The ladyboys, Buddhist temples and oppulent Grand Palaces are just three reasons to stop in Thailand’s capital. However, venture beyond Khao San Road with its cheap fishbowls and bargain Bob Marley t-shirts and you’ll find an even more charming side to old Siam. Escape the city hustle and cruise along the canals to view the various temples from the comfort of your very own longboat, or take up Tai-Chi on the banks of the lake in Lumphini Park. After a hard day’s sight-seeing, make sure you re-fuel at Thip Samai, Bangkok‘s legendary pad Thai palace.
2. Chang Mai
Take the overnight train to Chang Mai from Bangkok and find yourself amongst the tallest mountains in Thailand, perfect for a few days jungle trekking. Get your very own elephant to bathe, feed and ride in one of the many sanctuaries located here. Make sure you do some research and find one with the best practices and most emphasis on conservation. Alternatively, brush up on your Thai cooking skills in one of the schools or organic farms to be found in this beautiful mountain retreat.
With a reputation as a mountain hippy town, Pai is 80km north of Chang Mai and the perfect spot to indulge in a spa treatment or two. Home to plenty of waterfalls and hot springs, while away the days being beaten by tiny Thai ladies who are masters of the traditional Thai massage. Start your day relaxing in your very own private bungalow before sampling one of the area’s signature dishes and backpacker favourite, banana pancakes.
Krabi, on Thailand’s west coast, is a popular departure pont for those going to Koh Phi Phi, where The Beach was filmed, as well as 80 other islands just a short boat ride away. However, Krabi is also the gateway to a number of national parks, including Railey. Take a boat from Ao Nang to Railey and visit the many caves, go rock climbing or simply watch the romantic sunset across the Andaman Sea from the viewpoint on the peninsula.
Perched on the edge of a mountain range, this small city’s cooler climate provides some welcome relief for anyone needing respite from the heat of central Thailand. It is probably most famous for its bridge over the River Kwai, part of the Burma Railway and a World War II film starring Alec Guinness. Once a year a carnival roles in to town to re-enact the battle with a pretty impressive fireworks display.
6. Koh Li Pe
Here you’ll find some of the most unspoilt, pristine beaches in Thailand. Pattaya Beach is the main one, where you’ll find everything from five-star resorts to shanty beach bungalows. For a more remote island experience, head to the west of Koh Li Pe to Sunset Beach for, as the name would suggest, spectacular sunset views. It’s also only a stone’s throw away, well an hour by speed boat, from Langkawi in Malaysia if you fancy exploring a little further afield.
7. Koh Tao
Home to some of the best dive locations in the world, Koh Tao, or Turtle Island, is a mecca for scuba novices and masters alike. It’s one of the most affordable places in the world to get qualified and you’ll be swimming with all kinds of exotic underwater creatures, including sharks and green turtles. At night, cruise the bars that line Sairee Beach or head across to Thian Og Beach for more secluded sundowner spots.
Phuket, Thailand’s largest island, is a pretty well-established stop on the tourist trail. But stick around for a few days and you’ll find more than flashy resorts and expensive spas. If you want to try your hand at Muay Thai, or you just want to get in shape for the new year at a fitness bootcamp, you’ll find plenty of gyms here offering day to month long courses. If you’re more of a lover than a fighter, try kite-surfing in Phuket’s Chalong Bay during the winter months.
9. Khao Sok National Park
Khao Sok National Park in the south of Thailand is home to the oldest evergreen rainforest in the world. Trek by foot or take a jeep safari through the jungle, spotting gibbons, barking deer and wild boar along the way. For bigger thrills, try tubing or canoeing around Cheow Larn Lake, where you can also stay in a private floating bungalow.
10. Phanom Rung
This Hindu shrine complex sits atop an extinct volcano in north-eastern Thailand and was built to represent Mount Kailash, the sacred home of Shiva. It’s one of the most impressive examples of Khmer architecture in Thailand and over a thousand years old. In April, when the sun is aligned just so that it shines through all 15 of the sanctuary’s doors, the park hosts a festival and visitors can camp there.
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