WHERE WE WENT The Amari Watergate Hotel, in Bangkok, and the Amari Resort & Spa Hotel, in Hua Hin, with www.travelbag.co.uk
Let’s fly away
Like most travel fanatics, Thailand had always been on my ‘must visit’ list. So, this spring I took a trip to the capital of Thailand, Bangkok, with a few days in nearby beach resort, Hua Hin, to discover what was on offer for intrepid families. The 11-hour direct flight with Thai Airways was comfortable, and beautiful, with pink and purple décor and flight attendants wearing intricate silk outfits. We arrived in Bangkok airport late afternoon, which was ideal as it meant we slept a lot of the way and could have dinner when we arrived, before an early night - highly recommended to sleep off jet lag.
A Bangkok bolthole
The Amari Watergate hotel, which offers luxurious and family-friendly accommodation, is located in the middle of the Pratunam district: the heartland of Bangkok’s super malls and bargain shopping central. You’ll find everything from electronics to knock-off designer fashion. The shopping areas might be a tad hectic for small children, so instead you might like to take them to make use of the 8th floor swimming pool. I indulged in a massage at the hotel’s Breeze Spa, while I was there. The incredible signature mood massages (from which I chose to feel ‘serene’) cost around £36 each, breeze-spa.com. It was my first taste of a Thai massage. Make sure to communicate the level of intensity you would like, as although they leave you feeling great they can verge on a tad painful if you aren't used to the style!
I would recommend having pre-dinner drinks with the family while watching the sun set over the palm trees – a haven within one of the world’s craziest cities! And make sure to book a trip to the Thai on Four restaurant at the Watergate hotel, a traditional Siam restaurant where the kitchen is overseen by a chef who used to cook for the King.
Bright lights, big city
Bangkok is where east meets west, and this melting pot attracts around 16.42 million visitors per year. So as well as plentiful markets and neon lights, culture is abundant. For a start, there are over 400 temples, so make sure you think ahead which ones you want to visit. Catching tuk-tuks is an easy, fun and cheap way of touring them all – just agree on a price before you hop in, which shouldn’t be more than 200 baht (£4) per trip. We stopped off at the incredible Grand Palace, (pictures above, top) built in 1782 and the most visited temple with around 8 million visitors per year, Wat Po, to see the Reclining Buddha - the largest in Thailand, and Wat Arun, which is picturesquely located on the Chao Praya river.
It is important to remember that you will need to cover up while visiting the temples – take trainers, long trousers and long sleeved tops: although, you will almost definitely pick up some elephant print trousers as souvenirs for around 100 baht (£2) each. You can book organised tours, or hire guides to show you around the temples, if you want to learn more.
Beside the seaside
After sensory overload in Bangkok, we were ready for some beach time. We made the three-hour car transfer, organised by the concierge for around £98, to Thailand’s first established beach resort, Hua Hin. The much-revered Thai royal family now resides permanently in the big beach town, which you can also reach by railway from Bangkok. The Amari Hua Hin is only about five minutes drive from the town centre and is set back from Khao Takiab Beach.
The décor is very elegant and sets a tranquil tone. We all loved the large swimming pool area, which had been designed to look like a beach, and kids can spend time in the well-equipped Kids Club, (pictured further below) while you enjoy a cocktail or two. My decadent family suite overlooked the pool. One evening, I headed down to the Amari's Shoreline Beach Club for a tasty BBQ dinner, and was able to organise a bath service so that when I returned, the giant bath was ready to jump into. This brilliant level of customer service is typical of the Amari hotel group.
Although not located directly on the beach, it only takes a couple of minutes to ride from the Amari in the chauffeured buggy if you don’t feel like walking. Well-groomed horses (not associated with the hotel) are ridden by locals along the beaches, and may offer you a ride, for a small fee. You can take a walk along to the big golden Buddha statue along the beach, but otherwise, the shallow water and golden sands are ideal for lots of beach play.
A taste of South East Asia
Hopefully, your children have adventurous tastebuds, although most Thai dishes tend to come with inoffensive plain or sticky rice. Alongside the traditional pad Thai and curries, I loved the roti flatbreads with banana and honey, and coconut milk filled dough balls. Lots of dishes have a coconut milk base and plenty of palm sugar. There is certainly something to suit every taste and palate.
Our group signed up for a Thai cookery class (a 'must-do' when in Thailand) at Amari Hua Hin, which costs around £23 per person. The award-winning chefs guided us through making our five-course meals, which included Moo ma-naow and Gaeng kiew wan gai: and we got to tuck in to all of it afterwards. We received a certificate at the end, which kids would be very proud of – we definitely were!
To market, to market
Like most of Thailand, Hua Hin is alive with a fantastic selection of morning and night markets, including the 100-year-old Chatchai food market. Primarily for locals to buy ingredients, it is well worth getting up at dawn to explore the stalls heaving with local produce including seafood, sweet treats and our favourite – mango sticky rice. Another evening, we headed to the nightly market, which is a treat for all the senses. You can find some fantastic bargains here among the flame grilled seafood and handmade crafts, which can be personalised on the spot – the perfect souvenir. As family adventures go, Thailand must be close to the top of the pile. The amount of culture is complemented by the friendly population (who love children), the incredible tasting food and the dramatic scenery. Two weeks is a great amount of time to explore at least two destinations, and to test the waters. I guarantee that you will most find yourself planning your return adventure while on the plane ride home.
Exploring further afield...
Chatuchak Market: This weekend market, the largest in Thailand, sells everything from clothing to handicrafts. A 35-acre area filled with more than 8000 stalls arranged in sections and numbered alleyways, or ‘sois’.
Khlongs of Thonburi tour: There is a wealth of tours available to book onto throughout Thailand, and most will arrange to pick you up and drop you off at your hotel for an inclusive price. Consider a Khlong (canal) tour of Bangkok’s Thonburi area (once the capital city itself), to see floating vendors and for a peek into the traditional Thai way of life.
Hua Hin Vineyard: Just an hour from the Hua Hin coast is a scenic vineyard, open for delicious lunches, Monsoon Valley wine tasting, mountain biking and jeep tours. Huahinhills.com
The Western Gulf islands: It is so easy to travel around Thailand via public transport, and you can be book ahead online. We suggest a twin-ticketed journey on a Lomprayah coach and ferry to Koh Tao, from where you can take regular ferries to Koh Phangan and Koh Samui. The islands are where you will find the Thailand you see on postcards. A single trip to Koh Tao from Hua Hin will cost from around £20 each, lomprayah.com
Travelbag is offering a seven night twin centre holiday in Thailand from £2,399 for a family of three. This includes three nights at Amari Watergate Bangkok and four nights at Amari Hua Hin, both on a bed and breakfast basis, and return international flights from London with Thai Airways. To book visit www.travelbag.co.uk. For more information on Amari visit www.amari.com.
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
* Ensure your Hepatitis A and tetanus vaccinations are up to date when travelling to Thailand. Other jabs may be needed depending on what areas you plan to visit, with malaria a risk in forested and hilly areas. Speak to your GP before you go.
* Bangkok and Hua Hin are warm year round, with temperatures in the late 30C in April, falling to 25C in December. Rainy season lasts from May to October, but this tends to present itself as bursts of tropical storms.