic array of activities, from sea kayaking to scuba diving and elephant trekking, will cater to families seeking adventure, while serene beaches and award-winning spas will woo more relaxed travelers.
Deciding on a beach destination in Thailand can be overwhelming, given the number of choices, so we’ve narrowed them down. Below are our favorite family-friendly beach destinations throughout the country.
Phuket, Thailand’s largest and busiest island, is the most popular beach destination for foreign travelers. With glorious beaches, designer boutiques and six-star resorts, there are a number of reasons Phuket tops many travelers’ beach holiday lists. It’s easily accessible from Bangkok (and flights are very affordable), and there are a number of direct flights to Phuket from many countries in Europe and Asia.
The island offers accommodations and attractions for every type of traveler, be it a backpacker on a budget or a family looking for a memorable, luxurious experience. Popular activities on Phuket include snorkeling, diving, sea kayaking, elephant trekking and visiting the cultural sites. While Phuket boasts many stunning beaches of its own, island tours to Koh Phi Phi Don’s Maya Bay (the iconic location where The Beach was filmed) and Phang Na Bay (the setting for some scenes in James Bond’s The Man With The Golden Gun) are popular day trips.
TIP: Because Phuket is such a heavily trafficked destination, choose your beach carefully. Some are overrun with tourists, and parts of Phuket town are not suitable for a younger audience. Seek out resorts with private beaches, such as those on Mai Khao or Kata Noi, and book your activities through the hotel.
Phuket accommodations: Located only 20 minutes from the airport on a beautiful swath of private beach, the JW Marriott Phuket Resort & Spa is the ultimate resort for families. With four pools (including a fantastic kids’ pool), a kids’ club boasting numerous activities for young explorers and a number of excellent dining options, the resort caters to families on every level.
If you’re looking for lighter crowds yet equally stunning beachscapes replete with limestone cliffs and emerald-green water, opt for the coastal town of Krabi. It delivers on the natural beauty factor and has a number of unique adventure activities for families. Home to a diverse collection of marine life, Krabi has excellent diving and snorkeling, and travelers can kayak among the rock outcrops to see cave art from prehistoric times.
Railay beach, Ao Nang beach, and the nearby Phi Phi Islands offer stretches of pristine sand and crystal-clear water. Limestone outcrops off the coast attract rock climbers from all over the globe. Krabi offers a sense of exclusivity and serenity that Phuket cannot, and is ideal for families who seek a slower pace. The town has managed to fly mostly under the radar among the international crowds, but in the last two years, airlines and hotels have been ramping up business in the area.
TIP: Be sure to plan the timing of your trip to Krabi or Phuket (both along the Andaman Sea coastline) around Thailand’s monsoonal seasons. Avoid trips from April to October, when rainfall is heaviest.
Krabi accommodations: Nothing spells luxury like the Anantara brand, and the Anantara Si Kao is no exception. An hour south of Krabi International Airport, this idyllic waterfront resort is a fantastic choice for families. With a kids’ club that offers a full range of indoor and outdoor experiences, to a children’s turndown service and family pool terrace rooms, this resort has all bases covered.
Upscale and relaxed, Koh Samui is the premier gem in the Gulf of Thailand. Roads weren’t built here until the 1970s, and while the island has become increasingly popular with tourists, it has retained a sense of romanticism, adventure and charm.
Koh Samui encompasses nearly 125 miles of white sand beaches, jungle peaks and endless coconut groves. A fun family activity is to go off the beaten path and explore the island by car. Popular stops include waterfalls, where you can splash in the pools, and various viewpoints along the route. Just off the coast is Ang Thong National Marine Park, a group of 40 islands that offer excellent snorkeling and kayaking. Koh Samui also is home to some excellent Thai cooking schools, as well other activities such as elephant-trekking and go-karting.
Koh Samui can be reached via air or sea. The airport services a few international flights, but most arrive from Bangkok. Because Bangkok Airways built and maintains the airport, it holds a monopoly on flights — for that reason, airfare to Koh Samui is more expensive than it is to Phuket or Krabi.
TIP: When you visit Koh Samui, be careful to check the weather. The wet season, from September to mid-December, is often marked by heavy rains and tropical storms.
Koh Samui accommodations: Set among the palm trees on the northwest tip of the island, Four Seasons Resort Koh Samui has family villas with private infinity pools and separate sleeping areas for children. The complimentary Kids For All Seasons program offers a number of activities sure to delight children, from a crab hunt and coral collecting to s’mores on the beach.
The bottom line is that no matter which Thai tropical paradise you choose, you’ll have a memorable experience. Thailand offers so much more than sun and sand — it offers hospitality, exotic culture, exquisite cuisine and stunning natural beauty that cannot be found anywhere else in the world.
Editor’s Note: Photos by Loren Braunohler except where noted.
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