From the deck of our villa on the island of Koh Yao Noi in southern Thailand, I watched the first spark of white light rise above the horizon above the Andaman Sea , a strip of water already pink from the rising sun. As four-year-old Astrid and two-year-old Xavi gazed out at the sea, briefly calm – the calls for water, the potty and the teddy now panicking in the distant past of at least five minutes ago – j I was struck by the quality of the scene compared to the last time I saw the sun rise in Southeast Asia.
It was 20 years ago when, with my backpack in tow, I tasted freedom in the form of buckets of whiskey cocktails, drank through straws. When I listened to the stories of more experienced travelers, they would tell me that the mind was laced with amphetamines, so I never knew if it was that or the adventure that kept me alert. I had returned to the UK with hippie clothes and headbands bought from street markets, hoping that my experiments would bring some money back home.
Now I dance more often to the Hokey Cokey than to house music; rating mopeds for safety rather than taxi potential and my only mention of thai sticks was when adding new branches to my two year old’s collection, rather than in reference to the fragrant weed smoked on The beaches.
It was more than the laid-back travel scene that drew me to Thailand: the warmth that pervades the country; the incomparable snorkeling that made me smile so much that my mouth was flooded with sea water; lush jungle where monkeys roam; the best massages that feel like a workout. Two little kids would just add to that magic, wouldn’t they?
A child-friendly culture
When I visited Thailand in my twenties, I admired families traveling with children. “One day I’ll do this with my kids,” I thought. I had no idea that these parents, laden with toddler paraphernalia, contemplated dangers beyond the universal warning of pickpocketing as I spent spare hours writing journals, reading books and polishing coconuts to make barrettes.
Already at that time, I was aware that Thailand was well known for its child-friendly culture as well as its hospitality and generosity of spirit. During our recent visit, we tested it to its limits. Not deliberately, of course. And only once, when carnage was sparked by my children running through a mini-supermarket dismantling displays. Fortunately, we encountered sympathy rather than tension. The rest of the time it was easy.