To Phuket or not to Phuket?
That is the question. Especially when travelling with children.
More than half a million Australians visit Thailand each year. At any one time, tens of thousands of us will be on the holiday island.
Hubby and I have been visiting for years, and the welcoming friendliness of the locals is a large reason why we keep going back. We tear along Kata Beach on jet skis, take snorkelling trips to Koh Phi Phi; and – yes – escape the clutches of timeshare touts in Patong.
Now the kids are 10 and 11, we're concerned about the sights they see.
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Last year, I explained to Taj the signs for "ping-pong" shows on Bangla Road weren't referring to table tennis. Hey, we're pretty open-minded, but sex tourism isn't a subject at school.
Dangers also lurk outside the red light district.
According to the government's Smart Traveller website, tourists should exercise a high degree of caution, for a variety of reasons.
There's the threat of terrorist attack after explosive devices were detonated in tourist spots, including Patong Beach, in August.
The frequent demonstrations against the 2014 military coup can also become volatile.
Then, there's the jet-ski scam. "Many travellers have reported that, after returning hired jet-skis, they have been confronted by gangs claiming that the tourist damaged the jet-ski," smartraveller.gov.au says. "There have been reported instances of such gangs threatening violence, including at knifepoint, if a large sum of money in compensation for the alleged damage is not paid."
Beware the same scam when hiring motorbikes. And, please, buy or rent helmets for the children: You're more than six times more likely to die in a traffic-related accident in Thailand than Australia.
While several beaches are beautiful – such as the northern end of Karon – most are polluted. (Try not to ingest too much water.) And avoid the ubiquitous fish spas: infection can spread through open wounds.
Still, Thailand remains the Land of Smiles, with friendly locals, delicious food, and cheap accommodation.
With all this in mind, here are my top five tips for a safe family holiday in Phuket.
Tip 1: Stay away from Bangla Road. The onus is on patrons, not venues, to ensure safety. At any time of day or night, things can go pear-shaped. Don't put your kids at risk.
Tip 2: Find accommodation around Karon or Mai Khao Beaches. The former is good for tweens or teens, the latter for small children. (Our picks, in these places, are the Centara Grand and the Holiday Inn, respectively.)
Tip 3: Check the height of balconies at your hotel before booking. They're usually lower than the Australian standard, which can be dicey for little ones.
Tip 4: Inspect jet skis and motorbikes before renting them. Look underneath to see if there's any damage. Buy or bring your own helmets for bike riding.
Tip 5: Tell the children to hold on tightly to their bags and backpacks. Snatch-and-grabs are common.
Sure, take the family to Phuket. The high season runs from November to February, or March is an excellent shoulder option. But also remember to take arms against a sea of troubles.
More information: Smart Traveller website