From stunning beaches to bustling markets to cosmopolitan shopping, Thailand has something to satisfy everyone’s palate. Thailand is definitely a well-trodden destination, but opportunities still exist for finding (relatively) unique and original places. If you’re looking for truly special, under-the-radar spots that have yet to become overrun with tourists, here are my recommended places to visit in Thailand. Get there before the crowds do.
1) Koh Tao
This little island is the perfect getaway that has been overshadowed by its more famous sisters, Koh Samui and Koh Pha Ngan. The smallest island of the three in the Gulf of Thailand (the eastern side), it exudes a laid-back, there’s-always-tomorrow kind of vibe from locals and travellers alike. It’s also the spot to try scuba diving if you’ve always wanted to try. It’s where I got my Open Water certificate; an amazing experience in the best surroundings! There are a plethora of dive schools to choose from too. Go dive in the morning, then laze about on the main Sairee beach before heading to an outdoor patio restaurant right on the beach (AC2) for a sunset view. Remember to head south of the island for a hike (or climb) up to John-Suwan viewpoint, where you will be rewarded with a stunning view of the island.
Koh Tao is becoming more frequented as days go by, so be sure to get there and check out the island before it becomes commercialized like its sister islands.
2) Wat Rong Khun (The White Temple), Chiang Rai
I know there are a gazillion temples in Thailand but this particular one gets my vote. To be honest, after visiting the gazillion temples all over SE Asia, I was templed out and didn’t ever want to visit Yet. Another. Temple. But what sets this one apart from the rest is that it has contemporary, artistic styling unlike the traditional ones and is designed by a local artist Chalermchai Kositpipat. More current and happening than your DVD collection, movie/pop/entertainment references are everywhere throughout the temples and surroundings (my favourite is the Alien sculpture crawling out from the lawn, aside from the Angry Bird painting). The quiet, expansive space is idyllic and peaceful too if you like to zen once in a while. If you’ve been lucky enough to have spent enough time in Thailand to have made it to the north, it is definitely worth your time… and one of the strangest but memorable places to visit in Thailand.
3) Nimmanhaemin Road, Chiang Mai
It’s a fact; everyone loves Chiang Mai. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I got there, but the slow-paced tranquility was not I was expecting from the second largest city in Thailand. There’s the Old Town, the main part of Chiang Mai where most of the historic temples and sightseeing-worthy events take place (like the Sunday street night market). But just a few kilometres down is Nimmanhaemin Road, a hip neighbourhood with quirky, artsy stores, inviting coffee shops, and restaurants offering up tasty, modern, fusion dishes. Walk up and down and get lost in the narrow streets, and hang out alongside hip, young Thais. It’ll be a nice reprieve from all those wats (temples) and other cultural sightseeing you’ve been doing.
4) Amphawa Floating Market, near Bangkok
This particular spot is insanely popular with the locals. The ideal distance from Bangkok makes it a quick little day trip for many Bangkokians (?). But this is still a relatively unknown place for foreigners and tourists; you won’t find many foreigners here in this cozy little market. You will actually feel like you’ve stepped into an authentic Thai floating market!
Its more famous counterpart, the Damnoen Saduak floating market, is very much touristy and popular with backpackers and vacationers alike. Which is fine, but if you’re looking for an authentic experience you’ll be better off visiting Amphawa. Whereas Damnoen has boats selling mass-produced souvenirs, Amphawa focuses on food. And if you get there early, you can hire a boat to take you to few spots around the vicinity, including Wat Bang Kung, a beautiful temple engulfed in tree roots. There are not many options to get there as far as I know but there are home stays available within walking distance from the river once you arrive. (I took the very obscure way, by train, ferry, songthaew… and it was worth it! I’ll write about it in a future post.)