Many nationalities can get a
two-month visa for travel to Thailand. The visa is free at the moment, and once
you're in-country you can extend it for at least another month. Three months in
the Land of Smiles equates to an awful lot of shopping, barhopping in Bangkok
and Crusoe-ing it in the islands, so what's one to do?
Our friend Stuart from Travelfish.org shares his tips on
breaking away from the crowd (believe you me, it's amazing just how many
Crusoes there are on the islands), and best of all you don't need three months
to do it.
1. Start with your stomach
You don't need to walk across the
country to find an off-the-beaten track destination in Thailand. Start instead
by walking across the street. Forget about the 100 baht ABF and head to the
closest street stall for a Thai breakfast. Lunchtime = street food. Come
dinner, just about everywhere in Thailand has terrific night markets so head to
one. You'll save money, have more fun, learn something about Thai food and meet
regular Thai people. Don't speak Thai? Use your finger to point at what you
2. Your home away from home
Those looking for an alternative to
shmarmy hotels and decadent spas (yes, such people do exist) should try a
homestay. You sleep in a local's house, often, like them, on a mattress on the
floor, eat with them and get to partake in their day-to-day life. This may
include shopping for dinner at the wet market, picking the kids up from school (by
boat of course), or lending a hand in the kitchen. Homestays are available all
over the country, but are especially well regarded in Nonthaburi (just north of
Bangkok) and Ayutthaya (a little further north still). If you'd prefer a beach
homestay, look into Ko Chang over toward Cambodia.
3. The other Sukhothais
The former Thai capital Sukhothai is
famous for its stunning Historical Park, dotted with ruined royal temples and
religious monuments and easily explored by bicycle. The main town is a handful
of kilometers away and there are plenty of farang-friendly places to stay, eat
and be social. It's easy and fun. But because it is easy and fun, Sukhothai is well
and truly on the tourist trail and you'll rarely have the monuments to
yourself. If you'd like something a little less touristed, consider either a
day trip north to Si Satchanalai, or strike west for an overnight stop at
Kamphaeng Phet. Personally I'd lean towards the later as there's a great night
market and an excellent guesthouse, but in either case you're likely to be the
only foreigner in town.
4. A hammock with a view
There's something about laying in a
hammock, with a view of the Mekong River, that never gets old. And one of the
best places to do just that is Sangkhom in Thailand's northeast. It's one of
those "middle of nowhere" type places where there's not really all
that much to do aside from wear out your hammock. The slow pace of life charm
is a little difficult to explain but if you'd just like to chill, this could be
the spot. You can hire motorbikes and bicycles for a bit of exploring, but just
pack a book or three and lose your laptop charger.
5. Lighten your load, part 1
Thailand is something like 97%
Buddhist and all Thai men (in theory) do a stint staying in a Buddhist
monastery (or a wat). During this time they simplify their life and concentrate
on looking inwards. It's not necessarily a religious revelation (though the
shaving of one's head comes close) but it can be a contemplative period -- a
holiday from a holiday. While you'd need Thai language skills at most Thai
wats, some have specific programs catering to non-Thai speakers. You can stay
for as little as a few days or as long as a lifetime, but either away it can offer
a short escape from the pressures and anxieties of day to day life.
6. Lighten your load, part 2
Imagine a beach holiday with next to
no food, no booze and a colonic twice a day. You'd have to be mad. That's what
I used to think. Then I tried a 7-day fast on Ko Pha Ngan in Thailand's south.
A week later, and eleven kilos lighter, I walked out onto the beach and floated
in the ocean for hours. It was a health and lifestyle watershed for me and I've
repeated it four times since. It's not just about giving the body a good cleanse,
it's also about relaxing the mind. Days were filled with yoga, massage and
quality hammock time with other travellers doing the same thing. Nights I slept
like never before. Fasting courses are available in both northern and southern
Thailand, but the Wellness Centre on Ko Pha Ngan remains one of the best.
7. Trek off the map
Chiang Mai has been famous for its
trekking since the mid- to late- 70s, so just about the only creature comfort
missing from those "New Remote Villages" you'll see advertised all
over town are Coke vending machines. If you're looking for a less-touristed
trekking route, consider Nan in the far north of Thailand or Umphang in western
Thailand. In both cases treks will cost you more money, but it will be cash
well spent. Nan is especially well regarded for its caving opportunities, while
Umphang, which lies at the end of a 165km mountaintop road, still retains a
fair amount of its jungle coverage. Both are more popular with domestic tourists
than foreigners so hell, you may even get to know some locals. If you want to
go real remote, check out Phu Lang Ka -- but you will need to bring your own
8. Forget coral, try diving caves and
If you're a certified diver and
looking for something a bit unusual, Thailand has it. Out near the Burmese
border lies lakeside new Sangkhlaburi; "new" because Old Sangkhlaburi
was submerged by the lake when a dam was constructed. At the height of dry
season, some parts of town peek through the surface, but in the wet, it is
possible to dive the ruins and swim through the old temple. In the south, Khao
Sok National Park centres around a similar reservoir. While there's no sunken
town, there are caves that make for fascinating diving.
9. Elephants with a difference
Thailand used to have a white
elephant on its flag and while pachyderms are in general are revered by most,
some fare not so well and end up in abusive situations. The Elephant Nature
Park, north of Chiang Mai, was established to look after such elephants and
it's possible to visit the park for the day or even volunteer there for a week.
As with all the elephant parks in Thailand, tourists are a regular part of the
daily activities, but this is a park with a difference and is well worth the hefty
10. Just one island
If you're a beach bum, one of the
great things about Thailand is all the islands to choose from. If you're into
nightlife and tourist services, then Ko Samui or Phuket are great. Diving? Ko
Phi Phi or Ko Tao. Full Moon Party? Ko Pha Ngan. But what if you're looking for
something a bit more unadulterated? You know, something that isn't awash in MP3
stores and tailor shops, and where it's just as easy to get rice soup as a banana
pancake for brekky? Try Ko Libong. Far down the west coast of Thailand, just
before the better-known Ko Lipe and Tarutao group of islands, Ko Libong has
dark sand, a low-key lifestyle and dugongs swimming offshore. The only problem
with heading here is that once you've been you'll never go anywhere else.
5 Things I Wish I Knew Before Going to Thailand
Is Thailand Safe to Visit?
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