With a vast array of experiences on offer, a family booking to Asia can be articularly lucrative. Tom Jordan runs over some Asian adventures and tropical beach breaks
One of the main reasons why Asia is popular with families is because it is perceived as an exotic long-haul destination but one that is still fairly safe. Caroline Phillips, Explore’s Asia product manager, says: “Thailand and its neighbours have a reputation for personal safety and friendly local people.” Explore’s top-selling family tour in Asia is Vietnam Encompassed, which was new this year. Phillips says: “This is a fast-paced active tour, designed with teenagers in mind.” Value for money is another reason to visit. Phillips adds: “Although flights are dearer, food and excursions in Asia cost a lot less than Europe for example.”
China and Japan
Another teen tour from Explore, Great Wall & Warriors in China, features iconic sights and a kung-fu demonstration by Shaolin monks. There’s also a day in rural Yangshuo where families can ride bikes, hike or try bamboo rafting. This tour has a minimum age of 11 and departures in Easter and summer holidays. Prices start from £1,997 for children aged 12 and over and £1,737 for 11 year olds. Flights are included. Japan is the quirky pop culture capital of the East, and its Manga comic phenomenon is eagerly followed by devotees the world over. For families wanting the chance to indulge in some comic capers at close quarters, Japan Journeys’ seven-night Manga Tour takes in a working animation studio, the Tokyo International Anime Fair and some weird and wonderful Tokyo locations. Prices from £1,495, including flights.
Combining the best of Japan with China’s highlights, Wendy Wu Tours offers a twin-country option. The 14-day Glories of China excursion takes in Beijing, Shanghai and the rice paddies, limestone hills and rustic villages of the Li River. The trip can be extended to include some Japanese adventures, with the chance to see Tokyo and Mount Fuji, and ride the bullet train. A private Glories of China tour costs from £2,390, including flights. Families with over-12s can join a group tour. The Tokyo extension costs from £540.
Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam
Those keen to head off the beaten track with the youngsters in south-east Asia are well catered for by Travel Indochina. A 12-day Vietnamese Hotpot tour takes in bustling Hanoi by bicycle, an overnight trip to Halong Bay, and local family life with a home-stay on the Mekong Delta. A Cambodia tour takes participants on a 10-day trip by elephant, speedboat and tuk-tuk, while a Laos excursion includes a trip down the Nam Song River in an inner tube. Both are bookable through Travel 2, and the Vietnamese Hotpot leads in at £1,140.
TransIndus’s private 15-day Java and Bali Explorer tour mixes temple visits and nature walks with canoeing and rafting. Between the exertions, parents can recharge their batteries on Indonesia’s idyllic beaches. Prices lead in at £2,500, including flights, and the holiday is suitable for over-10s. Explore’s Volcanoes and Dragons Schooner Adventure in Indonesia is priced at £2,813 for ages 5-11. Beaches, snorkelling and the novelty of sleeping onboard a two-masted schooner make this popular with families.
Hotels & Resorts
Family resorts abound in Thailand, where the culture is child-friendly. Rayavadee Spa, situated in Krabi’s marine national park, caters for four to 12-year-olds with its Just For Kids programme, featuring Thai cooking classes, arts and crafts, nature walks and tennis coaching. Tropical Locations’ family packages lead in at £2,139 per adult, £2,015 for under-11s for six nights, with flights. The Banyan Tree Phuket has upmarket family-sized villas and a nanny service. It runs a Rangers programme as part of its Turtle Club, which gets under-10s wildlife spotting, tasting local herbs and spices, and learning to identify animals through touch.
For parents needing a rest, Outrigger Laguna Phuket Resort & Villas offers a Nannies with Heart service that lets mum and dad enjoy their beach time while under-12s are taught Thai language, batik painting and leaf weaving. Sessions are one-to-one in guests’ holiday villas and gardens.
In Malaysian Borneo, Shangri-La’s Rasa Ria Resort, Kota Kinabalu, offers an eco-break for adventurous families who want a slice of jungle action. A nature reserve makes up part of the resort, and its focus is conservation and orangutan rehabilitation. Children can become a “ranger for the day” and help care for animals. A seven-night stay for a family of four (with children aged two to 11) sharing a superior rainforest room, starts at £3,550 with flights, through Kuoni.
Virgin Holidays features the all-inclusive Pangkor Islands Beach Resort off Malaysia’s west coast, and the Grand Mirage Resort on Bali. The latter has high chairs and cots as part of its all-inclusive package, which also includes the Bamboo Kids Club, games lounge and cooking classes. Family days out in Bali include the Elephant Safari Park in Taro and Ubud’s Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary.
Some of Asia’s main cities have classic attractions that will put parents in their kids’ good books. Tokyo and Hong Kong have Disney resorts, and Japan’s version has a DisneySea. A one-day ticket for Hong Kong Disneyland, which opened in 2005, costs around £30 for adults, £20 for children. Hong Kong’s other attractions include Ma Wan Park, which features a “full-size” recreation of Noah’s Ark and a 180-degree cinema that reconstructs the Great Flood (£10 for adults, £7 concessions), and Ocean Park, a huge aquarium and marine theme park (£20 for adults, £10 children).
Singapore is not to be outdone in the theme park stakes. Universal Studios was added to Resorts World Sentosa last year, while Singapore Zoo should be on every family’s itinerary, particularly the atmospheric Night Safari and Rainforest Kidzworld (£15 for adults, £10 children for the zoo and safari). For a treetop adventure in Thailand, Flight of the Gibbon in Chiang Mai and near Bangkok lets kids and adults experience the jungle from the thrilling vantage point of a series of zip wires. This costs about £45 for a full-day experience.
Today’s onboard in-demand entertainment systems go some way to keeping little fidgeters happy for at least some of the flight. Singapore Airlines switches on its in-flight entertainment system as soon as you board, and Malaysia Airlines’ interactive entertainment system is so popular that it has phased out traditional colouring books. With flight times of 10 to 15 hours to Asia, advise apprehensive parents to think about direct flights, ideally at night.