Family Fling in Phuket
The cave tunnel gets smaller and smaller as we lie flat in the yellow inflatable kayak.
"No moving!" laughs Sayaan, our Thai guide.
The roof constricts to barely half an inch above my nose. Moments pass, then the grotto widens.
"Turn your flashlights on," he whispers.
Glistening stalactites hang down like giant ice crystals. A rock crab scuttles over a rose-colored, fan-shaped formation. I want to stay and absorb the beauty longer. But we're dependent on the tides, so he paddles us through the hong (island), shaped like an angel-food cake, to enter the inner lagoon. We're exploring Phang Nga Bay, Thailand, in sea canoes. Made famous by the 007 movies The Man With the Golden Gun and Tomorrow Never Dies, the bay is home to hundreds of weirdly-shaped limestone outcroppings that rise dramatically up from the sea. But while our 10-year-old son is obsessed with the '007' Nintendo 64 video game, we don't go anywhere near the tourist site of James Bond Island.
"Too busy!" exclaims Sayaan. "We go where there are no other people."
Elephant Treks and Other Exotic Activities
My first taste that this was going to be no ordinary beach vacation occurred just after arriving. Jet-lagged, I dozed off in my beach chair, when a baby elephant tickled my foot with her trunk. 'Sally' and her handler roam the grounds of five hotels spread along the three miles of white sand beach comprising Phuket's Laguna Resort area. Without expecting money, her handler invites children to sit atop and pet his elephant.
One afternoon, we noticed Sally standing in the ocean, getting splashed by a horde of excited youngsters and spraying them in turn with her trunk. We later learned that Sally and other elephants have been brought down from Chiang Mai, where logging has recently slowed. So now you can experience educational visits with an elephant and a half-hour "trek" without having to travel to northern Thailand. If you find the prospect of riding elephants daunting, three riding clubs at Kata Beach, Ban Sai Yuan on the way to Hai Harn Beach, and Bang Tao Beach at Laguna offer horseback riding instead.
Phuket's less demanding activities involve being seduced by the sun, sand and sea. The hotel lawns fringing the beaches are havens for indulging in beauty and relaxation treatments. Local Thai women give bargain-priced massages and combination manicures and pedicures in the shade.
The beach was also our favorite place for trying out the deliciously spicy Thai food. We'd stroll, barefoot in the sand, until we came to a restaurant that struck our fancy. Typically, we'd be seated 20 feet from the water's edge in comfy cane furniture underneath a canopy of hand-painted, colorful paper parasols. A dinner of curried crab or fresh tiger prawns cost the equivalent of US$7 per person. (Youngsters need not fear; French fries can be had, too!)
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication