A lot of people visit Thailand expecting for empty, heavenly, sandy beaches and exotic oriental cuisine. But, the real picture in the touristy cities in Thailand is actually quite different. There are 7-elevens on every corner, greasy versions of continental food and of course a lot of tourists. It is true that Thailand lost a lot of its authenticity due to the big waves of tourists. 32 million people visited Thailand in 2016, out of which 9 million visited Bangkok. But, hold on; I didn’t mean to discourage you not to visit this amazing country of raw natural beauty. Thailand still has some amazing authentic places, which still aren’t discovered by tourists. And that’s exactly what this article is about: places in Thailand off the beaten track.
Unlike the touristy cities, the destinations mentioned in this article are rougher around the edges. Most of these remote islands don’t have ATMs. Wi-Fi and 3G/4G are either nonfunctional or nonexistent. But in my opinion, this is a small price to pay for seeing these amazing forgotten places, that for one reason or the other are still off the tourist maps. Beware, however, that you will not find a lot of English speakers in these areas, so you should learn at least some basic Thai phrases. Finally, prepare yourself for experiencing the true Thai life, which is quite different from the one in the big cities. Leave the souvenir stalls in Bangkok and Phuket behind and take a peek at the real Land of Smiles:
Thailand off the beaten track: Isan
Located in the Northeast, Isaan is the largest region of Thailand. Isaan has around 23 million residents, but only sees less than a half percent of the total tourists per year. Unlike Bangkok and the other touristy places the local girls of Isaan rarely have boyfriends and usually end up marrying their first partner. This is just one proof of the mindset and lifestyle difference between Isaan and the big tourist hubs of Thailand.
Nakhon Phanom province
This Northeastern province hides the oldest temple in Thailand: the magnificent That Phanom. This is my personal favorite, because of all the amazing nature, mountain landscapes and river towns and the endless sight of rice fields.
Discover Sala Kaew Ku
I was wondering how is it possible that this historic part doesn’t attract more visitors. There were some amazing statues here, much different than the average giant Buddha statues visible across the country. One of the statues is 25 meters tall and is featuring Buddha meditating under the protection of a seven-headed Naga snake.
I bet you didn’t know that there’s a temple in Thailand that u of the legendary Angkor Wat. The temple’s foundation lies on an extinct volcano. But it seems like that, and the fact that this temple made it to the UNESCO list isn’t enough to attract more visitors here.
North Thailand has a lot in store for you if you’re into biking or hiking. The lush rainforests and mountain villages are the ideal places to get lost in. The north will show you that Thailand is so much more than pretty beaches and party streets in Bangkok and Pattaya. The beautiful landscapes, warm people and the rural life in general, in the largely unspoiled and not so well known places among tourists are just as fascinating as the beautiful beaches and the big cities.
The Nan province, next to the Laos border, is a great place to explore the untouched nature of Thailand. The whole province has only 24,000 residents at 11,472 square kilometers. There are no guided tours, nor any traces of western food or culture. The only things you can see in abundance are the off-beaten roads that look like no one ever passed there before. The small province has six breathtaking national parks.
This is the northernmost province of the country and a home to the Thailand part of the notorious Golden Triangle. The Golden Triangle is one of the world’s largest opium-producing areas. You can also hike to the border between Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar and enjoy the amazing view. Additionally, Chiang Rai is the home of Wat Rong Khun, which if it was an actual temple it probably would have been one of the most beautiful ones I’ve seen in my life. But Wat Rong Khun was actually built by a millionaire and is, in fact, a very successful imitation of a temple. And one of the biggest tourist traps in Thailand that people aren’t aware of! But nonetheless, the architecture of this imitation is breathtaking and the ‘temple’ looks like it was literally dropped from heaven. The unreal shade of white colour stands for Buddha’s purity, while the white glass and reflection it gives symbolize Buddha’s wisdom that shines brightly all over the earth and the universe.
Sukhothai used to be the capital of Siam at one point in time. The only remnants from that time today are located in the Sukhothai Historical Park. These ancient ruins have the unique power to not only take your breath away but make you go back in time and see the remnants of what was once the greatest city of Siam.
Doi Inthanon is the highest peak in Thailand and a home to the largest number of bird species in the country. The mountain is 100 km away from the largest city in Northern Thailand Chiang Mai. Therefore, the top is easily accessible by road, but don’t miss out on one of the best hiking opportunities in Thailand. The top hides one of the most iconic views in Thailand.
The South and West
Khao Sok national park
This is the largest area of untouched forests in southern Thailand, making this Khao Sok the ultimate place to visit for nature lovers. You will also be able to see some unique species here, such as the great hornbills, slow lorises, and if you’re lucky maybe even the tapir and the magnificent Asian bison. But that’s not all. Khao Sok has more than 100 little islands, within the mesmerizing Cheow Lan Lake. The lake looks crystal clear at first sight, but the lake conceals the villages that were flooded when the government decided to create a dam next to the lake.
Railay is one of the most beautiful beaches in Thailand, which was only recently discovered by tourists. But nowadays, during the summer season, you can barely find a spot on the beach. However, if you visit during the offseason, it’s much more peaceful. And if you’re not happy, you can just go a couple of hours north and discover Tonsai beach. Just as beautiful as Railay, and a lot less crowded.
At the edge of the mountains in the Western Thailand lies the beautiful river town of Kanchanaburi. The city is famous for the iconic bridge that connects the city with the historic Death Railway to Burma, a place that witnessed the death of thousands of prisoners during the Japanese occupation in WWII.
Most of the tourists that visit Thailand know about Phi Phi, Phuket, Koh Samui etc. But, there are islands just as magical as these that see much fewer tourists, which makes them even better vacation spots. Here’s a photo gallery of my perfect off-the-beat islands in Thailand.
Known among locals as the “surfboard” because of its elongated shape, this two and a half mile strip lies within the Hat Chao Mai national park. This means there are practically no people living there or even proper roads to intrude your perfect summer vacation.
This tropical paradise has no public transport, nor cars and just a few bars. The most popular beach on the island is Ao Klong Chao, but Ao Phrao in the south part of the island is just as pretty but not really famous among tourists and therefore always empty.
Throughout history, this was a pirate hideout and one of the most notorious prisons in the country. The island is a part of the Tarutao National Park and therefore virtually free of commercial development and 70% of its surface is covered in jungle.
Koh Libong offers an abundance of amazing scenery and a unique wildlife. This island is actually just one of the few places on Earth where you can see the rare species dugong, commonly known as a sea cow.
Koh Lao Liang
Koh Lao Liang is one of Thailand’s best- kept secrets, but it’s not so easy to get there. The island limits the number of visitors in a day. Accessible only by boat, this island is a place of unspoiled natural beauty with dramatic limestone cliffs, perfect tourist-free beaches, and floating bungalows.