Family Fling in Phuket

Fun on the Water
By Janice Mucalov
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Sea Canoeing
Sea canoeing was perhaps the most memorable part of our stay in Phuket. We were picked up from our hotel and driven to the local sea canoe office on Phang Nga Bay. There, guests were split into two groups and assigned individual guides according to their previously-registered language preference. Our group of 14 then boarded a large, covered boat for the one-hour cruise through Phang Nga Bay to our first hong. Along the way, we read about how the stalactites we'd soon see are formed by slowly dripping water and how the lagoons inside the hongs are formed when the central section collapses, resulting in the doughnut shape.

Upon arriving at the first hong, we slid into our canoe. Each rubber canoe accommodates two adults (there's also room for one child up front) plus a guide who sits at the back and does the paddling. After practicing the art of lying down still and going through our first cave, we clambered back up aboard our boat and motored off to our next hong.

We explored four hongs. The Princess Cave on our second stop had been discovered by Sayaan nine months earlier. At the end of its 150-meter tunnel, Sayaan paddled us cautiously past a mangrove snake curled up in a mangrove tree growing in the island's lagoon. Elsewhere, we spied monkeys in the vegetation at the water's edge. Our fourth hong found us inside the pitch dark Bat Cave where our flashlights illuminated a colony of bats hanging from the roof.

Back on the boat, we ate a late lunch of coconut milk soup with shrimp, followed by freshly cooked blue crab (kids can order sandwiches in advance if they wish). Everyone was starved by the time we ate, but it was a must that we see the hongs first, while the tidal access times were right. The window of opportunity for entering each cave varies from 90 minutes to a mere 8 minutes after that, the rising tide will flood the cave! In the lagoon at the end of the Princess Cave, the water rose at the rate of one foot every ten minutes.

On our return to the sea canoe office's dock, we passed by an oyster farm and were entertained by Sayaan's magic rope tricks.

Sailing the Similans with Star Clippers
At the end of our stay, we boarded the 150-passenger cruise ship, Star Flyer, for a seven-day cruise from Phuket to Singapore. Star Flyer and her sister ship, Star Clipper, are faithful recreations of 19th century schooners but with well-appointed cabins, a beautiful baroque library, and teak and burnished brass finishings. Our stops included Thailand's uninhabited Surin and Similan Islands, Phang Nga Bay, and Langkawi and Malacca in Malaysia.

From Phuket, you can also make a day trip by sailboat to the breathtaking Similans, one of the World's Ten Best Dive Spots according to Skin Diver magazine. In pristine, turquoise waters, a white-tipped reef shark and colorful coral reefs tantalized our dive group.

Although our boat's cruise line doesn't specifically promote itself to family travelers, Christmas and Easter sailings average 20 children per ship. We were pleasantly surprised to meet two other families aboard with kids: a Norwegian couple with a 12-month-old and a couple from Denmark with an 11-year-old girl. There were no cribs, but the beds had safety rails, and your cabin steward will happily plump up pillows to keep small ones safely tucked inside. Also, every day except one, we stopped to spend most of the day on land, so active children will have a chance to run around. One of my best memories was how friendly the crew and other passengers were to all the kids, and how willing to play with them.

Of course, that was true throughout our visit to Thailand, a country known, for good reason, as The Land of Smiles.

Janice Mucalov covers international travel and fine living for several publications from her base in Vancouver, B.C., and is the mother of 11-year-old Sasha.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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