Family Travel Series: Life in Phuket, Thailand

Thanks to

Does any country on earth draw as many backpackers and expats as Thailand?

What is it about this place?  What's the draw?

Sure enough, the world is full of affordable destinations with great food, lovely beaches and ancient cultures, but Thailand is clearly THE DESTINATION  for the nomadic traveler.  In fact, Thailand is so popular and so diverse, I couldn't imagine trying to squeeze all its wonderfulness into one little post.  Today we'll fly to Bangkok and wander our way down to Phuket!

The Bradleys, otherwise known as The Sattvic Family, have decided to make Phuket their new home.  They have been all over the world.  France, Italy, Korea, the US, but once the Bradley family landed in Phuket, they realized they had found their paradise.

Thailand is probably the biggest expat/backpacker destination in the world.  Why is that?  What is the best thing about living in Thailand?

There are about 10,000 expats living in Phuket, and 1 million tourists visit the island yearly. However, this gives an inaccurate portrait of Phuket; only certain parts of the island are touristy, and expats tend to live in the same area. People normally assume that Phuket is Patong, which is the uber touristy part, but it is so easy to avoid it, which our family does. There are completely deserted beaches here, and Phuket Town is not really a farang or foreigner hangout. So much character and beauty exist in Phuket.  It is unique.

I think what attracts so many people here is that it is really like paradise. The island has no chem trails in the sky and the foliage is superb. The quality of living here is very high, even if one is on a strict budget. The middle priced housing options are not very well known, but there are plenty of housing options for families of all budgets.

Phuket is also not too far from Ranong, where we do our visa runs. The drive there is incredible, and perhaps one of the nicest roadtrips on earth. It is a delight to make this trip.

My favorite part about Phuket is in fact how close it is to my favorite places on earth. India is about 5 hours away, Maylasia only an hour, and Korea and Japan run about 6.  There are direct flights to Europe as well, making it relatively easy for a family to take an impromptu vacation.

How exactly do you guys live in Thailand?  Tell me a bit about your housing situation and daily life?

We live in a 3 bedroom, semi-detached house in Chalong, which we found on We have a great yard with a picnic table and A/C, which is perfect for me because I am not too good in hot climates (can't help being British). Chalong is the prime location for us, as it is not tourist laden but has expat services, such as supermarkets with imported items. It is close to Ra Wai and Nai Harn, which are stunning, and is near Phuket Town, which is my favorite part of the island.

We do not have any medical insurance, but the hospitals here are cheap and world class, and if Billy decides to teach part time, we would automatically get covered. We intend to have another baby in the near future.  I will be having a VBAC which means we will have to travel to Bangkok, but it's only an hour away. There are many cheap dentists and other specialists on the island.

We homeschool Kaya, so she will not attend any formal education here, but we hope she will take classes in Thai and possibly Korean or Japanese. There are plenty of small schools that offer these types of private classes. There are also many great extracurricular things for kids here, such as karate and art classes.

Everyday is different for us, but I can tell you this: as a family, we consume so much less here then we did in the US or anywhere else. We mainly go out to free or very cheap places, such as Wat Chalong. Almost every evening, we go for a drive to Phuket Town, where Kaya plays in the 'dragon park', a place with a golden dragon. It is incredible.  So empty and yet near the Thai nightlife scene. The atmosphere is somewhat like Havana, lively and with stunning architecture.

How has your daughter adjusted?  I know she is young, but have you seen any change in her since you moved to Thailand?

Kaya has always preferred Thailand to any other place we have lived. I can say this with certainty because she was always so challenging as a baby, save when we vacationed here. We knew in our hearts she wanted to live here and not in Europe, and that contributed to us moving back.

Most of us know a bit about Thailand.  The beaches, Bangkok, etc...  But can you tell us 3 things or places regarding Thailand that very few people know?

Thailand has incredible architecture due to Khmer and Buddhist influence.

I am obsessed with Angkor Wat, which we have yet to visit, but Thailand has similar Khmer architecture much of the world doesn't really know a lot about.

Thais are very laid back and happy people, but our generation also has that next gen edge and there are many Internet cafes and tech spots throughout Phuket and of course Thailand. Driving up to Ranong, we saw wifi signs even in small villages.  Thailand is very much online and into electronics. It may not be to the level of Korea, but so many parks and almost every restaurant and sala in Phuket has wifi! It is amazing!

When most people hear about alternative medicine, they think of China or India. But Thailand has had a long practicing system of Thai natural medicine. Just like what happened in India when the British invaded, Thailand's system was run underground, and is only now making a more mainstream comeback. So many people who have adopted the Western fast food and dairy heavy diet are getting sick, and obesity is on the rise.  Many people are now going back to their roots and the country is starting to see some positive results.

What's different about Thailand than where you lived previously?  What's better?  What's worse?

I did not like living in Cortona, Italy where we lived before.  It was not as laid back as Phuket.

Thais are an accepting people. There are many Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus and Christians here, and Thais know farang/foreigners do things differently. They give us a lot of respect, more respect than what foreigners give them. This is a shame, but that is the problem of being an island run by making tourists happy! Customer service is a challenging industry, as you can't please everyone. Foreigners have many things to learn from the Thai people.

We also got sick of eating pasta and pizza everyday in Cortona, since we don't eat meat. We do eat seafood, but Cortona is known more for its wild meat, pasta, and pizza. Our palates now crave Asian, spicy food.  Even getting our hands on basic vitamins was harder in Italy because of the heavy red tape.  Here that is not the case.  Thailand is very flexible.

I don't think many people I know view Thailand as a "family" destination.  The images most of us get are of the wild streets of Bangkok or young wandering backpackers.  Can you convince them otherwise?

That is one of the goals on my blog: to show how incredibly family friendly Thailand is! The Russians and Koreans know it, as I see families from there all around Phuket. But not as many Brit or North American families. Here is a secret that our Belgian friend Alain told us (and he has lived here 30 years and has 3 daughters): Thais love babies so much!  If you bring your kids with you to a business deal, you will automatically get the upper hand. They really love kids that much!

My neighbor is from Sweden, and has lived alone in Phuket for 10 years. This is her home. She goes back to Sweden for a few months every year to work, then returns to her home and dog. She is not into partying, and lives a quiet contemplative life. She goes to Big Buddha a lot and enjoys her life. Many alternative families are choosing the same path. They come here just to enjoy life.

Thailand has so much for families to do.  From working with charities to experiencing a plethora of outdoor activities. The country is unfortunately known for the sex and drug industry because of the US and foreign troops who came here years ago, but I can't stress enough that that isn't Thailand. And truthfully, every country has pockets where this is an issue.  Rougher areas like Pattaya are working hard to attract older, retired couples to move there and change the culture.  Just like everywhere else, Thailand has it's rough spots, but as a family they are easy to avoid.

Thailand is actually very, very safe. In our upscale neighborhood in LA, there was a shooting directly across from our apartment building, on Christmas. I was mugged twice, once while pregnant. Thailand doesn't even compare to that, unless one is involved in drugs or has their purse or phone sticking out in an area that has petty crime. I have never felt threatened here, EVER. Nor in Bangkok.

They just opened Asia's largest recreational and sports centers in Thalang, and it has activities for kids, as well as a wellness center for adults. We haven't been yet, but this is just one example of how new things keep opening up for residents, and not just backpackers or tourists. Behind our house is a botanical garden, which is newly built. I can't wait to see the incredible species of wildlife it has behind its doors!!

I would love to live right outside of Phuket, on the road the Ranong. It is paradise, clean and with incredible land. I also adore Bangkok, but housing is actually harder there, especially if one has pets. Phuket is incredibly family friendly, although Bangkok has more kid friendly restaurants, cafes, and hang outs. There are homeschooling groups there (both Thai and foreign) and in Phuket, we have a women's club made up of Singapore, North American, Australian and other foreign nationals living here. So much to do for so many different races of people! There is also angloinfo Phuket and Bangkok, both of which put up things to do for the day with kids. It is an incredible resource for finding movies, museums, events, and restaurants.

Phuket town is where many of the younger Thais go, as well as where artists frequent. So if you have a teen, this is where they will want to go! Tons of things to do here, and the bars are not the type you are picturing in your mind. They are filled with young Thai locals having a few beers and playing guitar. A great place for a mom and dad date night as well!!

If you could go back and do one thing differently upon moving to Thailand, what would that be?

I actually would not do anything differently. Because we screwed up in Cortona, and have been to Phuket before, we were fully prepared. We have friends here and connections that helped us. It is incredibly easy to make the move, and my husband is going to be offering services and consultations for foreigners looking to move here. All in all, you almost can't go wrong. Just avoid Patong if you are a family! Stick with other areas. Maybe begin in Chalong, where there are expats but not tons of tourists and then move out to areas like Thalang. Try to learn some Thai and don't just hang out with expats; most of our friends are Thai, and we like it that way. Some people move here and live an isolated life, staying just inside their gated complex, and away from most Thais. You won't experience Thailand this way, only a mock version of it. Dive deep, and enjoy all this country has to offer. It is rich in something way beyond money.

Thanks to the Bradleys for the interview and for giving us such great insight into living in Phuket, Thailand.  You can follow the Bradley adventures at their website and on Facebook and Twitter.

To get to Phuket you pretty much have to fly directly into Bangkok.

All The Best in Your Adventures!