Planning a winter getaway to the Land of Smiles this year? As far as tropical Asia goes, Thailand is one of the most beautiful travel destinations out there.
However, with movies like The Beach putting the Phi Phi islands at the top of many backpacker wish lists, some of Thailand’s most stunning locations are often overlooked or even unheard of. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t check out Phuket, Bangkok and Koh Phi Phi, but there are some equally (and arguably more) enticing areas that are bound to knock you off your feet.
If you enjoy traveling off the beaten path from time to time, these hidden gems will not disappoint.
Ko Phayam, Ranong
Not to be confused with Ko Pha Ngan, Ko Phayam is the second largest Andaman Sea island off the coast of Ranong Province. About 500 local residents call this beautiful island home and thanks, in part, to it taking a backseat to some of the country’s more touristy destinations, it is relatively undeveloped. Without roads wide enough to accommodate automobiles, motorbikes and scooters have become the main means of transportation. Unlike some of Thailand’s more populated and congested cities, tourists can feel relatively safe renting a motorbike for the day to see the island. This will run you about 150-200 Thai Baht per day or $5.50 USD plus the cost of gasoline (add another 40 Baht or $1.15 USD).
While there, be sure to check out Ao Yai beach and enjoy some traditional Thai cuisine. Cashew nuts are grown locally on Ko Phayam and the entire island offers a plethora of affordable and delicious food options for both omnivores and vegetarians.
If you’re a hippie at heart, don’t miss the island’s incredible Hippy Bar. Crafted out of driftwood, bottles, seashells and other found items, this fascinating beach bar, restaurant and hotel resembles something out of Pirates of the Caribbean. Stop in for a coconut shake and take in the spectacular ocean views.
Rabeang Pasak Treehouse Resort, Pasak Ngam Village, Chiang Mai
About an hour outside of the bustling city of Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand sits a small family-owned treehouse resort surrounded by mountains and a teakwood forest. The Rabeang Pasak Treehouse Resort was designed and built by retired architect Bullsiri Suwannachin and includes eight incredible treehouses of varying sizes, levels and features. Check out the Bamboo House, a two-level treehouse with a private natural pool and waterfall. Or, if heights are more your thing, stay the night in the Tamarind House, the tallest of the treehouses at the resort, boasting scenic views and an open-air shower. The resort’s treehouses can accommodate anywhere from two to five adults.
During the day, explore the village’s natural wonders by bicycle. See the bat cave, stalagmite and stalactite cave and Pasak Ngam Lake. At sunset, catch the view at lookout point with local residents including chickens, kittens, dogs and lizards. The closest market is about 24 miles away, so meals are a bit pricier than you may find elsewhere, but the resort chef is a master of his craft. When booking your stay, indicate any dietary restrictions or preferences and the cook will be happy to accommodate.
Nan Province, Northern Thailand
Bordering Laos, the largely rural Nan Province boasts rolling hills, rice paddies and cultural treasures. Over 10 percent of the area’s population consists of hill tribes, many of whom are happy to welcome backpackers and travelers for a small fee.
Nan is known for its remoteness, natural beauty and chillies. Try a spicy local dish at any of the area’s fantastic eateries and check out Doi Phu Kha National Park to sit atop the province’s highest peak. Hire a local guide to take you rafting down the Nam Wa River or to marvel at some of the province’s historical sites, including temples and religious structures.
If you're visiting the province in November, be sure to check out the region’s longboat races during the Tan Kuai Salak Festival. Brightly adorned and colorful long boats attract hundreds of spectators every year and prizes are awarded for winning teams of up to 60 oarsmen. One setback of travel in Nan is the lack of transportation options. Tuk-tuks and taxis are not as readily available as many other Thai regions, so be prepared to go for hikes or rent a motorbike.
Thailand is known for its tourism industry and when you’re basking in the sun on its beautiful beaches, hiking its lush forests or savouring its delectable dishes, it’s easy to see why. By all means, visit the beach where Leonardo DiCaprio almost became shark bait in The Beach, but don’t limit yourself to the country’s top tourist destinations. Check out some of these undiscovered Thai jewels and believe me, you won’t regret it.
About the writer:
Always a dreamer, Jill Bentham is a passionate writer and photographer based in Toronto.