Phuket is a great choice for a short family break over a public holiday long weekend. Quick, direct flights and kid-friendly accommodation options make the Thai island a hassle-free escape. With family in tow, Katie Roberts visited the new Anantara Vacation Club at gorgeous Mai Khao Beach, and found that it ticked all five boxes on her holiday checklist.
1. Two-bedroom villa
It might be a splurge, but most parents would agree that two-bedroom accommodation makes all the difference. The children are pleased to not be lumped in Mum and Dad’s room, and everyone is happy if there’s a TV and separate bathroom too – cartoons at 6am, no problem; and wet swimsuits can languish in the corner of the shower.
The villas at the Anantara are incredibly roomy. The soaring ceiling in the open plan living, dining and kitchen area makes a big impression, as does the private pool that’s accessible through large sliding doors. There’s a comfortable daybed in the sala, and some of the villa pools have a shallow wading section for kids. Bedrooms are cleverly located at either end of the main living area, and the dressing area between the master bedroom is enormous, as is the bathroom with massive freestanding bath overlooking an outdoor rain-shower.
An additional 45 villas are due for completion by the end of March to add to the current 30, which are a mix of one- and two-bedroom accommodation.
2. Kids’ Club
Thanks to their frequent travels, some expat kids are quite the connoisseurs of kids’ clubs. The Jakka Kids’ Club at Anantara offered something special to captivate our two, aged nine and 11. They went along to two or three sessions each day, taking their pick from complimentary activities perfectly suited for ages four to 12. A printed schedule in the villa was handy for them to choose their activities ahead of time.
Yoga, painting, hair-braiding, balloon art, treasure hunts and lots of other mainly craft-based activities kept them amused for hours. (Who knew that a towel could be folded into the shape of an elephant?) There were computer games and sports, too. A climbing wall, a floating movie screen and pool tubes were set to be arriving just after our visit, promising more fun for bigger kids and adults.
Aside from friendly, happy staff, the other important ingredient of Jakka is its location. Directly beside the pool, with big windows and a sunny outlook, it’s not an afterthought as some kids’ clubs seem to be.
3. Reasonably priced, authentic food
Some guests choose to self-cater in the well-equipped villa kitchens. This is very handy for easy breakfasts, snacks and lunches with kids. But on a short stay, and especially in Thailand, part of the holiday fun is to revel in the local cuisine. There are three options: Chaam, the all-day dining restaurant; Crust, for wood-fired pizza; and Ripples, a swim-up pool bar offering snacks and drinks. All provide value-for-money options and you’ll certainly pay less than for Thai food in Singapore. The weekly seafood buffets are not to be missed, offering a delicious selection of barbecued local seafood, plus a great spread of salads and Asian hot dishes. Order room service on evenings when everyone wants to slouch about; I can vouch for the Thai curries.
4. Parental downtime
With a Kids’ Club fulfilling the child-minding duties, parents are free to do their own thing. For us this meant a twilight stroll on the deserted beach and sundowners at the Infinity Bar at Anantara Phuket Villas, just across the road. This is another stunning resort, with several quality dining options, but is perhaps best enjoyed without younger kids.
A couple’s massage at the Anantara Spa will put anyone in a good mood. Also located at Anantara Villas, the tranquil six-pavilion spa is set around a picturesque lake in lush tropical gardens. The signature 90-minute massage combines soothing Thai techniques with hot oil – the ultimate treat.
5. Clean beach
Khao Mai is a clean, white beach with no pesky touts or traders, and kilometres of fine sand. The area was designated a national park in 1981 and it is largely free from development. Olive ridley sea turtles lay their eggs on the beach from November to February.
While the Vacation Club does not have direct access to the beach, it’s only a five-minute walk away and guests can use the Anantara water sports centre. During the few months of the monsoon season, the Andaman Sea can become pretty rough and the water can be closed to swimming. December to May offers the clearest weather.
For me though, as long as it’s not raining, beaches are good for so much more than swimming: leisurely walks, watching sunsets, jogging, playing ball and just laying about. The ideal holiday.
Here’s where the Anantara scored bonus marks:
- The resort is located just 15 minutes from the airport; the personal greeting and prompt pickup by friendly staff makes a big impression.
- Whether it’s just tootling to the beach, or a longer ride with a staff member as guide, complimentary bikes give freedom which bigger kids appreciate
- Parents like me who are paranoid about sunburn will recognise the value of the shaded kids’ pool and playground, where kids can play safely for hours. There are pool toys, too.
- A washing machine and dryer are tucked away in a cupboard in the kitchen.
- A mini-market is located across the road in the Turtle Village shops and is well stocked with flip-flops, pool toys, cheese, fruit, beer, pasta and more.
- A cocktail at a swim-up pool bar always gets a holiday off to the right start.
- One-, two- and three-bedroom apartment suites are available at the Vacation Club.
A lunchtime cooking class at Spice Spoons is a fun activity for the entire family, and relaxing, too – especially since there’s no washing-up involved. Most of the four Thai dishes we prepared were quick and simple, and – more importantly – tasty, as we discovered when we sat down to eat the results.
There are two set menus offered on alternate days, so you can add a host of dishes to your repertoire. We made Som Tam (spicy green papaya salad), Tom Kha Gai (coconut chicken soup), Goong Phad Nam Prik Pao (prawn stir-fry) and a dessert of Peauk Buad Chee (taro poached in coconut cream). The experienced sous chef gave us all kinds of local tips: how to cut food at the correct angle, how to juice a lime easily, and how to achieve that all-important combination of salty, spicy and sour flavours that is so important in Thai cooking. This is a great activity, especially on a rainy day.
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