The rainforests of Thailand are a haven for elephants, ancient temples host lively monkey communities, and the local people exude warmth and friendliness. Couple these elements with stunning beaches, towering karsts, and a culinary scene renowned worldwide, and Thailand emerges as a paradise. Within the charming small towns of this enchanting country, diverse experiences await, from the vibrant nightlife of Ao Nang to the tranquil escape of Pai. Tailor your visit to create a uniquely Thai experience that resonates with your preferences.
Once the northernmost outpost of the ancient Mon Dvaravati Kingdom, Lamphun preserves its historical charm with an old fortress guarding ancient temples. Despite not overtly promoting its ancient history, Lamphun sits gracefully on the Mae Kuang River. A scenic 26-km country drive from nearby Chang Mai offers tourists a picturesque glimpse of the river valley landscape.
2. Ao Nang:
Nestled near Krabi in southern Thailand, Ao Nang boasts high accommodation standards and a lively, somewhat seedy nightlife. The town is cradled by limestone karsts, and its beaches weave between these impressive pillars. For those seeking a private beach experience, friendly locals offer longtail boat rides to karst islands. Ao Nang also provides ample outdoor adventures, from diving trips to mangrove explorations.
3. Chiang Saen:
Deep in northern Thailand, just south of the Golden Triangle, Chiang Saen is a former ghost town experiencing a revival. Once a key city in the Lanna Kingdom, Chiang Saen’s fortified walls bear witness to a tumultuous past. Positioned along the Mekong River, the town offers glimpses of massive barges carrying goods from China. Laos lies just across the Mekong from this reawakening river town.
Located on Ko Samui in the Gulf of Thailand, Chaweng boasts a vibrant tourist infrastructure. The long, white sandy beach is alive day and night, with restaurants and bars bustling as the sun sets over the azure blue waters. Chaweng offers options for both lively, club-like beach parties and laid-back, chill beach bars, catering to varied preferences.
5. Chiang Khan:
Deep in northeastern Thailand, Chiang Khan allows visitors to swim in the Mekong River. The town’s famous walking street, closed to traffic, features vendors, restaurants, bars, shops, yoga studios, and boutiques. Popular among vacationing Thais, Chiang Khan offers beautiful views of mountains in neighboring Laos, making it an ideal location to soak in the local culture.
6. Hat Karon:
Situated about 19 km from Phuket city, Hat Karon offers a two-mile stretch of squeaky white sand. Unlike some beaches in Phuket, no resorts claim private ownership of the sand, providing more beach space per capita. The beach is flanked by homes, a street, and accommodations ranging from mega-resorts to hostels. Russian signage mingles with T-shirt and food vendors in the swirling streets of this coastal town.
Surrounded by the dense rainforest of Kaeng Krachan National Park, Phetchaburi sits near the Myanmar border. Despite its proximity to Bangkok, Phetchaburi sees fewer tourists, attracting Thai students on cultural day trips. The city’s historic significance is evident, with traces of the Khmer, Sukhothai, and Ayuthaya kingdoms. The nighttime ambiance remains calm, allowing visitors to enjoy the Gulf of Thailand and rainforest hiking trails during the day.
Three hours north of Bangkok, hidden in the jungle, lies Lopburi, one of Thailand’s oldest cities. Flourishing during the Dvaravati period, the city’s Old Town showcases ancient architecture from the Khmer and Ayuthaya empires. Lopburi is renowned for its mischievous colony of crab-eating macaque monkeys living amidst the ruins. Sunflower fields and caves surrounding the city offer additional exploration opportunities.
A haven for backpackers seeking riverside tranquility, Kanchanaburi is known for the actual Bridge over the River Kwai. The riverside vibe conceals a dark past when the Japanese used Allied POWs to construct a railway to Burma during World War II. Museums and monuments dedicated to this history dot the town, earning Kanchanaburi the moniker of Thailand’s Wild West.
North of Chiang Mai, Pai is a thriving tourist town nestled in a picturesque valley adorned with waterfalls and hiking trails. Home to local rastas, Western hippies, and Muslims, Pai retains its serenity amid a burgeoning tourism industry. The central mosque and the main drag lined with guesthouses contribute to Pai’s unique atmosphere. Nearby attractions like Huai Nam Dang National Park, Pai Canyon, and the WWII Memorial Bridge make Pai an ideal gateway to North Thailand adventures.