Are you shocked by the cost of family package holidays? Are you tempted by the idea of independent travel with your baby? Take a leaf out of Alison Perrett’s book, who travelled to Koh Samui in Thailand with her husband and five month old Eva in tow…
As veteran backpackers, my husband Dan and I were determined not to let the birth of our daughter stop us from independent travelling. After surfing the net, we booked a beach bungalow on the island of Koh Samui in tropical Thailand and set off with our five-month-old daughter Eva.
What to pack
My biggest concern prior to departure was packing. We limited ourselves to two rucksacks and two daypacks plus a lightweight stroller. Some useless items still found their way into our packs, but we also managed to include all the essentials. Items that turned out to be invaluable were:
- A sarong – forget bulky beach towels – which served as a skirt, dress, sunshade, sheet and towel!
- Baby bottles and sterilising tablets – I breastfed Eva and also expressed milk. The fridge in our room made this a lot easier.
- Mosquito net – we made good use of a net that fits a small cot and stroller.
- Favourite toys – we packed a few favourites that soothe and entertain baby.
- One pack of disposable nappies – Pampers and local brands were available in the many supermarkets on the island.
- A lightweight collapsible sun tent for the beach.
- Baby’s swimming trunks – plastic lined, reusable and far more convenient than bulky waterproof disposables. Babies very rarely poo in the water, or so I have been told. So far, so good!
- First aid kit – Calpol, aspirin, plasters, teething gel, herbal insect repellent, thermometer.
On the road
Armed with teething gel, food, toys and some apprehension, we set off on the 14 hour flight from Heathrow to Bangkok. Ten minutes after take off, our angel was fast asleep and stayed that way for eight hours! What was the trick? If I knew perhaps I could have slept too!
We were exhausted by the time we arrived in Koh Samui’s unique open-air airport and relieved, after a short taxi ride, to reach our resort. A fabulously large swimming pool sparkled in the moonlight. Waves crashed on the beach just a stone’s throw away.
Air-con, TV, fridge – our deluxe bungalow was a far cry from the ramshackle A-frame huts from my previous stay on the island a decade earlier!
Arrival on Koh Samui
I awoke to the soothing sounds of waves lapping softly on the shore… and a kick in the ribs from my giggly, squirming baby. Refusing to sleep in the cot provided, she would not rest until she was laid sprawled between us on the bed.
We took Eva for her first dip in the shallow kiddies’ pool. She loved it! She squealed with delight and splashed about without fear.
While our beach was OK for swimming, it wasn’t great for snorkelling. Dan and I would have loved to have taken a snorkelling trip to the breathtaking Ang Thong Marine Park nearby but we were warned the tours are not suitable for a small baby. Instead we settled for the safety of the swimming pool. Oh well, we knew some compromises would be necessary.
By the second day, Eva had become the star attraction for the locals! Everywhere we went we heard cries of Nang-fa! Nang-fa! which roughly translates as ‘angel of good heart’.
The massage ladies, who set up office each day at the end of our beach, took a special liking to Eva. This meant we could indulge in a few hours of massage and manicures while the ladies cuddled and fussed over her. Eva’s face now lights up every time she sees a Thai smile.
By dinner time our girl was exhausted and tearful. But the waiter, Keo, was still delighted to take her for a tour of the kitchen. After our fabulous meal of Thai spicy fish cakes and papaya shakes, Eva was returned to us a picture of contentment.
Eva happily received mushed up sweet Thai bananas twice a day. Food for her was in ample supply and I am glad we did not bother bringing bottles of food.
As we settled into the holiday, I read a book for the first time since Eva was born! We lazed on the beach on deck chairs reading and avoiding the aim of falling coconuts. Eva liked her sun tent but only in short bursts and needed comforting and lots of drinks on these very hot days.
We were not the only parents chilling out at Coco Palm. Swedish travellers Cecelia and Arne, both 36, were there for two weeks with their four children. Their one-year-old daughter Olivia was apparently easy to travel with, 13-year-old Christian was busy taking a diving course, while 10-year-old Felicia and eight-year-old Frederick kept themselves entertained all day by the swimming pool and on the beach.
Would they recommend Thailand to other families? “Definitely,” says Arne. “Thailand is the best place to travel with kids – the Thais are so friendly with children. The kids have fun all day long, it is safe and there is nothing to worry about.”
The next day we rented a jeep from the resort to go exploring the island. Our vehicle had no seatbelts, let alone a baby seat so we took great care with the chaotic brakes and steering. Regardless, we felt quite safe keeping a firm hold of Eva. She loved the freedom to see out the window and gaze at the world going by. Will she ever take to her car seat again?
We were more concerned about the extreme heat of the day when the air con spat out just a trickle of cool air. Fortunately we carried plenty of water, kept up her fluid intake and draped her in a wet sarong.
After surviving a day on the road, we hit the island’s nightlife! Dan carried Eva strapped in her sling and we headed to the nearest beach bar. A Thai beach bar normally attracts raucous behaviour and booming music. But upon Eva’s entrance, the music was turned down and the barmaid sat Eva up on the bar for all to admire. Our girl did a fine job holding up the bar.
The next evening we found a great seafood restaurant next door at Pinnacle resort. We shared succulent grilled squid in chilli sauce and a scrumptious whole red snapper deep-fried in a rich ginger sauce, all washed down with Thai beer. And we enjoyed our seafood feast without baby interruptions – our waiter was thrilled to entertain Eva and give her a tour of the kitchen. With all the time she has spent in Thai kitchens, Eva is sure to grow up to be an expert Thai cook!
Dream holiday or nightmare week?
This was a remarkably easy introduction into the world of long-haul travel with a baby. It was refreshing to find the Thais so helpful and genuinely affectionate towards Eva. We did not go expecting an action-packed adventure holiday but we found the sunshine and fabulous food we were looking for. I would recommend taking this trip with a small baby – take advantage of your mobility at this early stage before little one starts crawling.
Our week on the island came to about £30 per day between us. The costs were:
- Coco Palm Resort on Maenam Beach – a roomy, wooden, mosquito-free bungalow just 50 yards from the water’s edge, with air conditioning, fridge, TV, bathroom and bottled water, cleaned every morning, just £20 per night. Visit www.cocopalm-samui.com.
- Breakfast and dinner at the resort’s restaurant – around £5 per person per day. Lunch of fruit, BBQ’d chicken and corn from vendors on the beach – about £2.
- Jeep hire – £11 per day including insurance.
I am pleased to say that I’d choose this kind of holiday over a pricey organised package any day! But don’t expect a great tan – you’ll be too pre-occupied with keeping baby entertained in the shade to get a tan yourself.
- Do book your seat with a baby bassinet well in advance. But note that you cannot be guaranteed a bassinet, so check in early so you can be allocated a spare seat if the cot is already taken.
- Do drink lots of water. Keep baby well hydrated in the tropical heat and on the plane. Try to give baby some water throughout the flight even whilst she is asleep.
- Do check in early! The stringent security checks to get into the departure lounge at Heathrow caused a major queue. But you can take comfort in the fact that a bawling baby will get you straight to the front of the queue. Even a Heathrow security official knows that a baby waits for no one!
- Don’t take a huge baby pram. A lightweight stroller is all you need. Our flight was overbooked and BA was strict on limiting hand luggage. Only light-weight umbrella-folding strollers were allowed in the cabin.
- Don’t leave packing to the last minute – it will take longer than you expect!