Not just a beach holiday
AFTER serenading me with a harmonica, the elephant makes his move and plants a giant sloppy kiss on my neck.
I'd been warned I could see some surprising sights in Phuket, but this was going to take some beating.
The elephant flaps his ears happily as his owner smiles and pats him.
Hoping to earn a few baht from the increasing number of tourists who visit Thailand's largest island each year, entertainers line the jungle-fringed roads that lead to many of Phuket's major hotels.
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But novelty street shows are only part of the attraction here. Long palm tree-lined white sandy beaches, along with picture-postcard emerald waters, make this a tropical paradise.
I've come here seeking a relaxing break, but I'm keen to see as much of the local wildlife as possible.
The manager of the up-market Paresa resort, our first stop, tells us that guests have found monkeys taking an early morning dip in the infinity pools at one of the hotel's private villas.
It's secluded with spectacular views over the Andaman Sea, so I can see why the mischievous creatures might want to make this their home.
Sadly no monkeys come to visit my pool, but I do see a few swinging through the trees on my way to breakfast.
Keen to experience more of the local flora and fauna, I book a tour on a John Gray Sea Canoe Experience out to the islands of Phang Nga Bay, arranged through the hotel.
A short cruise on a traditional longtail boat takes us out to the bay, giving us a chance to catch a few sun rays. The next thing we know, kayaks are being thrown over the side.
The guides show us how to paddle and steer the canoes before gently leading us around the remote islands. We paddle slowly, in absolute silence, over-awed by the impressive limestone cliffs.
It isn't long before we have our first wildlife viewing. One monkey puts on quite a show for us, clambering over rocks and branches, pausing to pose for pictures, before scrambling high up in the trees.
Before heading back to the boat for a Thai lunch, we take an opportunity to dive into the warm, emerald green water.
That afternoon, we climb back into our canoes and head for one of the many hidden caves in the area.
Led by torchlight, we follow our guide's canoe into one of the caves. It's a thrilling experience as the temperature drops and we are plunged into darkness.
"Watch out for bats overhead," warns our guide, eliciting gasps of fear from some members of our group.
People seem much more enthused by the idea of playing with magical bioluminescent plankton glowing in the water like electric sparks.
Any preconceptions I'd had about Thailand being "nothing but a beach holiday" are quickly dismissed.
Back on land, we find plenty of adrenaline-pumping ways to amuse ourselves. Booked through Phuket ATV Tour, we take a quad bike ride through mud and rubber plantations and even into local villages.
Sweat dripping from our brows, we need a way to cool off – and quickly. The flying fox zip wire is an ideal solution. Skimming over a lake, our toes almost dipping in the water and wind rushing through our hair, we're left instantly refreshed.
With good safety briefings provided by the company, both activities are suitable for adults and children.
Phuket is becoming increasingly family-friendly, with many hotels now actively catering to younger guests.
One such property is Centara Grand. Situated on a secluded patch of Karon Beach, the five-star resort has a good choice of pools and restaurants, along with tennis courts, a fitness centre and spa.
An active kids' club hosts children aged four to nine, keeping them entertained with a daily activity programme. For guests above 10 years old, there is a separate games area and playground. Adults, meanwhile, can either relax on the beach or take advantage of various classes on offer.
After watching a classic pink Thai sunset, we spend most evenings exploring the nearby night markets. When we have enough energy, we go to Patong, where most of Phuket's infamous beach parties take place.
From pulse-racing activities to extraordinary sights, Phuket exceeds my expectations in so many ways.