Phuket may be Thailand’s number one holiday destination for Australian families, but neighbouring provinces Krabi and Phang Nga also have a lot to offer.
Its beautiful beaches, mouth-watering food and value for money make Thailand an obvious choice for a family getaway overseas, with Phuket drawing the bulk of international tourists. But savvy holidaymakers are increasingly turning to nearby Krabi and Phang Nga provinces as alternatives to the island hotspot.
Just to the east on the other side of Phang Nga Bay, Krabi is around nine times bigger than Phuket but attracts less than half as many visitors. Famous for its sheer limestone cliffs, it has more than 150 offshore islands to explore on day trips, including Koh Phi Phi Ley where the movie The Beach was filmed.
With its large selection of hotels, shops and restaurants, the resort town of Ao Nang makes an ideal base. Kids will love dining under coconut trees with their feet in the sand at thatched-roof eatery The Last Fisherman, which holds a barbecue dinner nightly (not to mention its yummy ice-cream sundaes!). Seafood St is a row of waterfront restaurants at the northern end of Ao Nang Beach Rd, offering fresh, cheap seafood. Or for authentic Thai cuisine head to the colourful KoDam Kitchen, which also has a designated kids’ menu.
Catch a taxi or local bus, called a songthaew, to Krabi Town to check out the large and bustling night markets. Held every Friday, Saturday and Sunday evening, the bazaar has dozens of stalls selling clothes and accessories, as well as delicious street food which can be eaten in the large open-air plaza. It’s also a great place to see cultural performances and artisans at work making Thai handicrafts.
One of the best things to do from Krabi is to go island hopping. Koh Phi Phi is, of course, the main drawcard, but there are plenty of other islands in the archipelago to discover. Boat trips also go to Koh Hong, where you can swim or kayak on a beautiful lagoon, while the Krabi Four Island tour takes you to the Poda Islands group. The 1km-long Koh Poda is the largest in the group and has a coral reef around 20m offshore, while the islets of Koh Tup and Koh Mor are known for their crystal-clear waters, which are great for snorkelling. They are linked by a sand bar and at low tide you can walk to Koh Gai, also known as Chicken Island after the shape of the rock that forms its southern tip.
A short boat ride away is the island of Koh Klang – a rural Muslim enclave where you can enjoy authentic local experiences such as learning how rice is harvested and how batik is made, as well as kayaking through mangroves to explore hidden caves.
Back on the mainland, the boat-access only Railay Beach is a mecca for rock climbing, thanks to its soaring limestone cliffs. Krabi Rock Climbing School offers courses for beginners, in which you learn how to tie knots, about rope security and safety and climbing techniques. Its instructors are fluent in English and great with kids.
In the south of the province in the middle of the jungle in Klong Thom district, Krabi Hot Springs is a must-visit. As well as astonishingly beautiful, naturally formed, tiered rock pools, there’s also larger man-made pools so there’s enough room for everyone. While you’re there, take a dip in the striking Emerald Pool in nearby Khao Phra Bang Khram Nature Reserve.
Another impressive sight is the Wat Tham Sua, or Tiger Cave Temple, near Krabi Town. A large golden Buddha statue sits at the top of the temple complex, which features a maze of caves where monks live and worship. Many ancient artefacts have been found in the caves, and what appears to be tiger paw prints can be seen in the stone. If you are feeling fit, you can climb more than 1,200 steps to see a moulded replica of Buddha’s footprint, and admire the view over the surrounding countryside towards the Andaman Sea.
Adrenaline-loving families will enjoy the Krabi Kart Speedway, where you can race each other around the track, surrounded by jungle and soaring escarpments.
For those looking for a quieter option, the Koh Lanta island district, 70km south of Krabi, is an undeveloped paradise known for its long beaches, inviting waterfalls and family-friendly resorts. The largest of the islands, Koh Lanta Yai, is accessible via car or passenger ferry.
To the north of Phuket, the Phang Nga province has plenty to entice those who prefer a slower pace. Just a 1.5-hour drive from Phuket International Airport, Khao Lak is a cluster of easily-accessible beachside villages surrounded by lush mountains.
Eco Khao Lak Adventure offers day trips, tours and excursions to all the area’s major tourist attractions, including Khao Sok National Park in Surat Thani province, the Surin Islands and Ko Khao Phing Kan – also known as James Bond Island because a scene from The Man with the Golden Gun was filmed there.
The Similan Islands are often considered the most beautiful in Thailand thanks to their white sand beaches, crystal clear water and colourful coral reefs ideal for snorkelling and scuba diving. The island group is part of the Similan Islands National Park, which is open from November to April.
Another lovely day trip is canoeing through the ‘Little Amazon’ – a peaceful Banyan tree forest near Takuapa, around 30km north of Khao Lak. Keep an eye out for snakes, monkeys, lizards and birds as you paddle through the mangroves. En route visit Takuapa Old Town – a traditional town established before 500BC, which has a strong tin mining history. Many Chinese migrants came here to work, which led to a mix of building designs from the east and west which became known as Sino-Portugese.
Don’t miss a visit to Phang Nga Elephant Park, where the same family has been caring for Asian elephants for more than 150 years. Its ethical tours include the Family Elephant Experience, where you get to see an elephant health check, feed bananas to the gentle giants and help bathe them in a rock pool before meeting a playful elephant calf.
Animal lovers should also check out the Phang Nga Coastal Fisheries Research and Development Center on Thai Muang Beach, around 30km south of Khao Lak. Here you can see sea turtle hatchlings which have been brought there to live until they are eight months old because they have a better chance of survival away from predators. For a small donation, visitors can also help release a turtle into the sea. More than 500 green sea turtles are released in early March during the annual Khao Lak Turtle Releasing Festival. There are rehabilitation tanks for sick or injured sea turtles, as well as a large tank that houses a saltwater crocodile, found in a nearby village. The centre also has an anemone fish breeding program, where kids can see the cute clownfish made famous by the animated film Finding Nemo.
More info: amazingthailand.com.au
An exclusive hideaway for families and couples alike, this resort is set in a private and secluded bay amongst a background of towering green limestone cliffs and extensive range of facilities.
This family-friendly resort is ideally located close to the shops and restaurants of Ao Nang and a short stroll to the beach.
Contemporary yet exotic, this relaxing and intimate resort is a 15-minute walk or a short drive from Ao Nang and close to Krabi’s restaurant entertainment areas. It’s suitable for families and small groups.
At the quieter end of Ao Nang Beach, just a short walk from local eateries and bars, this resort opens in September 2019. It is a fun place for families and offers great opportunity to discover Krabi’s striking scenery and offshore islands.
With its prime oceanfront location, approximately a one-hour drive from Phuket International Airport, accommodation in spacious rooms, family residences and private villas, this beautiful garden setting resort offers activities and facilities galore. It is a fabulous resort for family groups, couples and those longing for a tranquil holiday.