With Thailand’s entry requirements now significantly easier than they were this time last year, the country is now welcoming tourists in much greater volumes than it has been for the past two years of the pandemic. Yet whilst travelers might be kicking themselves at the thought that they’ve missed the opportunity to explore the beaches and streets of Thailand without other tourists around, that isn’t necessarily the case.
Amongst Thailand’s 77 provinces, there are still plenty that go relatively untouched by most travelers to the Land of Smiles, despite having just as much to offer as the likes of Phuket, Chiang Mai and Krabi. From stunning countryside vistas to ancient Buddhist temples – and all the stunning beaches, islands and jungles in between – here’s a look at five of the most popular off path destinations that travelers should visit in Thailand this year.
Thailand’s beaches rightly take much of the country’s travel plaudits, but it’s countryside is just as stunning – and there’s nowhere that’s more evident than Nan province.
A rural province just east of Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai and located close to the border with Laos, Nan is full of natural delights such as streams, waterfalls, and dramatic green hills that roll on into the horizon. Traveling the province’s windy national park roads on a motorbike through the dense morning fog is a transformative experience, whilst the frescoes of Wat Phumin offer a window into the region’s past. Throw fragrant and fiery Northern Thai cuisine in the mix, and you’re unlikely to regret heading there.
Located in Thailand’s Isaan region – the region that Thai food favorite som tam (papaya salad) hails from – Buriram is a must-visit province solely down to the awe-inspiring Phanom Rung temple complex.
Set on the rim of an extinct volcano, Phanom Rung was originally built between the 10th and 13th centuries and carries a distinct Khmer influence that allows comparisons with Cambodia’s Angkor Wat to be made. Away from the temple, Buriram is also home to one of the country’s most successful football teams, Buriram United, and several events such as MotoGP.
It also serves as a jumping-off point for visiting the wider Isan region – known as Thailand’s “rice bowl” – which offers a glimpse into rural life in the country.
Thailand’s South has some of the most famous beaches in the country, but few ever mention Chumphon – and for regulars to this province, they’d prefer it was kept that way. Thailand’s best-kept secret in terms of beach holidays, Chumphon offers 200km of unspoiled coastline that is a welcome change from the wildly overdeveloped beaches of Patong.
Serving some of the softest sand and clearest waters in the country, mainland Chumphon might lack what other provinces have in terms of nightlife clubs and malls – but it’s all the better for it, providing the perfect opportunity to relax and unwind. If the snorkeling, kayaking, and paragliding doesn’t tempt you, the chance to explore the 40-island archipelago just might.
Whilst the likes of Koh Samui, Koh Phangan, and Koh Tao are all in Surat Thani, the province has much more to offer than just islands. It’s also home to Khao Sok, one of the country’s best national parks, famed for its incredibly diverse array of flora and fauna and the stunning Cheow Lan Lake.
Waking up in one of the rainforest’s many treehouse accommodations to the sound of gibbon calls echoing around the valley is the perfect way to start the day, whilst trekking through the rainforest – which is home to wild elephants, leopards and bears – offers a chance to be at one with nature. For the less active, tubing downstream might be more their cup of tea.
Mae Hong Son
Situated in northern Thailand close to the border with Myanmar, Mae Hong Son is a remote province that offers travelers the opportunity to see how the country’s various hill tribes live.
Homestays with the local Hmong tribes are a great way to have an authentic travel experience, and treks along the province’s numerous contours offer the opportunity to meet friendly locals and hill tribe members alike. Other popular activities in the region include rafting, visiting the hot springs, and taking part in the Mae Hong Son motorcycle loop, whilst the village of Pai is known for its laid-back, welcoming atmosphere.
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This article originally appeared on TravelOffPath.com