For an affordable, laid-back experience with a local feel, check out Chiang Mai in the north of Thailand. A respite from the more touristic south, the relaxed but modern city has sprouted up among ancient temples and monasteries that date back to the 1200s. Hop on a chartered rót daang (“red truck”) and explore the San Kamphaeng Hot Springs, Bua Thong Waterfall, Warorot Market, the Elephant Nature Park and more.
When Ko Pha Ngan island isn’t overflowing with Full Moon Party-goers, it is a sleepy haven. To the north of the island you’ll find affordable bungalows and white sand beaches like Haad Khuat (Bottle Beach) and Haad Thian, while the inland jungle offers a magical place to explore. Hike to the peak of Khao Ra, the highest peak on Ko Pha Ngan, for amazing views of Chaloklum Bay and Thong Nai Pan Yai Beach. The 3.5-hour round trip hike takes you across bridges and through jungle canopy.
Phuket, the largest Thai island, can be overrun by tourism, but is still worth a visit. If you take a boat to outlying islands you can discover the magic of a nearly untouched Thailand. Enjoy the crystal clear water and white sandy beaches around the island of Ko Khai, tucked away in Phang Nga Bay. Or take a tour farther out to the Similan Islands, home to some of the best snorkeling in the world.
To get away from everything, head to Ko Lipe, a tiny island in Southern Thailand that’s part of a national park. Surrounded by uninhabited islands, Ko Lipe is home to a few hundred Chao Ley (“people of the sea”) gypsies. Its calm, clear, shallow waters have plenty of spots to snorkel or learn to dive. There are no cars on the island, but you can get around via motorcycle taxi, on foot or by taking a boat from beach to beach.
The eponymous provincial capital city of Krabi is a hotspot for foodies, budget travellers or those seeking a lively and social atmosphere. Hit up the Maharaj Market to get your fill of spicy curries, roti and biryani rice, or learn about the area’s history on a walk along Chao Fah Road that features 28 bas-relief sculptures telling the story of the area. You can also amble along the mile-long Krabi Riverside walk, or stop for a bite of food at one of the local seafood restaurants along the shore.
For a break from the city, head to Khao Phanom Bencha National Park, about 15 miles north of Krabi. Here you can hike through the lush green forests and cascading waterfalls in the home of cloud leopards, tapirs, mouse deer and over 200 species of birds. There are lots of well-signed trails to wander, accompanied by the chatter of monkeys in the canopy overhead. There’s no public transit to the park, so rent a motorcycle in Krabi and head north on Highway 4.
Don’t miss the chaotic streets of Bangkok, one of the hottest cities in the world. Despite its status as a top tourist destination, the city has many areas worth checking out. The colorful Chatuchak Market is a hotspot for fantastic food, clothes, and art made by over 15,000 Thai artisans. For a dose of culture, hit up the MOCA Bangkok, a contemporary art gallery housed in a modern structure with soaring ceilings.
Thailand’s turquoise beaches, maze-like city streets and misty jungles offer unforgettable experiences for all kinds of travellers. Whether you stay for a week or six months, you’ll be thinking of it long after you leave.
Written Tracy Stefanucci
Headline photo of Ko Samui by wolf4max