Going off the beaten track in Thailand
Koh Tao and Koh Phangan
Known as Turtle Island because of its shape, Koh Tao is a popular island for divers because of the inexpensive dive schools, crystal clear waters and abundance of colourful fish. Smaller than neighbouring Koh Samui and Koh Phangan and less well known, it is a little quieter.
Koh Phangan, on the other hand, can be a lot livelier with its full moon parties now being cited as among the best beach bashes in the world. It was discovered by backpackers looking for a cheaper, less-developed alternative to Phuket and Koh Samui. Now it attracts thousands of visitors every year.
Khao Phra Viharn
Closed for decades because of the civil war raging in Cambodia, the Phrea Vihear temple was built at the end of ninth century by the Cambodian kings. It perches on a hill overlooking Cambodia and, although it does stand on Cambodian soil, it can be accessed through Thailand so visitors do not require visas. The views from the temple are just spectacular. While there it is worth spending some time in the Khao Phra Viharn national park.
Pak Thong Chai
Thailand is synonymous with silk so no trip to the country would be complete without some typical Thai souvenirs. Hand woven silk is still produced in the small village of Pak Thong Chai, 35km south of Nakhon Ratchasima city. It has many silk factories and independent weavers producing gorgeous cloth. Visitors can see the weavers expertly spinning the famous Korat silk, once a favourite of Bangkok high society and now a popular souvenir with tourists.
Pai, North of Thailand
Thirty minutes from Chiang Mai is a gem of a village called Pai. Completely unaffected by commercial tourism, it has evolved into a simple living, clean multi-cultural town. There are only two upmarket hotels and no noisy go-go bars, no annoying tuktuks and no package tourism. Instead there are serene yoga and meditation sessions and chilled evenings around campfires listening to the melodic tunes of the guitar.
Consequently, it is popular with free-spirited travellers and backpackers who tend to chill out here for sometimes weeks. The more active visitors can go elephant trekking and hiking into the mountains.
Ranong is a picturesque delight. Although for eight months of the year it is deluged with rain, this little known gem on the Andaman coast is rife with natural attractions including lush green forests and mangroves and many impressive waterfalls. Not highly populated, visitors can find small villages and free standing houses among beautiful coconut groves a few metres away from the beach. Very relaxing with fantastic seafood restaurants, beautiful beaches and very good hotels.
As of yet completely unspoiled by mass tourism, Trang is a delightful undiscovered province in the South of Thailand bordering the Indian Ocean. Its 199km coastline along the Andaman Sea is bordered by magnificent white virgin beaches. Its beauty is the combination of 46 different islands, limestone mountains, untouched beaches, and ten-month sun (except during the monsoon). It is a site for diving and trekking, and boasts natural parks with a variety of impressive waterfalls.
Eschewing motorised vehicles in favour of horse drawn carriages is not a quaint tourist attraction, it is actually the preferred means of public transport in Lampang. Located 100 kilometres south of Chiang Mai this is a town that has hung on to its cultural heritage. You will not see high-rise buildings or mega shopping malls here, instead fascinating old temples in Burmese and Lanna styles dominate the skyline. Another popular stop for visitors to Lampang is the Thai Elephant Conservation Centre where you can see elephants going about their work, log pushing and bathing. The baby elephants there are a delight.
A very old city that used to be an ancient important royal fort town, as has been proven by many archaeological findings which date back to the Dvaravati Period.
One destination of particular interest is Cha-am, a resort town that began life as a royal resort and has an excellent beach. Close to Bangkok, Cha-am is the ideal weekend day-trip. It is home to many waterfalls and caves but worth visiting is the Phra Nakhon Kiri or Khao Wang (palace on the hill) which houses a small but interesting collection of old royal household items.