Taste of Thailand

Many of you will remember from our previous issues, the exciting opening of Angsana Laguna Phuket, the newest resort within Laguna Phuket’s idyllic beachside complex nestled within Bang Tao Bay. Jessica Way and family head out to stay and share their Asia adventure.

lease mum? I would like to take Happy Feet the elephant, Little Brown Bear and Tiger with me”. I glanced at the overstretched suitcase and I responded to my youngest daughter Daisy, “I think we are looking at a one-teddy trip, but maybe Happy Feet can go in the suitcase and Little Brown Bear can go on the plane”.
The furthest my daughters Holly aged 8 and Daisy aged 5 had travelled before was to the Mediterranean. With 14 hours flying time ahead, I felt a little apprehensive about how they would react to the extra air miles.

With two excited girls and a fully packed car, iPad charged and a new pack of travel ‘Uno’ we set off to Heathrow to start our epic journey. Destination: Angsana Laguna Phuket, Thailand, described as their flagship premier holiday destination for the cosmopolitan traveller.

Angsana Laguna Phuket only opened last December and is already making headlines across the globe as one of the most exciting new destinations in Asia. The resort is set within Laguna Phuket’s idyllic beachside complex, nestled along the pristine white sandy shores of the island’s famed Bang Tao Bay whose warm aquamarine waters feed into the Andaman sea. There was plenty to dream about on the plane.

Our flights were with Qatar Airways, and we were very impressed with the cabin crew and their in-flight service.

The girls were thrilled to receive activity packs on arrival, and along with the choice of children’s movies and games available on-board, the DSs didn’t even make it out of the hand luggage!
It was over a decade ago when I last visited Thailand. As a young intrepid traveller searching for adventure I visited most of the country, trekking through local villages in the north, stopping in Chang Rai and Chang Mai, Bangkok, and the beautiful southern island of Ko Samui. I had never visited Phuket though, and was very much looking forward to re-visiting a different part of the country that I had fallen in love with all those years ago. And best of all was that this time I’d be visiting with my family.

Phuket Welcome
It’s that moment when you first step out of the airport and the heat and smells of a place hit you. The warm close air hit my nostrils and permeated through my lungs. We were finally here!
Seconds after buckling up in the comfort of our luxury air-conditioned transit vehicle, however, the heavens opened and a thunderstorm ensued. After the long journey, Daisy, who was now feeling tired and a little confused by her surroundings, cuddled up to me and hugged me tight with every crack of thunder.

We experienced a few thunderstorms in the evenings on the first few days in Phuket as there was a storm system clearing out from the Indian Ocean. The intensity of the deluge and thunder and lightning was something that the rest of the family had never experienced before.

It had not long passed midnight as we arrived. The guards opened the gates to the hotel and I vividly remember how the purple logo of Angsana glowed against the stone-work of the impressive grand entrance.

We meandered up the road to the reception, disembarked and were then greeted with a warm Thai welcome.

We walked through to reception, which was open on one side, with views across to the traditionally built Thai villas situated out on the Laguna. The orange glow of the lights illuminated various buildings and walkways just enough to entice the interest of your fleeting eyes through the trees, while the sounds of various wildlife and calming music perfectly completed the ambience of this chilled setting. We had entered a completely different world.

We were seated at reception and offered cold scented wrapped towels for our faces and hands. We were also presented with purple and white friendship bracelets, featuring a singular wooden bead in the middle, which we all duly put on, even Dad.

Our host went on to offer us a drink of special purple fruit juice, which he explained, had calming and refreshing properties. The girls sipped excitedly as their inquisitive eyes and senses tried to absorb their ambient surroundings.

We were all won over by the host as he went on to introduce the hotel and concept to us. “Angsana is a statuesque tree found in tropical rainforests of Asia known for its fragrant yellow flowers. Relax during your stay here and savour the calmness and serenity here…”

Taking in the magnificent views across the Laguna on our way, we retired to our room for some well-needed sleep, feeling excited about the next day.

Laguna Phuket
Angsana Laguna Phuket is one of nine hotels within the Laguna Phuket complex, known as one of Asia’s finest luxury destination resorts, spanning an impressive 1,000 acres.

As well as the deluxe luxury hotels situated in the beautifully landscaped parkland along an eight kilometre stretch of pristine beach, Laguna Phuket provides a shopping village, private charter and join-in luxury tours, canoeing, sailing, golf, restaurants and bars.

Jetties offer a complimentary shuttle service every 20 minutes across the glistening intertwined waterways linking the deluxe collection of resorts and palm-fringed lagoons.

Set around Canal Village’s pretty courtyard were several designer fashion outlets, a couple of jewellers, a children’s toy shop, a mini-mart where we bought our postcards and stamps, a chemist and selection of Thai gift shops. There was also a small children’s playground, a lovely bakery, doctor’s, cash-point machines and currency exchange services.

Angsana Laguna Phuket was formerly owned by Sheraton Grande Laguna Phuket. Angsana’s sister company was already very familiar with this location and resort because the first ever Banyan Tree Hotel and Spa, Banyan Tree Phuket, is also one of the six resorts located in the Phuket Laguna.

Banyan Tree Phuket opened in 1994, and is Banyan Tree’s flagship hotel and spa. Many of you will already know of the Banyan Tree brand, renowned worldwide for their awards and accolades. Across the globe, following the opening of Banyan Tree Phuket, they now have close to 20 hotels, over 60 spas and 80 galleries; as well as three golf courses, one of which is located in Phuket Laguna and voted as one of the ‘Top Ten Best Golf Resorts in Asia’.

Within the Angsana Hotels and Resorts brand, managed by Banyan Tree, there are close to 10 hotels and resorts located across Asia, and a further 40 spas located across the world.
The Banyan Tree Group’s new Angsana brand property acquisition was refurbished and opened for the world to see in less than 6 months, following a $30 million renovation investment that began in July 2011.

Angsana Laguna Phuket
In the morning, looking out from our balcony, we could at last fully appreciate the vastness of the stunning resort to become our home for the next fortnight. 409 luxuriously appointed rooms, lofts, suites and private residences. Ten different room categories offering a plethora of accommodation options.

We were staying in a Laguna Premier Room, boasting 45sqm and designed specifically with families in mind. The room was beautifully furnished and extremely comfortable for all.

We were delighted to be given a tour of the Angsana Two Bedroom Lofts, which provided an even more generous living space for families at an impressive 112sqm complemented by a roof top terrace. For larger families still, the Angsana Grand Pool Residence was the ‘Daddy’! Offering four bedrooms, a private kitchen, sun deck and an outdoor sala. Stunning.

Around the resort, steep arched roofs, free-flowing spaces, waterways and canals created visions of Thai architecture at its very best in just about every direction you turned. The use of natural materials, modern furnishings, ornamental decorations and bijou coloured fabrics exuded simple elegance.

This architectural stylish design was exemplified by the TreeHouse Kids’ Club, built over two impressive storeys. There was a large outdoor playground, modern air-conditioned art room, children’s library and chill out room, a games and internet section and café.

What I liked the best about the culture of the Kids’ Club was that parents were encouraged to stay, or join in with activities, as much or as little as they liked. It was totally acceptable for parents to eat in the café for example, with a designated adult seating area, or to go alongside their little ones for nature walks.

Both the girls had lots of fun getting involved with the various activities, including umbrella painting, planting trees, pizza cooking, Thai dancing, candle making, mini Olympic games and treasure hunts, to name a few.

For ‘Mum and Dad’ we relished the opportunity for some time, just the two of us, a rare treat, which we embraced whole-heartedly!

Likewise we very much enjoyed watching the girls’ performances and treasure hunts where they dressed up as pirates and had to find their way through several clues to lead them to the treasure. The flexibility of the playground remaining supervised and open in the early evening from 6pm (when the main club closed) through to 9pm was very exciting for the children. It was an opportunity to meet their friends again for evening play either before or after dinner.

The litmus test for any children’s club on holiday is whether they want to go back and there was certainly no problem there. The staff were well trained and all spoke English, with an ability to build a strong rapport with families in no time at all. Holly and Daisy especially warmed to Tammy, whose passion and energy for working with the children was infectious.

Life in the Resort
On the first day, Dad, who was keen to explore, gulped some coffee and went for a wander while the girls and I finished off our croissants. On his return he exclaimed, “I have just seen a baby elephant”, “No you haven’t Dad,” responded the girls in disbelief.

Minutes later the girls were being introduced to ‘Lucky’ the elephant and his friendly mahout. The hotel’s resident 4-year-old celebrity elephant would be a regular feature throughout the holiday and the girls never tired of saying ‘hello’, or feeding him bananas for breakfast.

I participated in the Sun Salutation Yoga some mornings. Located opposite the fully equipped gym, with views of the beautiful lagoon and lush green surroundings, it was so much more of a work out than I expected and left me feeling energised and refreshed – a perfect way to start the day.

One of the girls’ favourite activities is swimming, so exploring all 323 metres of the clear blue swimming pools linked together by exciting pathways that took you under bridges, around palm tree islands and past waterfalls was a huge adventure! The whirlpool jacuzzi feature was an exciting find, like discovering a secret hidden gem along route, into which Holly disappeared first, family following behind her. I loved the fact that the pool was pretty much the same depth throughout, with nowhere being unnecessarily deep. It was just perfect for Holly who could stand up if she was getting tired of swimming and needed a break, and even for Daisy, who is just getting to grips with swimming, could stand up in many areas or easily grab hold of the sides.

Kayaking across the Laguna made for a lovely afternoon, and was complimentary for the guests, as was windsurfing. We had a family race across to the beautifully romantic floating wedding chapel, which entertained Holly and Daisy no end, as it was only really Mum and Dad on either team who were putting in the work, while they attempted to steer– badly.

The beach directly outside the resort felt like an extension of the hotel with designated sun beds, umbrellas and a towel service for guests. The sand was like a fine white powder and the sea was clean. Buoys marked out swimming areas, and with a lifeguard on duty you felt safe in the sea with the children. At times the waves did pick up and one of the key purchases of the holiday was a buoyancy jacket for Daisy.

One of the many highlights and most memorable experiences of the holiday was when Lucky the elephant, with his mahout by his side, went for a swim in the sea. Holly and Dad relished this unique opportunity to swim in there with him, amazing!

Sailing from the jetty, door-to-door in just minutes, across to Banyan Tree Phuket one afternoon for a light lunch while Holly and Daisy were happily playing at the children’s club was another highlight of the trip. The soft crab and lobster were the best I have ever tasted. And Dad said the same about his snowfish.

After lunch we took a tour around Banyan Tree Phuket, and the Laguna Phuket Golf Club really caught Dad’s eye. The following morning he was up bright and early to play a round on the exhilarating course enabling him to finish in time to avoid the mid-day heat. He met an ex-professional English children’s golf coach there who shared his experiences of living, and raising his two boys on the Island. He also shocked my husband with the prices for annual membership to the club, it was something like £12,000 a year to join!

An idyllic setting for relaxation, the rejuvenating Angsana Spa offered a range of signature spa therapies based on the use of aromatherapy, therapeutic sense of touch and a fusion of techniques from east and west, catering perfectly to discerning spa lovers and families with children of all ages.

The Spa embraces the tropical garden spa concept and features a vibrant contemporary design and interior.

We visited for a ‘Family Bonding’ experience. My husband and I had a full body wrap, followed by the signature Angsana massage, a unique massage developed exclusively for Angsana Spa.
Designed to soothe tense muscles it most certainly had a calming effect as I fell asleep, to be woken later by the tinkle of a bell to signify the end of the treatment. Always a good sign, I just hope I didn’t snore, twitch or dribble!

Holly and Daisy also had massages and a soak in a milky hot tub.

Families are in for a treat when visiting Angsana Spa as the Thai therapists have such a lovely way with the children. I was very impressed with the interesting variety of family and children’s spa packages available, dedicated to pamper both the parents and their little ones together. Looking back I only wish we had visited the spa more often during our stay.

Restaurants and Bars
Breakfast was taken in the Marketplace restaurant overlooking the Lagoon with both indoor and outdoor dining. The choice of food was fantastic as you would expect and catered for both the western and Asian palate.

I loved the different varieties of exotic fruits including pitahaya, mangosteen, pomelo and longan, and trying them was a hit with Holly and Daisy too.

At lunchtimes and evenings we were spoilt for choice for eating in the hotel. The Marketplace restaurant was a firm favourite of ours, serving Thai buffet and popular Asian cuisine, international fare and local delights, in a casual setting.

The Bodega Grill was the place to savour authentic Italian and Mediterranean fare, served in an elegant indoor candle-lit setting or enjoying al fresco dining by the pool. One evening we tried the signature Tomahawk steak – which was unbelievable.

I had the 8oz while Dad attempted the full 32oz version. It was only once this whopping piece of meat was served that Dad had any idea what he had actually let himself in for.

It was HUGE! On hearing that he had actually managed to finish the entire piece on his own, Mario, the head chef, an Italian, whose similarities to Gordon Ramsey were uncanny, came out from the kitchen to shake Dad’s hand.

By this point Dad was starting to turn a little pale, but I think the unexpected excitement from the Thai staff that he had actually been able to ‘finish the lot’ gave him a warm glow of accomplishment to keep him going just a little bit longer before bed!

Other options included Baan Talay at the Beach Club, featuring a live fish tank and stunning large round seating area booths, ideal for larger parties, and fashionable venue XANA, offering relaxed surroundings, club cuisine, exotic cocktails and stylish ambience, next to the ocean. Unfortunately the work here was not fully completed when we visited, however the tour was enough for us to visualise the scene once in full glory. It’s planned to open in June 2012.

Many of our lunchtimes were spent exploring the different restaurants along the front of Bang Tao Bay. The vast majority of them cater exceptionally well for children, and there was always cheese and ham toasties or a spaghetti bolognaise equivalent to fall back on when all attempts to encourage the local cuisine failed.

Throughout the holiday the girls enjoyed ice-cold coconut milk and pineapple juice through straws which at 70 baht each were a refreshing steal, and definitely a more healthy option to cola. We averaged between 750 and 1250 baht per lunchtime for the family. With the exchange rate at 1 GBP = 48.73 baht. This is definitely not as favourable as it was ten years ago, when I last visited, but compared well to the Euro, making a big difference to the family budget and spending money when you are on holiday.

Chicken padhi (a noodle and peanut dish) and green vegetables in oyster sauce were a regular choice. The green, red and yellow curries put our UK versions to shame, and I still can’t decide on my favourite. With the close vicinity to the sea there where some great seafood restaurants too – the pick of which was ‘Lotus’, where the soft crab and lobster were exquisite. This restaurant was also recommended to us for an evening meal many times by other holidaymakers we met, and we were told that they offer a complimentary transport service, to and from the restaurant, from your hotel reception.

The evenings were always relaxed and the resort when lit up at night looked beautiful. It definitely had a calming effect listening to the gentle gurgle of the air purifiers in the Lagoon and watching the Chinese lanterns floating up in the sky, whilst sipping on a cocktail.

Following dinner it was the Loy Krathong Bar that was the heartbeat of the resort as darkness fell. Each night the live band played great music, setting the mood for the tropical evenings. The band members were extremely talented, and it was lovely to have a dance with Holly and Daisy to their music. You could request songs for the band to play, and if you mentioned a song that they didn’t know they would actually learn it for you, ready to play by the following evening!

Excursions and Activities
After two days of relaxing by the pool and adjusting to our surroundings, we started looking at the excursions and activity brochures. There is such a wide range of activities on offer including diving trips, motor yacht charters, game fishing and cultural tours. We were spoiled for choice, but eventually opted for four – choosing one each.

Phi Phi Island Trip
We assembled at the newly built marina on the east side of the island. Two German couples, an American couple and a Chinese lady with her daughter joined us.

Robert, the tour guide made his introductions and we were off. We would be visiting all the sights including Viking Cave, Pi Lei Cove, Hin Klang Reef, Monkey Beach and Maya Bay, where The Beach was filmed. On pulling up to each location Robert gave us a quick overview.

The speedboat trip out to the islands was about an hour each way. There was very little communication due to the rushing wind and thunderous roar of the speedboat engine, just the occasional ‘whao’ as we took off a few times going over the waves, and smiles and giggles from the three girls on board, who had already started to make friends. I would recommend booking through Laguna Tours. It is possible to get a cheaper package elsewhere but looking at some of the other crowded sea vessels anchored up at our various checkpoints, I was pleased we paid a little bit extra to have fewer passengers, including a packed lunch and complimentary drinks.

On all the islands we visited was the very clear signage for Tsunami evacuation points and high ground. This was well set out in the resort as well. It was reassuring to see this, coupled with the knowledge that there are now early Tsunami warning systems in place.

Highlights of this trip were snorkelling in the crystal clear-waters among the array of brightly coloured fish.

The sheer number of them was amazing. Holly and I ventured right up the cove and encountered a wall of silver minnows, which darted past us at breakneck speed. The girls loved jumping off the end of the powerboat and swimming round for another go too. This was quite a moment to remember with the backdrop of the soaring limestone cliffs of Viking Cave.

Reading the glossy brochure the day before the trip I noticed the strap line ‘Relax, Explore, Inspire’. I was hoping for the trip to live up to expectations, and it did not disappoint.

Elephant Riding
What better way to get to know Thailand’s magnificent elephants than riding on top of one. We opted for the Elephant Park rather than a full trek. The park was just across from the resort. Once saddled up on top of the elephants we did a short trek around the park lasting about 40 minutes.

Taking a photo on top of an elephant is hard work. One of the mahouts dismounted the elephant that Daisy and I were riding on and kindly offered to take pictures whilst we gently swayed and plodded around.

This was great for the holiday album and exciting for Daisy but left me feeling slightly nervous about being 10ft up on an elephant I had no idea at all how to control! The elephant however did seem very chilled out and was directed by the mahout’s low pitched nasally commands and successfully got us back to the start without incident. At the end, the girls rewarded the elephants with bananas.

The whole family loved this outing – a great introduction to these enchanting animals. It was also top of the list for both Holly and Daisy when asked what they were going to talk about to their class at ‘show and tell’ once back home.

Bicycle Hire
Bicycles and helmets could be found at the TreeHouse Kids’ Club. First and foremost, I wanted to make sure there was something suitable for both girls before getting too excited by the prospect of venturing out together exploring the coastline.

Holly – a confident rider – found the perfect bike almost straight away, and with a little adjustment to the saddle height and with her helmet fastened she was raring to go. For Daisy however it was a totally different story.

We watched as Daisy tried a range of different options – however even the smallest bikes gave concern for her safety as they were still a little on the large side for her, and I could see on braking, she found it difficult to remain balanced.

At this point I think Holly sensed from Mum and Dad that this meant the cycle trip plans for the day were likely to be called off. Then just in her moment of need, Holly spotted an adult’s bike with a child seat on the back. I jumped on and held it steady while Daisy settled on the back – it was perfect!

I am so pleased that this day worked out as planned. Our adventure took us to the nearby Chanderlay town, where we stopped en-route at various places including ‘Bake’, a trendy coffee shop recommended to us by Tammy from the TreeHouse Kids’ Club. We also had a wonderful lunch and afternoon exploring the bustling market, which is held there twice a week.

Phuket Fantasea
We purchased our tickets to the ‘The Fantasy of a Kingdom’ showing at Fantasea, a cultural theme park. On arrival you cannot fail to be impressed by the ornate buildings and traditionally dressed Thai women. At the heart is the magnificent Palace of the Elephants, a state of the art theatre which seats 3000. It is fronted by a glorious reconstruction of an ancient Sukhothai stone palace, with 999 intriguing elephant statues. Fully lit up, the palace was something to behold.

Having feasted in the buffet hall, we spent 30 minutes playing on the various games in the entertainment centre, which the girls loved. The show itself was spell binding. I felt a little claustrophobic initially because the theatre was absolutely packed, not a seat in the 3000 capacity audience was spare. As the show got going it put me at ease.

The Las Vegas-style production blended the beauty of Thai culture with magical illusions, 4-D effects, aerial ballet, acrobatics, pyrotechnics, special effects and performances from over 30 elephants and different animals. I sat next to Daisy who normally cannot sit still for any amount of time but she was fixated on the customs, story line and the antics of all the four-legged animals on stage.

Some good advice though would be not to bring your camera. You are not permitted take it in with you and you will, like me, be forced to queue for a considerable length of time both before and after the show through the cloakroom and collection process.

I would highly recommend this as an evening out for the family. It was a remarkable and highly entertaining show and one the whole family thoroughly enjoyed.

Memories Forever
Phuket is a unique holiday island blessed with great natural beauty and a wealth of things to see and do. Although it is so often the European destinations at the forefronts of our minds when considering a family holiday destination, this experience has certainly made me re-consider this point of view. I would genuinely love the opportunity to re-visit Asia with my family, and on being given a choice it would win hands down.

It may cost a little more to get your family there, but once there your money goes so much further – and it is so memorable and special to see children experiencing such a unique and beautiful culture.

It’s not often that you get to swim with an elephant, watch turtles being released into the sea (how did I forget to mention that?) or to relax in an award-winning world-renowned Spa.
These are memories which will stay with us forever.

It was a holiday of a lifetime.

Reader Offer
Save £582 on your next family holiday!
Stay seven nights at Angsana Laguna Phuket from £2,883* on a B&B basis, including airport transfers and flights from London with Qatar Airways.
* Subject to availability, for bookings made before 31 May 2012. Based on a family of two adults and one child under 12 years sharing a Laguna Grand Room. Valid for travel from 10 August to 31 October 2012.

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