TRAVEL BLACK BOOK - Tan Wee Keng's

Life's a beach in Phuket

Maya Bay, a tourist attraction on Phi Phi island, was one of the locations for the 2000 film The Beach starring Leonardo DiCaprio.
Maya Bay, a tourist attraction on Phi Phi island, was one of the locations for the 2000 film The Beach starring Leonardo DiCaprio.PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES/LOOK
 Tan Wee Keng
Tan Wee KengPHOTO: TAN WEE KENG

Soak in the sun and take a dip in crystal clear waters on the Thai island in the Andaman Sea

Who: Tan Wee Keng, 46, chief executive officer of Tollyjoy Baby Products. He and his wife, Irene Yeo, 38, the company's sales and marketing manager, have three children - Jonathan, 14; Ian, five; and Christine, three.

Favourite destination: Phuket, Thailand

Why: Phuket is a picture-perfect destination with splendid landscapes and pearly white beaches. Although it can be crowded at times, it reigns supreme with some of the best beaches and crystal clear waters in the region. The friendly Thais also make us feel welcome.

Favourite place to stay

The Centara Grand Beach Resort (683 Patak Road, Karon Beach; tel: +66-76-201-234; tinyurl.com/omggy96) is a beautiful, family-friendly resort on Karon beach, with a green hill in the background.

We stayed in two connecting premium deluxe rooms facing the ocean. They were beautifully designed in Sino-Portuguese style - the decor, scents and colours reflecting the best of Chinese and Portuguese influences.

The resort has a water park, which the kids loved, and a Kids Club, which charges 200 baht (S$8) a child an hour and conducts activities such as painting and arts and crafts. My wife and I left the kids at the club and explored Karon Village, about a 10-minute walk from the beach.

Room rates start from 5,190 to 31,190 baht a night.

Favourite places to eat

Laem Hin Seafood restaurant (90/11 Moo 7, Soi Baan Leam Hin, Thepkrasattri Road, Koh Keaw, Phuket Town; tel: +66-07-623-935; tinyurl.com/pgnjpb7) is on a pier, away from the hustle and bustle of Patong.

It was a great experience to watch the fisherman with their fresh catch and the children enjoyed spotting fish and crabs in the water.

The restaurant's delicious Tom Pret Talay (tom yum soup) is prepared in southern Thai style and their Yam Ta Krai salad made with lemongrass, smoked prawns, chilli, cashew nuts and peanuts is flavourful.

Meals start from about 100 baht a dish and, for seafood, the price is based on weight. Our dinner for five people cost about 500 baht, with large portions of seafood.

We had a serene dinner here with the sun setting in the background.

Our best Thai meal was at Talay restaurant (intersection of Luangphochuain and Beach roads, Karon). Apart from the delicious green curry and the tangy tom yum soup, the pad thai and mango sticky rice dessert were also fresh and delectable. Each dish was priced between 120 and 140 baht and the portions were ample.

The staff were friendly and the restaurant even had games such as Connect 4 and Jenga for the kids to play.

I would also recommend the freshly prepared papaya salads made at street stalls in Phuket. They cost only 30 baht a plate and it is a delight to watch the stall owners mix the salad.

Favourite museum

I like the Thalang National Museum (next to Heroines' Monument on Pa Khlok Road, north of Phuket City, Thalang District; open daily from 9am to 4pm, except on public holidays; tel: +66-07-631-1025).

It is an informative museum of Thai, Phuket and the Andaman region's history, and also has sections on the daily lives of the various ethnic groups in Phuket and the nearby islands.

The kids enjoyed the Phuket Trick Eye Museum (corner of Montri and Phang Nga roads in Phuket Town; open from 9am to 9pm daily; tel: +66-07-621-2806; www.phukettrickeyemuseum.com), where they could pose creatively with the 3-D paintings.

Admission was 500 baht a person, which I thought was pricey, but nevertheless, it was fun and a good place to hang out at on a rainy day.

Favourite activity

My favourite thing to do in Thailand is island-hopping and our visits to Phi Phi Island, Maya Bay and Khai Island were memorable.

We booked our trip with JC Tours (tinyurl.com/ nk5dvhh). The crew picked us up from the hotel at about 8am and drove to the wharf, where a well-maintained boat was waiting.

The guide shared the history and interesting facts of the destinations and, as we enjoyed fruit and drinks on board all day, we had breathtaking views of the lagoons, caves and coves of the islands.

The crew was entertaining, accommodating and interacted well with the kids. They also kept them engaged on board while the boat stopped for the adults to snorkel.

The tour costs about 2,500 baht an adult and 1,900 baht a child. There are many operators with cheaper packages, but as our comfort, safety and enjoyment were paramount, we opted for a reputable one that gave the trip a personal touch.

Favourite market

On Tuesdays and Saturdays, there is a market at the Karon temple (Wat Karon on Patak Road). Held on the temple grounds, it offers a great choice of products, street food and local atmosphere.

You will find a wide range of crafts, paintings, handbags and artefacts such as silk tablecloths, runners and cushion covers. They cost about 250 to 350 baht but can be bought for 100 to 150 baht if you know how to bargain.

We also bought a few hand-carved soaps as souvenirs. The kids enjoyed eating the fritters and snacks as we shopped.

Best place to watch the sunset

The Karon Beach viewpoint is one of the most popular sunset destinations in Phuket and we saw a lot of tourists coming to our hotel area to watch the sunset.

We chose to capture the stunning sunset from the Big Buddha instead. It sits at more than 400m above sea level (tinyurl.com/oop8srm) and although the grounds are still under construction, the sight of the Buddha statue and the panoramic view from the top were truly magnificent.

Best hidden find

Khao Phra Thaeo National Park (tinyurl.com/oeuz68q) in the north of Phuket has the only remaining virgin rainforest on the island. The park also has two small waterfalls - Ton Sai and Bang Pae - which are surrounded by forested hills.

The 22sq km park and its waterfalls are not on the typical tourist path and you should be prepared to explore them on your own. Taking a walk through the rainforest is fascinating and the waterfalls make an ideal picnic spot.

To get there, drive 22km north of Phuket Town to Talang Town, then head east at the main intersection for 6km, before reaching the Forestry Department checkpoint.

Necessary day trips

An elephant trek through the villages of Phuket is a must-do activity with your children.

We took a day trip with the popular Siam Elephant Safari (www.siamsafari.com), which included an elephant safari in Phuket's Chalong Highlands, an educational talk about Asian elephants, feeding fruit to young elephants, as well as demonstrations of Thai traditional cooking, coconut processing and rice farming.

It was an educational trip for the children, who learnt about the local culture and rural life. The day tour cost 2,300 baht an adult and 1,500 baht a child, inclusive of dinner and transfers.

Ideal length of stay

One week will give you enough time to rest and take in the sights.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 28, 2015, with the headline 'Life's a beach in Phuket'. Print Edition | Subscribe