If you’re in Bangkok to let your hair down, you’ll find fishbowls in almost every bar on Khao San Road. But if you’re looking for something more, you’ll enjoy the charming side of old Siam. Cruise along the canals in your own hired longboat and you’ll see some beautiful temples along the banks which are free of the tourist crush. Or try out some Tai-Chi by the lake in Lumphini Park, followed by some of Bangkok’s best pad Thai at Thip Samai.
Read more: Top 10 things to do in Bangkok
Pai, in the mountains in the north, is very popular with tourists but hasn’t lost its charm. It has a reputation as a hippy town and it’s the perfect place to treat yourself to a spa treatment or 10. There’s plenty of waterfalls and hot springs in and around Pai, and if you’re lucky you might get a secret recommendation from an in-the-know Pai local. There’re lots of local women who have truly mastered the art of Thai massage, and it would be shame to pass through Pai without experiencing their skills. Begin the day in a private bungalow before enjoying a backpacker favorite breakfast dish of banana pancakes.
3. Chang Mai
You can catch a sleeper train from Bangkok to Chang Mai and be transported from the crazy, busy city to lush jungle. The tallest mountains in Thailand are perfect for trekking. There are also lots of elephant sanctuaries around here, some of which offer rides. There has been a lot of press in recent years raising concern about the treatment of the elephants so do you research before you go. The conditions in the mountains are great for farming and lots of the local farms offer Thai cooking classes. Mindful Farm is a popular farm run by a former monk where you can stay and volunteer.
On the west coast of Thailand is Krabi, a very popular departure point for people visiting Koh Phi Phi, the filming location for Leonardo DiCaprio’s The Beach, as well as some of the 80 other islands that are just a short boat trip away. The town is also the gateway to some national parks, including Railay. You can catch a ferry from Ao Nang to Railay (we don’t recommend you do this in monsoon season from May to October) and go rock climbing, spelunking or just enjoy the sunsets over the Andaman Sea.
5. Koh Li Pe
The good thing about Thailand is despite how popular some of the beaches are, there’s still more that are pristine and unspoiled. Pattaya Beach is one of them which, despite the presence of five-star hotels and plenty of shanty beach huts, remains beautiful and clean. But if you like a more remote sandy stretch, travel west of Koh Li Pe to Sunset Beach where you’ll see, as its name suggests, incredible sunsets.
This small city which is perched on the edge of a mountain range is most famous for its bridge over the River Kwai. The bridge was part of the Burma Railway and basis of the World War II movie starring William Holden and Alec Guinness. In late November/early December every year the bridge becomes the focus of an event with carnival rides, historical displays, and light and sound shows.
7. Koh Tao
This is classed by many as one of the best places to dive in the world. Koh Tao – or turtle island as it’s known – attracts both novices and masters, all looking to see sharks, green turtles and all kinds of fish species. The Sairee Beach stretch of bars can get lively at night but Thian Og Beach offers a more secluded sundowner scene.
8. Khao Sok National Park
For every party spot in Thailand, there’s a gorgeous green stretch of rain-forest just waiting to be explored. Khao Sok National Park in the south has the world’s oldest evergreen rain-forest. You can explore it on a jeep safari or trek on foot. If you’re lucky you’ll spot barking deer, gibbons and wild deer. If you’re looking for something more fast paced, try canoeing or tubing in Cheow Larn Lake, and stay overnight in a private floating lakehouse.
Thailand’s largest island probably needs little by way of introduction. But it’s not all flashy resorts, overpriced spas and tourist restaurants. It’s the perfect place to join a Muay Thai bootcamp which last anywhere from a single to day to three months. If you’d prefer something more ‘at one’ with the elements, go kite surfing in Chalong Bay.
Read more: Top 8 things to do in Phuket here.
10. Phanom Rung
The Hindu shrine complex is more than 1,000 years old and one of the best examples of Khmer architecture in all of Thailand. It sits atop an extinct volcano in the north-east district of the country and was created to represent Mount Kailash. It hosts a festival every April where you can camp at the site and the sun aligns perfectly so it shines through all the sanctuary’s 15 doors.
This article was adapted from a piece written for Skyscanner.net.
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*Published July 2017. Prices and information correct at the time of publication but may be subject to change and/or availability.