Kids in Phuket. What to do with them? As the mother of two pre-teen kids who were born here, I face the same struggles that many parents are experiencing: finding ways to keep them active and engaged with the world … i.e, keeping them off the stupid phones!
Sometimes I need to remind my kids that we’re living on a tropical island – a place that many other families only dream of visiting. Yes, I’m a terrible mother, dragging my children to that beach – yet again! – to bodysurf and stroll along the soft sands. A beach that might be a once-in-a-lifetime destination for some is a place that we can easily visit any time on a 15-minute drive from our home. Someday, they’ll appreciate how lucky they are to spend their childhood years in Phuket, I’m sure.
Beyond the beaches, Phuket is a well-developed island with plenty of sights and attractions, so it’s not difficult to find things to do for the kids. After more than a dozen years of trying out various sports and activities in Phuket with my – sometimes reluctant – children, here are some of our time-tested favourites. (And a few things we hope to try soon.)
Wakeboarding is not only a fun way to keep cool, it offers a great core workout too! In Phuket we’ve tried two cable wakeboarding parks set on freshwater lakes inland. Anthem Wake Park in Cherngtalay welcomes both skilled riders and novices to come strap on a board and glide across the lake in a clockwise circuit. Two-hour passes are 800 baht for adults, 400 baht for kids under 12.
Phuket Wake Park in Kathu near Kathu Waterfall tends to attract more experienced wakeboarders, but it also offers classes and “summer camps” for kids. Riders can be seen flying high over the obstacles along the cable circuit. Two-hour passes are 950 baht for adults, 450 baht for kids under 12. Board and equipment rental are available at both places.
Snorkelling and Diving
With the Andaman Sea surrounding the island, there’s no need to visit an aquarium to see some cool and colourful fish. Better to don a mask and dive in! The Phi Phi islands, nearby Coral Island and the Racha islands are popular snorkelling spots, but we prefer to avoid the tourist boat trips and snorkel from the beaches around Phuket.
Ao Sane near Nai Harn Beach is a decent snorkelling site, while we’ve also explored the waters off Kata Beach, Yanui Beach and Banana Beach. Families could also join a snorkelling day trip to the Similan Islands, a protected archipelago with vivid-hued coral and a rich variety of sea life. With their white-sand beaches and clear turquoise waters, these islands are seriously dazzling. The Similans are definitely our family’s favourite!
For those with older kids, more interesting marine life could be seen on a scuba diving trip, which we haven’t tried yet as a family. For information on diving in Phuket, I’d recommend getting in touch with Jamie, who blogs at Jamie’s Phuket and runs a dive shop in Karon Beach.
Hoist a Sail
Phuket is a popular place for yachting, with yacht charters and sailing lessons available at the various marinas around the island. The most family-friendly place to learn to sail is the Phuket Yacht Club on Chalong Bay, which offers regular sailing sessions for kids on Saturday mornings and fun club activities or races on most Sundays. Private classes on other days could be arranged, too. You don’t have to be a member to join most Phuket Yacht Club activities, but if you want to rent a yacht you’ll need to prove your sailing competency before they’ll let you sail away with it. For more details, contact Liz and Alfie at the club’s sailing school.
Sailing classes are taught using the club’s fleet of dinghy yachts, which are great little boats that even young kids can learn to handle adeptly with a few lessons. I have to say I was a proud mama watching my two wee ones sail around the bay on their own when they took the course a couple of years ago! The club’s open-air restaurant serves up a good mix of Thai and Western food and is a good place to relax and watch the sailing action. (I’ll admit, I sometimes just like to go there to enjoy a cold beer and sea views in the evening.)
Climb the Walls
Unlike the top climbing destinations of nearby Koh Phi Phi and Railay Beach, Phuket doesn’t have any towering rock faces for climbers to scale. But there’s still a chance to hone your climbing skills at two indoor wall climbing places that have opened in recent years – Art C House in Phuket Town and Rebel Rock Climbing in Cherngtalay, next to Anthem Wake Park.
Art C is an arsty guesthouse as well as a climbing place and it’s quite a surprise to find this giant climbing wall after walking into what looks like a small shophouse. Since opening, they’ve expanded and built some bouldering walls to try. Climbing here is budget-friendly as well, with day passes available for 350 baht including equipment rental and instruction. There’s a friendly climbing community here and beginners aren’t made to feel intimidated.
Rebel is found in a striking black three-floor industrial style building on the lakefront with walls offering plenty of challenges for all levels. It’s a sleek looking place and we’ve kind of been in awe here watching some of the amazingly skilled and fit climbers scrambling up the walls. Two-hour passes are 700 baht for adults and 600 baht for kids under 12, including equipment rental. Multi-day passes and memberships are also available.
Walk on the Wild Side
The kids might moan about the steamy heat, but it’s worth trying a mini-hike through the jungle in Phuket. Much of the island’s virgin jungle was cleared away during its tin-mining days more than a century ago, but a sizeable area remains in the protected Khao Phra Thaeo National Park.
A well-marked park path shaded by towering bamboo and other jungly trees leads to Bang Pae Waterfall. The path runs alongside a stream most of the way, so if you need to cool down just stop for a dip in one of the natural pools along the way. It is possible to do a 3-4 hour hike to Tonsai Waterfall from here, but we’ve never tried it. Our friends have done it with their kids, with a hired park guide leading the way. I wouldn’t recommend doing this without a guide as it’s reportedly easy to get lost on the unkempt trails further into the jungle.
Hang with the Gibbons
At the entrance to the park is the Gibbon Rehabilitation Project, a shelter for primates rescued from the tourist trade. The GRP has rescued many gibbons and slow lorises from Thailand’s illegal photo-prop trade since 1992 and has successfully re-introduced some gibbons back to the wild.
We love to watch the gibbons swing in their cages and listen to their haunting hooting calls. This is pretty much the only animal attraction I recommend in Phuket, since it’s a registered charity with a mission to help animals, not profit from them for tourist entertainment. Note that foreign visitors must pay 200 baht to enter the park. The gibbon centre is free to visit but donations are welcome.
For more challenging hikes and plenty of fun outdoor activities like river tubing and kayaking, make time to visit Khao Sok, a huge and spectacular national park about a 2.5-hour drive from Phuket.