Khao Lak in Thailand is the perfect mix of beach days and jungle adventures | The Sun

IT’S 50/50 whether my 16 month old, Raffy, will start peeling the banana to eat it himself or actually feed it to Nam-neung, the elephant.

Usually he’ll wrestle anyone and anything for one, but having watched the rest of the family feeding bananas to our very special patient, he gives us a wry smile before handing it over to be swiftly nabbed by Nam-neung’s trunk and thrown into her mouth.

Playing zookeeper

We’re at Phang Nga Elephant Park, a sanctuary for these amazing creatures, 50 minutes’ drive from Khao Lak.

We had first watched the keepers complete their medical checks (making sure the elephants’ feet are injury-free and their teeth and gums are healthy), all while having our first strokes of the day.

After feeding time, we grab refreshing lychee sodas, before Poppy, three, and Raffy (with help from dad Andy) start painting two ceramic elephant magnets.

It’s a lovely moment to reflect before we throw on our swim gear to help bath and scrub Nam-neung in the pool.

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Our efforts are rewarded with a delicious lunch of Thai green curry, sweet and sour chicken, vegetable spring rolls and a fruit platter – which is certainly an upgrade from feeding the goats at our local farm back home.

The Family Elephant Experience costs £220 for two adults and two children under six, and includes transfers from Khao Lak (

When I suggested Thailand as our first big family adventure, Andy exclaimed: “Are you mad?” Now we’re here, he’s starting to realise the 15-hour flight with two small kids was worth it.

Beachside Avani+ Khao Lak, just over an hour’s drive from Phuket airport, opened last year with slick, modern rooms and B&B from a bargainous £64 a night.

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It’s very family-friendly – there’s a climbing wall and skate park next door to the kids’ club – and Raffy loves playing with the huge chess pieces on the golden sands, before cheating at cornhole and swiftly hitting the beach swings.

Paddleboarding and kayaking are also on offer, and we have fun searching for beach crabs, too.

There are chic pools and swim-up rooms, plus private pool suites for those wanting to really treat themselves.

But the splash park complete with two flumes was, unsurprisingly, the winner with our little ones.

Even in the odd downpour, it’s warm enough to stay splashing about, although having a Thai massage, £43 for 60 minutes, to the sound of a thunderstorm in the hidden-away spa is a welcome retreat from the splash-park squeals.

Sail away

While I’d have loved to have taken a speedboat to the white-sand paradise of the Similan Islands, restraining a toddler for the 1 1/4-hour trip wouldn’t be fun.

Instead, we hop aboard a private longboat to Koh Pah island.

It’s 40 minutes to a deserted sandbank with incredible shells for Poppy to collect and shallows for Raffy to paddle in, all while our guide unpacks cushions and tiffin tins stuffed with seafood, spinach with egg, rice and the sweetest pineapple and watermelon.

Poppy even tries snorkelling for the first time, alongside a handful of Nemo fish.

A private half-day tour costs £153 for four people (

Restaurant and cookery school Nai Mueang is close to the mangroves, where you can take a guided bamboo-rafting tour.

Flagged by the Michelin Guide, it’s got a swing, table football and a vintage tuk-tuk to climb on to keep kids amused, and is surrounded by the lush herbs and vegetables they cook with. 

The coconut milk soup with lotus root, succulent Phuket pork stew, Thai fried crab omelette and chicken with cashews are particular winners, and our massive lunch is excellent value at less than £25.

Tubs of delicious Day ice cream in Thai tea and the freshest mint choc chip we’ve tasted make the perfect pud. 

Talking of ice cream, Garang cafe at nearby Bangsak beach serves up an array of eye-popping sundaes.

Sweet fish sauce flavour is a local fave, but an acquired taste, so I tuck into the jaggery syrup blend, made from palm tree sap, then order the vanilla caramel macadamia choux bun, £2.25.

It took them 10 attempts to perfect – and boy was it worth it ( 

Market value

At the hotel, while the breakfast spread includes a doughnut wall and there are decent Thai and Indian dishes at Elements restaurant, our favourite place to eat is The Beach House, for its tuna tataki with mango salsa and beef cheeks with sweet potato mash, plus slicker service.

Another feast comes in the Old Town of Takua Pa, 35 minutes’ drive away.

On Sunday afternoons, the main street transforms into a bustling market with the scent of grilled meat filling the air.

Snacks cost about 80p, and we grab sizzling coconut pancakes and paprika popcorn before picking up kids’ T-shirts for £2.50 each. 

Just outside pretty Kopi Kuapa cafe, a school band plays traditional music with a boy studiously hitting a xylophone (ranat) in the shape of a gold boat.

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We pop inside for a punchy orange juice Americano and kiwi sodas, alongside 25p snacks of rice and chutney balls and coconut mochi, and I can’t help wishing that this was my local haunt.

As Poppy sips her soda, I think she feels the same… 


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Return flights from the UK to Phuket start from £619. 

If travelling with young kids, book extra-leg-room seats, fly at night and split the journey into two manageable chunks by switching in Dubai.

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