Dodge the crowds and the gift-wrapped hot-spots and explore the more authentic and underrated corners of Thailand.
You’d certainly be forgiven for thinking there isn’t a single corner of Thailand that hasn’t been discovered by tourists – because you’d probably be right. Having said that, it does pay to note that there’s a huge difference between ‘discovered’ and ‘besieged’. Having travelled overland through the startling Southeast Asian nation for four months, I can attest to there being plenty of glorious spots that seem to have been bypassed by mass tourism. Probably because they never featured on the Lonely Planet’s Top Must-See Spots or, more importantly, because they are nowhere near the most famous beaches of all.
That’s the funny thing with mass tourism: it’s actually quite predictable and, for the most part, homogenous. Sure, everyone wants to go to Thailand yet everyone wants a sunny vacay on a palm-fringed beach, dipping their toes on some impossibly crystalline sea whilst feasting on prawn pad-thai and cocktails in coconut. So let them. There’s so much more to Thailand than the postcard perception of the most celebrated sights.
You know what is really amazing? Off-the-beaten-path destinations in Thailand that boast fascinating cultures steeped in spirituality, varied regional cuisines most tourists never get to taste and a variety of landscapes that’ll blow you away.
Here are the sides of Thailand you’ll want to head to on your next trip through Asia.
Chiang Mai & Chiang Rai
OK, so we’re not breaking any new travel-boundaries with our first two choices but do hear us out: despite the popularity of the northern hubs of Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai, mostly among digital nomads and anyone else who wishes to get off the tourist merry-go-round of the south, they do remain blissfully enticing. Developed enough to offer everything you need yet quiet enough to make you feel like you have dodged the crowds, the formidable duo of Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai feel exceptionally unique. This is a very distinct corner of Thailand, where ever everything is different: the architecture, the food, the people and the landscape, which is breathtakingly mountainous. Plus, these are your hubs for exploring the remote northern region of Thailand and make for fantastic springboards for onwards travels through Myanmar and Laos. A superb win-win!
The northwest city of Pai is like a smaller and more compact version of Chiang Mai, undoubtedly the capital of the north and the most-known hub in the region. The great thing about the two Chiangs’ popularity is that they have left nearby cities blissfully quiet yet easy to reach. Pai is one such treasure. Temples, waterfalls, canyons and an insane number of vegan restaurants grant Pai a very hippie yet relaxed vibe, ideal for anyone who wants a totally alternative scene in Thailand. Pin Pai on your map and you’ll get the convenience of travelling the north and onwards to Myanmar (or Laos) yet with a most defining quieter and more laid-back atmosphere.
Erawan National Park, Kanchanaburi
The spectacular seven-tiered waterfall of Erawan is a photographer’s dream yet despite its Instagram popularity the remoteness of the park is still holding mass-tourism at bay. That spells great news for you. The province of Kanchanaburi kisses the border with Myanmar in the west and is usually only visited by those on an overland expedition between the two countries. The forest itself is idyllic, made up of deciduous forests and home to a plethora of exotic animals – like monkeys who love to steal your lunch! The namesake city is likewise very fascinating (albeit in a sobering way) and although it’s tried hard to rid itself of its painful past, when it can under the brutal rule of the Japanese during WWII, relics of it remains. History lovers ought to include a visit to the many excellent museums in town before visiting Erawan.
If you’re looking for that rough gem that gets overlooked because it doesn’t appear to offer much at face-value, then Chanthaburi is definitely it. Just a short drive south of Bangkok – easy enough to visit yet far removed from its madness – Chanthaburi is a treasure for discerning travellers. This off-the-beaten-path Thailand hot-spot is the gateway to the lesser-visited southern region, where uncrowded beaches, quaint fishing villages and a fascinating traditional culture thrives. The city itself exudes an authentic feel with its open-air bustling market, sparkling temples and excellent museums begging you to stay a few nights and the eclectic mix of Chinese and French architecture hinting at its interesting past. Riverside mansions make for arguably a more picturesque landscape than Bangkok and the waterfall-brimming Namtok Phlio National Park – just a few kms out of town – offers a fantastic day-trip options. With its beautiful wilderness and gorgeous walking trail, not to mention numerous chances for fresh-water swims, this park is just another reason to add Chanthaburi to your itinerary.
Thailand is certainly well-known for its collection of insanely idyllic islands yet, when pressed, most people can only name the top four or five most popular ones. It may surprise you to know that Thailand is home to almost 1500 islands, clustered in archipelagos that number in their dozens. A heavenly stint of Thailand island life doesn’t always mean you must deal with overcrowding, there’s a ton of incredible specks of gorgeousness that fly well below the tourist radar. Koh Mak is one such spot you shouldn’t miss. Tucked away off the coast of Trat Province, Koh Mak actually faces the coast of Cambodia and is a wonderful add-on to a visit to Chanthaburi. Its sparkling white sandy shores, turquoise waters and its firm ecotourism measures have left the island blissfully unspoiled. The nearby marine reserve is a snorkeller and diver’s dream, home to a flurry of underwater life, and just a handful of resorts and restaurants means a visit is usually very low key and very relaxing. The perfect ending to a whirlwind tour of Thailand off the beaten path!
Being the famous destination it is – and given the ease of travel to its most famous spots – our tailor-made tours of Thailand concentrate on the lesser-visited regions which are difficult to visit independently. Moreover, we love to plan multi-country tours that serve up the best of the region, with Thailand being a superb connecting springboard for visits to Myanmar, Malaysia (and Borneo) – including a wicked cruising tour – Laos and Cambodia. So why not shun the tried and trodden and get way off the beaten path next time you travel to Asia? See our full range of Thailand travel inspiration and contact us to know more.
Author: Laura Pattara
“After spending years taking short vacations in Asia, Laura finally managed her dream, travelling extensively through Central Asia, China and Southeast Asia on a 3-year-long overlanding adventure that she describes as “SIMPLY EPIC”. Following in the footsteps of ancient traders, Laura meandered along the famed Silk Road through the Stans, delighted her tastebuds for 8000km across China (no mean feat) visited an insane number of temples in Southeast Asia, all the while snorkelling, diving and beach-bumming along the way. Tickled pink by history and culture, Laura loves off-the-beaten-path destinations in Asia and anything that isn’t gift-wrapped for tourists”