One of the many wonderful things about Thailand is the diversity of destinations. If you want to experience another side to Thailand beyond the travel brochures, there are a plethora of amazing locations waiting for you across the length and breadth of the country. And by using some of Thailand’s better known destinations as a base, you are spoilt for choice for where to go to see more of ‘Unseen Thailand’.
Make the journey east from Bangkok and soak up the charms of Chanthaburi or local life in Trat. In the north of Thailand, travel out of Chiang Mai and enjoy the rugged beauty of Mae Hong Son or the provincial delights of Lampang. From Phuket, make the short journey to Phang Nga province. If you’re in Krabi, ease into the slow life on Ko Jum or travel south to enjoy the unspoilt beaches and islands in the provinces of Trang and Satun. Take a look at the suggestions below for your next trip to Thailand.
With Bangkok being the main transport hub for Thailand, most visitors pass through the Thai capital at some point during their travels. If you’re looking for a quieter alternative to staying in the big city, head out to the surrounding provinces to witness rural Thailand and see some traditional culture.
Just 25 miles to the west of central Bangkok, brings you to the unassuming village of Ban Don Kai Dee in Samut Sakhon province. A wonderful example of community based tourism, stay overnight at a homestay and experience local life. You can also learn more about the ‘Benjarong’ porcelain which Ban Don Kai Dee is famous for.
Thailand’s smallest province, Samut Songkhram, is another unheralded destination within comfortable reach of Bangkok. Relax into the slow life at Ban Bang Phlap and enjoy local hospitality in this traditional farming community. Learn how to cook local delicacies, cycle along quiet lanes and simply enjoy the ambience. Or head to Suphanburi and visit the Thai Buffalo Conservation Village, shop at local markets and see local landmarks including the giant Chinese-style dragon.
Travel north-west from Bangkok and spend a few nights exploring Kanchanaburi. While most tourists come here on a day trip from the Thai capital to see the famous sights like the Bridge on the River Kwai, Kanchanaburi is an area well worth devoting more time to. Stay overnight on floating jungle rafts, visit an ethical elephant centre, and soak up the gorgeous views of rural Kanchanaburi.
All of these locations can be visited on a day trip from Bangkok, but spending at least a night or two will help you ease into local life.
East Coast Thailand
Travel east from Bangkok and make a stop off in Rayong to sample the laid-back mainland beaches. With most Thai and overseas tourists heading instead to the island of Ko Samet or further east to the Ko Chang archipelago, it has left the mainland Rayong beaches blissfully quiet. And the same is true for the adjacent province, Chanthaburi. One of Thailand’s most underrated locations, Chanthaburi is home to a charming city centre with a fascinating history. The city is ideal for a two or three night stay as an alternative to Bangkok. Chanthaburi is also an excellent stopover en route to explore more of Thailand’s East Coast.
While Ko Chang and the nearby islands are well-established as tourist destinations, do try to spend some time on the Trat mainland to experience local life. The village of Ban Nam Chiao has won awards for its community based tourism initiatives and makes for a rewarding destination to visit before travelling onwards to enjoy the beaches on Ko Mak or any of the other quiet islands in the Ko Chang archipelago.
Northern Thailand is home to epic mountain scenery with a host of charming towns and villages nestled in the valleys. Travel west from Chiang Mai on the scenic route to the mountains of Mae Hong Son. While the small town of Pai is well-established as a tourist destination, relatively few venture further west to the delightful provincial capital of Mae Hong Son. The compact town is an excellent location to enjoy the local culture before heading out into the gorgeous countryside all around.
Travel south from Chiang Mai to explore the old temples of Lamphun or admire the ancient teak buildings in Lampang. Head out into the Lampang countryside and make the hike up the hill to soak up the spirituality of Wat Chaloem Phrakiat.
Using either Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai as a base, don’t miss the chance to experience more of the charm of North Thailand with a visit to Nan, Phrae or Phayao.
The north-east of Thailand, also known as Isaan, has its own unique identity where you will find ancient Khmer ruins, colourful local festivals and heartfelt hospitality. For anybody looking to see a different side of Thailand, this region is a fascinating part of the country to explore. Relax in sleepy towns on the Mekong River, go wildlife watching in Khao Yai National Park, and enjoy the easy-going charms of Isaan.
On your travels through Isaan look out for a number of exuberant festivals including the boisterous Rocket Festivals that welcome in the rainy season and the colourful Phi Ta Khon Ghost Festival in Loei. And for one of the highlights of Thailand’s festival calendar, visit Ubon Ratchathani to experience the city’s Candle Festival.
Travel to Nakhon Ratchasima (Korat) and don’t miss the impressive Khmer temples at Phimai Historical Park before heading on to Buriram to see the splendid Phanom Rung Historical Park. If you are planning to travel into Laos, factor in some downtime to explore Udon Thani and the beautiful Red Lotus Lake or chill-out on the banks of the Mekong River in the delightful town of Nong Khai.
Southern Thailand (Andaman Coast)
Southern Thailand’s Andaman Coast is home to some of the country’s best known islands and beach resorts including world-famous destinations like Krabi, Phuket and the Phi Phi islands. But if you’re looking for somewhere off the beaten track, this stretch of coastline won’t disappoint. Head to Ranong and explore the attractions on the mainland before taking the slow boat across to laid-back Ko Phayam.
From Phuket, make the short journey to Phang Nga province with its amazing seascapes and quiet islands and beaches. If you’re travelling in the Krabi area, continue south to Trang province and enjoy time chilling out in the amiable provincial capital of Trang Town before heading out to the islands. Stroll along the soft sands of Ko Kradan or relax into local life on the welcoming islands of Ko Mook or Ko Sukorn.
The serenity continues in Trang’s neighbouring province of Satun. Enjoy lazy days on the photogenic island of Ko Bulon Leh or enjoy the quiet life on the almost deserted beaches of Ko Tarutao and discover the natural beauty of the Tarutao National Marine Park.
Southern Thailand (Gulf Coast)
While the islands of Ko Samui, Ko Pha Ngan and Ko Tao are understandably popular with tourists, they are not the only attractions waiting for visitors along the Gulf Coast. The natural attractions and quiet beaches of Chumphon make it a great choice for anybody seeking somewhere off the tourist radar. And the same is true too for the historic city of Nakhon Si Thammarat and the lovely beaches of Khanom.
Travel to Phatthalung and enjoy the natural beauty of Thale Noi. Take a sunrise longtail boat trip and watch the wetlands spring to life. The village of Thale Noi is a delightful location to unwind for a few days and learn more about local life in this picturesque corner of Thailand.