February isn't exactly a popular month to go long haul with two school-aged kids (7 and 10), but if you’re looking for guaranteed hot weather, you have to put in the miles! For us, south east Asia always hits the spot in winter with great weather, culture and cheapness once you're there (even for our weaker pound these days).
This year, we took advantage of the February half term, took the kids out of school for a few extra days on top and headed off into the sunset to Langkawi (Malaysia) followed by a ferry over to the nearby island of Koh Lipe for a Thailand family holiday on the beach.
We'd both already travelled extensively in Malaysia and Thailand as backpackers before our kids came into the world, but these days our holidays are a bit different. We chose these two islands as the weather is perfect in February, you can have some chilled-out beach time and we love the food! We normally book stays in at least two different places during each trip and these two islands are a simple 1.5-hour boat ride apart, which makes this combo ideal for a relaxing family holiday – plus a colleague had blogged about the ferry crossing, so we knew what to expect.
After our overnight flight on Malaysian Airlines via Kuala Lumpur into Langkawi, we arrived at the magnificent Danna Hotel on the south west of the island. There are plenty of hotels of all budgets on Langkawi, and it’s such a short flight from KL, that it makes a good island side-trip if you’re visiting more of Malaysia.
This is a proper 5* luxury resort. It's not the kind of place we'd usually stay, but for the first few nights to just relax and be made a fuss of it was perfect. The Danna is now the top rated hotel in Langkawi (March 2017) and it's easy to see why. It's a beautiful spot and all the extra little touches which make it; free shoulder massage while checking-in, free snacks, free iced ices around the pool and the odd glass or two of bubbly at breakfast. The beach here is pretty but doesn’t have anything to see if you snorkel, so we actually spent all our time around the amazing pool - we loved it!
In Langkawi getting around is easy; taxis are quite regulated so you can expect fixed rates on most routes. Short drives are generally MYR10 (less than £2) and there's loads to do.
Highlights for us were a trip to the Skycab; a cable car which offers stunning views of the surrounding islands at the top. We also walked along the Skybridge which is the longest curved suspension bridge in the world (not for the faint hearted, but again spectacular). It's all very kid-friendly, but certainly a ‘must-see’ whilst you’re in Langkawi.
There are various ways to get from Langkawi to Koh Lipe, but we chose the ferry from Telaga terminal for the 1.5-hour crossing to Koh Lipe – a secret border crossing to most people. Entry from Langkawi is quite easy, (worth noting it’s much quicker than making the crossing in the opposite direction where Thai boats take far longer stopping off at other islands on route). The boats are seasonal (they stop June-Sept for monsoon season) and it’s a simple journey, culminating in a switchover from the ferry to a Thai longboat to reach the shore.
As soon as we arrived at the turquoise waters of Koh Lipe and the soft white sands, it was clear we were going to love this place! Immigration was a fun experience in itself via a little hut on the beach, once we'd got our passports stamped we jumped in a taxi (motorbike and sidecar) and set off on the next part of our adventure.
Koh Lipe is a tiny island but nothing here is further than a short taxi ride away.
We stayed at the Asara Private Beach Resort, a new resort on the sunset beachside. We chose it because it had a lovely pool and only 12 rooms (plus at short notice, it was available unlike most other places since February is high season in this part of the world). It's run by a lovely Thai family and when we come back we'd stay here again for sure. It's much quieter on this part of the island, there’s great snorkelling and you have free use of kayaks. The rooms are great too; really spacious, all have sea views and there’s a separate bedroom for the kids in their family suites. The kayaks became a favourite for us and the kids at sundown, with the Andaman Sea as calm as a mill pond. These were really special times.
Koh Lipe is beautiful and it's all about the beach and crystal clear waters which surround the island. It's often referred to as the 'Maldives of Thailand' which I'd say is pretty accurate. We haven’t experienced snorkelling as good as this since some heavenly weeks spent in French Polynesia many years before. The best part for us as a family is how close the reef is to the shore, meaning the kids could safely explore in the shallows with their snorkels. Every now and again popping their heads up to shout "we've found Nemo!"
The island has witnessed a meteoric rise is travellers in recent years, which means numerous places to stay, bars and restaurants are being squeezed into every nook and cranny. This rise in numbers also means inland has become a bit of a dumping ground for rubbish which is a shame, but common for islands like this and largely unavoidable within the current infrastructure. Around the edges on the beautiful beaches thankfully this wasn't an issue.
We were there in peak season and it felt pretty busy, but it's not hard to find more peaceful spots dotted around the island. Our favourite spot was by Serendipity Bar and Restaurant "On the Rocks", which soon became our favourite place for a bite to eat and relax on the stunning beach with safe snorkelling for the kids.
Koh Lipe still has quite a backpacker feel to it which we liked, with no shortage of budget accommodation, but with some more upmarket places beginning to emerge. The main drag of 'Walking Street' is lively with heaps of quirky shops, bars and places to eat. We ate in a place called Elephant a few times as it offered decent food and fun evenings with various travellers on the open mic.
Comparing Koh Lipe with Langkawi, it's Koh Lipe which wins our vote every time. It just felt a lot more fun and the water is just amazing - so amazing - that if you don't have a pool it doesn't matter as the sea is just as good. The easy-going Thai culture and delicious food also help; green curries, barbecued fish and Pad Thai became firm favourites with the kids.
With so many places in the world to visit, we rarely go back to the same place twice, but we all loved Koh Lipe so much I think one day we'll definitely go back!
If you’re thinking about Thailand or Malaysia for a family holiday or would like some guidance on where’s good for families, we can help. Plenty of our team members are parents who travel regularly with their own kids, so we can arrange every aspect of your trip, from flights to family-friendly accommodation, transfers to day tours. To start planning your next trip, call us on +44 1273320580 or request a quote by email.
See our Thailand trip ideas and Thailand holidays for more ideas – we can tailor-make each one or create something entirely new to suit your family’s style and budget: