Thailand is fast becoming one of the most popular destinations for backpackers and travellers. Travel website ThinkBackPacking.com identified Thailand as probably the most popular area for backpackers in the world because of its combination of good weather (tropical for most of the year), affordable living (food, accommodation and travel being so cheap that your travel money will stretch a long way) and diverse nature that offers a range of activities (from jungle treks to city tours). It has become so well loved that the popularity of countries around it, including Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, has also rocketed in the last ten years. In a survey carried out by Passplanet.com, 98% of people surveyed said that they would happily return to Thailand.
But although Thailand is a vast, magical haven for tourists, it seems that we only ever hear about the same places: the bustling city of Bangkok, the jungles tours of Chiang Mai and the southern Islands famous for their Full Moon Parties. Many backpackers want to experience something new – something slightly off the usual tourist trail.
Obviously the well known places are still great – they wouldn’t be so popular if they weren’t. But if you fancy visiting somewhere a little different then here are a few less obvious places to visit in Thailand:
The region of Isan in Northeast Thailand is the biggest region in the country and even translates as meaning ‘vast’. Despite being only a few kilometres from the city of Bangkok, this area of Thailand is one of the least westernised areas of the country and certainly a place you should visit if you are interested in authentic Thai culture. Within this region there are ruins that mark the existence of the Khmer Kingdom and can provide tourists with a stark insight into Thai history. Within Loei Province there is also the Phu Kradueng National Park which is a haven for tourists, campers and hikers. Despite attracting several tourists, this region is still generally considered on of Thailand’s best kept secrets and its quiet, authentic nature may not appeal to those who are interested in shopping, crowds and night life.
There are several islands in Southern and Eastern Thailand but one of the most secret, unspoiled islands is Koh Mak which is situated in the Marine National Park. At just 10km by 5km with a population of just 600 people, it is a place for relaxation and rest rather than partying, and has continued to be unaffected by the development of other small islands. Amongst the 10,000 exotic palm trees there are three fishing villages, a diving school, several white beaches, coconut groves, a temple and rubber plantation. It is a popular place with divers, couples and families and the ideal tropical location to enjoy a few restful days.
The Sacred Grove
Located deep in the forest of Mae Taeng National Park, a 45 minute drive away from the city of Chiang Mai is the Buatong Waterfall. This little known waterfall has a drop of 100m over three different levels with several pools of crystal clear water and stunning views at the top. Nearby is a Jed Sii Fountain – a pool of astoundingly clear water that, depending on the positioning of the sunlight, gives the impression of being filled with dazzling, multi-coloured water. There is an old legend surrounding the grove that suggests that two young princesses hid in the forest during an ancient battle. They prayed for drinking water and Phra Mae Thoranee (the Goddess of Water and Earth) answered their prayers with this beautiful spring.
Saraburi is one of the central provinces of Thailand and the largest pilgrimage site in the country. One of the most important places in Saraburi is the Phra Buddha Phuttabat Temple which surrounds what is thought to be the ancient footprints of Buddha himself. This footprint was discovered by a hunter in the 17th century and is actually a rock formation but was later declared as Buddha’s footprint which inspired the building of the temple around it. Each year thousands of people flock to this sacred place and their pilgrimage is truly a site to witness.
Khao Luang Cave
In the town of Phetchaburi which is South-East of Bangkok, there is a spectacular underground cave in the Khao Luang mountains. This limestone cave, which is 90ft underground, is adorned with stalactites, stalagmites and nearly 200 Buddha statues throughout the three chambers. With numerous holes in the ceiling allowing for the emergence of natural light, the caves have a distinctive ethereal glow and have been used as a meditation area for many people, including the royal family.
Liv Raban is an experienced travel and business writer who is currently based in the UK. She has traveled (and lived in) numerous countries, including Thailand and Australia, and continues to live nomadically.