We’ve just gotten back from another vacation in Phuket. No matter how many times we visit the island, we’re still madly in love with it. Its an incredibly fun vacation spot for the entire family– and we always travel here as a family for this very reason.
Thailand is a very open and easy country to access from the UAE, as its only about 6 hours away by flight and it allows all of our passports (I’m American, hubby and kids are Emirati and our nanny is from the Philippines) to enter with visa on arrival. This makes things very simple for us– no prior paperwork needed and short notice travel is a breeze!
Because its such a gorgeous place, and because its so easy for us to travel here, we come to Phuket quite often. Every time we travel with the kids, I always get questions on Instagram DMs about how I choose the activities, etc. I thought I’d do a full article/guide on vacationing in Phuket as a family, split it into the best resorts/hotels, restaurants and activities (for both adults and kids), so enjoy the read!
What you need to bring:
I always tend to overpack, but Phuket really doesn’t require you to bring too much, as you can find quite a lot of things for much cheaper than it is back at home. When traveling with there kids however, I would highly suggest that you bring their medicines (paracetamol, cough syrup, mosquito bite spray/cream, etc.) and their specific brand of diapers and milk.
All of the swimwear, floaties, sunscreen, hats, toys, etc. can be bought in Phuket for a fraction of the price that they sell it for in Dubai.
There are also loads of places to buy clothes for adults and even though I pack a minimum of 1 outfit per day for myself, I always find myself choosing to wear things I buy while there. Trust me, don’t over pack! Save that luggage space and weight for the shopping (and loads of soaps) you’re going to bring back with you.
What you need to know:
Thai people are in general VERY kind people. They are so helpful and especially when they see that you are traveling as a family, they always try to help you. There are some things, though, that might catch you off guard– e.g. I got told off by a local woman for taking pictures of miniature pineapples at the supermarket (I’m still confused as to why, haha). You are not allowed to do anything disrespectful when it comes in regards to Buddha– this includes getting tattoos of buddha, etc.
Where to stay in Phuket:
We’ve stayed in about 7 different places in Phuket, but here are the ones that I would highly recommend for families:
Movenpick Resort & Spa Karon Beach Phuket
This resort is MASSIVE– so massive that we stayed for 4 days and didn’t cover a fraction of the entire place. We stayed in a 2-bedroom villa and its actually 3 bedrooms total! There are amazing pools for the whole family, play areas and so many restaurants and activities that you could literally spend an entire 4 days inside the resort and not get bored. You can read the full review here.
Rawai VIP Villas
These are full-on villas, with kitchens, laundry rooms, private pools and garages. Its all of the comforts of home, as well as the luxuries of a hotel (cleaning services, breakfast, etc.). Its amazingly spacious and private and perfect for large families or groups of friends. We stayed in the 3-bedroom pool villa, but there are 2-bedroom villas, 6-bedroom villas and everything in between. Rawai Park, an amazing play area is just across the street and its perfect for kids! Here is the full review for our experience there.
Le Meridien Phuket Beach Resort
This resort has its own private beach– literally. A lot of resorts say that they have their own beaches, but this resort is literally hidden in a beach of its own. The location itself is just a few minutes from both Karon and Patong. The resort has been around for decades and they’re very well-known. We stayed in their 2-bedroom suite and it has a breathtaking view!
Best Fine Dining Thai Restaurants ($$$$)
This restaurant is royal Thai cuisine done right. Royal Thai cuisine is different from the Thai food we usually get in Dubai (or in the West), which mainly focuses on Thai street food. If you’re looking for a fine-dining experience and a taste of refined Thai food, this is the spot! The details of the restaurant (the art, the decor, the outfits they wear) and the food are impeccable. Our menu was even scented with jasmine! We tried a variety of dishes and I have to say that my favorite was their Lobster in Red Curry. Make sure to get it when you go!
Baan Rim Pa
Baan Rim Pa came highly recommended by my husbands friends, so we decided to give it a go. Honestly, its one of the best restaurants I’ve been to in Thailand and I truly understand why they’ve won so many awards (they literally have an entire wall of awards on display as you walk in). The restaurant is on a small cliff, facing the Andaman Sea. Unfortunately we were running a little late that day and ended up missing the sunset, but I can only imagine how incredible the view would’ve been. The view aside, the food and service were impeccable. The service was flawlessly on point– you can tell by the small details– like when they changed the candlelights, it was all done at exactly the same time for all of the tables in the restaurant (yes, I’m that picky and yes I notice these things, haha). We will DEFINITELY be coming back here again.
Best Affordable Upscale Restaurants ($$)
OrientAsia is one of the restaurants located in Movenpick Karon Beach Resort & Spa. We went there for dinner with the whole family and it has a very relaxed, but also very upscale vibe. There’s live music, a full buffet and also an extensive a la carte menu. There’s outdoor and indoor seating and kids are totally welcomed. They’re very family friendly! We ordered from the a la carte menu and everything was so delicious. The cuisine is mostly Thai, but there are also some other pan-Asian dishes on there. The prices are very affordable, which is quite surprising due to the location and ambiance (you would think its a lot more expensive than it is!). I really loved their appetizers and the presentation of them– my favorite was the fish cakes, they are the best in Phuket!
Pum’s Thai Restaurant
Ah Pum’s… I’ve literally been to this restaurant over 20 times. It’s my go-to restaurant in Phuket and usually its always for take-away. Its a very casual spot and located next to a few Arabic restaurants in Patong that my husband likes to order from, so while he’s there ordering his meshawi, I’m at Pum’s ordering my Thai Red Curry with Prawns. Its literally the only thing I ever order there, even though they have so many Thai dishes on their menu. If you’re looking for a very casual, clean, well-kept Thai restaurant thats very easy on the wallet as well, this is the place! They also have cooking classes — I took one once, and its a one-on-one experience. I learned how to make Tom Yum Goong, but never applied it in my actual life (I use the excuse of not being able to find the freshest ingredients here in the UAE, but in reality, its because I know I will mess it up)!
Buffalo Steakhouse Phuket
If you’re feeling like steering away from all of the spicy Thai food, Buffalo Steakhouse is actually an amazing place for Western food. They have really good quality steaks and all of the food we ordered there was very flavorful. The variety is really good too as they have all of the Western staples as well as some Thai and Asian dishes. Service however, was not anything to write home about. They were very slow, served all of the starters and mains jumbled up together and it felt like they were ignoring us most of the time, as it was always difficult to get their attention. The food, however, really made up for the bad service and thats why I would really recommend it.
Island Hopping Tours:
Ahhh, the island trips. There are SO many different places that advertise for island hopping/snorkeling/scuba diving trips. There are agencies and kiosks on every street corner in Phuket for tourist trips so its very easy to book these trips. I would highly recommend that you only take your kids if they are 7 or older. We left our 2 and 4 year old at home (even though I was trying so hard to convince the hubby to bring my 4 year old) because its a very difficult trip. The last time we went island hopping, it was raining on and off and the waters were so choppy that our speedboat felt like it was on the verge of capsizing twice! If you like snorkeling like I do, I would recommend that you choose the Phi Phi island trip, which takes you to 4 other islands as well. They stop in 2-3 different places to snorkel.
If you like sight-seeing, I would recommend booking trips that take you to James Bond Island. We’ve been to Maya Bay before (from DiCaprio’s The Beach), but its WAY too crowded and a big let-down, so I wouldn’t recommend that. Also, make sure to take a boat thats at LEAST a speedboat (no longboats!), as they are much faster, safer and more reliable.
We were really lucky to be staying right next to Rawai Park, which is a park, play area and pool for kids. It was located right across from our villa at Rawai VIP Villas. Our kids could spend hours there and still beg to stay there the rest of the day. Even though we spent loads of time there as well, it was a blessing to have next to our villa because our nanny could keep them busy there while we were doing activities that were difficult to bring them to (e.g. snorkeling trips, spas, etc.). The pool (filled with slides and water play and floaties) was totally kid-friendly and our 2 year old could walk through it with the water waist-high the entire way, which makes it very safe. The indoor play area was amazing for rainy days and the outdoor one was great too because its completely shaded. They also have loads of family/kids events there, so keep an eye out on their social media to see if they’ll have anything going on during your stay.
A visit to Big Buddha is a great way to spend sometime taking in the beautiful scenery of Phuket. Its the highest point on the island and you can see over the lush green jungles, white sand beaches, turquoise blue waters all the way off into the deep blue sea! Its definitely something that you can do with even the tiniest of kids and from what I remember, its completely free. Remember to wear respectful clothing as it is a sacred place!
Dino Park Mini Golf:
My 4-year old is absolutely obsessed with dinosaurs, so when we heard that there was a Dino Park, we had to go! We went with a 2 year old and a 4 year old so every rule in the mini golf book was broken– they had a blast though and that’s what matters. Its located right next to Karon Beach so you can walk over to the beach afterwards.
Central Phuket (or Central Festival Phuket, I’m still confused as to what its called because people call it both), is a mall and its total Dubai-status when it comes to opulence! They have amazing brands, but also small stalls that sell very authentically Thai products. Compared to Dubai, the prices are amazing. They also have loads of restaurants (like seriously A LOT!), and they even have American restaurants that aren’t even in Dubai yet like Sizzlers. They have a huge play area downstairs, and you can easily spend an entire day exploring all of it. The new part of the mall just opened about a month ago (November 2018) and they have so many nice things! We went back 4 times during our last trip, and I would’ve gone back more if we were staying longer.
Loads of beaches to explore on the island, but my favorite has to be Patong beach, even now that its more crowded than it ever was before. There’s a plethora of activities to do and there’s just a vibe there that you get that is just not anywhere else!
Don’t forget to take a tuktuk ride with your little ones in tow. They cost essentially the same as a car or van taxi, but its an experience that kids will love!
Karon Beach Square:
Karon Beach Square has loads of restaurants and even though its upscale, its very affordable! There will definitely be a restaurant that you will like, so make sure to stop by. The beach is right across the road, so its perfect for a lunch or dinner after sunbathing.
Non Kid-friendly Activities:
There are SO many water sports activities and you don’t have to look far to do them. They’re on every major beach and there are plenty of signs for them. There’s no need to pre-book anything and its pretty much on a “walk-in” basis. There’s so many things you can do, from banana boat rides, parasailing, kayaking, snorkeling, and so much more! (That’s the hubby getting ready to go parasailing).
It’s the wildest place I’ve ever seen in my entire life– and even that is an understatement. Trust me, this is not a place you want your little ones seeing after 7pm at night! If you can, keep the kids at home (with an adult of course) and explore this part of Phuket… if you dare.
Spas and Massage Centers:
So. Many. Massage places!!! We were getting massages every single day after, before heading home for the night. They are CHEAP and so worth it. You can find 1 hour full body massages for AED 40 (might not be in the fanciest place, but they’re also not too shabby). There are some places that clearly look sketchy, so steer clear of that, but in general, most of the massage places are very professional.
I got my nails done 3 times in a 10-day span. Why? Because again, they are veerrryy inexpensive, do incredible nail art and are super fast. Things that would’ve cost me AED 300 and 2+ hours here in Dubai costed about AED 55 and took 45 minutes. Their artistic nail skills out in Thailand are insane! My favourite place was a little nail bar in Jung Ceylon Mall (Patong) next to Boots Pharmacy. I believe its called Love Nails (?)– they are amazing! Yes, the only clear picture I could find of my nails was of me holding food, naturally.
Fun, if you’re into that kind of thing. I tried it once but I don’t really care for it much, but there are plenty of shooting ranges, go kart areas and recreational centers of the sort for adults.
I’ve taken a few cooking classes in Thailand, but my favorite place has to be in Patong at a little restaurant called Pum’s Thai Restaurant & Cooking School. They’re very laid back but also professional and clean. You can do one-on-one walk-in classes (unless they’re super busy), and I love their food, so I really wanted to learn how to make things the way that they make it. A lot of hotels also provide cooking classes, so you can always check to see if the resort your staying in has any.
Popular Places That I Don’t Recommend:
We went to the Phuket Zoo because the kids really wanted to see some animals. We knew nothing about it and didn’t read any reviews online, so we just asked a taxi to take us straight there from our hotel. It was completely different to what we would normally think of as a zoo. Instead of nurturing the animals, it was almost somewhat hostile and cruel. The elephants were chained and waiting for you to feed them; the tigers were clearly heavily sedated and chained and were sat down, ready for visitors to take pictures with them; there were shows where trained people were demonstrating their “skills” of putting their arms in crocodile mouths and everything. You can practically see just how drugged up the animals are. They do have some really nice attractions, like feeding baby monkeys, and they have some gorgeous animals and birds that you would never see in other parts of the world. The kids really liked it, but if I knew how bad the “zookeepers” treated the animals, I would never have brought them there. At ages 2 and 4 though, they are just too young to understand.
The tickets were quite pricey for a zoo (and even more expensive than Dubai Safari Park), at 1,500 bhat per person.
There are also some very popular shows that I thought were very obvious tourist traps. For example, the FantaSea Show– its a 3-4 hour experience and a 1.5 hour show and they were charging us a little over 10,000 bhat (for 3 adults and 2 very young kids), so I convinced my husband not to go. It was a dance show with elephants, you can also opt to have dinner there (the price mentioned above was without dinner). It just felt like way too much of a tourist trap, but then again, I didn’t try it out so I can’t tell you for sure if its worth it or not.