Toddler Travelogue: Koh Samui, Thailand

At the start of the year one of my best friends from Australia sent me a text somewhat along the lines of “let’s meet somewhere tropical and let’s make it happen!” Considering that she’d just had her 2nd baby 2 months earlier, as well as having a 22 month old, and the fact that we live almost 12,000 km apart (Melbourne to Dubai), the likelihood of us actually organising this trip was slim.  But guess what?  We actually managed it!  We did a lot of umming and aahhing over plausible mid-point destinations and 4 months later we miraculously all found ourselves tucked away on Koh Samui – 4 adults, 2 x 2 year olds, a 14 month old and a 6 month old baby!  Quite the travelling party! We visited in April/May when the weather was hot (no hotter than Dubai though). Fortunately, we experienced very little rain and it was mostly clear skies.

Koh Samui, an island off the east coast of Thailand, has certainly undergone some drastic change since I last visited well over 10 years ago. It still has a great deal of natural beauty, but it is also increasingly built-up. I couldn’t get over the fact that Lamai Beach now has a HUGE Tesco (called Lotus)! One can pine for the way things used to be, but there are also some positives to tourism development – the local population has experienced greater prosperity, travelling to this destination with a baby or toddler is now much easier, there are fantastic accommodation options, decent medical facilities should you require them and a lot of modern conveniences at your fingertips.

Travel

My preference is to always take a direct flight, especially when we’re travelling a considerable distance.  It can be trying when we’re on a long flight with 2 small kids but at least it’s over and done with and there are no hassles of transfers and security checks.  Unfortunately for us there wasn’t a direct flight to Koh Samui from Dubai and we had the option of either transiting through Bangkok or Singapore. We opted for Singapore and decided to add a few days on at the end of our Koh Samui trip to visit the Lion City.  For me it’s always a tough call when flying: whether to either take the day flight or do a night flight. I normally do prefer day flights only because  I know that although the kids will be awake, they’re generally in a happy mood and well rested. You can’t bank on this same disposition on an overnight flight. However, we opted for an overnight flight to Thailand, leaving Dubai at 3am (yes, waking a 2 year old and 14 month old up at midnight is never fun) and arriving in Singapore at 8am (7 hour flight with a 2 hour time difference).We flew Emirates Airlines and they were fantastic – even giving us a spare seat in our row for our 14 month old (inward and outward bound), as they weren’t quite at capacity.  I must say I’ve only had good experiences to date with Emirates, they are one of the most family friendly airlines that I have travelled upon and as a result will continue to do so when possible, even though they are not always the cheaper option. (No this is not a sponsored post!)

After arriving in Singapore, we had an 8 hour wait before our 1.5 hour flight to Koh Samui.  I’ve learnt through experience that if we do have a considerable transit wait and we can afford it, a hotel room at the airport for a few hours is invaluable! At Changi International, we stayed at the Ambassador Hotel which has adequately sized rooms in a quiet corner of the airport. It is worth knowing that most air-side airport hotels will have a special day rate for passengers who are in transit which is much less than a full overnight rate.

Feeling refreshed from the brief catch-up nap at the airport hotel, we boarded our Bangkok Airways flight to our final destination. From door to door, it was a good 20 hour trip, but we arrived on Koh Samui fairly unscathed (other than our double buggy which was damaged on the Koh Samui leg of our trip). As my kids were 3 hours behind on time, they were in good  spirits for that time of night and even slept-in until 11 am the next day – jetlag can have its benefits especially when you’re flying eastward.

Accommodation

Accommodation on Koh Samui is extensive and mind boggling  There are lots of options to choose from ranging from the luxurious to back packer budget.  We  ended up choosing a resort with a serviced apartment. I have to admit a good sized apartment in a good hotel is becoming a preferred accommodation choice for us.  We get all the conveniences and services of a hotel, plus the small touches of home such as a kitchen and laundry, which are both invaluable when you have small kids.

We stayed at Shasa Resort and Residences and each family stayed in a 1 bedroom deluxe Seaview Suite with our apartments being side by side. The apartment was stylish with gorgeous sea views and at 120 m2 (about 1,300 ft2) it was S P A C I O U S – it more than adequately accommodated a family travelling with a baby and a toddler. Having a kitchen was very useful as it gave us the option to prepare meals and snacks for the kids as well.

The resort itself is lovely. We were located on a remote part of the island so we did spend a great deal of time at the resort (more so than what we normally do on our trips), so being comfortable and feeling like we were on holiday was a priority. If you are looking for a remote getaway on Koh Samui far from the hustle and bustle then this resort ticks all the boxes. It’s a relaxing and tranquil environment and very aesthetically pleasing – the views over the sea are stunning to wake up to. On top of that, the resort itself was family friendly (including 3 great swimming pools and a playroom stocked full of entertainment for young kids). The staff were always more than willing to help out and meet any requests that we made, including additional cot beds and high chairs. They were particularly good on a day that our Miss M was sick and they promptly organised a Doctor from the hospital to come and visit. They also left a little teddy bear with a get well card in our room which was a very thoughtful touch. Overall, I find Thai culture to be very welcoming to families and children.

I feel compelled to add that the resort doesn’t have direct access to a sandy beach, it is a rocky beach, and it’s not user-friendly, either for adults or kids. However, you can make your way to a sandy beach that is a 5 – 10 minute walk around the corner.

Quick Tips:

  • Take mosquito repellent. We most definitely needed it during late April/ early May as the mosquitoes came out to play in the evenings.
  • There is a large Lotus supermarket located in Lamai and Chaweng and is perfect for stocking up on all your baby or toddler needs.
  • Hire a car if you want to see the island at your own pace. We hired a mini-van that could seat all 8 of us, and we did a number of little side trips.
  • Car seats are not commonly used in Thailand.  Our resort had only one carseat available, but we had 4 children who required one.  In this instance we brought our own.
  • A stroller is not needed on Koh Samui, mainly because the pavements and general environment are not suitable. The only place we could have used our stroller (had it not broken on the flight) is the resort.  A baby carrier is the easiest way to transport your baby if you plan on doing some sight-seeing.
  • Thai food is very spicy, so you have to be careful with your food choices for the kids. I always think it’s best to taste test anything you offer.  I’m also cautious about food safety. My 2 year old kept hearing the phrase ‘is it too spicy’ being bandied around and even after we returned back home would occasionally eye her food suspiciously and ask ‘is it spicy’, despite having never experienced ‘true’ spice.

There is a lot to see and do on Koh Samui with kids, so I’m going to cover these activities in a separate post.  I’m also keen to write about the experience of having 2 sets of kids experiencing jetlag differently. My kids were 3 hours ahead and my friends 3 hours behind, a total of 6 hours difference between them.  It actually effected our trip more than we thought it would.  Getting them on the same timeframe was an interesting exercise!

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