Photos: Patricia Almeida, Julie Phebey

Taking advantage of a school-free Friday, I joined with two friends and our kids to escape to sunny Thailand. We chose Khao Lak for its proximity to the stunning Similan islands, famous for having some of Thailand’s best snorkelling and diving. There’s no accommodation on the islands, but they’re just a short speedboat ride from Khao Lak.
Our day trip to the islands was the highlight of the weekend. As the Similans can get quite crowded with tourists, the hotel helped to arrange a private boat for the six of us.
Heading out at 8.30am, the comfortable speedboat got us to the Similans in around 1.5 hours. As we could choose our own itinerary, we skipped the usual tourist boat route and started with some snorkelling and swimming in a more secluded area. The Similans are part of the Mu Ko Similan National Park, and the Thai government takes its protection seriously. The national park is closed to the public during the monsoon period from mid-May to October each year. In 2018, the government banned overnight stays on the islands and restricted visitor numbers to just under 4,000 people per day.
Because of these protections, marine life is abundant. During our time in the water we were lucky enough to see a turtle, colourful corals and loads of fish, including some curious clownfish who obligingly posed for photos.

We then cruised to the largest island in the archipelago, Koh Similan. As well as incredible marine life, the Similans are famous for their pristine beaches and impressive rock formations. A short trek up to a coastal viewpoint gave us a birds-eye view of the aquamarine bay, giant boulders and white sand shores around the island. The kids had great fun clambering over the boulders then leaping into the warm ocean.
A magnificent picnic lunch awaited us, so we stretched out on the beach to enjoy some delicious Thai food. Then it was back to the water for more snorkelling before returning to Khao Lak.

Khao Lak itself has a wide stretch of pretty beachfront, and our hotel, The Sands, was well located close to the area’s attractions.
A quirky mini-golf course nearby was an immediate success with the kids. The course is modelled on an Indiana Jones movie set, so we played 18 holes surrounded by jungle and ‘ancient’ ruins.
The best feature of The Sands hotel is undoubtably the water park. Nine different pools, numerous water slides, a fountain play area, lazy river with inner tubes, and dedicated toddler pool make this ideal for family fun. There are separate adults-only pools too, in case the grown-ups need a break!
The Sands has a good selection of rooms catering to families. We chose interconnecting rooms, and some of the family rooms have a living space that can be partitioned off from the bedroom, to give kids and parents their own space. If you need more, there are two-bedroom, two-bathroom suites.
In the afternoon, we dropped the kids off at the kids club. The club is well-equipped with climbing structures, ball pit, crafts, games and an outdoor playground. While they played, we indulged in happy hour at the swim-up bar. A perfect end to a relaxing weekend.

Destination details
Getting there: Khao Lak is a 1.5-hour drive from Phuket International Airport. Just two hours from Singapore, multiple airlines including Scoot, Singapore Airlines, Air Asia and Jetstar will get you to Phuket.
When to go: November to May. Rainy season in this part of Thailand is during May to October, and the Similan islands are closed to tourists at that time.
Where to Stay: The Sands Khao Lak, rooms from $250 a night.