1. Chiang Rai, Northern Thailand
Close to the Laos and Myanmar borders, situated 860 km north of the capital in a beautiful, mountainous province, lies the sleepy and history-rich city of Chiang Rai. Filed with exquisite, ancient temples, affordable accommodation, tasty food, rock climbing opportunities and a much quieter tourist scene, this city is often skipped by unknowing travellers. Be sure to explore the Night Bazaar, Saturday Walking Street and Jazz Festival to fully appreciate the local flair and ambiance of this relaxed city.
A day spent exploring the charming city on foot or rented bicycle or a visit to Kun Korn, a lovely local waterfall are excellent things to add to any Thai itinerary. Those who want to absorb the beauty of the waterfront can hire a long-tail boat and take a leisurely ride along the two riverbanks.
Travellers who are looking for a peaceful and subdued nightlife, history buffs and those wanting to plan further excursions to the more far-flung nooks and crannies of the province, would do well to stop over in Chiang Rai.
2. Pai, Northern Thailand
Unplug, unwind and reconnect. Nestled snuggly in the valley of the Pai River, in the Mae Hong Son Province of northern Thailand, rests the lush, fertile city of Pai. Known for its yoga, wheatgrass shots, organic food, stunning waterfalls, hiking trails and its slow-living, Pai is absolute paradise for those who love the outdoors. The flourishing art and music scene, the stunning natural attractions and the peaceful reprieve from city life are just some of Pai’s perks and lures. Rent a bicycle and explore the backstreets or hidden caves, find the lesser-known temples and breathe in the refreshing mountain air and picturesque setting. Return to your idyllic bungalow, take a shower and find some nourishing grub at the afternoon market. Head to a local bar and dance the night away with other likeminded backpackers. Sleep and repeat.
Cheap accommodation; healthy, affordable food; and a lively nightlife scene, this destination is best suited to nature junkies and those who long to bathe under invigorating waterfalls or find a beautiful place to get lost in.
3. Mae Hong Son, Northern Thailand
A few kilometres from Myanmar’s border, this remote, mountainous province in northern Thailand is on the radar of very few travellers and all too frequently the capital, by the same name, gets missed in the frenzy of other more popular Thai hotspots. For backpackers who do stumble upon this laid-back, hidden gem, you’ll be richly rewarded with gorgeous forested hills, a stunning lake and a few lovely Shan-style temples. Mostly popular with locals, Mae Hong Song has an almost non-existent nightlife or the new-age-hippy-culture commonly associated with the nearby Pai. The unmistakable Burmese influence, zero tuk-tuks and the cooler weather give Mae Hong Son a unique and distinctive atmosphere that is unlike the majority of other Thai destinations.
This destination is best suited for the traveller wanting to get off the beaten track, walk blindfolded down an unmarked trail and see where the adventure takes him. Excellent for travellers in search of solitude, peace and quiet, and exploratory trekking.
4. Sukhothai, Central Thailand
Situated in central Thailand, 400 kilometres north of bustling Bangkok, lives the UNESCO World Heritage City of Sukhothai in the province with the same name. Translated as, ‘The dawn of happiness’, the Sukhothai Kingdom was the first capital of Siam. This destination was the original foundation of Thai culture, language, architecture and art. The reasons to visit include savouring the charms of a rural Thai lifestyle and heritage; breathtaking historical sites and temple ruins; and a vibrant and lively street-food scene. Sukothai has a spiritual light and sound show over weekends at the Sukhothai Historical Park, called Sukhothai Night, which is an incredible experience for those wanting to encounter something wonderfully special. The Sukhothai Historical Park and nearby Si Satchanalai Historical Park house the more historically noteworthy temple ruins.
Best suited for travellers who want to journey back in time to ancient Thailand or for culture aficionados who want to soak in the heritage and tradition of Thailand’s fascinating roots.
5. Kamphaeng Phet, Central Thailand
Pronounced ‘Gamphaeng Pet', this destination is located in the upper centre of the country, halfway between Bangkok and Chiang Mai. The UNESCO-listed ruins, excellent street food, authentic, rustic charm and a picturesque riverfront are a few of the reasons to stop by Kamphaeng Phet while travelling through Thailand. This destination is largely unknown and therefore the locals have yet to be fed-up with many of the notorious tourists that frequently make their way to Thailand. Hospitable, genuine and kind, the locals are helpful and friendly and add to the authentic Thai atmosphere of this destination.
This in combination with the immaculate natural attractions and ancient ruins, makes Kamphaeng Phet an ideal stopover for the traveller wanting to experience something unique. Perfectly suited to travellers who do not want to share Thailand’s beauty and magic.
6. Koh Lanta, Andaman Coast
In the Krabi province on the Andaman coast of Thailand, lies the island district of Koh Lanta. This tropical paradise is recognized for its beautiful beaches, limestone karsts, lush rainforests and tangled array of mangrove plantations. Far less known than the nearby Phi Phi islands, Koh Lanta offers visitors a more peaceful, culturally diverse and less touristy getaway. Catering for a vast array of budgets, the island has a variety of food and accommodation options and is well suited for budget backpackers as well as honeymooners seeking out tropical luxury. Good snorkelling, picture-postcard views and the gentle crashing of waves set the scene of the serene atmosphere here on Koh Lanta.
Free from teeming crowds, heaving nightlife and mass commercialism, Koh Lanta is the dream destination for beach lovers wanting a tranquil and secluded holiday away from the usual rowdy tourist crowds that Thailand is notorious for.
7. Koh Lipe, Andaman Coast
Celebrated for its talcum-fine sandy beaches, abundant marine life and crystal-clear water, Koh Lipe, a small island in the south of the Andaman Sea, is an excellent beach destination for the weary traveller. Situated close to the Thailand/Malaysian border, the island is part of the Adang-Rawi Archipelago which is located on the fringes of the Tarutao National Marine Park. For those seeking adventure, the waters off of the island offer exciting diving opportunities and for those seeking rest and relaxation, Koh Lipe is filled with rustic, bamboo huts and hammocks gentle swaying in the ocean breeze.
Ideal for a variety of travellers, the island is a great destination for adventure junkies, ocean devotees and those just wanting to read a novel in the shade of a palm tree and work on their tan lines.
8. Hua Hin, Upper Gulf
Located in the southern Thai province of Prachuap Khiri Khan, Hua Hin, the oldest seaside resort on the Gulf of Thailand offers visitors and locals in Bangkok a tranquil reprieve from busy city life. This getaway offers its guest a modern holiday destination while still offering the old-world charms and fascinations of an active fishing port. Aside from sun-drenched days lazing on the pleasant beaches, visitors can participate in a range of recreational activities. Watersports, golf courses, decent shopping opportunities and a buzzing, lively nightlife, and dining scene are all readily available on Hua Hin. The restaurants built on stilts over the water have been delighting visitors for generations with their superb seafood cuisine and extremely affordable prices. For nature enthusiasts, Hua Hin is also home to beautiful and luscious parks, caves and waterfalls.
For those longing for a break from city life and looking for charming hospitality in a beachside environment at inexpensive rates, Hua Hin is ideally suited to you.
9. Koh Chang, Eastern Seaboard
One of Thailand’s biggest islands, Koh Chang, situated on the eastern seaboard in the Gulf of Thailand, is a far less touristy island than Koh Samui or Phuket despite its size. Although the Hat Tha Nam (Lonely Beach) waterfront has a bustling nightlife and backpacker scene, Koh Chang predominantly attracts those in search of tranquillity and nature submersion. The island is filled with beautiful jungle treks, hiking trails, refreshing waterfalls and plenty of snorkelling and scuba diving opportunities. Koh Chang has smatterings of rural and traditional villages intermixed with the accommodations along the coast, allowing visitors to get a sense of the daily way of life of the locals.
Charming, genuine and beautiful, Koh Chang is the perfect getaway for those in search of a slice of secluded paradise away from the maddening crowds. Bring your snorkel and forget your troubles; in Koh Chang the coconut trees outnumber the buildings and the natural beauty will soothe your soul.
10. Koh Kut, Eastern Seaboard
All aboard! Paradise is calling! Claimed to be the most beautiful island in all of Thailand, the frothy, turquoise waters and the stretches of white sandy beaches of Koh Kut will have you convinced the second you arrive and sink your toes into the warm sand. Located in the Trat Province, Koh Kut is the easternmost island before Cambodia. The mountainous island is covered in dense jungle foliage and the lush, green vegetation contrasts exquisitely with the sparkling blue waters and blinding white beaches. Kayaking, swimming, sun bathing, snorkelling, fish-gazing and hammock-lazing are the main attractions in this Maldivian-paradise and the nightlife here is virtually non-existent. What the island lacks on the party front it more than makes up for with its seclusion, immaculate beauty, seafood offerings and shady coconut trees.
Perfect for beach bums, Instagrammers, photographers and paradise-seekers, Koh Kut is everything one could hope for from an island holiday. This island is an excellent destination for families, solo travellers seeking seclusion and couples wanting the very best of tropical bliss.
Are there any less travelled destinations in Thailand left?
Although lesser known spots in Thailand are getting somewhat harder to come by, but do not be discouraged, there are still pockets of the country that offer more rural and special experiences for those who long for less touristy encounters. The country is filled with stunning natural beauty and while it does take a fair amount of extra effort and determination to track down the less-trampled corners of Thailand, it is still very much possible. Waiting at the edge of your comfort zone lie deserted beaches; untamed rainforests; and beckoning, welcoming locals with toothy grins. The unseen edges of paradise are beckoning with their absent ATMS, no Wi-Fi and palm-fringed, breathtaking beauty. What are you waiting for? It’s time to get lost.