Phuket for kids

What we say: 3.5 stars

With dozens of beaches, a wide choice of hotels and a good mix of cultural and natural attractions, Phuket is one of the most child-friendly places to travel in Thailand.

At the beaches, larger stretches of sand like Kata, Kamala, Bang Tao and Patong beaches have shallow waters and plenty of space to build a sand castle. Snorkelling is also possible at most beaches, with the smaller Ya Nui and Ao Sane beaches offering some of the best underwater sights.

Ya Nui is just one of many kid-friendly beaches on Phuket.
Ya Nui is just one of many kid-friendly beaches on Phuket.

More snorkelling sites are found in the waters and islands around Phuket, and families could arrange day or overnight trips to Coral Island, Ko Raya, Ko Phi Phi, the Similans or other nearby islands in the region. For older children, learning to dive is easy to arrange on Phuket, with plenty of dive shops offering PADI and CMAS courses.

Phang Nga Bay is busy but still a magical place to paddle.
Phang Nga Bay is busy but still a magical place to paddle.

A day trip to Phang Nga Bay, either aboard a longtail boat or joining a sea kayak trip, is sure to be a highlight for kids, or if you’re just looking to paddle around there are kayaks for rent at Ya Nui and other beaches around Phuket. If doing any boat trips, we recommend bringing along life jackets for the children, since some operators may not have child-sized jackets on hand.

Active kids of all ages will love the chance to try standup paddle (SUP) or surfing lessons. Though beach activities have been limited since the 2014 Thai army beach encroachment clearouts, it’s still possible to hire boards and arrange for lessons at some beaches, including Kata and Bang Tao. If sea conditions are not ideal, kids could go for a wakeboarding or flowboarding session. Another popular on-the-water activity is sailing, with children’s dinghy sailing courses held regularly at the Ao Chalong Yacht Club.

Dinghy yachts are ideal for novice sailors learning the ropes.
Dinghy yachts are ideal for novice sailors learning the ropes.

Phuket isn’t known as a big hiking destination but it does have some trails for kids to explore. Kathu waterfall is a small park with pools to cool down in and a short trail. Within Khao Phra Thaeo national park on Phuket’s northern interior are Bang Pae and Tonsai waterfalls, both with hiking trails that kids can navigate safely.

Lots to discover along Bang Pae waterfall's jungle path.
Lots to discover along Bang Pae waterfall’s jungle path.

The Gibbon Rehabilitation Project, found near Bang Pae waterfall, offers an excellent chance for children to observe and learn about this endangered ape. Families who wish to learn more about local animal welfare efforts could also visit Soi Dog Foundation near Mai Khao beach, a charity that shelters and rehomes Phuket’s abused and abandoned dogs and cats and offers daily tours of its facilities. The Phuket Aquarium in Cape Panwa is small but it’s worth a stop especially for kids interested in marine life who might be too young or timid to snorkel.

Phuket's two wake parks offer some splashy skill-building away from the beach.
Phuket’s two wake parks offer some splashy skill-building away from the beach.

Phuket is home to several more animal attractions, but with concerns over the treatment of the animals, not to mention the safety of visitors, we’re reluctant to recommend any elephant riding, animal show or tiger petting attractions here. A number of well-regarded, global tour operators have stopped booking animal activities in Thailand for the same reasons.

If you’re keen for your kids to experience an animal encounter, we’d recommend doing some research before visiting any local attraction. As well, we’ll just lay it out here: in our opinion, forcing animals to perform for human entertainment is possibly harmful to the animal and offers little chance for children to learn anything about wildlife. A better option, if you have time to travel around the region, might be to make a journey up to Khao Sok national park, where kids could join guided nature walks and night safaris.

Plenty of food and a festive atmosphere at Lard Yai market.
Plenty of food and a festive atmosphere at Lard Yai market.

If needing a break from the beach, Phuket’s municipal parks including Saphan Hin in Phuket Town and the lake near Nai Harn beach are good places to relax with the family. Another inland activity fun for kids is mini-golf, with two locations in Phuket: the Jurassic-themed Dino Park in Karon beach and Phuket Adventure Mini Golf, found on the road leading to Bang Tao beach.

With its beaches stealing all the limelight, Phuket’s cultural sights are often overlooked, but its history and food especially are worth exploring if the kids are up for it. Most of the island’s cultural attractions are in Phuket Town, home to the historic Old Town streets, the Thai Hua museum, Baan Chinpracha mansion and the Lard Yai Sunday street market.

Those with more time to travel around the island could go visit the Phuket Mining Museum in Kathu or the Thalang National Museum near the Heroines’ Monument. Though museums in Phuket are small and sometimes lacking in information, they offer some insight into Phuket’s heritage and history. Phuket’s Wat Chalong and the Big Buddha are also lively spots to bring the kids and introduce them to Phuket’s Buddhist traditions. For a more in-depth cultural experience, we’d highly recommend the Phuket Heritage Trails tour.

Silly fun with photos at the Trickeye Museum.
Silly fun with photos at the Trickeye Museum.

On the food front, Phuket is well developed to appeal to kids with all tastes, with choices from the usual fast-food brands to burger and pizza shops to hotel buffets. But you’ll want to introduce your kids to some local food, which is cheap and delicious.

The best local eats are found in Phuket Town, while most every beach resort area has a local market where you can pick up such kids’ favourites as fried chicken with sticky rice, corn on the cob and roti pancakes. The more adventurous might enjoy selecting live seafood from the Moken sea gypsy market on Rawai beach, where their pickings will be cooked and served on the spot.

If it’s raining, or if the kids need a break from the tropical heat, they could spend some time at one of the indoor play parks in the malls, go bowling or see a movie. Most of our Phuket rainy-day activity suggestions will also appeal to children. The Trickeye Museum in Phuket Town is another indoor option, a quirky place for taking silly photographs that make you appear to be part of a large trompe-l’oeil scene.

The Karon Centara Grand resort's swimming hole is a hit with kids.
The Karon beach Centara Grand resort’s swimming hole and water slides are a hit with kids.

Phuket has many child-friendly resorts and hotels, too many to list here, but among the best large resorts we’ve seen for kids are the Holiday Inn Patong plus the newer Holiday Inn on Mai Khao beach, Angsana Laguna Resort on Bang Tao beach, DoubleTree Resort by Hilton at Surin Beach, Centara Grand Beach Resort on Karon beach (especially for its lazy river and water slides), and Centara Grand West Sands Resort on Mai Khao, which offers free entry for its guests at the Splash Jungle Water Park next to the resort.

Smaller resorts with pools and sea views that are good for children include Serenity Resort and Friendship Resort in Rawai and Aochalong Villa Resort. Or for a more rustic beachside place try Yanui Bungalows or Ao Sane Bungalows — just a few suggestions.

Last updated: 30th May, 2015

About the author:
Lana Willocks is a freelance writer from Canada based in Phuket. Her love affair with Thailand (and, ok, a Thai man) began on a university exchange programme in Bangkok, then she returned to Phuket on the auspicious date of 9-9-1999 and never left.
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