After becoming acquainted with Bangkok, Thailand’s bustling capital city, travellers enjoying a more lengthy vacation are in a convenient position to continue discovering The Land of Smiles. From the capital’s central location, both northern and southern routes are easily accessible and offer their own distinct appeal: where the southern half of the country has become famous for its tropical islands, exotic beaches, and vibrant nightlife, its northern counterpart holds its own as a lush, mountainous region peppered with ornate temples and thriving hill tribe villages.
Indeed, one of the most enticing features of this colourful country is its unique ability to satisfy every traveller’s desire. After all, where else in the world might one be able to seek both enlightenment and indulgence on the same block? Observe transcendent Buddhist monks by day and witness a harrowing Muay Thai fight by night; while in other countries, such sharp contrasts might result in culture clashes, in Thailand these contradictions coexist simultaneously and even peacefully. Visitors have the rare opportunity to explore both vices and virtues, making this rich kingdom something of an anomaly in the world.
Suffice to say, whether you prefer to take the road well-travelled, less-travelled, or venture completely off the beaten path, an experience for everyone awaits in Thailand. Our “Beyond Bangkok” guide touches on each one of these options for both northern and southern routes, to help you find the corner of this country that resonates most with you.
The Northern Route
The Foreigner’s Favourite: Chiang Mai
Affectionately referred to as “the capital of the North,” Chiang Mai is home to a thriving expat community, two tribal villages, and an abundance of activity. Learn about the city’s historical origins, shop for artisanal goods, or take to the streets and experience the city’s jazzy nightlife scene; with seemingly endless options for entertainment, Chiang Mai is an accurate reflection of Thailand’s diversity, offering something for everyone within its boundaries. Situated in a lush, mountainous valley roughly 700km from Bangkok, travellers can easily access this lively city, where old charm meets modern industry, via bus, train, car, or plane.
Where to Stay: Tamarind Village
A charming boutique hotel, Tamarind Village is a quiet repose nestled in the heart of Chiang Mai’s historic district. Adorned with fabrics and patterns unique to hill tribes in the northern Thailand region, this property is a colourful reflection of its own cultural roots while featuring a number of modern amenities, including an on-site spa and restaurant.
Located in the former British Consulate building, The Service 1921 is an innovative concept featuring Asian-Latin fusion cuisine and vintage vibes, complete with secret bookshelf doors and a private whiskey room. For a bit of local taste, order the Khao Soi Gai, an authentic dish of the northern Thailand region reimagined.
What to Do:
- Wander around The Old City and browse through temples, museums, markets, and cafes
- Learn how to recreate your favourite flavours in a traditional Thai cooking class
- Take in magnificent sights from Doi Inthanon National Park, the highest peak in Thailand
- Visit Wat Phra That, Doi Suthep’s dazzling golden temple and one of the holiest Buddhist sites in the entire country
- Day trip to the neighbouring Karen Long Neck Hill Tribe village for artisan handicrafts and a unique cultural experience
The Local Spot: Chiang Rai
Where to Stay: Phu Chaisai
A rustic bamboo resort that blends effortlessly into the subtropical mountainside it’s nestled on, Phu Chaisai incorporates natural elements and world-class hospitality into its mindful design. The 800-acre estate features sweeping valley views, a natural spring-fed waterfall, and an ancient poolside spa, offering a truly restorative experience.
Where to Eat: Salung Kham
A notable venue, Salung Kham is a local Thai establishment featuring a menu of secret native recipes, passed down to the owner by her grandmother. Honorary guests, such as politicians or foreign ambassadors, are regularly received here, and the Sai Aua sausage dish comes highly recommended.
What to Do:
- Charter a long-tail boat and cruise along the Mae Kok River
- Marvel at intricate architecture and elaborate art pieces at the Black, Blue, and White Temples, also known as Baan Dam, Wat Rong Suea Ten, and Wat Rong Khun, respectively
- Tee off at one of the town’s scenic championship golf courses, Santiburi Country Club or Waterford Valley
The Hidden Gem: Pai
Deep in the Mae Hong Son Province on the border of Myanmar, the sleepy mountain town of Pai offers a welcome respite from daily life and fast-paced travel. From Chiang Mai, Pai can be reached via a short 30-minute flight or a 3-5 hour drive up a winding road with more than 700 twists and turns (not recommended for individuals who experience motion sickness)! Regardless of how travellers decide to brave the journey, Pai’s idyllic natural setting is a worthwhile reward for arrival. Panoramic views, cultural art galleries, and opportunities for adventure await visitors around every corner.
Where to Stay: Reverie Siam
Drawing influence from the early 20th century, Reverie Siam transports guests back to an era in which the Orient and the West are just beginning to merge. Elegant vintage decor, an infinity pool overlooking the jungle, and the atmospheric Silhouette jazz club all create an alluring atmosphere at this riverside oasis.
Home to a variety of local and international cuisine, Pai has developed its own distinct “cafe culture.” Whether you’re craving traditional Thai curry, comfort food reminiscent of home, or even fresh vegan bites, chances are there’s a cafe in Pai serving up just that! Take a wander through Pai’s central streets and you’re sure to stumble upon a number of noteworthy establishments.
What to Do
- Take a tour through the impressive Tham Lod Cave on a traditional bamboo raft
- Wander down the popular Pai Canyon’s walking trails
- Invigorate your senses in the nearby Mor Paeng waterfall or take a revitalizing soak in the Sai Ngam natural hot springs
- Watch the sunset at Chedi Phra That Mae Yen, an enormous Buddhist temple on the hilltop
The Southern Route
The Foreigner’s Favourite: Phuket
Boasting more than 30 white-sand beaches, a vibrant nightlife scene, and flourishing natural landscapes, Phuket is a tropical island paradise bordering Phang Nga Bay and the Andaman Sea on the southwestern coast of Thailand. A short 1.5-hour flight from the nation’s capital, Phuket offers easy access to several surrounding islands and can also be reached by land, though the journey is significantly longer and less comfortable. Whether travellers seek a beach to relax on or a place to let loose, Phuket’s distinctive blend of activity and tranquility make this island a can’t-miss destination.
Where to Stay: Twinpalms Phuket
Featuring stylish penthouses, pool access suites, and a prime location on Surin Beach, Twinpalms Phuket is the pinnacle of luxury for travellers in southern Thailand. Additionally, guests of this modern resort enjoy complimentary transport and access to both HQ Beach Lounge and Catch Beach Club.
Located in an antique governor’s house restored for the modern age, Blue Elephant Phuket presents a menu almost as dazzling as its ambience, featuring southern Thai dishes made from freshly caught fish and top-quality ingredients.
What to Do
- Attend Siam Niramit Phuket, a spectacular theatrical production showcasing the region’s rich history
- Enjoy an evening of entertainment at the world-class Simon Cabaret, Southeast Asia’s most extravagant trans show
- Soak in sun by day and atmosphere by night at one of the island’s stylish beach clubs
- Stroll through Old Town, discovering all kinds of quaint cafes, museums, and more
The Local Spot: Khao Sok National Park
Home to the world’s oldest evergreen rainforest, Khao Sok National Park is a verdant epicentre for natural beauty. Best accessed via ground transfer from major surrounding cities, visitors to Khao Sok will find themselves amongst Thailand’s wildlife, surrounded by exotic animals and vibrant flora. An array of limestone mountains, breathtaking lakes, and dramatic caves offer ample opportunity to immerse in nature merely 2.5 hours from Phuket’s more lively hustle and bustle.
Where to Stay: Elephant Hills Luxury Camp
Thailand’s first “glamping” experience, Elephant Hills is a luxurious floating tented camp that offers travellers the chance to fully immerse themselves in the Thai tropical forest without compromising the comfort of a boutique hotel. Equipped with wooden floors, electricity, insect-proofing, and en-suite bathrooms, there’s nothing rough about this camp experience.
Where to Eat: Elephant Hills Luxury Camp
Tours booked through the Elephant Hills Luxury Camp include three meals per day. Western-style breakfasts and buffet lunches and dinners offer a variety of fine Thai and international cuisine. Additionally, on-site chefs can cater to any special requests or dietary restrictions.
What to Do:
- Interact with majestic wildlife on an ethical elephant encounter, a once-in-a-lifetime experience
- Embark on a jungle trek adventure with an expert local guide by your side
- Drift downstream on the Cheow Larn Lake in a canoe, kayak, or traditional bamboo raft
- Tune into your surroundings and see how many species you can spot while birdwatching
The Hidden Gem: Koh Yao Noi
A speedy 30-minute boat ride from Phuket, Koh Yao Noi is a serene island retreat in the middle of Phang Nga Bay. Less frequented by tourists, this little known gem is the perfect place to “get away from it all.” Featuring calm turquoise waters and lush limestone cliffs jutting out from the sea, the natural allure and relaxed simplicity of this island makes for stunning sunsets and pictures fit for a postcard, every day of the week.
Where to Stay: Six Senses Yao Noi
Surreal surroundings, spacious villas, and a “soul-soothing spa” characterise the Six Senses Yao Noi, a rejuvenating resort enveloped in lush, tropical greenery on the island’s eastern shore. Revitalise with elemental treatments at the Six Senses Spa, book a private sunrise breakfast with mesmerising views, or engage in one of the resort’s remarkable sustainability efforts; no matter how you spend your stay, you’re sure to leave recharged!
Where to Eat: TreeHouse Villas (Beach Dining)
For an unforgettable dining experience, head to TreeHouse Villas for a private candlelit dinner with your choice of a Thai or Western menu. Private waiters, fine wines, and waterfront views set the stage for a romantic evening. Be sure to inquire ahead of time to reserve your space!
What to Do:
- Rest and rejuvenate on the island’s laidback beaches
- Discover a world underwater with a snorkel or scuba dive trip
- Learn the craft of Southeast Asian batik painting
- Kayak through bioluminescent plankton under a starry night sky
From rich cultural experiences to tropical wildlife; ancient historical roots to modern innovation; Thailand is an expansive country with so much to offer its visitors. Reach out to @luxurylondonguy today for tailor-made itineraries and insider information, and ensure you don’t miss out on the magic of Thailand.
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