As the world slowly returns to some kind of normalcy as the covid-19 pandemic wanes in many countries, experts predict a rapid resurgence in international tourism.
With its vibrant cities, ancient temples, tropical beaches, and lush vegetation, Thailand figures prominently on the bucket lists of many international travelers. In this article, we eschew the many delights of Bangkok, seeking out a path less traveled in the Land of Smiles.
1. Mae Hong Son
Located in northwest Thailand close to the Myanmar border, the small town of Mae Hong Son is the perfect base from which to explore the local countryside, visit nearby waterfalls, and experience village life. Just outside the town is a Buddhist wat (temple) built in the middle of a vast rice paddy, which is accessed via a handmade bamboo bridge. Another impressive wat is located in the town center. Visitors to Mae Hong Son can spend a relaxing evening at one of the lakeside restaurants, enjoying impressive views of the vast, ornately decorated wat and its shimmering reflection in the water.
2. Mu Ko Chumphon National Park
Covering more than 317 square kilometers, including 70 kilometers of coastline, Mu Ko Chumphon National Park is a paradise for nature enthusiasts as it’s home to a wealth of rare and interesting plant and animal species.
This national park encompasses a variety of wildlife habitats, including mountains, mangrove forests, and dozens of islands in the Gulf of Thailand. Mu Ko Chumphon National Park is particularly popular with scuba divers and offers ample diving opportunities for both novice and experienced divers alike.
3. Wat Phutthabat Sutthamat, Lampang
The mountainous province of Lampang is a 1½ hour drive from the northern city of Chiang Mai. Known as the “unseen cliff temples of Lampang,” Wat Phutthabat Sutthamat is a unique destination that fewer international travelers to Thailand ever visit. Tourists can combine a tour of this site with a visit to nearby Chae Son National Park, with its hot springs, cave complexes, and Chae Son Waterfall.
With rugged rocky cliffs surrounding the temple, Wat Phutthabat Sutthamat is accessed via a bus ride up the mountain, before negotiating a winding, 800-meter path on foot. From the small, white-washed pagodas, visitors can experience panoramic views of the valley below.
4. Sala Kaew Ku
Sala Kaew Ku is a park that features many impressive statues that are notable even among the countless representations of the Buddha across Thailand. One such statue, which measures 25 meters tall, features Buddha in a meditative pose, under the protection of a seven-headed Naga serpent deity.
The park was built over the course of two decades. It was commissioned by Luang Pu Boun Leua Sourirat, a Thai mystic who died in 1996. In addition to many Buddhas, Sala Kaew Ku features a myriad of enigmatic statutes of Vishnu, Shiva, and other deities. The main building is packed with hundreds of smaller sculptures, as well as photos of Luang Pu at various stages in his life.
5. Ban Chiang Archaeological Site
Located near Udon Thani in northeast Thailand, Ban Chiang was discovered by an American college student in the 1960s. He was conducting research for his political science thesis in Ban Chiang when he tripped over a tree root, tumbling face-first into a piece of ancient pottery. He took samples of the pots, which were subsequently dated back to 2000 BC.
The former residents of Ban Chiang left behind thousands of pots featuring intricate designs with red circular swirls, dots, and waves. Archaeologists also unearthed Bronze and Iron Age tools at the site, as well as finding early evidence of rice cultivation.
6. Emerald Cave, Koh Mook Island
Typically reached via the neighboring island of Koh Lanta, Koh Mook is a tropical island located in the Andaman Sea. Here, visitors can enjoy white sandy beaches, warm sea waters, and traditional Thai villages, making it the perfect spot for swimming, snorkeling, and sunbathing. It’s also great for vacationers keen to escape the glitz, party scene, and resorts of many other Thai islands.
To reach Emerald Cave, visitors are advised to set off at sunrise, renting a kayak to reach it in comfort, although some people opt to swim instead. The caves are accessed from the sea, with visitors paddling or swimming through a small hole in the rock face. They continue through the darkness for 80 meters, before emerging to find a stunning scene.
The Emerald Cave is actually roofless: its looming, jagged walls are festooned in tropical vegetation and give way to blue sky above. The vista is complete with a white sandy beach and turquoise lagoon, making for a truly breathtaking scene.
7. Kaeng Krachan National Park
Located near the border with Burma, Thailand’s largest national park has tremendous biodiversity. Visitors are likely to encounter hornbills with their large yellow beaks, as well as porcupines, monkeys, black squirrels, and thousands of butterflies. The park is also home to elephant and leopards, with the occasional tiger sometimes spotted.