It’s 50/50 whether my 16 month old Raffy starts peeling the banana to eat himself or actually feeds it to Nam-neung the elephant.
He usually wrestles with anything and everything, but after watching the rest of the family feed bananas to our very special patient, he gives us a wry smile before handing her over to be quickly grabbed by Nam-neung’s trunk and it is thrown into her mouth.
We are located in Phang Nga Elephant Park, a sanctuary for these amazing creatures, 50 minutes drive from Khao Lak.
We first watched as the keepers did their medical checks (to make sure the elephants’ feet were injury-free and their teeth and gums healthy) while we had our first pats of the day.
After feeding time we grab some refreshing lychee sodas before Poppy, three, and Raffy (with the help of dad Andy) start painting two ceramic elephant magnets.
It’s a nice moment to think before we put on our swimwear to take a dip and scrub Nam-neung in the pool.
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 improvement over feeding the goats at our local farm back home.
The Family Elephant Experience costs £220 for two adults and two children under the age of six and includes transfers from Khao Lak (Phangngaelephantpark.com).
When I suggested Thailand as our first big family adventure, Andy exclaimed, “Are you crazy?” Now that we’re here, he’s beginning to realize that the 15-hour flight with two small children was worth it.
The Beachside Avani+ Khao Lak, just over an hour’s drive from Phuket Airport, opened last year with sleek, modern rooms and B&B at the great price of £64 a night.
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It’s very family-friendly – there’s a climbing wall and skate park next to the kids’ club – and Raffy loves playing with the giant chess pieces on the golden sand before cheating at the cornhole and quickly hitting the beach swings.
Paddleboarding and kayaking are also available, and we have fun looking for shore crabs too.
There are chic pools and swim-up rooms, as well as private pool suites for those who really want to treat themselves.
But the Splash Park with two slides was unsurprisingly the winner among our little ones.
Even with the occasional downpour, it’s warm enough to splash around, although a Thai massage, £43 for 60 minutes, to the sounds of a thunderstorm in the hidden spa is a welcome respite from the squeaks of the splash park.
While I would have loved to take the speedboat to the white sand paradise of the Similan Islands, holding a toddler for the 1 1/4 hour ride wouldn’t be fun.
Instead, we board a private longtail boat to Koh Pah island.
It’s 40 minutes to an abandoned sandbar with incredible shells for Poppy to collect and shallows for Raffy to paddle while our guide unpacks pillows and tiffin cans filled with seafood, egg spinach, rice and the sweetest pineapple and watermelon are filled.
Poppy even tries snorkeling with a handful of Nemo fish for the first time.
A private half-day tour costs £153 for four people (Khaolakwonderlandtours.com).
The Nai Mueang restaurant and cooking school is located near the mangroves where you can join a guided bamboo rafting tour.
Marked by the Michelin Guide, it has a swing set, a foosball table, and an old tuk-tuk that kids can climb on to keep kids entertained, and is surrounded by lush herbs and vegetables that they cook with.
The coconut milk soup with lotus root, succulent Phuket pork stew, Thai fried crab omelet and chicken with cashews are particular winners, and our massive lunch represents excellent value at under £25.
Cups of delicious Thai tea-soaked day ice cream and the freshest mint chocolate chips we’ve ever tasted make the perfect pud.
Speaking of ice cream, Cafe Garang on nearby Bangsak Beach serves a range of stunning sundaes.
The taste of sweet fish sauce is a local favorite but an acquired taste, so I tuck into the jaggery syrup mix, which is made with palm sap, and then order the vanilla caramel macadamia choux bun, £2.25 .
It took them 10 tries to perfect them – and boy was it worth it (Garangicecream.com).
While breakfast at the hotel includes a donut wall and there’s decent Thai and Indian fare at Elements Restaurant, our favorite eatery is The Beach House, for tuna tataki with mango salsa and beef cheeks with mashed sweet potatoes, smooth service.
Another festival is held in Takua Pa Old Town, a 35-minute drive away.
On Sunday afternoons, the main street turns into a bustling market with the scent of grilled meat filling the air.
Snacks are around 80p and we stock up on sizzling coconut pancakes and pepper popcorn before picking up kids’ t-shirts for £2.50 each.
Just outside the lovely Kopi Kuapa cafe, a school band plays traditional music with a boy busily banging a xylophone (ranat) in the shape of a golden boat.
We pop in for a bold Americano with orange juice and kiwi sodas, along with 25p snacks of rice and chutney balls and coconut mochi, and I can’t help but wish this was my local hangout.
As Poppy sips her soda, I think she feels the same…
Book your stay at Avanihotels.com/khao-lak-phang-nga.
UK to Phuket return flights start from £619.
If you’re traveling with young children, book seats with extra legroom, fly at night, and split the trip into two manageable sections by connecting in Dubai.
https://www.the-sun.com/travel/7195139/khao-lak-thailand-beach-days-jungle/ Khao Lak in Thailand is the perfect mix of beach days and jungle adventures