Thailand was the first ever place outside of Europe I went to on my own. To be specific, there was just the two of us – two girls, who were still at uni, trying to live life to the fullest. So we just booked our tickets and went on our Thai trip without looking for too much information and finding out what the best places to visit are.
We ended up visiting the two most popular places in Thailand – Bangkok and Phuket. If I were to do this trip again, I would plan it so much differently. There are a ton of hidden gems in Thailand that are waiting to be discovered. I asked some fellow travel bloggers to share their best-kept secrets for off-the-beaten-path places in Thailand, and voila! Here is a blog post, full of helpful tips and recommendations for places to visit, that are not so much on the regular tourist’s radar.
Koh Yao Yai
Contributed by Taylor from Taytrum Travels
Phuket, Thailand welcomes millions of tourists every year. For a small island, this influx of tens of thousands of people at any given time quickly saturates the beaches, shops, and restaurants. Moreover, many tourists head out from Phuket for Krabi and Phi Phi, leaving these beaches over saturated with tourism and all the consequences that come with it. If you are looking for an off the beaten path destination for a more relaxing experience on the Andaman Sea, Koh Yao Yai offers an escape from the crush of people. From Phuket, you take a short boat ride to the island which can be arranged at the port.
The island can be cruised on rented motorbike within a few hours easily. Beyond the main road, there are dozens of narrow dirt paths that you can explore and many often take you to deserted white sand beaches. This leaves you with a practically private beach where wildlife such as monitor lizards, crabs, and monkeys can be spotted. There are a handful of accomodations (such as Santhiya Koh Yao Yai Resort) sprinkled around the island, but it is largely a rural and agrarian island where you can see many small family owned and operated restaurants. As you walk or cruise along roads you’ll likely notice that the majority of the locals are Muslim Thai as opposed to Buddhist. Southern Thailand hosts greater religious diversity as you move closer to Malaysia and Indonesia. As a result, the dress and religious buildings on the island are different from most of Thailand.
2. Koh Mook
Contributed by Martina & Jürgen from PlacesofJuma
Koh Mook is a tinny idyllic island in the South of Thailand and for sure, one of the best hidden gems to visit in this amazing travel country. Here on Koh Mook, you won`t find any cars, no party or bigger supermarkets – the biggest part of the island is the Chao Mai National Park – a deep jungle with an intact nature. There is just one small village with friendly locals, where you will enjoy unique vibes. This island is far away from mass tourism and the ideal place to have an idyllic island time.
Beautiful is also the coast of the island lined with palm trees, gigantic cliffs and amazing beaches. Especially on Sivalai Beach you will find a postcard like panorama. Another must visit is the Emerald Cave on Koh Mook. It’s the most important place to visit and should not be missed on any holiday. Here you have to swim through an 80-meter-long and pitch-black cave to reach at its end the emerald-green lagoon with a white sandy beach.
All in all, Koh Mook is for sure one of the hidden gems in Thailand and should be high up on any bucket list.
3. Koh Phangan
Contributed by Veronika from Travel Geekery
Anyone heading to Koh Phangan Thailand will expect crowds given its reputation as a party island thanks to the monthly Full Moon parties. But there are parts of Koh Phangan that are beautifully quaint and off the beaten path. One such spot is Chaloklum.
Chaloklum, also spelled Chaloklaam, is a fishing village in the North of the island. Unlike other parts of Koh Phangan, it’s not touristy and locals usually outnumber foreigners. You can see Thai families hanging out in front of their houses and the vibe is a lot more local. Every Sunday afternoon, Chaloklum hosts a street food market. It’s when the village fills the most.
Plus, Chaloklum is located conveniently right on the beach. You can enjoy a number of local beaches such as the Chaloklum Beach and Malibu Beach, as well as take your scooter a little further north to the Coral Bay a.k.a. Haad Khom. Near there you can also find a start of one of the most popular hikes on the island – to Bottle Beach.
Last but not least, the most colorful temple in Koh Phangan can be found just on the outskirts of Chaloklum. Look for the Chinese temple of the Goddess Guan Yin.
Accommodation in Chaloklum is usually cheaper than in the more popular areas such as Haad Rin or Sri Thanu.
Most boats to Koh Phangan arrive at the main port in Thong Sala. From there, it’s about 20-30 minutes drive to Chaloklum, depending on whether you take the shorter Middle Road or the longer Coastal road. You can rent a scooter (the most popular transport option on the island) or pay for a shared taxi, which usually costs about 200 baht.
4. Koh Lipe
Contributed by Luke from Wild About BC
Koh Lipe is a small but beautiful Island located a short boat journey off the coast of Southern Thailand, near the border with Malaysia. It sits on the outskirts of Tarutao National Marine Park and is home to several incredible white sand beaches and the entire island is surrounded by turquoise water.
While Koh Lipe is gaining popularity, it is still relatively quiet and laid back compared to many of the other Thai islands. This is a great place to come and enjoy a relaxing few days spent on one of the three main beaches, Sunset Beach, Sunrise Beach and Pattaya Beach. It’s brilliant to enjoy beaches this good with just a handful of other people on them. The surrounding waters are also fantastic for snorkelling and scuba diving.
The island is so small that you can walk everywhere so there are very few vehicles on Koh Lipe. There are plenty of great restaurants and bars popping up around the island and there is a wide range of accommodation available, from hostels to 4 star resorts.
To reach Koh Lipe you will need to take a boat from Pak Bara Pier in the Satun region and the journey takes 90 minutes on a speed boat and the ticket costs 650 – 700 baht. You can also travel directly to Koh Lipe via boat from Langkawi in Malaysia.
Koh Lipe is a small island paradise that isn’t quite a hidden gem anymore but is still an incredibly beautiful island to visit where you can escape the crowds.
5. Khao Sok National Park
Contributed by Jessie Moore from Pocket Wanderings
For the ultimate digital detox and off the beaten track getaway, a visit to Thailand’s Khao Sok National Park is a must. The park features an exquisite emerald lake surrounded by dense jungle and towering limestone cliffs. Home to the oldest evergreen rainforest in the world, those who venture to Khao Sok will discover an abundance of wildlife, hidden caves, and magical waterfalls.
Located within the province of Surat Thani in Southern Thailand, the park is a little trickier to reach than the other tourist traps, but that’s part of its appeal. You can get a private taxi or bus from any of the closest towns, which include Phuket, Ko Lanta, Krabi, and Surat Thani. The bus takes between 2-6 hours and costs between 120-800 baht, depending where you are travelling from. For those arriving from Bangkok, you can get a plane, sleeper train, or overnight bus to Surat Thani.
For a unique overnight stay, book a floating raft house in the heart of Khao Sok National Park. It’s an incredible experience that allows visitors to completely switch off from the outside world. Spend your days kayaking around the lake, going for a swim, or exploring the rainforest on foot.
6. Bang Pa-In
Contributed by Alice from Adventures of Alice
The ancient city of Bang Pa-In is a true hidden gem in Thailand. With a population of just over 20,000 people, this little town seems to have been forgotten by time and the world. However, if you take the time to visit it’s easy to see why this place is so special. Located in central Thailand near Bangkok, Bang Pa-In is known for its natural beauty and unique history. It’s also known for the Bang Pa-In Royal Palace, also known as the Summer Palace, a beautiful, colourful masterpiece and one of the best places to visit in Thailand.
Bang Pa-In, the capital of the Ayutthaya Kingdom, is located about 60 miles north of Bangkok. This city is famous for its beautiful temples and ruins and glorious palace. The temples can be dated back to 1350 AD and the construction of the palace started in 1632.
The Bang Pa-In Royal Palace was finished in the 18th century by King Rama I of Siam (which is now known as Thailand), is an architectural gem. The palace was originally a summer retreat for the king and his courtiers to escape the heat of Bangkok during the hot and humid summer season. It’s built in an interesting mix of Asian and Western styles that you can’t find anywhere else in Thailand.
Bang Pa-In Palace is an absolute must-visit, not just for its historical significance but because it’s simply a beautiful place. If you’re looking to get away from the hustle and bustle of Bangkok city life, this is the perfect retreat with lush gardens, peaceful lakes and tranquil temples.
7. Huay Mae Khamin Waterfall
Contributed by Sophie and Adam from We Dream of Travel
Approximately two hours from Kanchanaburi, in Khuean Srinagarindra National Park, is the enchanting Huay Mae Khamin Waterfall. This hidden gem is one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Thailand and you’ll likely find you can enjoy it without any crowds!
However, as it is off the beaten path, there is no public transport to the waterfall. Therefore, tourists opt to go its more popular and easily accessible neighbour, Erawan Waterfall, instead. But fret not! With a little effort, you can reach this spectacular 7-tiered waterfall on a day trip from Kanchanaburi. You can even pair it with a trip to Erawan Waterfall for the ultimate day trip! The easiest way to reach this natural marvel is by scooter, which you can rent from Kanchanaburi.
When you arrive, you’ll be rewarded with numerous cascading emerald waterfalls nestled amongst lush green vegetation. While it is known to have 7 tiers, in reality you’ll find many more to marvel at as the water tumbles down stepped limestone formations.
What’s even better, is that it is a very cheap day trip. Entry to the national park is 300THB for foreign adults and scooter rental is around 200THB. You’ll also need to pay 20THB for a motorbike or 30THB for other vehicle parking. For those that want to spend longer here, camping is also an option!
For everything you need to know (and more photos to convince you to go!), check out this guide to Huay Mae Khamin Waterfall.
8. Wat Pariwat, Bangkok
Contributed by Helen from Differentville
There are a lot of incredible temples in Bangkok, but only one is covered with carvings of characters like Batman, Winne the Pooh and Dobby the House Elf – and that’s Wat Pariwat.
When you first arrive at the site that houses this Buddhist temple, you won’t see what all the fuss is about – it looks like a normal temple complex. It’s only when you get up close that you realise that among all the traditional-styled carvings are hundreds of figures that don’t quite fit the normal religious remit. You can spend at least an hour walking around the buildings trying to spot your favourite.
Admittedly, you’re going to have to go a little bit off the tourist trail to find this hidden gem and at first glance, Wat Pariwat’s location in South Bangkok looks difficult to reach – but it’s not. The best way to add it to your Bangkok itinerary is to choose a day when you’re going to be in the Silom area and then, jump on the BRT (or Bus Rapid Transit) system from Sathorn BRT station.
Don’t worry, this doesn’t mean spending the day in Bangkok traffic, the BRT travels in a designated traffic lane and each stop is clearly marked so you won’t get lost. Got on the bus to Wat Parawis and you’ll find the temple on the left. You can also use your Rabbit Card to get there so you don’t need cash to buy a ticket. The temple is free to visit.
Wat Pariwat is just one of the fun and unusual things to do in Bangkok, here’s 22 other ideas.
Contributed by Lavina from Continent Hop
About 150 kilometres from Bangkok is Kanchanaburi, where the famous WWII Death Railway is located.
However, even though it is just about 2 hours away by road (the most convenient way to get here), not many have it on their Thailand itinerary unless they’re a history buff, as it is here that prisoners of the allied war build the Bridge over the River Kwai.
Conditions of the prisoners during the war and the history of the place during those times can be viewed in an interactive manner at the Death Railway Museum.
Try to spend at least a night here as the Bridge over the river looks quite nice when lit up at night. In addition to this, there’s also the Hell Fire Pass Interpretative Museum, which focuses just on the creation of the pass is a good option.
There are numerous restaurants in Kanchanaburi serving authentic food that you can enjoy while you’re here.
The Wat Tham Suea temple and Erawan waterfalls are located nearby and are worth a visit too.
10. Mae Hong Son
Photo by Jessica from Unearth The Voyage
Contributed by Kerry Hanson from Veggtravel
Mae Hong Son is a region in the North West of Thailand which borders the country of Myanmar. Mae Hong Son itself as a province is home to the popular location of Pai. However, it’s capital (also known as Mae Hong Son) is not very well known. This means you get a truly immersive feel for the local culture and traditions of Thailand, without the hoards of tourists all trying to do the same thing. The easiest way to get there is by mini-bus from Chang Mai and it takes 2-3 hours along a scenic route.
As a mountainous province, it is home to several hill tribes and there are plenty of hikes you can take to enjoy the glorious views across the region. One of the key attractions is a Burmese-style monastery set atop one of the many hills. Known as Phrathat Doi Kongmu, you will spot its two ornate white chedis (stupas) overlooking the city. There are many stairs to climb but the view of the city amid the sloping hills is definitely worth exercising those legs!
Mae Hong Son offers a variety of outdoor activities that will keep even the most adventurous traveller busy for days. So, if you’re looking for nature, tranquillity and a peaceful escape from the bustling cities, Mae Hong Son is a good choice.
11. Wat Chalermprakiat
Contributed by Sarah Steiner from Away with the Steiners
There’s a temple in Northern Thailand that’s perched spectacularly on the top of a jagged limestone mountaintop. Wat Chalermprakiat is one of Thailand’s most magnificent mountain temples. Seeing a photo is enough to lure in even the most adventurous of Thailand’s travellers…. We all want to know where this beautiful temple is!
But the best thing about Wat Chalermprakiat is that because it is one of Thailands most off the beaten track destinations, not many actually find it. And thus it’s beauty is heightened.
Wat Chalermprakiat is in Chae Hom District, Lampang Province. The easiest way to reach the temples is by rental car or taxi from Lampang. It is a one hour drive from Lampang or takes around two hours from Chiang Mai.
After a steep drive up the narrow mountain road the walk to the mountaintop takes around 40 minutes. At the top there are plenty of vantage points to explore and find your pick of the best views out over the province. The views from the top are truly magnificent and the vastness of the surroundings is incredible.
12. Wat Bang Phra
Contributed by Bradley from Dream Big, Travel Far
Just 50 km west of Thailand’s capital is the Buddhist monastery Wat Bang Phra. It’s believed to have been standing since the Ayudhaya era, and is an important spiritual center for many locals.
The temple is a place teeming with local culture and history, but what I truly love is that you can get a Sak Yant tattoo here. It’s an ancient art practiced only in a few temples, including Wat Bang Phra. Many believe that the tattoo can provide protection, fortune, and power!
You can also see plenty of sacred items that have survived the test of time. From the Lord Buddha’s relics, a replica of Luang Pho To’s footprint, to an array of important Buddhist statues.
It only takes 50 minutes to drive there from Bangkok. Though it may not be the cheapest option if you’re not renting a car, it is the easiest way. You could hop on the bus and stop at the Sai 5 Intersection stop, but would still need a taxi for the rest of the way.