With its delicious cuisine, unrivaled nature and unforgettable experiences, Thailand has cemented itself as one of the hottest travel destinations in the world. Unfortunately however, everybody knows it, and it can be difficult to move for the crowds of tourists who flock to its shores every day. Don’t worry — here are the top places to go to beat the crowds and experience the real Thailand.
The south of Thailand is distinctly different to the rest in terms of culture, food and lifestyle, but few people get to really experience it when they head only to Koh Phi Phi before going back up north. Koh Jum is a quiet, unspoiled island with a vibrant Muslim fishing community who are only too happy to welcome you to their paradise and let you experience their everyday lives. With its paradisaical beaches to freshly-cooked southern Thai cuisine, Koh Jum should definitely take the place of the more touristy islands on your itinerary.
Instead of taking in farang-filled Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai when visiting the north, take a trip to Chiang Dao instead. Translated to English, Chiang Dao means city of the stars, a reference to its high altitude and various mountains. Located in Chiang Mai province, it features breathtaking natural views, natural wonders such as hot springs and waterfalls and a glimpse into the northern-Thai way of life — without the army of tourists crowding your personal space. The various trekking options mean you can go quite a while without spotting another traveler, making it perfect for introverts. It’s a perfect example of Thailand’s stunning natural landscapes.
Erawan National Park
Kanchanaburi province is famous for its role in the creation of the “Death Railway” in World War II, and so is a popular option for day trips from Bangkok. Yet most only come to visit the bridge and the memorials, before heading back after a few hours, depriving themselves the opportunity to spend time at the Erawan National Park, which is one of the best parks in the country. Featuring a seven-tiered waterfall, relaxing pools and a number of caves to explore, Erawan is a great place to unwind, and is the perfect remedy to a hectic time spent in the capital. Whilst some tourists may visit the Erawan Falls, it’s a big national park with more than enough space to enjoy in relative peace.
Whilst Krabi may rightly take most of the plaudits when it comes to beautiful beaches in the south, Trang isn’t far behind. Whether it’s enjoying the mainland beaches of Hat Long Yin and Hat San, or taking in the quiet islands of Koh Kradan and Koh Mook, Trang certainly has a lot to offer, and not many are fully aware of that yet. Wherever you go in the province, there’s bound to be less tourists than in nearby Krabi and Surat Thani, making it a perfect alternative to tourist traps in Thailand.
At only about 80 kilometers away from Bangkok, Ayutthaya is incredibly popular with day trippers, and it can be difficult to enjoy its marvelous temples in peace. Fortunately for you, there are alternatives. Laying just over 400 kilometers to the north of the capital is Sukhothai, a historic city that was the first capital of Siam, becoming so in the 13th-century. Much like Ayutthaya, it too is a former capital that boasts enchanting temple ruins that invoke strong emotions and command a great deal of respect and admiration. A UNESCO World Heritage site, its Khmer-style Wat Mahatat is the main attraction, though there are plenty of ruins to explore. While it remains popular with some, it draws far less of a crowd than Ayutthaya does, making it a fantastic alternative destination for travelers.
Whether it’s because of the lack of beaches and islands, or just a lack of awareness, the majority of people who come to Thailand fail to venture to the north-eastern region of Isan — and they’re missing out. A region consisting of several provinces, Isan is a world away from the bright lights and loose attitudes of Khao San Road and Patong, instead providing visitors with a real look at authentic Thai life and its agricultural heritage. Stunning temples, picturesque natural scenery and delicious food can all be found here in abundance, with Isan being the home of Thai staples som tam and laab, and it’s a welcome break from the busy streets of Bangkok. It’s not all countryside though; with a population in excess of 20,000,000, the major cities of Khorat, Ubon Ratchathani, Udon Thani and Khon Kaen should provide enough entertainment if you’re feeling yourself going a little stir crazy out in the sticks.
Located in the north of the country is Nan, a sleepy province full of natural and authentic charm. Like other northern destinations, it’s well-stocked in natural beauty, and renting a motorbike and going out for the day is the best way to explore it all. Waterfalls, mountains and caves all feature here, as well as Thailand’s pretty pink blossom trees in the national parks. Minority tribes such as the Hmong can be found in the province, which offers a glimpse into what traditional life is like here, and is as authentic an experience as you’re likely to have in Thailand. Popular with Thais but much less so with foreign tourists, it’s worth a visit before it changes and loses some of its rustic charm.
Phanom Rung temple isn’t just an alternative to tourist traps in Thailand, but is also a great alternative to the incredibly popular Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Made in the same Khmer style, while it might not be quite as impressive as its Cambodian counterpart, it bears a striking resemblance and is still magnificent in its own right. Located in Buriram province, it’s a deeply impressive temple complex that’s well-preserved despite being built between the 10th and 13th centuries. Sat on the rim of a volcano, it’s arguably the most impressive temple in the country, and offers a different viewing experience and vibe to the likes of Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok. Well worth the bum-numbing five-hour journey from the capital.
Nestled away in Loei province is the rustic and perfectly picturesque town of Chiang Khan. With its row upon row of vintage teakwood houses it certainly looks the part, captivating the imagination as to what life might have been like here decades ago, and there are plenty of shops and restaurants to be found in these surroundings. Once finished with the charming architecture, Chiang Khan’s position by the banks of the Mekong river offers unrivaled sunset viewing opportunities and the chance to bask in the glory of the gorgeous natural surroundings. Popular with domestic tourists but without many foreign ones, its features are great for Instagram posts and upon leaving you’ll be yearning for its slow pace of life once more.
Koh Chang might be the most popular of the islands in Trat province, but it’s Koh Kood that holds the mantle of being the most beautiful. Its beaches feature the powdery-soft white sand and crystal clear waters that people dream about before coming to Thailand, and are often almost empty in comparison to beaches in the likes of Railay, Koh Samui and Koh Phi Phi. Accommodation ranges from homestays and bungalows to high-end hotels, but any price is worth paying to stay on this slice of paradise. Undeveloped and under-rated, it’s bound to blow up sooner rather than later, so make sure you visit before it gets ruined.