It’s mid-afternoon and children and adults alike are scrambling from their sun-loungers in search of a famous hotel resident.

Lucky the elephant mascot is plodding through the grounds for his daily visit, emphatically waving his trunk with a line of fans in his wake.

His star status is affirmed as guests queue up to take pictures and stroke his fuzzy head – some even get a surprise sloppy kiss as he wraps his trunk around their neck, planting it onto cheeks like a plunger.

I’m enraptured at the first encounter – the sight of a three-year-old elephant tumbling around in the Andaman Sea waves, spraying water at hysterical adults, and carrying kids aboard his wrinkly back.

This snapshot-worthy family scene is becoming more common in Thailand, as the south-east Asian country shakes off its backpacker-on-a-budget image.

A tourism boom has led to a number of new child-friendly hotels and resorts opening, mainly in Phuket, the largest island of Thailand dubbed ‘The Pearl of the Andaman’.

It may not be the obvious choice for a family break, but adventurous parents can find plenty to entertain their little ones. Besides the endless white sandy beaches, there are tree-top thrills at Xtrem Adventures, animal exploration at Phuket Zoo, mini eco safaris at Siam Safari, and a Las Vegas-style theme park at Phuket FantaSea.

Children squeal with delight at FantaSea feeding buckets of bamboo sticks to a parade of statuesque elephants decked out in rainbow-coloured finery.

Asian elephants are an enduring symbol of Thailand as the official national animal. Whether it’s elephant rides, scenic treks or stage shows, these incredible trunk-swinging beasts always feature top of activity lists.

While much publicity is given to the conservation plight of the African elephant, it's the Asian elephant that is classed as officially endangered with a decreasing population, according to the ICUN Red List of Threatened Species.

It’s estimated that around 4,000 Asian elephants remain in Thailand, of which only a third live in the wild.

Having such close interaction with these gentle giants, therefore, is bittersweet. Whilst there is a pang of guilt that they should be roaming freely, it’s incredible to see them so close up that you can marvel at their tumbling eyelashes.

As mascot of Angsana Laguna Phuket, Lucky the elephant is certainly worth trumpeting on about.

Besides petting elephants, Angsana’s recently-refurbished Tree House Kids Club, Mother & Kids Yoga and Tuesday’s Pirate of Andaman fancy dress has plenty to keep children occupied.

Situated in scenic Bang Tao Bay, the hotel makes for a convenient spot for airport runs and the bustle of Phuket Town – both lie just 20 minutes away.

Surrounded by the Andaman Sea, it’s the perfect pitch to explore neighbouring isolated islands, paradise-style beaches and snorkelling hotspots.

Laguna’s speedboat day tour is the most glamorous way to go island-hopping, with a knowledgeable guide to steer you away from the tourist hubbub.

The trip sets adults back 3,500 THB (approx £75), while children over three are welcome at 2,100 THB (approx £45), which includes snorkelling equipment and a packed lunch and picnic mat to pitch up on the white sands of picturesque Bamboo Island.

It’s a whistlestop trip, but roaring at breakneck speed between the Phi Phi islands, holding tightly onto our sunglasses, feels likes a scene from James Bond.

Following the tourism boom created from the buzz of Leonardo DiCaprio’s The Beach in 2000, and then the devastation caused by the tsunami in 2004, Thailand is now in a much happier place.

It may have been released over 12 years ago but there’s no denying the impact the film has had on the landscape. We see for ourselves as we zoom past Maya Bay where much of the movie was shot, and discover the once untouched beach idyll is now swarming with tourists and the sea strewn with boats.

The view at Pileh Cove is picture-postcard breathtaking. The calm sea separates into a clear turquoise and crystal cobalt divide that is disturbed only by brave tourists jumping from the dramatic limestone cliffs – their squeals echoing around the sheltered cove. We plunge overboard for a relaxing sea dip that’s so warm it feels like a freshly run bath.

Untouched areas prove elusive and a desert island-style experience is less likely around the popular Phi Phi archipelago. You can find unspoilt, remote stretches if you veer off the beaten track, far away from the row of colourful long-tail boats that cast their anchors to drop off groups of red-shouldered tourists.

High season for tourism is December to March when the north-east monsoon draws cool, dry air from the Asian continent, resulting in a slight drop in temperature and gentle breezes, calm seas and clear blue skies.

travel facts

  • Lisa Haynes stayed at Angsana Laguna Phuket. Visit
  • Travelbag offers seven nights B&B at Angsana Laguna Phuket from £859 pp, including return flights with Etihad Airways. Kids under 12 stay free, return flights from £666. Visit or call 0871 703 4240