‘Thailand before the tourists’ still exists – nestled in the hills of the north, where traditional tribes speak a multitude of languages and wear colourful dress. Head to the region of Pai to meet shamans, former crossbow hunters, rice farmers and weavers. Stay in a communal village house and trek with them through the glorious mountain scenery they have called home for centuries.
Wilderness lovers should pack their walking shoes and bug spray and head to one of Thailand’s most stunning national parks – a wonderland of limestone karsts, lakes, waterfalls, rainforests and treehouses. Khao Sok is for the intrepid explorer: you can sleep in a rafthouse surrounded by jungle, travel by longtail boat, hike in the forests and canoe or tube along the river.
Don’t underestimate the reverie that the Thai Royal family commands. Criticising them has landed locals and foreigners with lengthy prison sentences, and if your Bangkok Skytrain stops without warning, it probably means that a member of the first family is passing underneath: heads are the most revered part of the body, and your head should never be above that of a royal.
Those who thought Thailand’s unspoiled islands were a thing of the distant past should look a little harder. There are definitely crowd-free beaches to be found – you just need to put in the effort to get there. Ferries may not be as common, there may be limited food options and the beaches might be rockier – but you’ll have a Thai island all to yourself.
Founded 800 years ago at the foot of a mountain, Chiang Mai is a welcome retreat from the southern heat. There are temples to explore and a wonderful elephant sanctuary, as well as cookery classes and a fascinating night bazaar. It’s also a convenient base for adventure sports including hiking, biking and rafting. Alternatively, head into the mountains to visit the region’s many hill tribes – our Thailand travel guide explains more.
If you’re a Thai food fanatic back home, the food here will blow you away. Authentic dishes depend on the very freshest ingredients – lemongrass, galangal, Thai basil and bird’s eye chillies – which just can’t be sourced freshly outside the tropics. Take your pick of fancy restaurants and cheap, fast street food – and enrol in a cookery class in Chiang Mai or Bangkok to learn the secrets of this world-class cuisine.
Thailand’s beaches are what other beaches around the world aspire to be – the idyllic postcard image of white sand, turquoise sea and swaying palms, with a tiny fishing boat or two bobbing in the background. There are bar-lined beaches, beaches with little more than a hammock, exclusive beaches and child-friendly beaches. Thailand has, quite literally, a beach for everyone.
This symbolic landmark is so much more than a bridge. Thousands of local labourers and POWs died during the construction of the “Death Railway” linking Thailand and Burma, and you can trek along the railway lined past dramatic landscapes, visit the moving War Grave Cemeteries and travel to the bridge itself on a long-tailed boat or a specially restored train.
Kho Phan Ngan, Koh Samui and Koh Phi Phi are indisputably gorgeous; and still retain pristine pockets. But the 30,000 people who descend for the Full Moon Parties, the buckets of booze and all-night bass are far from many people’s visions of paradise. There are still pockets of loveliness even here, but with so many other islands to choose from, we’d rather share the love elsewhere. Our Thailand travel guide tells you how.
Having built up a reputation as the home of cheap hedonism, Thailand is now growing up and moving onto more wholesome alternatives: better for Thailand, and for most tourists. Yet people still complain prices aren’t what they were, that tips are expected, and haggle over tiny sums of Baht. If you can’t afford to spend an extra few pence – what are you doing vacationing halfway round the world?
The classic Thai experience – swaying through the jungle atop a well-trained elephant, guided by a mahout. However, the processes required to train an elephant are somewhat less idyllic. Only visit sanctuaries which don’t offer rides or performances – elephants do not naturally paint, dance or make music, and supporting this condones keeping captive elephants for tourists’ entertainment.
If Thailand’s islands are the dictionary definition of ‘beach’, Pattaya is the definition of ‘sex tourism’. Nowhere does this quite like Thailand, and Pattaya is a mess of Western men and tiny Thai women. It may be a job, and the sex workers may be better paid than waitresses or chambermaids – but ultimately the majority are here as a result of poverty – or worse, trafficking. Don’t support it.