Updated: Nov 6, 2019
Phuket was the start of it for us. It was the moment when we realized that international travel could be and needed to be a large part of our family's story.
I had always wanted to travel the world. The bug bit me early in my 20's when I had spent 6 weeks traveling abroad and living just outside of Vienna back in 2003. Living abroad had changed me and my perspective of the world and how to exist in it, but after that I had done little international travel and really saw it as something I would do later in life, until 2017 when I got sick with Congestive Heart Failure ( you can read more about that here). Getting sick and almost dying changed a lot for me and really repositioned me in both the world and my own life.
I spent a year recovering from bad blood, inflamed arthritic joints and a failed heart finding its way back to normal, but in addition to my physical body gaining strength, so did my spirit man and the dreams I had for myself. When I left that hospital, I was determined to discover what it was I wanted for life, my family's life and to live unapologetically toward it. Entering 2018, I did a "30-Day Love Your Life Challenge" and I spent a lot of time thinking about how I wanted to structure my life and travel was at the top of the list. I remember spending the morning combing a map of the world and writing down continents, countries, cities that I wanted to visit in my lifetime and I mapped them out in a Google spreadsheet. Since 8th grade, I wanted to visit Santorini, Greece and after the 2004 Boxing Day Earthquake, I became obsessed with visiting Phuket. I followed the tsunami that hit that area for weeks and looking at the before and after images, I was taken with how beautiful that part of the world was and was determined to visit it. Little did I know that the deepest longing of my heart to travel to far off corners of the world would come to fruition and not only for me, but also for my family.
That is how this travel adventure began and I am just overwhelmed by all of the amazing places God has allowed my family and I to see in just a year and a half and I am anxious for all that is to come. Raising globally minding children is a high priority for me and I am convinced that whatever it is that God has for them, that travel is on His agenda.
We get a LOT of questions about our Thailand trip and I have never had a place for my thoughts, perspectives and pictures to land, until now - so as quickly as possible, I am going to share a quick recap of our Thailand experience complete with our full itinerary, pictures, stories and videos and how I found the tickets. I hope that by creating this long winded blog that you will be able to use this as a resource for your own trip to Southeast Asia or Phuket in the future.
How I Found Our Tickets?
Many travel sites and apps allow you to set up travel alerts for places you are interest in traveling to. Once I knew exactly where I wanted to travel to, I set travel alerts for my top 5-10 destinations. Every day I get email updates of special deals to places we desire to visit and because we live on the west I have a few major airports listed as departure cities ( Vancouver B.C., Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles). I decided to list several airports because many of these are either driving distance or a short and cheap flight away from Seattle. Early in the year, mid January, I got a travel alert from LAX to Phuket for $402 RT and I jumped on the opportunity to book. I remember the day the alert came in from Kayak Explore with the perfect travel dates and how my heart sinked because I wanted so badly to go but had just booked a trip to Paris the week before. I looked at Ike and said, "I have wanted to go to Phuket for the last 15 years. I want to go. Will you go with me or should I ask someone else to go?" He looked at me and said, "Okay, let's do it," and $1215 later we had booked 3 RT tickets to Thailand for our birthday week.
Where We Stayed and Why?
After months of searching well over 200 hotels, we settled on booking a hotel over an Airbnb or house and locked in our reservation at Avista Grande Phuket Karon Beach. At the time, they were a really new hotel that had opened in December 2017 (our vacation was May 2018). I settled on a hotel over an Airbnb in Phuket because a lot of what makes vacationing in Thailand so much fun is how inexpensive things are. I wanted my family to have a luxury experience and that was something that was easily found staying at a 5-star hotel with really amazing perks and amenities.
Avista Grand Phuket Karon Beach hit all of the things I was hoping for in our SE Asia vacation:
- beautiful location with beach walking access to the beach
- affordability (we paid $160 per night for our 1000 sq ft hotel room)
- private pool access off balcony
- beautiful aesthetic and a bath tub in room for Wisdom to bathe in
- a hotel spa
- free breakfast ( European/American and authentic Thai options)
*Scroll above picture to see more pictures
Another cool advantage of this hotel is that if you are traveling with your family they have family rooms. At the time it was just the three of us so the room we chose was more then sufficient and with Courage being so small, I would go that route again.
You can check out the room we booked here
Personal Favorite Things About Avista Grande Phuket Karon Beach
absolutely beautiful grounds - every direction you turn is photogenic which was an important details for us being photographers. If we never left the premises, we could had shot every single day and had amazing pictures, content and things to do
The food was so good. The fruit was so exotic and fun to try and Wisdom loved all of the fruit juices, fresh squeezed daily (passionfruit, guava, lychee). I also loved having the three different types of breakfasts options: American, European and Thai fare
The staff was INCREDIBLE. So kind, accommodating and went above and beyond. Every morning, the hotel's General Manager would come to our table and talk to us about our stay and make sure we were well taken care of. That meant a lot to me.
The massage I received at the spa was the best massage I have ever had in my life. It was 35 USD and was so good and came with tea and cookies at the end. I loved the cookies so much they would package them up every time I had a massage to give to Wisdom
The Kid's Club at the hotel was really cool and a convenient option to have for Wisdom and I can imagine utilizing that even more so with a small child traveling.
Just a short walk from street vendors, the beach, which was across the street, and amazing food choices.
A smaller but important detail - everything was energy efficient and the hotel put a lot into thinking through how to save and manage energy and I also highly valued that.
Our Thailand Itinerary Day By Day
Probably the most asked question I get on any trip that we go on is who I hire to plan and coordinate the details of the trip. The simple answer is : me. I have never hired a travel agent or coordinator to handle the details of our trips and its only after months and months that I come up with an itinerary that I feel perfectly suits the things I know my family will love, appreciate and value. I know that isn't always everyone's idea of fun, but I actually really enjoy taking control of the details of our trips because I love hosting and planning and organizing. I ran a conference for 5 years and in the past have been the social point for my friend groups, so planning a family vacation brings me a lot of joy.
All of the activities, excursions, restaurants for our trip were carefully sought out and planned for by me and I love to visit hashtags on Instagram, read reviews on Yelp and Viator and ask my community where they have been, what they love, what they enjoyed at any destination we are visiting and use all of that as intel for my planning.
Below is a quick overview of the cool things we did while in Phuket day by day. As I recap, I'll also give a run down of what we loved about each thing and what to expect.
We arrived in Phuket on a Sunday night and spent that evening settling into our hotel and getting familiar with our hotel and what they had to offer, getting the lay of the land and planning out what amenities we were going to put to work throughout the week. We ordered room service and got AMAZING quality food (equivalent of 4 five star meals for $50 USD).
Day 1: We went out and walked around the neighborhood and found out where coffee, groceries (for cheap snacks) and the pharmacy was (for eyelashes, medicine, etc). We visited the local beach (Karon Beach), we had breakfast at our hotel (which was included in the cost), had pedicures and massages for $6 USD, and then got ready for our photo shoot.
When traveling abroad and hiring a photographer, do a lot of research and check out their work any where they show up online (and read the reviews). I personally like to hire photographers when we travel so that my entire family shows up in at least a few pictures while we are away. Of course we could do the pictures ourselves, but it is so fun to just relax and be a client. Social media makes it easy to find a qualified person to hire and if you aren't sure what to look for you can also check our Airbnb Experiences. On there are a ton of qualified and talented photographers waiting for an opportunity to show you their city and to explore. Be mindful of the weather, and make sure to shoot early on in your trip before the swelling, sun burns and laziness set in. We generally like to shoot on the first or second day at or around sunrise, when the streets are quiet, the sun isn't as warm and the world is just waking up.
Catch the video recap of our first day of Thailand here
Day 2: Our second day in Thailand we went on our first excursion. I found the Phi Phi Island Boat Tour through V Marine Tour and booked it using Viator. This day trip was the perfect introduction to all of the pristine landscapes you see of the Andaman Sea. The day long tour included included lunch at Koh Phi Phi and snorkeling. The water was crystal clear and the fish were some of the most colorful I have ever seen in my life. Wisdom even got in on the action and was able to snorkel in 90 ft of water fearlessly.
One of my favorite parts of the Phi Phi Island tour was visiting Maya Bay, made famous by Leonardo DiCaprio when he appeared in the early 2000's movie "The Beach." Unfortunately, two short months later, Maya Bay was closed down because of the damage that high amounts of daily tourism have caused to the area. It is currently closed until further notice.
**Scroll above picture to see more pictures
Catch the video recap of our tour of the Phi Phi Islands here
Day 3: On day three, we visited the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary Phuket during the day. This was one of my most special memories I have of our trip to Phuket. The day was so magical and the elephants, such large and powerful creatures were so gentle and kind. I loved visiting this sanctuary because a lot of the elephants there had been rescued and rehabilitated back to health. We got to feed them, bathe them and play with them and its a memory I won't soon forget. You can read more of my specific thoughts about that experience here.
I 100% believe that the work being done by those who work at the sanctuary are for the good of the animals and when visiting a foreign country, I think its important to do your research to find out how animals are being treated in places where you can visit them and if they are being treated humanely and ethically. Our time at the sanctuary was beautiful. It was a day long excursion where we were fed traditional Thai meal and also received a gift. We even made a few friends who I keep in touch with to this day.
*Scroll above picture to see more pictures
That evening, when we returned we visited the Patong Night Market, specifically Bangla Road. Night markets are a thing in Thailand and you can find AMAZING street food for less than $1 USD. You just have to make sure your stomach is up for what might come after you eat it. I didn't have any bad experiences eating any food in Thailand, but was also conservative about buying food that had been out without cover around other tourist. The other thing that the night markets are known for is shopping. Everyone warned us about shopping in Thailand, that nothing is real and everything is knock off - and they were right, but it was still fun to look around and explore and see what was out there. I found that my best souvenirs and gifts were found on the last day in Old Town Phuket that is full of amazing artisan shops and makers.
*Scroll above picture to see more pictures
You can catch the video recap of this day here
Day 4: on our fourth day in Thailand, we did another day long excursion Kayaking with John Gray Tours in Phang Na Bay. Of all of our excursions, I think this one for me was the most meaningful. We met so many amazing people on this excursion, some of whom I am still in touch with and it felt like a community, which is probably odd to say on vacation, but there's something about being stuck on a boat for 14 hours with the same people, visiting a foreign country that drives camaraderie to the top. We kayak all over the different islands of the Andaman Sea and our tour guide was the kindest, most informative man. We felt really taken care of, loved and informed on how Phuket and the different islands were formed. We had a lot of down time to swim and enjoy the outdoors and we ate REALLY well, as they served two meals during our day. We watched the sunset from the vote and then got to participate in a our own Loi Krathong Festival. We floated our Krathong's, made wishes, and saw the underwater bioluminescent plankton and it was amazing.
*Scroll above picture to see more pictures
Catch the video recap of this day here
Day 5: Our very last day in Phuket, we visited Old Phuket Town. I was so happy we made a point to go because it was the most beautiful architecture of our entire trip. I loved seeing the Portuguese townhouses and taking in all of the art, the jewelry and clothing there. In Old Phuket town, you get less touristy vendors and more Thai artist and boutiques and that was something I found so lovely to experience.