(Telegraph) – I’m snorkelling in Mu Ko Lanta National Park when I spot a flash of burnt orange. It’s the briefest of glimpses – but some things a mother just knows.
“Nemo!” Some 10ft away, my aurally selective husband, Paul, remains oblivious. Alone, I dive down. Sure enough, snuggled in an anemone’s tentacles is a Pixar-perfect clownfish colony; mum and dad stoically guarding the fore.
I can relate. Ridiculously, it’s almost 20 years since our last “proper” child-free holiday – two weeks that changed everything. Nine months later, our only child, Joe, was born.
Occasional long weekends aside, trips since have been family-focused. But now, in what feels like the blink of an eye, Joe’s abandoned us for university, leaving a void so dark we’ve dared not contemplate it. Instead, we’ve blown our “Are we only together for the kid?” counselling fund and come to Thailand to find ourselves.
That’s presuming “we” still exist.
As our hotel’s launch chugs home to Ko Lanta, I realise this is my first snorkelling foray in aeons where I’ve not worried about anyone drowning. Given that Joe’s a far stronger swimmer than his father, this whatever-moon is perhaps overdue.
Still, nothing says “I love you” like an opulent hillside villa with wraparound sundeck, infinity pool and stellar views over the Andaman Sea.
So hoorah for Pimalai Resort & Spa. Perched 260ft above sea level, our secluded retreat, with its vast canopied bed and double-ended tub, is just what a counsellor would order.
Pimalai is Sanskrit for “a little patch of heaven”. Were we newly-weds, we’d never leave our divine eyrie, but we’re 27 years late, and I’ve two slipped discs.
Thankfully, buggies ferry guests around the vertiginous 112-acre resort, hairpin bends snaking through the dense forest of coconut, cashew and banyan trees. “It’s Jurassic Park meets The Prisoner, but in a good way,” decides Paul, as we swerve around a monitor lizard.
Worth splurging on is Pimalai’s gorgeous spa, a serene lost world of waterfalls and shimmering carp. Our shoulders drop before we’ve shed a stitch.
Continuing our reconnect theme, we’ve booked the couples’ signature massage. Intensely curative; I’m soon in a lemongrass haze, only the sound of snoring tying me loosely to the present. True love never dies.
Equally soporific, our next island is a half-hour speedboat hop; yet Koh Jum is surprisingly undeveloped, a slice of Thailand that time forgot. It boasts miles of wild shoreline, a jungle interior, one mountain, three tiny Muslim fishing villages and little else.
There are no ATMs, supermarkets or landlines, and mains electricity – a 2009 addition – remains iffy.
A flatbed taxi, one of the island’s few cars, bounces us down its only concrete road, past comatose dogs and a man on a scooter – a tray of eggs balanced on its handlebars – gingerly navigating potholes.
Scattered along the west coast, the island’s two dozen or so accommodation options are mostly more budget than boutique.
We’re spending Joe’s inheritance, though, so we’re staying at Koh Jum Beach Villas, an eco-chic collection of 19 properties bordering Andaman beach.
Our one-bedroom pool villa, Baan Si Fah, is a bohemian rhapsody in blue, embellished with rustic chests and embroidered cushions that pop with brilliant teal. Open plan, it unfurls to the elements, sala-style, at a shunt of its concertina glass doors.
We’re seconds from the surf, but the rocky coastline prevents sea swimming at low tide. Waking early, we walk for miles along a shoreline stippled with sand bubbler crabs.
Rock pools crackle with life; electric-blue fry, smaller than Joe’s first tooth, darting from our shadows. Later, local kids with makeshift spears will come searching for supper, but for now, ours are the only footprints.
A mangrove tour sees us at our most energetic. And argumentative.
Our inaugural kayak partnership, and we’re an uncoordinated disaster. Fortunately, our guide, Jukri, takes control. “Keep watch for fishing monkeys. They stick their tails down crabholes and wait for the pinch!”
Astounded, we stop bickering and scour the banks for life. Baby snapper – so many the brackish water glistens silver – leap before our paddles. Mudbanks teem with scarab-green crabs, but there’s no sign of their nemesis.
No matter: Jukri’s love for these backwaters proves the ultimate mood enhancer.
Aptly, Koh Jum is also called Koh Pu (Crab Island). Jum refers to the south; Pu to the rugged north; but locals, depending on postcode, use either as a catch-all.
Exploring Jum by bike, we pass stilted wooden huts where old ladies snooze in hammocks. A gaggle of young boys, all bare feet and footy shirts, call “sawasdee krup” shyly to the back of our heads.
Koh Jum village includes a smattering of shops – think durian and Pringles – and restaurants, including the highly rated Koh Jum Seafood.
Booking is recommended, so we do, only to return that evening to find we’ve got the overwater terrace to ourselves. Supper, fried grouper, is lip-sizzling and sticky with ginger, chilli and tamarind, so I go to find new napkins.
As I return, Sinatra’s Night and Day starts playing gently on Paul’s iPhone. The inky lagoon as atmospheric backdrop, it’s so perfect I burst into tears.
It’s November – the start of high season – but Koh Jum seems oblivious. In Baan Ting Rai, Hong Yog’s cheery owner, Rosa, is watching TV, but rustles up punchy massaman curries, before returning to her soap opera. At the Fighting Fish restaurant, both chef and dog are fast asleep.
Only the nearby Fu Bar is rocking – the tiny beach shack’s bartenders bouncing to Bob Marley as they knock up sundowners and popcorn for the relaxed crowd of couples and young families.
“It kills me that part of our life is over,” admits Paul, as a toddler – turned gilded cherub by the setting sun – makes an unsuccessful break for the sea.
Then, as I’m searching for a suitably profound response, he adds: “But if I left you tomorrow for a younger model I’d be 75 when my next child was 21. That’s unsustainable: you’re stuck with me.”
I’m still married to him.