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There’s no doubt about it – Thailand’s beaches are up there with the world’s best with soft sand, clear water and a hot sun all year round. Yet believe it or not, moving from one beach paradise to another can get a tad… samey after a while. Fortunately for you, Thailand has far more to offer than just gorgeous beaches. From breathtaking national parks to bustling cities, here are the best places in Thailand that aren’t by the beach.
There aren’t many better places to start than Bangkok, which is where most travellers begin their journey through the Land of Smiles. Bangkok has all you could want from a major city and more – unforgettable nightlife, unbeatable shopping experiences and unbelievably grand and beautiful temples. There aren’t many cities in the world like it, and it’s certainly one of a kind in Thailand. Whether you’re here for a cultural trip, a party, to dine like a gourmet or eat with the locals at a market, there’s something for everyone here in Bangkok, and enough to do that several trips won’t see your itinerary fully ticked off.
In the north of the country lies the city of Chiang Mai. Whilst it’s a great city destination in its own right, with shopping centres and night markets that cater for all travellers and all budgets, it’s the surrounding nature that makes Chiang Mai truly special. Spectacular views of rice terraces and mountains surrounded by mist are to be expected, and it’s also home to a number of elephant sanctuaries – a must-visit for anyone who’s in this part of the country.
Not far from Chiang Mai is the town of Pai. Once a sleepy village, it’s now popular with travellers who hope to experience the very best of Thailand’s laid-back, mai pen rai culture. A great base for trekking, it’s possible to trek from here to the homes of various hill tribes and ethnic minorities, who are more than happy to welcome you into their homes and show you their hand-made crafts. The scenery is spectacular; its rolling hills covered in a blanket of thick green grass are just as worthy of adoration as Thailand’s beaches.
Surat Thani province is home to Khao Sok national park, a huge expanse of rainforest, lakes and mountains that provide the perfect backdrop for trekking and exploring this area. More diverse than the Amazon rainforest, Khao Sok has a large range of flora and fauna, from the smaller tapirs right up to tigers – though you’d have to be extremely lucky to catch a glimpse of the latter. A popular attraction is the large Cheow Lan Lake, where kayaks can be rented to explore the area and venture between the imposing limestone karsts that populate the area.
If you love temples, you’ll love Ayutthaya. The former capital of Thailand, Ayutthaya has some of the most impressive temples in all of Thailand, all of which are close to each other. The Ayutthaya Historical Park is comprised of several temples with distinctive features, such as the prangs of Wat Phra Ram, the chedi of Wat Phra Si Sanphet, the stuccos of Wat Ratchaburana and perhaps most famously the statue of the Buddha’s head entwined in the roots of a fig tree at Wat Mahathat. Rent a bicycle and make a day of it, and make sure you’re there to catch the sunset – the sun coming down on these temples is quite the sight.
Kanchanaburi isn’t just home to some great scenery – it’s a historically important location, too. It was home to the famous “Death Railway”, and was immortalised is film thanks to the multi-Oscar winning Bridge on the River Kwai. Today, precious little of the railway remains but the bridge is still standing, and visitors can learn more about it at the museums in the province. Once that’s checked off, there’s a tonne of waterfalls, parks and temples just waiting to be discovered.
A quiet province, Loei is close to the Laos border and offers the chance to enjoy a much slower pace of life than you might have experienced in other Thai destinations. Loei is a mountainous province, with plenty to visit or simply bask in the glory of. The best place to head to is a district called Chiang Khan, which is home to several wooden buildings – perfectly picturesque with an abundance of rustic charm to boot. The main attraction here? The Mekong River. It makes for a beautiful sunset, which can be enjoyed whilst gazing at Laos and enjoying a local bite to eat.
Phanom Rung is a khmer temple dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva, that was built on the rim of an extinct volcano in the 10-13th centuries. If you think that sounds impressive, you ain’t seen nothing yet. It is awesome; the first view is seen after ascending up a flight of stairs, yet even from a distance the intricate carvings and details on the walls are easy to make out. Its khmer style naturally draws comparisons to the well-known Angkor Wat in Cambodia, and whilst it’s not quite as impressive, it’s the most striking temple of its kind in Thailand and certainly something to behold.
Another one of Thailand’s glorious national parks, Khao Yai offers the chance to go on scenic tours, where it’s possible to spot elephants and bears casually going about their daily lives, and the soundtrack of the gibbon’s distinctive call is one you’ll be impersonating for days. It’s also home to curious hobbit-esque places to stay, which will make you feel as though you’ve stepped out of Thailand and straight into the shire.
Translating to three thousand holes, Sam Phan Bok is dubbed Thailand’s grand canyon, and it’s easy to see why. Best visited in dry season, it looks like something out of an alien landscape – the floor and walls look as though a giant has been eating away at the area with an ice-cream scoop, such is the nature of the holes, and it can make for quite the scene if you’re lucky enough to catch the sun setting whilst you’re there. It’s also on the Mekong river, which separates it from Laos, and so there’s the added bonus of the scenery which comes with the world’s 12th-longest river too.