I take the opportunity to interview my brother Jonas about his recent trip to Koh Lanta, Thailand, with his wife Jessica and their 2 charming daughters Heidi (8 years old) and Leah (6 years old), who studied at a school there.
First I give you some background about the protagonists. My brother Jonas and his family live in Tyresö, which is located south of Stockholm, Sweden. Their house is in a green forest surrounded by birch trees and fir trees with birds singing and the air there is pure and clean.
Sweden is a lovely country where to live, however Jonas&family enjoy traveling! Whenever they have the opportunity, they visit countries with amazing sand beaches and pleasant weather. Heidi&Leah are the most similar you can get to dolphins and can be swimming and playing in the sea for hours without getting tired.
Winters use to become pretty long and a bit boring in Sweden, so Jonas family during years were thinking about visiting Thailand in winter for several months to escape the cold and dark Swedish winter. They’ve already been in Thailand several times, but not for such a long period. Finally they carried out their plan, so let’s go kick some honey buns!
In which area of Thailand are you currently living and why did you choose that place?
We are staying on the islands of Koh Lanta. ‘Koh Lanta’ comes from the Thai words ‘koh lan daa’ meaning ‘island of a million eyes’ and consist of two beautiful islands just off the coast of Krabi. Those islands are made up of Koh Lanta Noi and Koh Lanta Yai. Koh Lanta Yai is where the majority of tourism is based. Koh Lanta Noi is a land forgotten by tourists, with rubber plantations, palm trees, deserted castaway beaches and local Muslim fishing villages. Lanta Yai, where we are staying, is only 27 km long, but its coastline has nearly a dozen beaches, some considered the finest in the country!
Because our two girls – Heidi and Leah – love snorkelling Koh Lanta is the perfect spot for day trips to several amazing snorkelling spots situated one or two hours of the coast. Small islands as Koh Rok and Koh Haa with picturesque coral reefs and stunning underwater life. The girls also have to study during our stay and Koh Lanta has a Swedish school – Sanuk – which was important when choosing location.
What makes this place different compared to other places in Thailand and South-eastern Asia?
I would say if you’re looking for a family friendly Thai island with a chill atmosphere, wonderful beaches, and great Thai food, Koh Lanta is the place!
How long are you aimed to stay in Thailand?
Our plan is to stay for almost four months.
Swedish School in Koh Lanta
Please explain where Heidi & Leah study and which collaboration the school has with Sweden?
The school in Koh Lanta – Sanuk – is a private Swedish school that follows the Swedish study plan and uses the same study material as in Sweden. The teachers at Sanuk check off with the school in Sweden before, during and after the stay so each student is developing according to the plan. Koh Lanta skolan
Are all nationalities welcome at the school in Koh Lanta?
Sanuk is only for Swedish and Norwegian kids, but Koh Lanta also has an International School, that we only have heard well about, with students from all over the world. Global Village School
How many students are there in each class and how many teachers do they have?
There is a maximum of 12 students per class, which I would say is ideal compared to Sweden where many classes have almost twice as many students. This makes it easier to let every student develop in their own pace and for the teachers to concentrate more on each student.
What about the school schedule, is it the same as in Sweden?
It follows the Swedish school plan, but the atmosphere and surrounding makes studying much more fun for the kids in Koh Lanta. Sports is done on the beach, which the kids love. The school has a swimming pool where the students can cool of afterwards. Also much of the science classes are done outdoors which in many cases makes lessons much more practical.
Quality of education
Do you believe that the education has the same quality as in Sweden and which differences do you experience compared to Sweden?
I would say that the quality is much higher! The teachers in Koh Lanta, Thailand, are handpicked from Swedish schools and most of them have been teaching for 20-30 years which makes them used to all different situations, highly skilled and very relaxed. Furthermore the classes are much smaller than in Sweden, consisting of 10-12 students per class. The school is situated just meters of Koh Lantas most northern beach – Khlong Dao – which is ideal for families, with white sandy beaches, warm water and gentle waves.
Compared to Sweden, the kids are much more outdoors in the sun, gathering every morning on the school yard to kick off the day with activities as songs and dancing. Lunch is served each day out in the sun on some tables and benches in the shade. Once a week is “Thai theme” with activities that teaches the children about life and culture in Thailand, such as visiting Buddhist temples, Thai boxing classes or learning about animals in Thailand… The children learn a lot of Thai language as well: colours, fruits & vegetables, how to count and smaller sentences. Parents are also much more involved in school of Koh Lanta and participate once a week.
Which topics do they prioritize at the school?
I can only answer for my girls that are 6 and 8 years old, but much focus was on science, reading and maths. But if you ask them they loved the Thai theme once a week, when the whole class headed off for adventures.
What do Heidi & Leah think about their temporary school and how are they interacting with their school mates?
What was interesting is that a school in that size gets much more familiar. Older students are helping the smaller out with tasks and problems, you don’t have the teasing and fighting as you have on other school yards and all kids regardless of age are interacting and playing with each other. The school in Koh Lanta focuses on 3 fundamental values:
- Respecting yourself
- Respecting others
- The consequence of your actions.
Does Sweden give financial support to Swedish families, who want their children to study in Thailand for a period?
No, as Sanuk is a private Swedish school in Koh Lanta there is no financial support from the Swedish government, compared for example for the Swedish school on Marbella. As all private schools the price is quite high but you get a lot for your money. The kids are learning so much more than just from the books, are getting friends for life and an adventure that they will remember for ever!
How expensive is it to live in Koh Lanta? What about accommodation, food prices and transportation?
It’s always what you are comparing with… If you’re comparing to Sweden it is very cheap, even if the Swedish currency has had some really bad years. Lunch can get as cheap as 300-400 TBH for a family of four and transportation is 100-400 TBH depending on how far you want to get on the island.
Things to see and do in Koh Lanta and surroundings
What are the children doing at their spare time and do they play with other children?
They like all water activities, especially snorkelling. In average they spend at least 3-4 hours in the water, some days you can’t get them out of the ocean or the pool. They tried out Thai boxing when we got here and got hooked immediately. Their trainer is really amazing with children and everything is done with much discipline but at the same time in a playful way with laughter and jokes. The good thing if you’re travelling as a family, especially on the northern part of the islands, is that it is so easy for the kids to find friends in the same age, living in the same area, on the beach or close by.
How is your surrounding and which nice places are there to visit near where you live?
If we stay on the island our favourite beach is on the south end of the island, called Kantiang beach. A gorgeous white sandy beach surrounding a small bay of clear tropical blue waters. A must to visit is a restaurant on the beach called “Same Same but different” with the most delicious Thai food you can find!
We also like Lanta Old Town, a charming little seaside village on the east coast of the island. As the oldest village on the island and the original town centre, it is rich in history and Thai culture. Most of the homes are built on stilts, overlooking an incredible ocean view. There are many day trips to all the islands near Koh Lanta. If I only should mention one it would be Koh Kradan. It’s scenery with turquoise waters, white sand beaches and coral reefs is like a postcard and it is not packed with tourists like for example the Phi Phi Islands.
Is there any special fauna in this area of Thailand and do the children have any favourite animals?
Being an island most on Koh Lanta is concentrated around the beaches. That’s where most is happening every day and night. We have seen everything from whale sharks to little Nemos in the ocean. On the land there are a lot of monkeys on the south of the island, especially in the Koh Lanta National Park, with its jungle, waterfall and mangrove. The girls love fishes and turtles! They are not so found of cockroaches, spiders and bugs. Especially when it gets dark….
Things to see and do near Koh Lanta
Which places are there to visit in the weekends when you can travel a bit further away from home?
With the airport in nearby Krabi you can reach a lot of amazing places during just 30-60 minutes flight; Malaysia, Singapore, Laos and Vietnam. With ferry or speed boat you can visit islands all the way down to Langkawi in Malaysia. But you don’t have to travel that far to see some amazing scenery. Just of the coast of Krabi towering limestone cliffs shelter incredible beaches and I would say that the most beautiful of them is Railay beach. It is surrounded by the warm Andaman Sea, lush jungle, and twisted rocks. It contains many activities for the adventurous while also allowing those who just want to chill out in paradise the opportunity to do so.
Do the children and you like local Thai food and which are your favourite local dishes?
We all love Thai food, with its celebration of flavours: sweet, savory and/or spicy! Everything from the common known thai dishes: Tom Yam, Phad Thai and Khao Pad to local/special currys. Our favourite dishes are Masaman curry and Panang curry. The children love them to! One good thing with Thailand is that there are so many varieties to the same dish. Each restaurant have their own touch, with differences in vegetables, spices and herbs. The islands also have some restaurants that serve excellent Thai fusion dishes, that mix thai and western flavours. I would especially recommend a restaurant called Yang Garden, situated on Long Beach. Don’t miss out on the street food market in Saladan as well, cheap and excellent meals.
Are there any special fruits in this area of Thailand?
There are little roadside stalls selling fruit and veggies all over the island and they have a weekly fruit market just outside of Saladan. Compared to Sweden fruit is super cheap! We are amazed how big the pomelos and watermelons are compared to in Sweden and how fantastic they taste when they are so fresh. They have a yellow mango in Thailand that I haven’t seen in the stores in Sweden, which are heavenly sweet. We have found our own favourite fruit shake stall on Klong Dao, just opposite a food store called Mother Marche, which serves the most delicious fruit shakes we have ever tasted. If you try their passionfruit or mango fruit shake, you might stay on the island for ever!
Do you cook at home or mostly eat outside of home?
Food is so excellent and cheap that we haven’t cooked even once during our stay up until today.
What do you think about local Thai people and how they treat foreigners?
Thailand is often referred as “the land of smiles” and thai people almost always talk in a polite and friendly voice. What I have seen thai people also love children. Our girls have been treated as princesses and the waiters are joking with them or taking them into the kitchen to mix their own shakes or get some scoops of ice cream after dinner.
What can we learn from Thailand and their culture&people?
Seize the day! Walk with a smile through life and appreciate people around you and what you have instead of seeking material happiness!
Which religions are present in Koh Lanta and do people actively practice their religion?
The provinces in the southern part of Thailand have a predominant Muslim population. Koh Lanta is no exception but has three very distinct cultural groups – the Chao Lay (Sea Gypsies), Thai-Muslim people and the Thai-Chinese. You have both Buddhist temples and mosques on the island. The faith is followed in a laid-back manner on Koh Lanta, you could call it ‘Thai-style’ Islam and you do not have to cover up or refrain from drinking alcohol.
Are there expats living in Koh Lanta? If yes, which nationalities?
We have met expats from both North America, Australia and Europe. My guess, without knowing, is that there are most Europeans in the North and Americans and Australians further down on the island.
How is the weather (temperatures, rain and humidity) in the period when you visit Koh Lanta?
We are staying during January to May and the weather is hot, I can tell you. On an average the temperature is around 35 degrees, but with the humidity it feels easily more like 40-45 most days. In April it started to rain, almost daily. Not for long each time, only approx. for an hour and mostly late in the evening or during the night. But if you haven’t seen a tropical rain before I can tell you that it is pouring down, like nothing you have seen before. When it is hot like this and you are travelling with kids it is super important to check that they are drinking enough during the day and don’t miss to give them dehydration drinks once or twice a day to make sure!
Is there any period of the year, which should be avoided when you visit this area of Thailand?
I would say no. It gets more windy and rainy April-November, but on the other hand you have almost the beaches for yourself with all the tourists gone.
Are there any obligatory/recommended vaccines for going to Koh Lanta?
If you don’t have Hepatitis A&B and polio it is strongly recommended. Otherwise it depends on where you’re travelling from. Typhoid and cholera could be considered but we have managed well without them.
When you travel with children, do you recommend to take out a travel insurance?
Yes! And by the way the care and service at Thai hospitals is world class. We had to visit a hospital twice during our stay and the experience both times was simply outstanding. No 15 minutes of registration and hours of waiting. The nurses and doctors worked with a smile in express speed.
Do you believe that medical care in Koh Lanta is well prepared in case of any unexpected illness?
Koh Lanta is a small island, but they have several medical clinical and a hospital in Old Town. If it would get serious, the towns of Krabi and Trang, on the mainland, are not far away.
Advices for parents, who travel with children
What general advices would you give to parents, who want to travel to Thailand and also to other countries with children?
Plan well before your trips. If you’re travelling on your own it is easier to make choices day from day, but when you travel with kids you have to make more considerations, for example regarding activities, accommodations and food. Kids have more difficult to relax and want to be entertained all the time. Keep always an eye on nearby playgrounds or ice cream shops… 🙂 It is also important to always be 100% focused around water. Leave your mobile at home before going to the pool or beach with kids and join in!
Which items are important to carry in your luggage when you travel abroad with children for a longer period?
I would say water, fruits and/or snacks. Because kids can get hungry from one minute to another. Games and books to keep them entertained while waiting. Because travelling means often a lot of waiting, in buses, cars…
Are there any other similar and safe destinations, which you would recommend for families with children, who want to stay for a longer period?
Yes! There is for example a Swedish school in Hanoi and an International School in Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam.
Do you believe that children get positive experiences from this kind of travels and do you think that it’s overrated to always live in the same place year around with children for their wellbeing?
Absolutely! Kids learn so much through traveling. About geography, history and other people and cultures. They see the differences in positives and negatives between places. They have for example experienced a lot of new places, tastes and activities that they will miss when coming back to Sweden. So much on an island like Koh Lanta is focused around the beaches and ocean and the girls have almost turned into fishes.
Did other parents or persons in Sweden criticize you for going abroad with your daughters instead of letting them go to a school in Sweden?
No. We have only heard positive from people around us about our stay. People are very curious and the good reputation of the schools in Thailand have reached Sweden. Many know somebody that have been on a similar adventure and have only good to say about it.
What have you learnt from this experience and do you think that you’ll repeat it in the future? If yes, in the same place or any other place?
My aim is to see as much of the world as possible and there are so many places and so little time in life. But we have some destinations we keep coming back to, time from time, and this could absolutely be one of them!
What does Leah (6 year old) like most of the Thailand trip and how is she doing?
They have a zip line on Koh Lanta that goes from tree to tree in the Highlands in the middle of the island, with 12 stations. It was the most amazing day on the trip for Leah when we went there and she keeps asking when we go back.
What does Heidi (8 year old) like most of the Thailand trip and how is she doing?
Heidi is the fish of the family! Always in or near the water. One day she was in the ocean the whole day and when we finally got home she wanted to sit in the bath tub. Heidi loves the school so much in Koh Lanta that she wishes during the weekends that it will get Monday.
How easy is it for children to make friends in Koh Lanta?
Of course it depends from kid to kid, but in general it is super easy. Koh Lanta is perfect for families and most trips, restaurants and activities have a big focus on kids.
P.S.: If you would like to read more travel stories from this web page, you could follow Heidi and Leah’s Spanish cousin Lara, who also loves to travel. Nevertheless, right now those stories are only in Spanish. More stuff will come soon in English. Example of travel story: Qué hacer y ver en Hong Kong con niños