Thailand’s wild side

A beach and traditional boats in Thailand.
A beach and traditional boats in Thailand.
M27. Picture: Malcolm Wells

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Thailand may have sun and golden sands in abundance, but the wildlife and jungle adventures are a highlight too. Emma Sword explores Phuket’s wild side.

After serenading me with a harmonica, the elephant makes his move and plants a giant sloppy kiss on my neck.

I’d been warned I could see some surprising sights in Phuket, but this was going to take some beating.

The elephant flaps his ears happily as his owner smiles and pats him.

Hoping to earn a few baht from the increasing number of tourists who visit Thailand’s largest island each year, entertainers line the jungle-fringed roads which lead to many of Phuket’s major hotels.

But novelty street shows are only part of the attraction here. Long palm tree-lined white sandy beaches, along with picture-postcard emerald waters, make this a tropical paradise. Phuket really does look as stunning as the pictures you see in the brochures and magazines.

The manager of the upmarket Paresa resort, our first stop, tells us that guests have found monkeys taking an early morning dip in the pools at one of the hotel’s private villas.

Secluded and with spectacular views over the Andaman Sea, I can see why the mischievous creatures might want to make this their home. Designed in an understated style and built around several Banyan trees, the resort blends gently into its surroundings.

Sadly no monkeys come to visit my pool, but I do see a few swinging through the trees on my way to breakfast.

Keen to experience more of the local flora and fauna, I book a tour on a John Gray Sea Canoe Experience out to the islands of Phang Nga Bay, arranged through the hotel.

A short cruise on a traditional longtail boat takes us out to the bay, giving us a chance to catch a few sun rays up on deck. The next thing we know, kayaks are being thrown over the side.

The guides show us how to paddle and steer the canoes before gently leading us around the remote islands. We paddle slowly, in absolute silence, over-awed by the impressive limestone cliffs.

Before heading back to the boat for a Thai lunch, we take an opportunity to dive into the warm emerald green water.

That afternoon, we climb back into our canoes and head for one of the many hidden caves in the area.

Led by torchlight, we follow our guide’s canoe into one of the caves. It’s a thrilling experience.

Any preconceptions I’d had about Thailand being ‘nothing but a beach holiday’ are quickly dismissed. Yes, there is plenty of opportunity to work on a suntan, but anyone seeking action-packed adventure can find it quite easily here, too.

Back on land, we find plenty of adrenaline-pumping ways to amuse ourselves.

Booked through Phuket ATV Tour, we take a quad bike ride through mud and rubber plantations and even into local villages.

Phuket is becoming an increasingly family-friendly destination, with many hotels now actively catering to younger guests.

One such property is Centara Grand, where we spend the remainder of our stay on the island.

Situated on a secluded patch of Karon Beach, the five-star resort has a good choice 
of pools and restaurants, 
along with tennis courts, a fitness centre and spa offering a number of luxurious treatments.

An active kids’ club hosts children aged four to nine, keeping them entertained with a daily activity programme. For guests above 10 years old, there is a separate games area and playground.

Adults, meanwhile, can either relax on the beach or take advantage of various classes.

How to get there

Emma Sword travelled to Bangkok with Travelbag.

Travelbag has six nights at the 5-star Centara Grand Beach Resort in Phuket (staying on a B&B basis) and four nights at the 5-star Paresa Resort (staying on a B&B basis) from £1,529 per person including flights with Vietnam Airlines from London Gatwick to Bangkok and Air Asia to Phuket. Book by 31 November, for travel between 1 November and 8 December.

To book call 0871 703 4240 or visit