Thailand. We loved Thailand. The kids loved Thailand too. ‘We’re going to Thailand’ is now a regular game our children play. It involves up-ending both of their bedrooms, placing a random assortment of toys into bags and dragging them to the front door before saying goodbye to us because they’re off to the airport. Now, whenever we mention that we’ll be travelling soon, we’re met with the question ‘are we going to Thailand?’ which receives an inevitable ‘no’ accompanied by disappointed faces. When we told our children recently that we were travelling to India for Christmas and may have the chance to ride an elephant, we received the rather blasé response ‘like we did in Thailand?’ and, presented with a world map and asked where we should go next, our eldest unquestioningly suggested ‘Thailand!’.
Thailand. Bloody Thailand.
Living in China, travelling to Phuket was relatively easy, although as we chose to go during the Chinese New Year holiday flights were busy and therefore expensive. After scouring Skyscanner and other flight comparison websites, we found our best option was to book with Thai Airways directly. This cost us around GBP1500 for 2 adults and 2 children and whilst substantially more expensive than flying the same route at other times in the year, it was moderately cheaper than our other options.
We liked Thai airways. check in was quick and friendly, the plane was relatively modern and comfortable and the food was ok. Our children rarely eat when travelling and this journey was no exception, but I personally enjoyed the meal having chosen the low calorie option (chicken on the flight out, salmon on the return flight) which was provided without any fuss.
From Guangzhou we flew to Bangkok where we had a 90 minute layover before taking another flight for the final short journey to Phuket. In all, our journey took around 8 hours and there were no delays.
There are a few Sunwing resorts in Thailand and for no reason other than that it looked nice, we opted for the Sunwing Kamala beach. The website appeared simple and comprehensive and allowed you to choose extras like airport transfers and meals as part of the booking process (although more on that later). From the off, it looked like a very family friendly resort, full of swimming pools, play parks and ice cream and for a small amount more, you could upgrade to a ‘Happy Baby Room’ which featured everything a family with young children would need.
Skipping forward slightly, I can recommend the Happy Baby Room wholeheartedly. Sunwing have everything covered and these rooms are clearly designed by somebody with experience of travelling with children. It’s a regular, good quality hotel room made safe. Sharp corners on furniture have guards on them, there’s a potty and a baby bath in the bathroom and the room comes complete with its own baby stroller. The Happy Baby Rooms are also all on the ground floor so you needn’t worry about falls from a balcony. They have a terrace which faces onto the pool and these terraces are fenced and gated just high enough to prevent little people wandering too close to the water.
For somebody with vast amounts of experience rearranging and child proofing hotel rooms, I didn’t have to do a thing at the Sunwing. It was an incredibly refreshing change.
The staff are brilliant with families too and whilst I will cover facilities like the kids club later, it would be unfair of me not to mention how quickly somebody came to our room in the middle of the night with fresh bedding during our stay because our 4 year old had been ill in the night. Having stayed at hotels and resorts where a sheet ruined with vomit would have been added to the bill, I fell in love with the person who arrived with a smile, changed the bedding and asked after our son. And this was some hours after dark.
We ticked two boxes when we made our reservation at the Sunwing; one was for an airport transfer and the other said ‘add dinner to your stay’. Both of these proved to be either problematic or slightly misleading.
Upon exiting Phuket airport you emerge into a melee of taxi stands, touts, airport transfer drivers and people waiting for friends and relatives. It is chaos. Pushing 3 cases and with our two children in tow we snaked our way through the spaghetti junction of baggage trolleys all jostling for right of way whilst looking for our name on the myriad of hastily scribbled signs being held up by drivers. After pushing our way from one end of the arrivals building to the other and back again several times, we started to suspect that our transfer had not yet arrived and with no phone or phone number, started to get a bit anxious.
Eventually a very accommodating lady at one of the taxis desks offered to call the hotel for us (I can only assume she was tired of seeing my red face puffing and panting past her, each time looking more disgruntled) and the resort gave us a place to wait. In all we waited about 45 minutes which, coincidentally, was also the duration of the transfer and so I can only assume the hotel had forgotten about us.
Once we arrived at the hotel however, check-in was easy. We were given a drink whilst we went through the process and were then handed our room keys and the pre-paid ice cream cards that were included in the package. It was at this point that we also received a single ‘dinner voucher’ with instructions on how and when we could use it. This was the misleading part and was followed by a very patient receptionist explaining to us that the box on the website that said ‘add dinner to your stay’ only added a single meal for which you would be given a voucher. We had assumed that we had selected something similar to a ‘half board’ option and so with a newly adjusted holiday budget and our voucher for a single dish in the hotels restaurant, we headed to our room.
Thai food ranks alongside Indian and Lebanese as my absolute favourite type of food and although it is very clearly an ice cream and swimming pools family resort, the Sunwing Kamala Beach did not disappoint.
The resorts main restaurant is a large open air affair with seats inside surrounded by electric fans and seats outside under a large shade and with a view of the pool. It serves a large range of Thai and international food as part of its a la carte menu and we managed to eat here frequently without ever struggling to find a dish we liked. I worked my way through the Thai menu (Chicken and beef satay; red, green and yellow curries; basil chicken; Pad Thai and more) and loved everything I ordered.
For those unable to decide, the restaurant also offers a buffet with a daily theme (Mexican, Indian, Italian) which whilst a lot more expensive than ordering individual dishes, also offers a substantial variety from which to choose.
Children eat for free from their own buffet counter and whilst this didn’t change as frequently as the adult buffet, it offered all the staples of a stereotypical kids menu (fries, chicken nuggets etc) as well as some more regional dishes.
In the morning the restaurant also offers a large breakfast selection featuring fruit, cereal, pastries, cooked meats and cheeses and a hot breakfast counter and again, kids eat free from their own buffet.
I don’t mind admitting that the ladies at the Sunwing’s beach front massage hut (they have others dotted about the resort) got to know me pretty well during our stay. Much to their amusement I never made the leap from ‘oil massage’ to the bone crunching, gasp inspiring ‘Thai massage’ but after one visit early in the week I made it my mission to fit in a massage wherever possible. As well as my more traditional ‘cowards massage’ they also offer the whole walking-up-and-down-your-back-until-you-scream service and a whole menu of smaller treatments for hands, feet, face and neck. The prices were incredibly reasonable too. For a one hour, beachside full body massage the rate when we stayed was around GBP5.
I’ve never liked kids clubs. I have an axe to grind with parents who take their children on holiday and then drop them off with other people. However, we did visit the kids club at the Sunwing Kamala Beach. The kids wanted to go. What can I say?
Like plush Pied Pipers the resort has two mascots, Bernie and Lola, a teddy bear and a giraffe, who periodically appear from nowhere and lead children off to the kids club and admittedly, its a nice little extra. A small room by some table tennis tables, it features games consoles and lots of friendly and energetic staff available to help with the clubs full programme of games and craft activities. Our two little balls of energy wanted to go to Bernie’s birthday party and so we bought tickets from reception and turned them over to the care of a 7ft giraffe for 2 hours. They came back with pieces of paper covered in glitter and assorted nonsense and with their faces painted as Captain America and something bright and flowery.
Aside from the kids clubs there are also a selection of small parks with slides and climbing frames etc and a good selection of swimming pools (I counted 5, although there are apparently 7). The resort is also on the beach which offers its own wide selection of entertainment opportunities.
As a family holiday, the Sunwing Kamala Beach is definitely a place we’d visit again. The children loved the facilities and activities on offer and as parents we enjoyed the peace of mind of knowing their needs were so well catered for. We have looked to go again since but the resort books up quickly and you have to be quick to grab a good deal. Who knows, we’re returning to Phuket in January, maybe Bernie and Lola will see us again soon.